Until the late 1800’s Australia followed the architectural and interior styles of Europe. English style was particularly popular. As the new country moved toward Federation Australian designers started to move away from these old influences. As a result the Art Nouveau designs of Europe did not impact on Australia as did the styles of the past.
During the early 1900’s Australia celebrated Federation. As a result the Federation style became popular as Australia’s first unique style. The Federation era began in the late 1890’s and was influenced by Victorian and Edwardian styles.
But the exciting Art Nouveau motifs were used in the detailing of some Federation buildings. Robert Joseph Haddon an English trained architect was one of the few to work in the Art Nouveau style in Australia. ‘Anselm’ his own home in Caulfield Melbourne contains wave like tiles in the Art Nouveau style in the bathroom and he applied the sinuous Art Nouveau lines to the outside brickwork. Others used the stylised floral forms of Art Nouveau with the Australian Waratah, flannel flower, lyre birds, emus and kangaroo motifs.
The Outside of the Federation House
Bold red brick walls
Marseilles tiled roof
Turned timber columns
Finials with Australian decorative motifs
The Interior Design of the Federation House
Australian motifs were used on interior timber work and the stenciling on interior walls
Stained glass: Art Nouveau motifs Australian native flora and fauna motifs
Interior walls Paint: Soft muted greens, Ivories, Reds
Pressed metal ceilings
Wallpaper or stencil
Formal wreaths patterns
Fleur-de-lis of the French Empire style
Stylised floral forms of Art Nouveau
Frieze up to a meter deep
Oval shapes of the Adams style
Iridescent glazed Art Nouveau tiles
Shaped timber surrounds and mantel pieces
Mirror incorporated into the design
Plain and fancy nets
Chintz or plain material
Holland blinds with lace scalloped edges or inserts
Elaborate heavy curtains used until 1920’s
Floors Timber floors – Varnish or black Japan formed borders
Bold coloured backgrounds
Fitted carpet had gone out of vogue
Patterned tessellated tiles
In plain colours
Imitation carpet designs
Furniture in the Federation House
Queen Anne (one of the most reproduced styles in Australia)
The Wing chair
Australian designers created fretwork, leadlight, tiles, fabrics, wallpapers and decorative detailing in the Art Nouveau style but used the unique Australian motifs. Interior spaces were often decorated with a meter deep frieze. During this time the dado went out of fashion. Walls were often papered or stenciled. Pastel colours were popular for walls. The architectural detailing was brown and cream or stained timber.
There are a number of Art Nouveau buildings in Australia. In Melbourne: Victoria Arts Society, Milton House, Melbourne Sports Depot, Melbourne City Baths, Conservitorium of Music, Melba Hall, Paston Building and the Empire Works Building are some of the examples in Australia
The Wild Art Tile Company has a great range of Art Nouveau tile murals. This Australian firm has designed a range of murals based on the art work of Alphonse Mucha. You can find the tiles at http://www.wildarttiles.com/page18.htm
The Australian artist Christian Waller worked as an illustrator in the 1920’s. She was inspired by classical, medieval, Pre-Raphaelite and Art Nouveau design. In the 1930’s her work changed, she moved from using the curvilinear of Art Nouveau to the angular forms, sunrays and zigzags of the Art Deco.
During this time she designed books and stained glass windows for Melbourne and Geelong churches. She also created a mural for the Christ Church in Geelong. She was one of the few Australian artist at the time to be influenced by the Art Nouveau movement.
‘Wherever you are in the world,
there’s always something
about the Australian light.
There’s something about the
sharpness of it, something about
the clarity of it, something
about the colours of Australia.
And hopefully, something
optimistic about Australian painting too.’
Ken Done Artist