Art Deco (c.1925-40)
DESIGN STYLES and
OF VISUAL ART
ARTISTS SINCE 1800
Exemplified by the geometric designs of famous New York buildings such as the Chrysler Building and Rockefeller Centre, Art Deco was the most fashionable international design movement in modern art from 1925 until the 1940s.
Like the earlier Arts and Crafts Movement, as well as the curvilinear style of design known as Art Nouveau, as well as the German Bauhaus design school concept, Art Deco embraced all types of art, including crafts as well as fine arts. It was applied to decorative art like interior design, furniture, jewellery, textiles, fashion and industrial design, as well as to the applied art of architecture and the visual arts of painting, and graphics.
The art deco style, which above all reflected modern technology, was characterized by smooth lines, geometric shapes, streamlined forms and bright, sometimes garish colours. Initially a luxury style (a reaction against the austerity imposed by World War I) employing costly materials like silver, crystal, ivory, jade and lacquer, after the Depression it also used cheaper and mass-produced materials like chrome, plastics, and other industrial items catering to the growing middle class taste for a design style that was elegant, glamorous and functional.
The word art deco derives from the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs Industriels et Modernes, held in Paris. The show was organized by an association of French artists known as, La Societe des Artistes Decorateurs (society of decorator artists), led by its founders Hector Guimard (1867-1942), Eugene Grasset, Raoul Lachenal, Paul Follot, Maurice Dufrene, and Emile Decour, some of whom were previously involved in Art Nouveau. Note however that the term Art Deco was not widely used until popularized by the art historian and critic Bevis Hillier in her book Art Deco of the 20s and 30s (1968).
Art Deco owed something to several of the major art styles of the early 20th century. These formative influences include the geometric forms of Cubism (note: Art Deco has been called "Cubism Tamed"), the machine-style forms of Constructivism and Futurism, and the unifying approach of Art Nouveau. Its highly intense colours may have stemmed from Parisian Fauvism. Art Deco borrowed also from Aztec and Egyptian art, as well as from Classical Antiquity. Unlike its earlier counterpart Art Nouveau, however, Art Deco had no philosophical basis - it was purely decorative.
The Art Deco style, adopted by architects and designers around the world, spanned the "Roaring Twenties", the Great Depression of the early 1930s, and the years leading up to the Second World War. It suffered a decline in popularity during the late 30s and early 40s, when it began to be seen as too gaudy and ostentatious for wartime austerity, after which it quickly fell out of fashion. The first resurgence of interest in Art Deco occurred in the 1960s - coincident with the movement's affect on Pop Art - and then again in the 1980s, in line with growing interest in graphic design. The style appeared in a number of jewellery and fashion ads.
Employing new building materials that were manipulated into stepped, radiating styles that contrasted sharply with the fluid motifs of Art Nouveau, Art Deco architecture represented scientific progress, and the consequent rise of commerce, technology, and speed. This, together with its image as a modern, opulent style, made Art Deco designs especially suitable for the interiors of cinemas, ocean liners such as the Queen Mary, and the architecture of train stations across the United States. It endured throughout the Depression due to the practicality and simplicity of its design, and its suggestion of better times ahead.
The structure of Art Deco is founded on mathematical geometric shapes which drew equally on Greco-Roman Classicism, the faceted architectural forms of Babylon, Assyria, Ancient Egypt, and Aztec Mexico - notably their ziggurats, pyramids and other monumental structures - and Machine Age streamline designs from aviation, the radio, and the skyscraper. In particular, Art Deco designs are characterized by trapezoidal, zigzagged, and triangular shapes, chevron patterns, stepped forms, sweeping curves and sunburst motifs - the latter being visible in a number of separate applications, including: shoes, car radiator grilles, the Radio City Music Hall auditorium, and the spire of the William van Alen Chrysler Building (1928-30) in New York.
New materials were also much in evidence, such as aluminum, stainless steel, plastics, lacquer and inlaid wood. And while continuing the use of high quality Art Nouveau materials, such as moulded glass, horn, and ivory, Art Deco also introduced exotic items like shark-skin, and zebra-skin.
Art Deco styling was most common in architecture, interior design, poster art, furniture, jewellery, textiles, fashion and industrial design, although it was also applied to the visual arts such as painting, and graphics. In architecture, the Art Deco look signalled something of a return to the symmetry and simplicity of Neoclassicism, but without its classical regularity. The fact that Art Deco architectural designs were so enthusiastically adopted by architects in countries as diverse as the United Kingdom, Spain, Cuba, Indonesia, the Philippines, Argentina, Romania, Australia, New Zealand, India and Brazil, says much for the style's novel monumentality.
Many cities with building projects completed during the period 1927-1935 used Art Deco design plans, of which the following is a short selection. For more information, see: American Architecture (1600-present), and for a list of top designers, see: American Architects (1700-2000).
Art Deco in America
In New York, Art Deco is exemplified in its Skyscraper Architecture, including designs for buildings like:
- Chanin Building (1927-9) by Sloan &
Other famous Art Deco buildings in New York include the Radio City Music Hall, and the Midland Grand Hotel.
In Texas, Art Deco is exemplified in Houston by such buildings as the Houston City Hall, the JP Morgan Chase Building and the 1940 Air Terminal Museum, while in Beaumont, the Jefferson County Courthouse (completed 1931), is one of the few Art Deco buildings still standing.
In Missouri, the best example of the Great Depression and its effect on Art Deco construction is the Kansas City Power and Light Building (completed 1931). Other examples in Kansas City include the Municipal Auditorium, the Jackson County Courthouse, and City Hall.
In Ohio, the Cincinnati Union Terminal, an Art Deco style passenger railroad station (completed 1933) is now the Cincinnati Museum Center, which attracts more than one million visitors per year.
In Florida, the city of Miami is home to countless examples of Art Deco style buildings.
Art Deco in Cuba
Art Deco in South America
Art Deco in Britain
Art Deco in India
Art Deco in China
Art Deco in Indonesia
Art Deco in Australia
Although the term Art Deco is rarely applied to painting or sculpture, the style is visible in the streamlined forms of certain 20th century painters from the inter-war period. Such artists include, the painter Tamara de Lempicka (born Tamara Gorska) (1898-1980) - see her oil painting The Musician (1929), and her Self-Portrait in a Green Bugatti (1925); and the sculptor Paul Manship (1885-1966) - see his gilded bronze sculpture Prometheus (1933, Rockefeller Center Plaza). The Ukrainian-born French poster artist Adolphe Jean-Marie Mouron (1901-68), known as Cassandre, was the top Art Deco graphic artist, who won the Grand Prix for poster design at the 1925 Paris Expo. For other designers, see: History of Poster Art.
Other famous Art Deco painters included: Rene Buthaud (1886-1986), Raphael Delorme (1885-1962), Jean Gabriel Domergue (1889-1962), and Jean Dupas (1882-1964). Noted former Cubists like Andre Lhote (1885-1962), Robert Delaunay (1885-1941) and Fernand Leger (1881-1955) painted Art Deco works for the 1925 exhibition, while Sonia Delaunay (1885-1980) created Art Deco furnishings and textile designs. The Fauvist painter, later textile designer Raoul Dufy (1877-1953) created over a dozen wall-hangings for the show. See also: Book Illustration.
Art Deco design might be a riotous fusion of Cubist rectilinear geometrics, exotic Sergei Diaghilev costumes, American Jazz culture and metallic paint colours. Famous Art Deco fashion designers included Paul Poiret (1879-1944), founder of the Ecole d'Art Decoratif Martine and Atelier Martine, while famous Art Deco fashion illustrators included George Barbier (1882-1932), Umberto Brunelleschi (1879-1949), Erte (1892-1990) and Charles Martin (1884-1934). Important Art Deco furniture designers of the era included Andre Mare (1887-1932), Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann (1879-1933), and Eileen Gray (1879-1976), while Art Deco artists engaged in other art forms like interior design, textile design, jewellery, metalware, lighting, glass art and ceramics included Andre Groult (1884-1967), Jean Dunand (1877-1942), Paul Follet (1877-1941) and Pierre Chareau (1883-1950).
Similar to Art Nouveau, and as a style which sought to inspire all forms of arts and crafts, Art Deco has influenced numerous other design styles and movements since its initial decline in the early 1940s. It has had a marked influence on contemporary art and design.
For information about 20th century design, see: Homepage.