Art nouveau was an artistic and architectural style popular from 1890 to 1910, which preceded art deco. Characterised by natural forms, such as plants and flowers, the architectural movement began in Belgium with the work of pioneering architects like Victor Horta and spread across Europe. Set aside two to three hours and take our walking tour through some of London’s best art nouveau architecture.
Begin the tour at Harrods Food Hall, near Hyde Park. Built in 1902, the interior of this splendid hall uses tiles made to the designs of William Neatby. Stare up at decorative plant motifs on the ceiling and look out for the peacock fanning its tail feathers on the wall.
Walk north-east through Belgravia and you’ll reach St Ermin’s Hotel. This swanky four-star hotel was originally built as a mansion block in the late 1880s to the designs of E.T. Hall, but was converted into a hotel in 1899 by the architect J.P. Briggs, who installed lavish art nouveau plasterwork in the building’s public reception rooms. The hotel is also known for being used as a secret meeting place by British intelligence services during World War II.
Stroll 10 minutes north to Queen Alexandra Memorial on Marlborough Road. This bronze memorial, which is set into the garden wall of Marlborough House and commemorates Queen Alexandra of Denmark, was the work of sculptor Sir Alfred Gilbert. Completed in 1932, it is an example of late art nouveau with naturalistic motifs, and shows a number of symbolic figures representing the virtues of Queen Alexandra, such as faith, hope and love.
Head north-east to Wong Kei. This infamous Chinese restaurant is known for its reasonably priced food and rude staff (however, the restaurant pledged to reform its ways a few years ago when new owners took over). The restaurant is housed in an interesting building, constructed in the early 1900s to the designs of H.M. Wakeley. The architecture combines art nouveau and baroque elements, with distinct green tiling and leaf-like decoration.
Half an hour’s walk from Wong Kei is another eatery – The Blackfriar. This wedge-shaped pub was built in about 1875 and was later remodelled around 1905 by architect Herbert Fuller-Clark. The exterior shows art nouveau elements through the green tiling and elaborate balcony railings. The interior features a number of sculptures, which were mostly the creations of Frederick T. Callcott and Henry Poole.
This five-storey art nouveau building contains several shops, as well as Bolton’s Restaurant, which serves Italian food. Designed by A.I. Selby, the architecture features an eye-catching white, blue and green tiled façade, as well as slim columns and arched windows topped with halved clover-shapes. Check out the frieze above the first-floor windows, which is characterised by foliage patterns. The building was refurbished in 1984, when two storeys were added, and these additions are distinctively more plain than the rest of the building.
Finally, walk north-east for 10 minutes to the Bishopsgate Institute, designed by Charles Townsend. Architectural features include the flowing organic forms on the front of the building. While you’re there, pop over to nearby Whitechapel Gallery, which has some great exhibitions, and was also designed by Charles Townsend with art nouveau components. Interestingly, the building was supposed to be embellished with a decadent frieze, but the owners did not have enough money.