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The Art Deco movement

Updated: Jul 4, 2018

Art Deco can be described as "an assertively modern style that ran to symmetry rather than asymmetry, and to the rectilinear rather than the curvilinear; it responded to the demands of the machine and of new material and the requirements of mass production".

This definition of the Art Deco visual art design made by the historian Bevis Hillier combines all the characteristics of the historical period in which Art Deco  was born:  the wish of luxury, the wish of social and technological progress, energy and dynamism given by geometric shapes, symmetrical patterns and sunburst motifs that give the impression of a moving object, of the speed and that fit perfectly to the wish of modernity and industrialization which feature the 1920s.

The art deco style represents a natural evolution of the “Art Nouveau” movement that could be found in France 10 years before. This artistic movement was created in Paris in 1910 by the fashion designer Paul Poiret and gradually spread all over other European countries with different names such as: "Modern style" in Great Britain, "Jugendstil" in Germany, "Secession" in Austria, "Liberty” or “stile floreale" in Italy and "Modernismo" in Spain. 

Even if the Art Deco was created in 1910, the style gained most of its popularity between year 1925 and 1939. In fact this style is also known as Style 1925, as its name generated after an important event such as the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (the International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts) which took place in Paris from April to October 1925.

Even if the Parisian Expo had many exhibitors coming from all over the world the French style, characterised by its sophistication, had no rivals in furniture design, fashion and accessories. Paris was, at that time, the international center of good taste and it is no surprise that international designer were much inspired after visiting the exposition. They exported this all over the world and it was soon adopted by the designers to express their wish of modernity and socio-economic progress.

In fact, the years between the end of the Great War and 1929 (when the Wall Street Crash occurred and caused the Great Depression) there has been an era of social, artistic and cultural dynamism, characterised by a sustained economic prosperity with a distinctive cultural edge in the United States and Western Europe.

Art Deco spread out all over the world and affected all decorative arts such as architecture, interior design, and industrial design, as well as the visual arts such as fashion, jewelry painting and sculpture, the graphic arts and films, even poster art and postage stamps. Also transportation (mainly cars and trains) was influenced by Art Deco.

Art Deco introduced more modern shapes like spheres, polygons, rectangles etc. as well as new materials such as: stainless steel (of which several buildings were made of), aluminium, bakelite, chrome, and plastics were frequently used. The designers took a lot of inspiration from Cubism, Russian Constructivism and Italian Futurism, from Egyptians and ancient Greeks figures which were then stylized and adapted to their conception of modern design. That’s why Art Deco can be defined as a complex amalgam of artistic influences.

Art Deco in paintings:

Tamara de Lempicka, Self portrait in a Bugatti

Erté, (Romain de Tirtoff) Directoire

Giacomo Balla, Speeding Car (Study). Abstract Speed.

Uberto Bonetti, Flight over the City

Fernand Léger, Exit the Russian Ballet

Erté (Romain de Tirtoff), Angel Arist for blues

Art Deco in Sculpture:

Arturo Martini, Minerva statue at "Università la Sapienza" of Rome 1935

René Lalique, Spirit of the Wind 1930

Gaston Lachaise, Seated Woman 1926

Art Deco in Architecture:

Chrysler Building, New York City

Empire State Building, New York City

General Electric Building, Lexigton Avenue New York City

The Hoover Building, London 1932

Alfred Levard, The Spring Pavillon at the International Exposition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts Paris 1925

A Radio Shop in Paris, from Répertoire de l'architecture moderne by H. Delacroix Paris 1931

The Citroën Showroom on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, from Répertoire de l'architecture moderne by H. Delacroix Paris 1931

A first class lounge aboard the Transatlantic liner, the S.S. Conte di Savoia 1932

The Main lounge aboard the Transatlantic liner, the S.S. Ile de France 1926

Apollo Victoria Theater Auditorium, London 1929

The Kensigton Cinema London 1926

Art Deco in interior design and objects:

Philips Company, Radio model 834A in bakelite 1933

Donald Deskey, Cigarette Box, 1928

Christian Dell, table lamp, 1926

Edward Brantwood Maufe, Writing desk, 1925

F.J. Johnson, Dressing table and stool, 1926-27

Maurice Dufrêne, Library, From Ensembles choisis, mobilier, décoration, nouvelles créations du goût moderne, Paris 1928

Gabriel Englinger, Sitting room, 1930

Edgar Brandt, Salon for a French Embassy, created for the International Exposition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts, Paris 1925

Dining Room with chromed furniture, 1925

Art Deco in Fashion and jewelery:

Coco Chanel, Dress in silk and wool, 1927

Coco Chanel, Ensemble, silk and wool, 1929

Coco Chanel, Evening dress in silk, metallic thread and sequins, 1926-27

Paul Poiret, Afternoon dress in silk, velvet and metallic thread, 1923

Georges Barbier, Fire, Illustration for Paul Verlaine, Fêtes galantes, 1924

Georges Barbier, The Judgment of Paris, 1923

Georges Barbier, Incantation, La Gazette du Bon Ton, 1922

Front Cover of the magazine "Delineator", 1927