Art Nouveau's fifteen-year peak was most strongly felt throughout Europe-from Glasgow to Moscow to Madrid - but its influence was global. Hence, it is known in various guises with frequent localized tendencies. In France, Hector Guimard's metro entrances shaped the landscape of Paris and Emile Galle was at the center of the school of thought in Nancy. Victor Horta had a decisive impact on architecture in Belgium. Magazines like Jugend helped spread the style in Germany, especially as a graphic artform, while the Vienna Secessionists influenced art and architecture throughout Austria-Hungary. Art Nouveau was also a movement of distinct individuals such as Gustav Klimt, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Alphonse Mucha, Rene Lalique, Antoni Gaudi and Louis Comfort Tiffany, each of whom interpreted it in their own individual manner.
Although Art Nouveau fell out of favor with the arrival of 20th-century modernist styles it is seen today as an important bridge between the historicism of Neoclassicism and modernism. Furthermore, Art Nouveau monuments are now recognized by UNESCO on their World Heritage List as significant contributions to cultural heritage. The historic center of Riga, Latvia, with "the finest collection of art nouveau buildings in Europe", was inscribed on the list in 1997 in part because of the "quality and the quantity of its Art Nouveau/Jugendstil architecture", and four Brussels town houses by Victor Horta were included in 2000 as "works of human creative genius" that are "outstanding examples of Art Nouveau architecture brilliantly illustrating the transition from the 19th to the 20th century in art, thought, and society." It later influenced psychedelic art that flourished in the 1960s and 1970s.
At its beginning, neither Art Nouveau nor Jugendstil was the common name of the style, and the style adopted different labels as it spread between artistic centers. Those two names came from, respectively, Samuel Bing's gallery Maison de l'Art Nouveau in Paris and the magazine Jugend in Munich, both of which promoted and popularized the style.
Other local names were associated with the characteristics of its forms, its practitioners and their works, and schools of thought or study where it was popular. Moreover, many terms approximate the idea of "newness." Before the term "Art Nouveau" became de rigueur in France, le style moderne ("the modern style") was the more frequent designation. Arte joven ("young art) in Spain, Arte nuova ("new art") in Italy, and Nieuwe kunst ("new art") in the Netherlands, modern("new", "contemporary") in Russia - all continue this theme. In similar manner, its modern characteristics gave way to the label of Catalan modernisme in Barcelona. Many names refer specifically to the organic forms that were popular with the Art Nouveau artists: Stile Floreal ("floral style"), Lilienstil ("lily style"), Style Nouille ("noodle style"), Stile Vermicelli ("vermicelli", or "little worm noodle" style), Bandwurmstil ("tapeworm style"), Paling Stijl ("eel style"), and Wellenstil ("wave style").
In other cases, important examples, well-known artists, and associated locations influenced the names. Hector Guimard's Paris Metro entrances, for example, provided the term Style Metro, the popularity in Italy of Art Nouveau designs from London's Liberty & Co department store resulted in its being known as the Stile Liberty ("Liberty style"), and, in the United States, it became known as the "Tiffany style" due to its connection to Louis Comfort Tiffany. In Austria, a localized form of Art Nouveau was practiced by artists of the Vienna Secession, and it is, therefore, known as the Sezessionstil ("Secession style"). In the United Kingdom, it is associated with the activities of Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Glasgow, and is often known as the "Glasgow" style.
Art Nouveau tendencies were also absorbed into larger local movements. In Denmark, for example, it was one aspect of Skonvirke ("aesthetic activity"), which itself more closely relates to the Arts and Crafts Movement. Likewise, artists adopted many of the floral and organic motifs of Art Nouveau into the Mloda Polska ("Young Poland") movement in Poland. Mloda Polska, however, was also inclusive of other artistic styles and encompassed a broader approach to art, literature and lifestyle.
The origins of Art Nouveau are found in the resistance of William Morris to the cluttered compositions and the revival tendencies of the Victorian era and his theoretical approaches that helped initiate the Arts and crafts movement. However, Arthur Mackmurdo's book-cover for Wren's City Churches (1883), with its rhythmic floral patterns, is often considered the first realization of Art Nouveau. Around the same time, the flat-perspective and strong colors of Japanese woodcuts, especially those of Katsushika Hokusai, had a strong effect on the formulation of Art Nouveau's formal language. The wave of Japonisme that swept through Europe in the 1880s and 1890s was particularly influential on many artists with its organic forms, references to the natural world, and clear designs that contrasted strongly with the reigning taste. Besides being adopted by artists like Emile Galle and James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Japanese-inspired art and design was championed by the businessmen Siegfried Bing and Arthur Lasenby Liberty at their stores in Paris and London, respectively.
Although Art Nouveau took on distinctly localized tendencies as its geographic spread increased-discussed below-some general characteristics are indicative of the form. A description published in Pan magazine of Hermann Obrist's wall-hanging Cyclamen (1894) described it as "sudden violent curves generated by the crack of a whip,", which became well-known during the early spread of Art Nouveau. Subsequently, not only did the work itself become better-known as The Whiplash, but the term "whiplash" is frequently applied to the characteristic curves employed by Art Nouveau artists. Such decorative "whiplash" motifs, formed by dynamic, undulating, and flowing lines in a syncopated rhythm, are found throughout the architecture, painting, sculpture, and other forms of Art Nouveau design.
The Art Nouveau style and approach has been applied in painting, architecture, furniture, glassware, graphic design, jewelry, pottery, metalwork, and textiles and sculpture. This is in line with the Art Nouveau philosophy that art should become part of everyday life.
Two-dimensional Art Nouveau pieces were painted, drawn, and printed in popular forms such as advertisements, posters, labels, magazines, and the like. Japanese wood-block prints, with their curved lines, patterned surfaces, contrasting voids, and flatness of visual plane, also inspired Art Nouveau. Some line and curve patterns became graphic cliches that were later found in works of artists from all parts of the world.