Art Deco - Design for the Modern Age
Art Deco - More popular than ever now
Art Deco, popular originally in the 1920s and 30s, took its name from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, an exhibition held in Paris in 1925.
The style was first seen there in the work of French designers who had been experimenting and refining it for some years.
The fashion for Deco spread throughout the world and examples in architecture can be seen as far apart as the USA, New Zealand, Cuba, Brazil, Argentina, France, the UK, Greece, Switzerland and the Netherlands, Vietnam, India, Malaysia and Thailand as well as many other places throughout the world.
Not only did Art Deco spread far and wide, it has also endured and now, in the 21st century, is more popular than ever.
The Beginning of Art Deco
The origins of Art Deco are rooted in a reaction to the flowing motifs and fussiness of Art Nouveau with its emphasis on individual craftsman made pieces.
After the First World War people wanted a modern, functional style for their furniture, jewellery and decorative objects. More positively, it was influenced by industrial machinery and the Tutankamun Exhibition, held in Paris in 1922.
It seemed to be an idea whose time had come. It was adopted by designers working in many different spheres like architecture, stage and ballet sets and costume, jewellery, furniture, ceramics and glass.
This book, beautifully and extensively illustrated with 1000+ colour pictures, covers Art Deco in all its forms and styles.
Art Deco - An All-Encompassing Style - Influencing everything from perfume bottles to architecture
Not only did Art Deco become popular around the world, in places as diverse as the UK, USA, India and New Zealand, it also influenced the design of all kinds of household and luxury items.
With Art Deco being so prevalent and widespread, it's hard to learn about it in all its forms and this is why it's useful to have good reference books that take a comprehensive and expert view of the subject.
Collecting Art Deco Perfume Bottles - A Very Popular Collectible
Whilst René Lalique is the best-known of the Art Deco glass designers, there were many others, especially those who resurrected the popularity of pressed glass which had suffered a downturn during the early years of the 20th century. The characteristics of Art Deco glass are the geometric shapes, opalescence and the use of lacquer for decoration. The best designs have a free-flowing elegance of form.
Glass perfume bottles are amongst the most popular Art Deco objects for collectors. They are usually affordable and relatively easy to find.
Many people only collect the scent bottles from the Art Deco period or at least in the Art Deco style.
As with all glass, condition is of paramount importance. Avoid buying anything that is chipped or cracked or is missing its stopper. Always check the opening rim and the stopper for chips. It's quite common to find them in this area of a perfume bottle.
Another thing to be aware of is that some modern scent bottles in the Art Deco style are being sold. Look for minute scratches on the bottom of the bottle - this is a sign of wear and at least shows the scent bottle isn't brand new but has stood on a dressing table, and been picked up an put down in the course of being used.
This definitive book on Art Deco furniture was written by Alastair Duncan, an auctioneer at Christie's New York for 14 years for Art Deco and Art Nouveau auctions. He is a recognised expert on the style and has guest curated exhibitions at the Smithsonian Institute.
Art Deco Furniture
Art Deco furniture by the best and most fashionable, European designers was made from rare woods and veneers to the highest possible standards and so was affordable only by the wealthy.
There was much use of ebony, increasingly rare even as early as the 1920s, so often it was used as veneers. Lacquering was also used extensively on furniture of the period as was parchment, sharkskin and snakeskin, all used for decorative effect.
Other unusual materials used for furniture included forged iron and chrome-plated steel. Furniture made of steel, whilst exemplifying the modernist spirit of Art Deco, also brought down the cost so making it more affordable for the middle classes.
British furniture designers of the period, like Heal and Son and Gordon Russel, had their own less extravagant interpretation of Art Deco more suited to the British market. They used more familiar woods like limed oak, walnut and chestnut rather than the exotic woods seen in French design. Emphasis was on functionality and using decoration to enhance the natural beauty of the wood.
By the mid to end of the 1920s, the most extravagant furniture became less fashionable and there was more emphasis on streamlined geometric lines with form following functionality. Art Deco furniture has retained its popularity into the 21st century as the photograph below illustrates.
Mies van der Rohe - Architect and Furniture Designer
Famous for his often repeated quotation, 'less is more' Mies van der Rohe' practised this in his work in both architecture and furniture design. His furniture retains the hand-finished detail of the most exclusive designs but it is made from steel and its form is simple and elegant with a machine made look.
One of his most famous pieces, the Barcelona Chair first shown in 1929, is still in production today. This chair's basic form is a distorted X with leather upholstered seat and back. It was only mass produced after the Second World War and so the pre-war examples are worth many times more than the later ones.
Furniture by Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann
Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann - Leading Art Deco Designer
Ruhlmann, considered by some to be the greatest Art Deco furniture designer, exhibited at the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, the exhibition in Paris that gave Art Deco its name.
Ruhlmann was born into the furniture making business and began his career in his father's workshop. His furniture making techniques were flawless with joints that could barely be seen and his designs were simple and elegant. He held his first exhibition at the Salon d'Automne in 1913, by which time his reputation was growing. After the First World War he took over his father's company which was renamed Rulhmann et Laurent. He increased the company's scope by employing crafts people skilled in carpentry, upholstery, mirror grinding, veneering and inlaying.
The company aimed its products at the rich. Its furniture was exclusive and distinguished by its elegance, long tapering legs and simple use of exotic materials. For all its elegance, the furniture was designed to be used and to be comfortable. Form and design served to enhance the use of the furniture.
Art Deco District, Miami Beach
There are Art Deco style areas in many places worldwide, survivors from the height of popularity of the style. Perhaps the most famous of these is in Miami which you can see in this video.
Here's another authoritative book on Art Deco around the world and the author puts the fashion in its social context.
Art Deco Ceramics
For many people, 1920s and 1930s pottery is synonymous with Art Deco and the names of Clarice Cliff and Susie Cooper automatically spring to mind.
Whilst they are the most famous of the pottery designers, there were many others producing stunning work. Amongst these was Frank Lloyd Wright who produced distinctive geometric designs on fine porcelain for the Japanese company, Noritake, and the Viennese company, Goldscheider, whose finely-modelled ceramic statues of women are delightful. Other companies produced innovative and popular designs including Poole Pottery, Carlton and Shelley, all of which are highly collectable today.
Art Deco Sculpture
Judging by Art Deco statues of the 1920s and 30s, the ideal woman was slim, with very long legs and arms and perfectly proportioned bodies. It's not enough that they are beautiful, they are talented athletes too as they are shown dancing, throwing a javelin, playing tennis or golf; they promise fun as well as beauty. They are usually made from bronze and ivory or a new substance, chryselephantine, made from a combination of the two, often silvered, gilded or painted.
Notable Art Deco Sculptors
* Ferdinand Preiss was one of the most famous of the Art Deco sculptors. Most of his sculptures are made from chryselephantine although there are a few made just from ivory. His figures are finely modelled and detailed and are usually dancers or sportswomen. The most desirable for collectors are those mounted on bases rather than dishes or ashtrays.
* Demetre Chiparus, another influential sculptor of the period, was born in Romania but worked in France. His sculptures were inspired by dancers, particularly those from the Ballet Russe, and his work shows a Central American influence (see picture above right).
* Joseph Lorenzl was one of the most prominent sculptors of the time. He worked in bronze, ivory and chryselephantine and his work was also produced in ceramics by the Goldscheider Company of Vienna (see above). His women were idealized and perfect and are usually nude.
* Clare-Jeanne-Roberte Colinet was notable at the time and is chiefly remembered for her series Dancers of the World. Precisely how many figures were in the series is not known as new ones are still being discovered. Like the other sculptors of the time she worked in ivory, bronze and chryselephantine.
Art Deco - Treasures of The New York Public Library
Learn more about Art Deco designers and their techniques in this video about the superb collections of Art Deco held at the New York Public Library which are open to anyone.
© 2008 Carol Fisher