Prague Art Nouveau – A New Kind of Art
Prague has become synonymous with Art Nouveau even though in my experience people, at first glance, get Secessionist and Art Nouveau mixed up. In general, on the external side you can spot Prague Art Nouveau by looking for organic decorative features. Trees, flowers, branches/vines and fruit (apples, pears and grapes) are the most popular but in the early Art Nouveau of @1900-5 you might have to look closely. By 1912 this “decorative” art actually becomes structurally integrated especially for holding up balconies. The style originates in Belgium but eventually gravitated to Paris. As with all previous major architectural design eras, Bohemia was late in taking it up but now is the centre of the Art Nouveau world having escaped significant bombing in World War Two. Note that I now run a Prague Architecture Tour for people who want to really get into who built this city and why.
There is Prague Art Nouveau all over the city and you’ll find individual examples in many Prague districts but there are three areas where Art Nouveau dominates the surroundings. They are Vinohrady, Ujezd and the Jewish Quarter. Three completely different places but all linked by a thread that dates back to 1887.
In 1887 the decision was made that would lead to the destruction of the Jewish Ghetto. At the same time there was an expansion of the city into two distinct areas, Vinohrady to the east of the National Museum and Ujezd/Smichov on the riverside to the south of Mala Strana. These areas were basically new-build and as Art Nouveau was the style of the day then many of them were built in that style. After the demolition of the Jewish Quarter (it took 20 years to demolish everything) by 1908 many of the replacement buildings were also Art Nouveau. At the time both Vienna and Prague had large numbers of Art Nouveau architecture, it’s only that Vienna suffered so much destruction during the second world war and aftermath that so little is left there.
Prague Art Nouveau is up there with Baroque as being a “Total” art form. It covers architecture, interior design, decorative arts, fine arts, graphic art, furniture, jewellery and glass. In fact apart from music it’s got everything else covered. What to look for inside a purpose-built Prague Art Nouveau building. Number one is a highly decorative doorway very often leading to a sweeping stone staircase with highly decorative wrought-iron railings and maybe wall mosaic. Plain internal apartment doors lead to rooms with parket flooring, high ceilings and coloured glass work on any fixed lighting. The apartment will be spacious with French style windows leading out onto a half-balcony with wrought-iron balustrade. Apartments in Vinohrady are extremely sought after for the basic architectural elements and people spend a lot of money on original or reproduction Art Nouveau interior pieces.
Where to See Prague Art Nouveau Architecture
To browse buildings and facades you should start with Paris Street (practically the whole street is built between 1902 and 1907). For interiors I always recommend taking the tour at the Municipal House. It opened in 1912 which was almost at the end of the era but it’s a work of art in itself. If you don’t fancy the tour then at least go into the ground floor cafe and appreciate the design. Another of my favourite cafes is a reconstructed Prague Art Nouveau building in the New Town and you can read about Cafe Louvre on my Cafes page. There’s a lot of Art Nouveau architecture on the Old Town and Jewish Quarter walking tour.
The Prague Architecture Tour
I spent so long reading, learning and presenting architectural details of the city that I decided to offer a specialised tour. This is mainly for people who want to understand why the central part of Prague looks the way it does. Read more about the Prague Architecture Tour.
The next era – CUBISM