Art Deco

Table Lamp by Louis Comfort Tiffany 1905

Art Deco, or Deco, is a style of visual arts, architecture and design that started in France just before WW1. It influenced the design of buildings, furnishings, jewellery, fashion, transportation, and everyday objects found in many homes. Art Deco is the shortened form of Arts Décoratifs from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes held in Paris in 1925. The combination of modern styles with fine craftsmanship and rich materials had found it heyday. Art Deco represented luxury, glamour, exuberance, and faith in social and technological progression.

Art Deco is a pastiche of many distinctive styles, sometimes contradicting each other, united by the want to be modern. The bold geometric forms of Cubism, Fauvism’s bright and vibrant colours, updated craftsmanship of furniture of the French eras of Louis Phillippe I and Louis XVI, exotic oriental styles from China, Japan, India, Persia, Ancient Egyptian and Mayan art united with rare and expensive materials gave Art Deco its identity.

Perspective by Tamara de Lempicka 1923, oil on canvas

During the Great Depression of the 1930s the Art Deco style became relatively subdued and the arrival of new materials including stainless steel, chrome plating and plastic. A sleeker. Streamlined style appeared featuring curving forms and smooth, polished surfaces. The dominance of Art Deco ended with the beginning of WW2 and the rise of functional and unadorned styles of modernism followed.

The term Arts Décoratifs, from which we get Art Deco, was first used in 1858 in France and published in the Bulletin de la Société française de photographie and again in 1868 in Le Figaro newspaper with respect to stage scenery as objets d’art décoratifs. In 1875 the French government officially recognised the designers of furniture, textiles, jewellery and glass as artists along with other craftsmen which led to the École royale gratuite de dessin being renamed l’École nationale des arts décoratifs, now known as the ENSAD.

The Eastern Columbia Building by Claud Beelman 1930

The term Art Deco first appeared in print in 1966 in the title of the first modern exhibition of the subject, Les Années 25 : Art déco, Bauhaus, Stijl, Esprit nouveau, covering a variety of the major styles of the 1920s and 1930s. However, it was already being used by art dealers and auction houses.

Suzanne by Rene Lalique 1925

The birth of Art Deco is closely connected with the rise in status of decorative artists who were always seen as simply artisans until the late 19th century. The official status given by the term arts décoratifs. The Société des artistes décorateurs (SAD) formed in 1901 giving the decorative artists the same rights and protection of authorship as painters and sculptors. French nationalism also had a role in the resurgence of decorative arts as the French designers were challenged by increasing exports of less expensive furnishings from other European states. SAD proposed a major exposition of new decorative arts, scheduled to be held in 1914. The outbreak of WW1 postponed the exhibition until 1925 and gave its name to the family styles known as Déco.

Department stores, fashion designers and established firms encouraged the rise of Art Déco. Designers such as Louis Vuitton, Christofle, René Lalique, Louis Cartier and Boucheron all began designing in more modern styles. Early Art Déco is noted for its luxuriousness and exotic. Materials such as ebony, ivory, silk, vibrant and bright colours and stylized motifs with a modernist appearance.

Théâtre des Champs-Élysées by Auguste Perret 1910 – 1913

The first landmark Art Deco building was the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées (1910–1913) by Auguste Perret, completed in Paris. Previously reinforced concrete had only been used in the construction of industrial and apartment buildings. The theatre became famous as the venue for the first performances of the Ballets Russes and Perret became a leading Art Deco architect.

Café Chat Noir by Cassandre 1932

From the beginning, Art Deco was an explosion of vibrant and bright colours that often clashed. Many colourful works were presented at the 1912 Salon des artistes décorateurs. After WW1 the combination of colours and materials produced the iconic interiors and furnishings of the first-class salons and cabins of transatlantic liners and European trains. The vivid colours associated with Art Deco were inspired by many sources including the exotic set designs of the Ballet Russes, Fauvism and Henri Matisse, Orphism, and Nabis.

Cubism appeared in France between 1907 and 1912 and artists such as Paul Cézanne influenced the development of Art Deco with its simplified forms and geometric essentials such as cylinders, spheres, and cones. In 1912 the artists of the Section d’Or exhibited works that were more accessible to the general populace of analytical Cubism and Cubist designs attracted designers of fashion, furniture and interior design.

A Dream by Erté

Art Deco was never a single style, but a collection of different, often contrasting and sometimes contradictory styles. In architecture it was the successor and reaction to Art Nouveau and gradually replaced the Beaux-Arts and neoclassical movements that dominated European and American architecture.

Bracelet by Simmons

Art Deco reflected distinctive styles from the ancient world with the popular interest in archaeological excavations in Pompeii, Troy and the tomb of Tutankhamun. The Art Deco artists combined the ancient styles being discovered with Machine Age elements.

©JG Farmer 2019

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