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When the Industrial Revolution began in the late 1700s it meant more machine production and less handcrafted work in everything from architecture to furniture. Quality often suffered because machines could not mass produce superior quality ornamentation and decoration.

After the French Revolution, the nouveau riche, or new middle class, wanted the finer things in life that had previously only been available to the very wealthy. Artists of this period were seeking to put new life in the bland designs created by machines. The use of curving lines as they appear in nature - the nude female form, flowers, the sea - are the basic design forms of this movement.

In its heyday, from about 1880 to 1920, Art Nouveau was given many names in many languages - Metro Style, Inglese Style, Modernismo, and the Glasgow School, to name a few. Worldwide, this new style was extravagently ornamental and full of curves, and it represented a total decorative style where the distinction between the fine arts and the decorative arts was not considered. Each nation developed its own version. The popularity of Art Nouveau in America never rivaled its appeal in Europe.

Glass from the Art Nouveau period is some of the finest ever made. Emil Galle believed that using plants, fruits, and flowers in his works would bring about renewed life in the decorative arts. He closely supervised skilled craftsmen at his family's glass factory in Nancy, France where the tradition of fine glassmaking began in the 1700s.

Art Nouveau style in America is most often associated with Louis Comfort Tiffany and the "Gibson Girl."

Louis Comfort Tiffany, the son of a wealthy goldsmith and jewelry merchant in New York City, is the American most identified with Art Nouveau. An accomplished artist, Tiffany was interested in ceramics, jewelry, enamels, and wrought iron. But he was especially brilliant with his talents in glass, especially blown glass. Tiffany started radical experiments with glass in the 1870s while he was still in his 20s. His peculiar style was quickly identified in Europe as genius. He was commissioned to design a series of colored glass windows in designs similar to works of Toulouse-Lautrec, Vuillard, and Bonnard.

Unsatisfied with glass made for him by existing companies, he used family money to build a furnace for the production of his fanciful favrile glass. Tiffany built the Stourbridge Glass Company in Long Island, New York in 1893.

President Chester A. Arthur sold twenty wagonloads of furnishings from the White House and had Tiffany redecorate the mansion. Among other things, Tiffany designed an opalescent glass screen that reached from floor to ceiling in the hall. When Teddy Roosevelt became president he had that Tiffany masterpiece removed.

The brainchild of artist Charles Dana Gibson, the Gibson Girl was the first great American glamour girl before movie stars became idols. She wore a starched dress and fashionable hat perched high on her coiffure, which always had a wispy lock blowing on her face. This completely feminine woman was shown in many outdoor pursuits such as golfing and boating. Though her activities were totally proper, she had a glint in her eye that made her a trifle daring for her time. Created in the 1890s, she reigned on magazine pages, postcards, and witty cartoons until she fell out of fashion, along with everything else Art Nouveau, at the start of World War I.