At the end of World War 1 came a revolutionary movement in the realm of creative arts. Heralded as the most fashionable international design innovation in modern art lasting almost two decades since 1925, Art Deco transformed everything including furniture, photography, jewelry, fashion, architecture, painting, and product design.
The style, which above all reflected advanced technology, was known for its bold geometric shapes, smooth lines, bright contrasting colors, and almost non-existent brush strokes. For the first time, artists weren’t focusing solely on organic objects. They’ve adopted a taste for the loud and transformative ideals of the period.
The term Art Deco originated from the popular Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, a massive fair held in Paris during the summer of 1925. Displaying anything and everything as long as it was devoid of traditional elements, this government-sponsored occasion was projected to cement France’s reputation as the global leader in the design and production of luxury goods.
For that matter, the early days of Art Deco boasted a wealth of splendidly expensive materials like lacquer, silver, ivory, sharkskin, and ebony to entice the affluent bourgeois. It proved to be a success, as people were already bored with old-fashioned historical styles and wanted to see something new and creative.
Combining new building materials with stepped, radiating styles, Art Deco architecture signify scientific progress and the consequent rise of speed, commerce, and technology. Because of its modern opulent design, the elements of Art Deco suited the interiors of train stations, cinemas, and ocean liners in the United States.
Its structure is based on linear patterns inspired by Greco-Roman Classicism, the face of Assyria, Babylon, and Ancient Egypt’s architectural forms. Art Deco designs were especially favored in the Machine Age, shaping the way people built radios and skyscrapers.
In particular, zigzagged, trapezoidal, and triangular shapes represent Art Deco. Sweeping curves, stepped forms, and sunburst motifs were also visible in a number of separate applications, including car radiator grilles, shoes, and the spire of the William van Alen Chrysler Building in New York.
Although Art Deco was rarely applied to sculpture or painting, many 20th century painters applied the style in their creations. Such artists include the sculptor Paul Manship with his bronze sculpture Prometheus, painter Tamara de Lempicka and her oil painting The Musician, and graphic artist Adolphe Jean-Marie Mouron who won the Grand Prix for poster design at the 1925 Paris Expo.
The style was also the center of illustration of many successful fashion designers. George Barbier, Erte, Umberto Brunelleschi, and Charles Martin were notable names in the industry. Paul Poiret, the mastermind behind the Ecole d’Art Decoratif Martine and Atelier Martine, was also a leader of the movement.
Art Deco met its demise post World War 2 in the 1940s when chrome replaced silver, and plastic and Bakelite took the place of ivory and ebony for mass production consumption. Nevertheless, the style’s enduring influence and widespread application prove that it offers more than simple visual appeal. What makes Art Deco different is the embrace of luxury, modernity, and function. These qualities can be enjoyed, in their many guises, throughout our history’s collections, from furniture to fashion.