Art nouveau as both an architectural style and a style for any kind of ornament, permeated so much of European culture during the time period of 1890–1910. Fashion, graphic design, household furnishings and so many other everyday objects reflected this style – even your house keys were Art Nouveau!

Esquisses Decoratives_pl 59

(L:) Vitrail (stained glass) Pl.59, (R:) Bouton electronique (electric buttons/buzzers) Pl.9

The Cooper-Hewitt Library has a large collection of pattern and ornament books that serve as inspiration and design resources for a wide variety of visitors; these books illustrate historical styles and various art movements over the centuries. René Binet (French, 1866-1911) compiled Esquisses Decoratives,  a portfolio of motifs and patterns in the Art Nouveau style and taste, containing designs for jewellery, ceramic tiles, weather vanes, electric light fittings, furniture, stained glass, shop fronts, mosaics and other decorative arts and ornament.

Esquisses Decoratives

Ferronerie (ironwork) Pl. 27, (R:) Magasin de parfumeur (perfume store), Magasin de jouets (toy store) Pl. 37

Art Nouveau design is usually thought of in terms of the curving, sinuous lines, but there were designers of the period like Binet, looking also to nature for inspiration. His stylized designs were influenced by Ernst Haeckel’s ‘Art Forms in Nature’, published between 1899- 1904; which was a study of marine organisms featuring detailed biological and morphological illustrations. The structure of corals, shells, and other sea life inspired much of Binet’s architectural designs and the intricacies of the Art Nouveau ornament in this collection. See more images online.

Elizabeth Broman is the Reference Librarian, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Library

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