Art Deco was an international design and art movement in the 1920s and ’30s. Influenced by sources as varied as the Bauhaus School in Germany, the Cubist paintings of Georges Braques and Pablo Picasso, Mayan ruins in the Yucatan, and the discovery of King Tut’s tomb, the style was a rejection of the organic, naturalistic sensibility of Art Nouveau.
Art Deco was a machine-made aesthetic for a fast-paced industrial age, using symmetry and line to bring order to the natural world and suggest movement in objects as inert as chairs and bookends. Even the cinema echoed and inspired the trend, most famously in Fritz Lang’s 1927 vision of dystopia, Metropolis.
For a time, no object escaped the streamline touch of Art Deco. Frank Lloyd Wright filled his geometric buildings with equally angular lamps, tables, and stained-glass windows. Indeed, Art Deco architecture is perhaps the most enduring legacy of the style.
The 1930 Chrysler Building, an Art Deco masterpiece, is one of the most famous landmarks in Manhattan; the 1937 Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco is another Art Deco triumph, in this case of both design and engineering. Then there’s Ocean Drive in the South Beach section of Miami, home to some 800 preserved Art Deco structures. Inside all those Art Deco buildings was furniture by the likes of Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann, who equipped his armchairs with assertive, mesa-flat armrests. Elsewhere in the house, a host of decorative and functional objects set an elegant tone.
Because most Art Deco objects were mass-produced, a great many survive today, making them terrific and often surprisingly affordable collectibles. Industrial designers Raymond Loewy and Henry Dreyfus created many functional objects (such as clocks, radios, and telephones) with the classic Art Deco angular, streamlined look. Statuettes and figurines, frequently of female nudes, were produced in plastic, bronze, and ceramic. Glass objects — from vases to perfume bottles — were also popular, with René Lalique, Antonin Daum, Henri Navarre, and Maurice Marinot among the most prized practitioners.
Porcelain figurines created for Robj, Rosenthal, and Lenci often depicted characters and caricatures dressed in the fabrics of the day, with Art Deco costume jewelry on their necks and Art Deco watches on their wrists. By the bed would be a bronze and mahogany clock, in the dining room a china service emblazoned with geometric patterns, and in the living room silver and enamel cigarette cases leaning against ashtrays made of Bakelite.
Art Deco had a great ride, but by 1939 the movement had run its course, giving way to World War II and what we now know as the Mid-Century Modern style (which made even the simple flourishes of Art Deco look baroque). A 1966 exhibition in Paris at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs reminded the world why Art Deco, previously called modernism, had been so popular in its day. Today, it may be even more so...
Key terms for Art Deco:
Bakelite: One of several patented early plastic resins (along with Plaskon, Beetle, Catalin, etc.) popular in the 1920s and 30s, which are associated with Art Deco style objects. Invented by Leo Baekeland.
Streamlining: In an effort to make everything from radios to railroad trains look modern, designers tried for a streamlined look, which became ubiquitous during the heyday of Art Deco.
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Burwood photographer Russell Workman wants to capture Victorian, Edwardian ...The Daily Telegraph, December 7th
Archeology photographer, Russell Workman, of Burwood, wants to capture Victorian, Edwardian and Art Deco features above shops in the Marrickville, Leichhardt, Strathfield, Ashfield, Canada Bay and Burwood areas. Mr Workman, 66, is applying to the NSW ...Read more
Help sought to preserve art deco buildingsRadio New Zealand, December 6th
Advocates for heritage art deco buildings in Napier say the country could lose a major tourism drawcard if the Government doesn't help owners quake-strengthern their buildings. The Napier City Council has released a list of 180 quake-prone buildings...Read more
Napier's Art Deco Trust calls for help for quake workRadio New Zealand, December 6th
A trust established to protect heritage Art Deco buildings in Napier wants government support for owners paying to get buildings earthquake strengthened. Napier City Council has released a list of 180 buildings that are earthquake prone and do not...Read more
The 15-storey Cunningham Piano building has been empty for six yearsDaily Mail, December 4th
Philadelphia is suing the Church of Scientology after the religious organisation left a 15-storey construction in the city empty for six years. The church bought the Cunningham Piano skyscraper in 2007 using millions in donations from its members under...Read more
Antiques A to Z: Art Deco to Zeisel VasesNew York Times, November 28th
'ART DECO' (Prestel, $85). The German historian Norbert Wolf's sumptuous book connects 1920s and '30s design with old master paintings, Shaker striped rugs and Elton John. Although the movement's early critics wanted it “blown up with dynamite,” he ...Read more
A book on Art Deco that's a work of art in itself — but where's the Savoy ...Spectator.co.uk, November 27th
Over the past 45 years, there have been two distinct and divergent approaches to Art Deco. One of them — which was mine when I wrote the first little book on the subject in 1968 — was to treat the subject as a sociological, as well as artistic...Read more
Less Than Two Weeks Left For Bristol Museum Art Deco ExhibitHartford Courant, November 26th
The display of Art deco-style watches, advertisements and clocks from the 1920s and 1930s has been on loan from Strickland Vintage Watches, but will be returning to the company's Tampa headquarters. The final day of the exhibition is scheduled for Dec. 8...Read more
Art Deco finds a home in new centuryIndianapolis Star, November 15th
Style visionary Jena Hall wants to teach a new generation about the joys of Art Deco, the silver screen time of Hollywood starlets and supercharged Duesenberg automobiles. So Hall, an award-winning designer and a consultant at HGTV, collaborated with ...Read more