History of Art Deco

Art Deco was a popular design movement from the 1920’s to 1930’s, a movement between the two World Wars. This movement affected all forms of art from architecture, interior design, sculpture, furniture, industrial design and visual arts such as fashion, clothing, jewelry, paintings, graphic arts and film. This movement combined many different styles and movements such as neoclassical, constructivism, cubism, modernism, art nouveau and futurism.

Art Deco was very popular in Europe in the 1920’s, in particular Paris represented the hub of Art Deco style, and its popularity peaked in America in the 1930s. It was not just for the elite. By the 1930’s, mass production meant that everyone could live in the Art Deco style. Although Art Deco represented design movements that incorporated political and philosophical intentions, the art was very decorative.

Art Deco style represents a style that is elegant, functional and modern. The Art Deco interior style is a streamlined and geometrical which often includes furniture pieces with curved fronts, mirrors, clean lines, chrome hardware, and glass. The elegant style began as a Modernist response in opposition to Art Nouveau styling which featured elaborate, flowing natural forms plus female imagery and Tiffany lamps. Art Deco experienced resurgence with the advent of graphic design in the 1980’s. Later on, Art Deco had a profound influence on many artistic movements, such as Memphis and Pop Art.

The structure of Art Deco is based on mathematical geometric shapes. It is widely considered to be an eclectic form of elegant and stylish modernism, being influenced by a variety of sources. Among them were also so called ‘primitive’ arts of Africa, Middle East, Ancient Egypt, Aztec Mexico and Greek and Roman themes. As travel became popular, African Safaris were all in the rage and animal skins, ivory, mother of pearl, and tortoiseshell began to appear in the home. After Tutankhamen’s tomb was discovered, Egyptian pyramids and sphinxes adorned everything.

It also drew on machine-age or streamline technology such as modern aviation, electric lighting, the radio, the ocean liner and the skyscraper for inspiration. Art Deco design influences were expressed in the crystalline and faceted forms of decorative cubism and futurism. Other popular themes in Art Deco were trapezoidal, zigzagged, geometrical and jumbled shapes which can be seen in many early pieces.

Art Deco was an opulent style and its lavishness attributed to reaction to the forced austerity imposed by World War One. Its rich festive character fitted for its modern contexts.

Art Deco is characterized by use of materials such as aluminum, stainless steel, lacquered and inlaid wood. The bold use of stepped forms and sweeping curves, chevron patterns and the sunburst motif are typical of Art Deco. Art Deco celebrates the Machine Age through explicit use of man made materials (in particular glass and stainless steel), symmetry and repetition, modified by Asian influences such as the uses of silk and Middle Eastern designs.

The resurgence of interest in Art Deco came in the 1960’s and then again in the 1980’s with the growing interest in graphic design, where its association with film noir and 1930’s glamour led to its use in advertising for jewelry and fashion.

Some of the finest surviving examples of Art Deco art and architecture can be found in Cuba, especially in Havana. Another country with many examples of rich Art Deco architecture is Brazil, especially in Goiania and cities like Cipo, Irai and Rio de Janeiro, especially in Copacabana. South Beach in Miami Beach, Florida has the largest collection of Art Deco architecture remaining in North America.

The distinctive style of Art Deco has been echoed in many similar movements since its early decline. Art Deco influenced later styles such as Memphis and the Pop Art movement. It also had an effect on post modern architecture and styles, even through to the late 1970’s. Art Deco has also had a marked influence on contemporary design.

Art Nouveau – deco kept the nature motifs of its predecessor but discarded its flowing organic shapes and pastels for bolder materials and colours such as chrome and black.

Cubism – painters such as Picasso was experimenting with space, angles and geometry.

Early Hollywood – the glamour world of the silver screen filtered through design using shiny fabrics, subdued lighting and mirrors. Cocktail cabinets and smoking paraphernalia became highly fashionable.

Renowned Art Deco Artists
◊ Eileen Gray – furniture
◊ Raymond Templier – jewelry
◊ Clarice Cliff – china
◊ Rene Lalique – glass and jewelry

History in the Making during the Art Deco Period
◊ In 1912 RMS Titanic sails
◊ In 1922 Tutankhamen tomb is discovered
◊ In 1922 Ulysses by James Joyce was published
◊ In 1931 The Empire State Building was completed
◊ Film Stars – Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.
◊ The Charleston and tango are the latest dance crazes, jazz is born and singer Josephine Baker thrills Paris.

What makes an Art Deco Look?
Strong, streamlined shapes for furniture and in single pieces rather than suites.

Plain or geometric fabrics and add highlights with cushions also in one solid block of colour.

Plain polished parquet is perfect for floors. Linoleum in abstract designs or black and white chequerboard vinyl tiles is also typical.

Floors would have been overlaid with a large rug in geometric patterns. These were often handmade by artists such as Duncan Grant of the Bloombury Group fame.

Fireplaces should be rectangular and bold. Surrounds were often tiled in pink, green or beige. They were made of concrete and not many have survived today.

Bold colour schemes such as silver, black, chrome, yellow, red, creams, greens, beige or oyster and eau-de-nil suite living rooms and bedrooms.

Cabinets, wardrobes should be in pale veneered wood and simple shapes in keeping with the light, airy feel.

Stepped profile is the epitome of the Art Deco shape, found everywhere from up lighters to picture surrounds. Also look at zigzags, chevrons and lighting bolts.

Light feature female figures holding the ball of the lamp are typical and good reproductions are abound. Chrome or glass lamps were typical of this era. Glass would have to be etched, sandblasted or enameled rather than coloured.

Unique Materials
Aluminum, inlaid wood, lacquered, stainless steel, zebra skins

Design Elements
Zigzagged and stepped patterns, sweeping curves and lines, chevron patterns, sunburst shapes, geometric and angular shapes, chrome, glass, shiny fabrics, mirror, mirror tiles, stylized images of aeroplanes, cars, cruiselines, skyscrapers, natural motifs – shells, sunrises, flowers, theatrical contrasts – highly polished wood and glossy black lacquered mixed with satin and furs.