The Art Nouveau style (or Jugendstil in German) was an artistic style popular between 1890 and 1910. Inspired by natural forms, the two-dimensional perspective of Japanese block prints, and undulating curves, (or "whiplashes," as they were called after a critic's 1894 description of these lines as "sudden violent curves generated by the crack of a whip"), Art Nouveau spread throughout Europe until it was superseded by the clean lines of modernism and Art Deco in the 1920s.
Art Nouveau can be considered a "total" style, meaning that it found a place in visual art, architecture, and the decorative arts, and its consumers and creators sought to blur the boundaries between the fine arts and applied arts. Despite the characteristic reliance on organic, dynamic lines, Art Nouveau adherents did not eschew modern materials or industrial processes like their brethren in the Arts and Crafts Movement (1860-1910). Instead, they relied on glass, wrought iron, and technological innovation to create pieces that seemed to blend with the natural elements of daily life. In Art Nouveau, industry facilitated the visual harmony with nature that its practitioners so ardently sought.
For more Art Nouveau on Apartment Therapy, see:
• Quick History: Art Nouveau
• New Art Nouveau: Gloriously Ornate Posters
• Art Nouveau Style (When You Can't Afford the Real Thing)