Art Nouveau: The Blossoming of a New Century

By 1890, the Industrial Revolution had fully reshaped American and European society. It was a decade when factory workers fought for better working conditions while the middle classes bought their first automobiles. Bicycles were a craze and silent black and white motion pictures were playing in newly minted theaters. Dedicated backyard dreamers, in both America and Europe, were even on the precipice of inventing the flying machine. 

This was the world stage on which the Art Nouveau movement emerged. It was an art and design style that blossomed at the dawn of a new century and came to mark the beginning of the modern age. It only remained popular while the 19th-century merged into the 20th and its heyday was over before the First World War broke out in 1914. Nonetheless, Art Nouveau remains a cherished artistic style with impacts far beyond its short-lived trendiness.

The proponents of the Art Nouveau movement sought to revive the artistic workmanship they felt was lost with the rise of industrialization and subsequent onslaught of poorly made consumer goods. They rebelled against the excessively ornamental, fussy, heavy, and frivolous decorative arts often associated with the Victorian age. Art Nouveau enthusiasts believed that the function of an object should dictate its form.

Art Nouveau Style Antique Buttons

Art Nouveau buttons often take their subjects from nature, creating stylized depictions of leaves, flowers, and insects with serpentine lines and asymmetrical forms.

Art Nouveau was inspired by Japanese and Celtic drawings and often featured uncommon subjects such as dragonfly wings and leaves. It germinated, almost simultaneously, around the western world. It flourished in England with William Morris and Aubrey Beardsley, in France with René Lalique, in Bohemia with Alphonse Mucha, in Spain with Antonio Gaudi, and in America with Louis Comfort Tiffany. This “new art” was called many things at first but eventually took its name from a shop in Paris, Le Maison L’Art Nouveau, which opened in 1895 and sold furniture, glass, ceramics, silverware, textiles, jewelry, and even buttons in the new style.

Sterling Art Nouveau Buttons
English silversmiths produced stunning sets of Art Nouveau buttons featuring flowers and idealized profiles of women with locks of flowing hair. These can sometimes be found in their original velvet and satin boxes (L). (R) Three sterling Art Nouveau buttons from our collection.

Art Nouveau-styled buttons were popular in turn of the century fashions and widely manufactured in Europe and America. They were made with all of the popular button materials of the day however, the most beautiful and eagerly collected were made with sterling silver, French champlevé enamel, etched and gilded ocean pearl, and hand-pressed turquoise Czech glass buttons. 

French Enamel Art Nouveau Buttons

A grouping of French champlevé enamel Art Nouveau buttons from our collection.

Glass Art Nouveau Antique Buttons

Only their materials make these buttons different: the sweeping, rhythmic curves of the floral designs are very similar. (L) Etched and gilded ocean pearl Art Nouveau buttons from our collection. (R) Two examples of pressed and painted Art Nouveau glass buttons.

We save the best Art Nouveau buttons in our collection for our most special limited-edition releases. We hope their natural and sensual designs inspire you as much as they do us.

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