To learn more about Art Deco, it helps to compare and contrast with other styles.  

We often get asked, "What's the difference between Art Deco and Art Nouveau?" so let's compare and contrast!

Art Deco embraced the future potential of the modern age with its incredible machines and factories. 

When Art Deco looked to the past it was through the lens of travel by steam ship and trains to far away locations, news being transmitted across the world, the discovery of King Tuts tomb in Egypt, adventures in Africa and South America, the opening up of Asia, the "discovery" of the past and of different cultures, all part of an adventurous modern lifestyle. 

Night scenes were filled with city lights, search lights sweeping the sky. Man's technology pushing away the darkness and creating new wonders.

Plants and nature were often presented as being highly stylized and formed of geometric components. Flowers could even take on a "gear" like appearance, their leaves perfectly shaped and having geometric lines for veins. 

Art Nouveau rebelled against the industrial age, machine made items and smoke belching factories.

When Art Nouveau looked to the past, it looked to a romanticized Middle Ages, to an age of chivalry, and to myths and mysticism. Its artisans wanted to embrace a more simple time when things were hand crafted and closer to nature.  

Night scenes were filled with moonlight and stars, fairies and glowing water.  Mystical twilight and dawn themes with their colors of rich blue-greens and ornange-golds, were also popular.

Nature was primary for the Art Nouveau style. In architecture; doors, windows, railings and canopies could appear to have grown right out of the ground. Every day objects from lamps to hand mirrors could look as though they were grown using some ancient magic.


The METROPOLIS poster is one of the most iconic, Art Deco posters of all time. Note in this instance how there is no greenery at all. Everything is man made. It's man triumphant over nature and even the night. And if you know the story, man's attempt at triumphing over life and the soul itself! The image looks "forward" to a fantastically imagined future.

The Art Nouveau poster is by one of the most famous Art Nouveau artists of all time. Alphonse Mucha. Some say he had his own style, the "Mucha Style" which incorporated Art Nouveau. Regardless, note how even thought this too is a night scene, it's softly glowing by moonlight, and filled with life. Life's soft lines and curves even act as the frame for the piece. The image looks back to a fantastically imagined past.


Note how the Art Deco gate and railing uses strong geometry,
and how the Art Nouveau gate and railing uses viny curves and the "whip" shape.

Above: The Art Deco vase uses strong linear, and geometric shapes.  The design on the Art Nouveau vase has no straight lines or strong geometric shapes, and does have the viny "whip". 

Things are about to get tricky!

So far we have been comparing extremely Art Deco things, with things that are very Art Nouveau.


Occaaaasionally one might find design elements that are more commonly found in Art Deco, on a piece that is Art Nouveau, and vice versa.

To determine if a piece is Art Deco or Art Nouveau, the over all effect or "balance" of the design elements (Is it Mostly Art Deco? Is it Mostly Art Nouveau?) should be considered.  Sometimes it can boil down to the date the piece was made and the "philosophy" or feel of the piece, and the materials used. 

All of this is especially true when we start looking at things that have plants and animals on them. Because yes, even Art Deco pieces could have lots of plants and flowers, BUT, for the most part, they were stylized differently than those found on Art Nouveau pieces. 

One way to tell if a floral design component is Art Deco or Art Nouveau is by learning their different...


And the best way to do that is through practice!
By looking at example after example.  

Art Deco used similar floral motifs, over and over
 and over and over
 and over and over
and over......

Art Deco, Stylized Flowers & Leaves

You might find some similar flower designs on an Art Nouveau piece. BUT you would not find the sharp, angular, geometric leaves.

Also notice how with these Art Deco floral designs, there is little attempt to make them look "realistic", the flowers and leaves have been made into an over all, flat, abstract design, often contained in a geometric, block panel or border. 

Here again, little attempt to make the leaves look real, instead abstract, linear, geometric, shapes are inserted to create a fun, bold, graphic design. 

Art Deco Fountains

Stylized fountains were a very popular Art Deco motif. 

Art Deco Fountains of Flowers & Leaves

Art Deco Fantastical Ferns

Art Deco also took inspiration from nature, but Art Deco would tend to take those inspirations to an abstract extreme.  

Notice with the gold fern shapes below, how they have a mechanical gear look.  Sometimes flowers would also look very much like gears and bolts. 

Let's switch it up
And look at some design elements
more unique to Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau Poppies

Poppies were a very popular Art Nouveau motif, rich with symbolism.

In ancient Greece poppies were associated with Hypnos(the god of sleep), Thanatos (the god of death), and Morpheus (the god of dreams). Hypnos and Thanatos wore crowns of poppies, and it is from the name Morpheus that the drug morphine got its name.

The goddess of harvest, Demeter a popular figure in nature loving, Art Nouveau Art, is said to have created the poppy so that it could help her sleep after the abduction of her daughter Phersephone by Hades. The myth goes that after her abduction, poppy plants grew in Phersephone’s footprints.

In the, “The Wizard of Oz”, the witch’s castle was surrounded by poppy fields meant to put trespassers into eternal sleep. Though the smell of a poppy cannot put people to sleep, the story takes advantage of the poppies sleep and death symbolism.

This figure with the wheat and the poppies in her hair is definitely evocative of the goddess of the harvest, Demeter, mentioned above. Also notice how the hair seems to be almost floating, as if the figure were underwater. 

Notice the viny curves prevalent in this stained glass door featuring poppies.

This tile definitely features the classic Art Nouveau, liquid looking, viny "whip" shape. Though these flowers and leaves are highly stylized, they are done so in a way entirely different than Art Deco flowers and leaves would be.

The Aquatic World

 The aquatic world was a BIG feature with Art Nouveau. Even things that weren't water related were often given a kind of swirling, aquatic look as if floating in water. Look at some of the poppy designs above for instance, or the long swirling, floating hair of the women.   

"Stylistically" & "Thematically" Art Deco differs from Art Nouveau. 

Another example...

You can find hundreds of examples of Dragonflies in Art Nouveau art, but would be hard pressed to find any in Art Deco.

 You can find hundreds of examples of Gazelles in Art Deco art, but hardly any in Art Nouveau. 

Once you have studied a style for a time, you begin to notice the patterns, oft used motifs, and the general spirit of the style. 

However, artists love creativity, exploring possibilities and breaking boundaries.  There will always be those pieces that defy being easily defined as this or that style.  But we hope this has helped you begin to understand the differences between Art Deco and Art Nouveau! 

Bold lines.
Strong emphasis on Geometry

Swirling "whip" design.
Strong emphasis on Nature

And One Last Thing...

We hope you enjoyed learning about Art Deco, and the differences between,
Art Deco & Art Nouveau!