The Influence of Art Nouveau in Today’s Tattoos

By Daniel Fulco, Ph.D., Agnita M. Stine Schreiber Curator

To mark the new special exhibition Art, Fashion, Symbol, Statement: Tattooing in America, 1960s to Today (June 22–October 13, 2024), we hope that you enjoy this vase in our collection. If you visit the museum, this work is on view in the exhibition.

Edward Colonna (artist, German, 1862‒1948)
for Siegfried Bing (dealer, German, active France, 1838‒1905)
ABN Leuconoe (maker, active 1890s‒1900s)
Art Nouveau Bing Vase, c. 1903‒05
Glazed porcelain
11.61“ h
Collection of Washington County Museum of Fine Arts
Gift Mr. Michael and Dr. Anis Merson, 2022.4.1 

With its elegant, stylized flower petals, leaves, and stems, Bing Vase is a quintessential example of Art Nouveau decorative art. Edward Colonna harmonized these curving designs with a simple yet effective color scheme that combines white, pink, and green glazes, enhancing the work’s grace and refinement. Colonna’s precise rendering of the botanical motifs reflects his fascination with ornamental patterns, many of which he also incorporated into his jewelry, metal objects, furniture, and wallpaper.

Art Nouveau (French for “new art”) describes a style of art that originated in Belgium and is characterized by flowing, organic, vine-like lines, inspired by nature. The movement’s philosophy espoused a unified approach to all arts, including architecture, textile design, jewelry, furniture, and every aspect of daily life. Some artists embraced modern materials and technologies, while others valued traditional handicraft. Subject matter often features sensual or erotic figures (most often female), as well as imagery derived from plants, ocean life, and insects. Like the Arts and Crafts Movement, Art Nouveau reacted against the Industrial Revolution and the availability of inexpensive, mass-produced goods. 

Today, Art Nouveau continues to influence tattoo artists such as Robert Kraiza, whose work is on view in the exhibition Art, Fashion, Symbol, Statement. In Cicada bug (2020, see below), Kraiza demonstrates his careful study of Art Nouveau designs, not unlike those found on the museum’s Bing Vase. His drawing and tattoo feature similar flower petals and leaves, though they are more detailed than the abstract motifs in the Bing Vase. In addition, Kraiza notably added a cicada to the bottom of his work. Note how the pattern on its wings beautifully complements and plays off the floral designs above. Traditionally, these insects (like butterflies and moths) have symbolized renewal, rebirth, and transformation as well as resurrection and immortality.  

Dealer Siegfried Bing played a key role in the development of the Art Nouveau style, supporting numerous artists and designers, including Colonna, Eugène Gaillard, Georges de Feure, and Constantin Meunier. Bing was also instrumental in introducing Japanese art to the West.

Colonna was a German-born Art Nouveau designer of furniture, metalwork, ceramics and other materials. In 1888, he established his own design office in Montreal, where one of his main clients was the Canadian Pacific Railway, for which he designed both the interiors of the cars and furnishings of numerous stations. Colonna was also associated with dealer Siegfried Bing and his gallery, Maison de l’Art Nouveau, Paris, which opened in 1895. Colonna designed furniture, jewelry, and ceramics for Bing’s Maison de l’Art Nouveau until 1903. For the Bing pavilion at the Paris World’s Fair (1900), Colonna created the reception area and music room, attaining the pinnacle of his career.

Robert Kraiza (b. 1986)         
Cicada bug, 2020                  
Pen and ink on paper            
Collection of the artist

Robert Kraiza       
Completed tattoo on woman’s forearm, 2020                  
Photograph