What is Art Deco? Is it the same as Art Nouveau?

Today, I took my brother and sister-in-law who came from Australia, to visit San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA).  After the museum visit, when we were on our way from SF MOMA to the Westfield Shopping Center, we saw this beautiful design of a building across the street from Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.  I took some pictures of the different levels of the hotel, as my camera (iPad) has limited capacity to include the tall building in one picture.

The other picture was taken from SFMOMA , where we saw the top levels of the building, but other buildings had covered the other parts of this beautiful design.

I looked up the name of this building, and found that it is the San Francisco Skyscraper Hotel.  It is an Art Deco design. Then I realize that it is quite similar to a building’s design in Prague, which I had posted on this blog .    Since they are so similar, is Art Deco the same as Art Nouveau?

A building in Prague, Czech Republic at the intersection of Wenceslas Square and Na Prikope Street

What exactly is Art Deco?


According to Wikipedia:

“Art Deco ” or deco, is an eclectic artistic and design style that began in Paris in the 1920s and flourished internationally throughout the 1930s and into the World War II era. The style influenced all areas of design, including architecture and interior design, industrial design, fashion and jewelry, as well as the visual arts such as painting, graphic arts and film. The term “art deco” was coined in 1966, after an exhibition in Paris, ‘Les Années 25’ sub-titled Art Deco, celebrating the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts) that was the culmination of style moderne in Paris. At its best, art deco represented elegance, glamour, functionality and modernity. Art deco’s linear symmetry was a distinct departure from the flowing asymmetrical organic curves of its predecessor style art nouveau; it embraced influences from many different styles of the early twentieth century, including neoclassicalconstructivismcubism,modernism and futurism and drew inspiration from ancient Egyptian and Aztec forms. Although many design movements have political or philosophical beginnings or intentions, art deco was purely decorative.”

.Is Art Nouveau the same as Art Decor?  I looked it up.  This is the best answer :

They are two different art styles, with Art Deco evolving partially from Art Nouveau. Here is a good website comparing the two:
For Art Nouveau, think of the posters of Mucha, Women in flowing robes and floral ornaments. For Art Deco, think Bauhaus, it’s less ornate than Art Nouveau and more simplistic.”The Art Nouveau style appeared in the early 1880s and was gone by the eve of the First World War.””Art Deco was a popular design movement from 1920 until 1939, affecting the decorative arts such as architecture, interior design, and industrial design, as well as the visual arts such as fashion, painting, the graphic arts, and film. This movement was, in a sense, an amalgam of many different styles and movements of the early 20th century, including Constructivism, Cubism, Modernism, Bauhaus, Art Nouveau, and Futurism.”


Please also see my previous posts on Art Nouveau in Prague.  I like both Art Nouveau and Art Deco.  What about you?


  1. This building used to be the SF Mariott Hotel. Back in the 1990’s it used to be like the only high rise in that mid market area. It was right up front when you would drive into the city toward the bay bridge. That big “shell” or “fan” depending on what you believed it was, at the top, is a bar with incredible east and west views. You should go in and check it out!

    As to your question regarding wether there is a difference between art deco and art nouveau, the answer is a definite yes. I asked this question back in art school too. (when you add arts and crafts into it, it becomes more difficult….)

    The difference is that art nouveau is known for having very few straight lines. Very curvy and delicate. Not particularly symmetrical necessarily, but very pretty and soft. Flowers and women’s forms are often incorporated into the design.

    Art deco is all about streamlining. Think the industrial revolution and those awesome silver Zepher trains. Think the Christler building. It is almost exclusively straight lines and very sleek. They almost look like they are moving when they are standing still type thing. Very linear.

    It is hard to separate the two sometimes because they were all so short lived, highly impacting and in a similar era. Once you start looking though, after a while, you can see the differences.

    Now, regarding the old Marriot building, this to me is very 1980’s design. Right up there with a Nagel or something like that. I could see how it could be confused with the earlier two and then, why it is hard to decipher. It has the prettiness of the nouveau with the fans but there are only arches but mostly straight lines which would lead one to lean towards deco. But, i assure you, it is neither. It is total 1980’s design.

    It is nice to see that people are looking around and noticing the neat details in design that so often get covered up by something newer and bigger going up. Thank you for enjoying and actually researching these things that you find when traveling. It seems to mean so much more if you know a little something about it too!

    Enjoy your trip and keep asking those great questions!



  2. Hi, I am soooo happy to see your reply! It is very educational to me . I love art but I did not go to art school like you. When I posted my first post on art nouveau in Prague, very few bloggers liked it….but the two who liked it, are really passionate about this topic. I am so happy to meet you now. Thank you for your follow too. If you are interested, I do have lots of posts in other blogs about art in general. My goal is learning. Therefore please continue to send me comments. I found a few interesting subject matters too like the dialogue I had with an architectural student about the window of Belvedere Palace and the Freer Gallery. I will next post about the Palace Hotel. If you are very familiar with it, please give me comment as well.
    Thanks again!


  3. Hi there! Nice to read from fellow ‘students’ of architecture, and comments from people who are ahead of us in the knowledge department… Also I am writing about my ‘Journey into understanding Art Nouveau’ as I have been interested in this style since… well, forever. I finally decided to find out all there is to know about Art Nouveau, as it interested me already for 30 years, but I never knew the facts… Please feel free to read my blog at http://www.aboutartnouveau.wordpress.com and please also leave some comments if you like!
    As I am located in Europe, most of my study subjects will be European. And I will love to read about your findings at the other side of the ocean…


  4. Beautiful architecture! I coincidentally wrote a short piece on Art Deco that other readers might enjoy, you can check it out here: http://mepalmerwriter.com/2012/09/06/art-deco-in-a-nutshell/ – personally I love both Nouveau and Deco styles but my thought is that the development into art deco from art nouveau was largely characterised by dropping a lot of the floral embellishments and focusing on bold, striking lines and colour contrasts. Others might feel differently?


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