Art Deco

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Art Deco
20ans.jpg Normandie poster.jpg
Le salon de Paul Reynaud (CNHI) (3679648700).jpg Chrysler Building 1 (4684845155).jpg
Victoire 2 by Rene Lalique Toyota Automobile Museum.jpg
Clockwise from top left: Grand Rex movie theater in Paris (1932), poster for ocean liner SS Normandie (1935), salon of Paul Reynaud in Paris (1934), Chrysler Building in New York City (1930) and hood ornament "Victoire" by René Lalique (1928)
Years active 1913-1939

Art Deco (/ˌɑːrt ˈdɛk/), or Deco, also known as Style Moderne, is a style of visual arts, architecture and design that first appeared in France just before World War I.[1] It became popular in the 1920s and 1930s, and influenced the design of buildings, furniture, cars, movie theaters, trains, ocean liners.[2] It took its name, short for Arts Décoratifs, from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts) held in Paris in 1925.[3] Unlike the preceding Art Nouveau style, Art Deco features geometric shapes, clear and precise lines, and decoration which is attached to the structure, often in the form of metal or ceramic sculptures. It combined modernist styles with fine craftsmanship and rich materials.

During its heyday, Art Deco represented luxury, glamour, exuberance, and faith in social and technological progress. The later period of the style, called Streamline Moderne, features curving forms and long horizontal lines.[4] The style is often characterized by rich colors, bold geometric shapes and lavish ornamentation. It was a transitional style between Art Nouveau and Modernism, and was one of the first truly international architectural styles, with examples found in European cities, Russia, Latin America, Africa and Asia.


Art Deco took its name, short for Arts Décoratifs, from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes held in Paris in 1925,[3] though the diverse styles that characterize Art Deco had already appeared in Paris and Brussels before World War I. The French called the style Style Moderne. The term "Art Deco" to describe the style was first used in a 1966 newspaper article by Hillary Gelson in the Times (London, 12 November), describing a wide variety of decorative arts styles, covering a large timescale and a vast geographical range.[5][6] In 1968 the architectural historian Bevis Hillier wrote the first major academic book on the style, and now the term is commonly used for the decorative style of the 1920s and 1930s.


Art Deco was the successor to and reaction against Art Nouveau, a style which flourished in Europe between 1895 and 1900, and also gradually replaced the predominant Beaux-Arts and neoclassical that were predominant in European and American architecture. In 1905 Eugène Grasset wrote and published Méthode de Composition Ornementale, Éléments Rectilignes,[7] in which he systematically explored the decorative (ornamental) aspects of geometric elements, forms, motifs and their variations, in contrast with (and as a departure from) the undulating Art Nouveau style of Hector Guimard, so popular in Paris a few years earlier. Grasset stressed the principle that various simple geometric shapes like triangles and squares are the basis of all compositional arrangements.[8]

The availability of new materials was another important factor in the emergence of Art Deco. The introduction of reinforced concrete, previously used only in industrial buildings, completely revolutionized the form of office buildings, apartment buildings, and theaters. In 1903 and 1904, the architects Auguste Perret and Henri Sauvage built the first reinforced concrete apartment buildings in Paris. Perret's apartment house on rue Benjamin Franklin (1902-1903) and Sauvage's apartment building at 7 rue Trétaigne (1904) used geometric forms, straight lines, the structure expressed on the outside and no ornament, marking the beginning of the new architectural style. Perret and Sauvage became the leading Art Deco architects in Paris in the 1920s; Between 1911 and 1913, Perret built an early masterpiece of the style, the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, using reinforced concrete decorated on the facade with sculptural plaques by Antoine Bourdelle and murals in the interior by Maurice Denis and Édouard Vuillard, and Sauvage built the first stepped concrete apartment building on Rue Vavin (1912-1914) [9]

The art style known as Cubism appeared in France between 1907 and 1912, influencing the development of Art Deco. The Cubists, themselves under the influence of Paul Cézanne, were interested in the simplification of forms to their geometric essentials: the cylinder, the sphere, the cone.[10]

In 1912, the artists of the Section d'Or exhibited works considerably more accessible to the general public than the analytical Cubism of Picasso and Braque. The Cubist vocabulary was poised to attract fashion, furniture and interior designers.[11][12]

Art Deco was also heavily influenced by pre-modern art from around the world and observable at the Musée du Louvre, Musée de l'Homme and the Musée national des Arts d'Afrique et d'Océanie. During the 1920s, affordable travel permitted in situ exposure to other cultures. There was also popular interest in archeology due to excavations at Pompeii, Troy, the tomb of Tutankhamun, etc. Artists and designers integrated motifs from ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome, Asia, Mesoamerica and Oceania with Machine Age elements.[13][14][15][16][17][18]

These revolutionary changes occurring at the outset of the 20th century are summarized in the 1912 writings of André Vera. Le Nouveau style, published in the journal L'Art décoratif, expressed the rejection of Art Nouveau forms (asymmetric, polychrome and picturesque) and called for simplicité volontaire, symétrie manifeste, l'ordre et l'harmonie, themes that would eventually become common within Art Deco; though with time the Deco style was often extremely colorful and anything but simple.[19]

Other influences included offshoots of Cubism: Russian Constructivism and Italian Futurism, as well as Orphism, Functionalism, and Modernism in general.[12][20][13][21] Art Deco was also influenced by the clashing colors and designs of Fauvism, notably in the work of Henri Matisse and André Derain, inspired the designs of art deco textiles, wallpaper, and painted ceramics.[12] Art Deco was also influenced by the high fashion vocabulary of the period, which featured geometric designs, chevrons, zigzags, and stylized bouquets of flowers. It was influenced by discoveries in Egyptology, and growing interest in the Orient and in African art. From 1925 onwards, it was influenced by a passion for new machines (airships, automobiles and ocean liners). and, after 1930, by aerodynamic forms, the streamline style.[22]


Art Deco was a pastiche of different motifs and styles. which were united by a desire to express modernism. In the years after the First World War, in the jazz Age, it was a colorful and playful geometric style featured stylized the chevrons, arcs, sunbursts, rosettes, abstract flowers, maidens, fountains, floral abstractions and stylized deer. It borrowed motifs from cubism and from fauvism, from ancient Egyptian pyramids, from ancient Mayan architecture, and from Chinese and Japanese landscape painting. Jewelry and decorative objects such as bracelets and cigarette cases had brightly contrasting colors and geometric patterns.[23] Later, during the Great Depression of the 1930s, it became more sober, and featured crisp angular patterns, rounded corners, zig-zag, and machine-age motifs. The 1930s saw the emergence of streamline moderne, which featured aerodynamic shapes, rounded corners, long horizontal lines, and the look of sleek ocean liners. [24]

Early Art deco furniture featured smooth and polished modernistic forms made with exquisite craftsmanship and rare and expensive materials, including mahogany, ivory, ebony, mother of pearl, and silver. Each piece was hand-made, some individual pieces from firms such as Ruhlmann cost as much as an average house. Later Art Deco furniture took on the streamlined look, low with rounded edges, and the rounded, enveloping form of club chairs. Designs for jewelry changed to meet changes in the lifestyle of the 1920s and 1930s. Enameled cigarette cases and ivory cigarette holders for women became important fashion items, along with art deco bracelets, wrist watches, and pendant watches. Jewelry featured geometric shapes, bright, contrasting colors made with inlay of silver, onyx, and lapis lazuli, colorful gemstones, and the widespread use of platinum for jewellry settings. [25][26]

In the 1930s, new and less expensive materials such as Chrome plating and bakelite, an early form of plastic, began to be used, and mass production of some items began. The style also influenced industrial design; automobiles, telephones, radios and railroad locomotives were given a streamline look. [2][13][14][15][27][28][29]

La Maison Cubiste and Interior design[edit]

In the Art Décoratif section of the 1912 Salon d'Automne, an architectural installation was exhibited known as La Maison Cubiste (Projet d'hôtel).[30][31] The facade was designed by Raymond Duchamp-Villon and the interior by André Mare along with a group of collaborators.[32] La Maison Cubiste was a furnished installation with a facade, a staircase, wrought iron banisters, a bedroom, a living room—the Salon Bourgeois, where paintings by Albert Gleizes, Jean Metzinger, Marie Laurencin, Marcel Duchamp, Fernand Léger and Roger de La Fresnaye were hung.[33][34] It was an early example of art décoratif, a home within which Cubist art could be displayed in the comfort and style of modern, bourgeois life. Cubism now was recognized as significant to a broad range of applications, beyond the bounds of fine art. The movement opened the way toward new possibilities, a modern geometrical vision that could be adapted to architecture, interior design, graphic arts, fashion and industrial design; the basis of Art Deco.[35] Thousands of spectators at the salon passed through the full-scale house.[36] This architectural installation was subsequently exhibited at the 1913 Armory Show, New York, Chicago and Boston.[12][37][38][39][40]

In 1927, Cubists Joseph Csaky, Jacques Lipchitz, Louis Marcoussis, Henri Laurens, the sculptor Gustave Miklos, and others collaborated in the decoration of a Studio House, rue Saint-James, Neuilly-sur-Seine, designed by the architect Paul Ruaud and owned by the French fashion designer Jacques Doucet, also a collector of Post-Impressionist and Cubist paintings (including Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, which he bought directly from Picasso's studio). Laurens designed the fountain, Csaky designed Doucet's staircase,[41] Lipchitz made the fireplace mantel, and Marcoussis made a Cubist rug.[42][43][44]

The International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts (1925)[edit]

The event that marked the zenith of the style and gave it its name was the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts which took place in Paris from April to October in 1925. This was officially sponsored by the French government, and covered a site in Paris of 55 acres, running from the Grand Palais on the right bank to Les Invalides on the left bank, and along the banks of the Seine. The Grand Palais, the largest hall in the city, was filled with exhibits of decorative arts from the participating countries. There were 15,000 exhibitors from twenty different countries, including England, Italy, Spain, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Belgium, Japan, and the new Soviet Union, though Germany was not invited because of tensions after the war and the United States, misunderstanding the purpose of the exhibit, declined to participate. It was visited by sixteen million people during its seven-month run. The rules of the exhibition required that all work be modern; no historical styles were allowed. The main purpose of the Exhibit was to promote the French manufacturers of luxury furniture, porcelain, glass, metal work, textiles and other decorative products. To further promote the products, all the major Paris department stores and major designers had their own pavilions. The Exposition had a secondary purpose in promoting products from French colonies in Africa and Asia, including ivory and exotic woods.

The Hotel du Riche Collectioneur was a popular attraction at the Exposition; it displayed the new furniture designs of Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann, as well as Art Deco fabrics, carpets, and a painting by Jean Dupas. The interior design followed the same principles of symmetry and geometric forms which set it apart from Art Nouveau, and bright colors, fine craftsmanship rare and expensive materials which set it apart from the strict functionality of the Modernist style. While most of the pavilions were lavishly decorated and filled with hand-made luxury furniture, two pavilions, those of the Soviet Union and Pavilion du Nouveau Esprit, built by the magazine of that name run by Le Corbusier, were built in an austere style with plain white walls and no decoration; they were among the earliest examples of modernist architecture.[45]

Late Art Deco[edit]

In 1925 two different competing schools coexisted within Art Deco: the traditionalists, who had founded the Society of Decorative Artists; included the furniture designer Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann, Jean Dunard, the sculptor Antoine Bourdelle, and designer Poiret; they combined modern forms with traditional craftsmanship and expensive materials. On the other side were the modernists, who increasingly rejected the past and wanted a style based upon advances in new technologies, simplicity, a lack of decoration, inexpensive materials, and mass production. The modernists founded their own organization, The French Union of Modern Artists, in 1929. Its members included architects Pierre Chareau, Francis Jourdain, Robert Mallet-Stevens, Corbusier, and, in the Soviet Union, Konstantin Melnikov; the Irish designer Eileen Gray, and French designer Sonia Delaunay, the jewelers Jean Fouquet and Jean Puiforcat. They fiercely attacked the traditional art deco style, which they said was created only for the wealthy, and insisted that well-constructed buildings should be available to everyone, and that form should follow function. The beauty of an object or building resided in whether it was perfectly fit to fulfill its function. Modern industrial methods meant that furniture and buildings could be mass-produced, not made by hand.[46][47]

The Art Deco interior designer Paul Follot defended Art Deco in this way: "We know that man is never content with the indispensable and that the superfluous is always needed...If not, we would have to get rid of music, flowers, and perfumes..!" [48] However, Le Corbusier was a brilliant publicist for modernist architecture; he stated that a house was simply "a machine to live in", and tirelessly promoted the idea that Art Deco was the past and modernism was the future. Le Corbusier's ideas were gradually adopted by architecture schools, and the aesthetics of At Deco were abandoned. The same features that made Art Deco popular in the beginning, its craftsmanship, rich materials and ornament, led to its decline. The Great Depression that began in the United States in 1929, and reached Europe shortly afterwards, greatly reduced the number of wealthy clients who could pay for the furnishings and art objects. In the Depression economic climate, few companies were ready to build new skyscrapers.[12] Even the Ruhlmann firm was forced to produce pieces of furniture in series, rather than individual hand-made items. The last buildings built in Paris in the new style were the Museum of Public Works by Auguste Perret (now the French, Economic and Environmental Council]] and the Palais de Chaillot by Louis-Hippolyte Boileau, Jacques Carlu and Léon Azéma, and the Palais de Tokyo of the 1937 Paris International Exposition; they looked out at the grandiose pavilion of Nazi Germany, designed by Albert Speer, which faced the equally grandiose socialist-realist pavilion of Stalin's Soviet Union.

After World War II the dominant architectural style became the International Style pioneered by Le Corbusier, and Mies Van der Rohe. A handful of Art Deco hotels were built in Miami Beach after World War II, but elsewhere the style largely vanished, except in industrial design, where it continued to be used in automobile styling and products such as juke boxes. In the 1960s, it experienced a modest academic revival, thanks in part to the writings of architectural historians such as Bevis Hillier. In the 1970s efforts were made in the United States and Europe to preserve the best examples of Art Deco architecture, and many buildings were restored and repurposed. Postmodern architecture, which first appeared in the 1980s, like Art Deco, often includes purely decorative features.[12][13][49][50] Deco continues to inspire designers, and is often used in contemporary fashion, jewelry, and toiletries.[51]


There was no section set aside for painting at the 1925 Exposition. Art deco painting was by definition decorative, designed to decorate a room or work of architecture, so few painters worked exclusively in the style, but two painters are closely associated with Art Deco. Jean Dupas painted Art Deco murals for the Bordeaux Pavilion at the 1925 Decorative Arts Exposition in Paris, and also painted the picture over the fireplace in the Maison de la Collectioneur exhibit at the 1925 Exposition, which featured furniture by Ruhlmann and other prominent Art Deco designers. His murals were also prominent in the decor of the French ocean liner SS Normandie. His work was purely decorative, designed as a background or accompaniment to other elements of the decor.[52] The other painter closely associated with the style is Tamara de Lempicka. Born in Poland in an aristocratic family, she emigrated to Paris after the Russian Revolution. There she became a student of the artist Maurice Denis of the movement called Les Nabis and the cubist André Lhote and borrowed many elements from their styles. She painted almost exclusively portraits in a realistic, dynamic and colorful Art Deco style.[53]

In the 1930s a dramatic new form of Art Deco painting appeared in the United States. During the Great Depression, the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration was created to give work to unemployed artists. Many were given the task of decorating government buildings, hospitals and schools. There was no specific art deco style used in the murals; artists engaged to paint murals in government buildings came from many different schools, from American regionalism to social realism; they included Reginald Marsh, Rockwell Kent and the Mexican painter Diego Rivera. The murals were Art Deco because they were all decorative and related to the activities in the building or city where they were painted: Reginald Marsh and Rockwell Kent both decorated U.S. postal buildings, and showed postal employees at work while Diego Rivera depicted automobile factory workers for the Detroit Institute of Arts.


Most of the sculpture of the Art Deco period was, as the name suggests, purely decorative; it was designed not for museums, but to ornament office buildings, government buildings, public squares, and private salons. It was almost always representational, usually of heroic or allegorical figures related to the purpose of the building; the themes were usually chosen by the patron, and abstract sculpture for decoration was extremely rare. It was frequently attached to facade of buildings, particularly over the entrance.

Allegorical sculptures of the dance and music by Antoine Bourdelle were the essential decorative feature of the earliest Art Deco landmark in Paris, the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, in 1912. The sculptor Aristide Maillol reinvented the classical ideal for his statue of the River (1939), now at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In the 1930s, a whole team of sculptors made sculpture for the 1937 Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne at Chaillot. The buildings of the Exposition were covered with low-relief sculpture, statues. Alfred Janniot made the relief sculptures now visible on the facade of the Palais de Tokyo (the Paris City Museum of Modern Art, and the esplanade in front of the Palais de Chaillot, facing the Eiffel Tower, was crowded with new statuary by Charles Malfray, Henry Arnold,and many others. [54]

In the United States, many European sculptors trained at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, came to work; they included Gutzon Borglum, sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Other American sculpts, including Harriet Whitney Frishmuth, had studied with Auguste Rodin in Paris. The 1929 stock market crash largely destroyed the market for monumental sculpture, but one grand project remained; the new Rockefeller Center. The American sculptors Lee Lawrie and Paul Manship designed heroic allegorical figures for facade and plaza. In San Francisco, Ralph Stackpole provided sculpture for the facade of the new San Francisco Stock Exchange building.

One of the best known and certainly the largest Art Deco sculpture is the Christ the Redeemer by the French sculptor Paul Landowski, completed between 1922 and 1931, located on a mountain top overlooking Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. François Pompon was a pioneer of modern stylized animalier sculpture. He was not fully recognized for his artistic accomplishments until the age of 67 at the Salon d'Automne of 1922 with the work "Ours blanc", also known as "the White Bear", now in the Musee d'Orsay in Paris.[55]

Many early Art Deco sculptures were small, designed to decorate salons. One genre of this sculpture was called the Chryselephantine statuette, named for a style of ancient Greek temple statues made of gold and ivory. One of the best-known Art Deco salon sculptors was the Romanian-born Demetre Chiparus, who produced colorful small sculptures of dancers. Other notable salon sculptors included Ferdinand Preiss, Josef Lorenzl, Alexander Kelety, Dorothea Charol and Gustav Schmidtcassel.[56]

Parallel with these more neoclassical sculptors, more avant-garde and abstract sculptors were at work in Paris and New York. The most prominent was Constantin Brancusi. Others included Joseph Csaky, Henri Laurens, Jacques Lipchitz, Chana Orloff, Gustave Miklos, Jean Lambert-Rucki, Jan et Joël Martel, Pablo Gargallo, and Constantin Brâncuși.[57]

Graphic arts[edit]

The Art Deco style appeared early in the graphic arts, in the years just before World War I. It appeared in Paris in the posters and the costume designs of Leon Bakst for the Ballets Russes, and in the catalogs of the fashion designers Paul Poiret.[58] The illustrations of Georges Barbier, and Georges Lepape and the images in the fashion magazine La Gazette du bon ton perfectly captured the elegance and sensuality of the style. In the 1920s, the look changed; the fashions stressed were more casual, sportive and daring, with the woman models usually smoking cigarettes. American fashion magazines such as Vogue, Vanity Fair and Harper's Bazaar quickly picked up the new style and popularized it in the United States. It also influenced the work of American book illustrators such as Rockwell Kent. In Germany, the most famous poster artist of the period was Ludwig Hohlwein, who created colorful and dramatic posters for music festivals, beers, and, late in his career, for the Nazi Party.[59]

During the Art Nouveau period, posters usually advertised theatrical products or cabarets. In the 1920s, travel posters, made for steamship lines and airlines, became extremely popular. The style changed notably in the 1920s, to focus attention on the product being advertised. The images became simpler, precise, more linear, more dynamic, and were often placed against a single color background. In France popular Art Deco designers included, Charles Loupot and Paul Colin, who became famous for his posters of American singer and dancer Josephine Baker. Jean Carlu designed posters for Charlie Chaplin movies, soaps, and theaters; in the late 1930s he emigrated to the United States, where, during the World War, he designed posters to encourage war production. The designer Charles Gesmar became famous making posters for the singer Mistinguett and for Air France. Among the best known French Art Deco poster designers was Cassandre, who made the celebrated poster of the ocean liner SS Normandie in 1935.[59]

In the 1930s a new genre of posters appeared in the United States during the Great Depression. The Federal Art Project hired American artists to create posters to promote tourism and cultural events.


The architectural style of style moderne or art deco made its debut in Paris in 1903-04, with the construction of two apartment buildings in Paris, one by Auguste Perret on rue Trétaigne and the other on rue Benjamin Franklin by Henri Sauvage. The two young architects used reinforced concrete for the first time in Paris residential buildings; the new buildings had clean lines, rectangular forms, and no decoration on the facades; they marked a clean break with the art nouveau style.[60] Between 1910 and 1913, Perret used his experience in concrete apartment buildings to construct the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, 15 avenue Montaigne. The rigorous composition of its facade, designed by Auguste Perret, is a monumental example of early Art Deco.[61][62] The building includes exterior bas reliefs by Antoine Bourdelle, a dome by Maurice Denis, paintings by Édouard Vuillard and Jacqueline Marval, and a stage curtain design by Ker-Xavier Roussel. It took its inspiration from classical architecture, and featured straight lines, geometric forms, and decoration in the form of sculptured plaques attached to the exterior. Sauvage also went on to create several Paris landmarks of the Art Deco; the Majorelle building in Paris for furniture designer Louis Majorelle (1912–1914); the studio building in 1926–28; the Gambetta Palace movie theater in 1920; and a new facade for the La Samaritaine department store (1925–28).[63][64]

No art deco skyscrapers were built in Paris; there were strict height restrictions, and Paris already had the tallest structure in the world, the Eiffel Tower. However, in New York, the style was seized upon as symbol of modernity and progress. At the end of the 1920s, the style was used for a group of new skyscrapers, including the Chrysler Building by William Van Alen (1928–30), the Empire State Building by William F. Lamb (1931) and the RCA Building (now the Comcast Building) in Rockefeller Center, by Raymond Hood (1933) which together completely changed the skyline of New York. The tops of the buildings were decorated with Art Deco crowns and spires covered with stainless steel, and, in the case of the Chrysler building, with Art Deco gargoyles modeled after radiator ornaments, while the entrances and lobbies were lavishly decorated with Art Deco sculpture, ceramics, and design. Similar buildings, though not quite as tall, soon appeared in Chicago and other large American cities.[65]

The Art Deco style was not limited to buildings on land; the ocean liner SS Normandie, whose first voyage was in 1935, featured Art Deco design, including a dining room whose ceiling and decoration were made of glass by Lalique.

"Cathedrals of Commerce" - the skyscraper[edit]

The grand showcases of Art deco interior design were the lobbies of government buildings, theaters, and particularly office buildings. Interiors were extremely colorful and dynamic, combining sculpture, murals, and ornate geometric design in marble, glass, ceramics and stainless steel. An early example was the Fisher Building in Detroit, by Joseph Nathaniel French; the lobby was highly decorated with sculpture and ceramics. ]The Guardian Building (originally the Union Trust Building) in Detroit, by Wirt Rowland (1929), decorated with red and black marble and brightly colored ceramics, highlighted by highly polished steel elevator doors and counters. The sculptural decoration installed in the walls illustrated the virtues of industry and saving; the building was immediately terms the "Cathedral of Commerce". The Medical and Dental Building called 450 Sutter Street in San Francisco by Timothy Pflueger was inspired by Mayan architecture, in a highly stylized form; it used pyramid shapes, and the interior walls were covered highly stylized rows of hieroglyphs.[66]

William van Alen, the architect of the Chrysler Building in New York (1930), chose a different approach; the lobby of the building echoed the modernity of the outside, with geometric shapes in glass, ceramics and stainless steel framed by panels of polished wood.

In France, the best example of an Art Deco interior during period was the Palais de la Porte Dorée (1931) by Albert Laprade, Léon Jaussely and Léon Bazin. The building (now the National Museum of Immigration, with an aquarium in the basement) was built for the Paris Colonial Exposition of 1931, to celebrate the people and products of French colonies. The exterior facade was entirely covered with sculpture, and the lobby created an Art Deco harmony with a wood parquet floor in a geometric pattern, a mural depicting the people of French colonies; and a harmonious composition of vertical doors and horizontal balconies.[66]

Movie palaces[edit]

Many of the best surviving examples of Art Deco are movie theaters built in the 1920s and 1930s. The Art Deco period coincided with the conversion of silent films to sound, and movie companies built enormous theaters in major cities to capture the huge audience that came to see movies. Movie palaces in the 1920s often combined exotic themes with art deco style; Grauman's Egyptian Theater in Hollywood (1922) was inspired by Egyptian tombs and pyramids, while the Fox Theater in Bakersfield, California attached a tower in California Mission style to an Art Deco hall. The largest of all is Radio City Music Hall in New York City, which opened in 1932. Originally designed as a stage theater, it quickly transformed into a movie theater, which could seat 6,015 persons The interior design by Donald Deskey used glass, aluminum, chrome, and leather to create a colorful escape from reality The Paramount Theater in Oakland, California, by Timothy Pflueger, had a colorful ceramic facade a lobby four stories high, and separate Art Deco smoking rooms for gentlemen and ladies. Similar grand palaces appeared in Europe. The Grand Rex in Paris (1932), with its imposing tower, was the largest movie theater in Europe. The Gaumont State Cinema in London (1937) had a tower modeled after the Empire State building, covered with cream-colored ceramic tiles and an interior in an Art Deco-Italian Renaissance style. The Paramount Theater in Shanghai, China (1933) was originally built as a dance hall called The gate of 100 pleasures; it was converted to a movie theater after the Communist Revolution in 1949, and now is a ballroom and disco. In the 1930s Italian architects built a small movie palace, the Cinema Impero, in Asmara in what is now Eritrea. Today, many of the movie theaters have been subdivided into multiplexes, but others have been restored and are used as cultural centers in their communities.[67]

Streamline Moderne (1930-39)[edit]

In the late 1930s, a new variety of Art Deco architecture became common; it was called Streamline Moderne or simply Streamline, or, in France, the Style Paqueboat, or Ocean Liner style. Buildings in the style were had rounded corners, long horizontal lines; they were built of reinforced concrete, and were almost always white; and sometimes had nautical features, such as railings that resembled those on a ship. . The rounded corner was not entirely new; it had appeared in Berlin in 1923 in the Mossehaus by Erich Mendelsohn, and later in the Hoover Building, an industrial complex in the London suburb of Perivale. In the United States, it became most closely associated with transport; Streamline moderne was rare in office buildings, but was often used for bus stations and airport terminals, such as terminal at La Guardia airport in New York City that handled the first transatlantic flights, via the PanAm clipper flying boats; and in roadside architecture, such as gas stations and diners. In the late 1930s a series of diners, modeled after streamlined railroad cars, were produced and installed in towns in New England; at least two examples still remain and are now registered historic buildings.[68]

Decoration and motifs[edit]

Decoration in the Art Deco period went through several distinct phases. Between 1910 and 1920, as Art Nouveau wad exhausted, design styles saw a return to tradition, particularly in the work of Paul Iribe. In 1912 André Vera published an essay in the magazine L'Art Decoratif calling for a return to the craftsmanship and materials of earlier centuries, and using a new repertoire of forms taken from nature, particularly baskets and garlands of fruit and flowers. A second tendency of Art Deco, also from 1910 to 1920, was inspired by the bright colors of the artistic movement known as the Fauves and by the colorful costumes and sets of the Ballets Russes. This style was often expressed with exotic materials such as sharkskin, mother of pearl, ivory, tinted leather, lacquered and painted wood, and decorative inlays on furniture that emphasized its geometry. This period of the style reached its high point in the 1925 Paris Exposition of Decorative Arts. In the late 1920s and the 1930s, the decorative style changed, inspired by new materials and technologies. It became sleeker and less ornamental. Furniture, like architecture, began to have rounded edges and to take on a polished, streamlined look, taken from the streamline moderne style. New materials, such as chrome-plated steel, aluminum and bakelite, an early form of plastic, began to appear in furniture and decoration.[69]

Throughout the Art Deco period, and particularly in the 1930s, the motifs of the decor expressed the function of the building. Theaters were decorated with sculpture which illustrated music, dance, and excitement; power companies showed sunrises, the Chrysler building showed stylized hood ornaments; The friezes of Palais de la Porte Dorée at the 1931 Paris Colonial Exposition showed the faces of the different nationalities of French colonies. The Streamline style made it appear that the building itself was in motion. The WPA murals of the 1930s featured ordinary people; factory workers, postal workers, families and farmers, in place of classical heroes.[70]


French avant-garde furniture from 1910 until the early 1920s was largely a modification of the art nouveau designs of Louis Majorelle, Charles Plumet and other manufacturers; the designs were simplified and more angular. However, in Paris Salons of 1911, more radical innovations began to appear, particularly in the work of painter André Mare and architect Louis Suë in the 1912 Salon. After the War the two men joined together to form their own company, formally called the Compagnie des Arts Française, but usually known simply as Suë and Mare. Unlike the prominent art nouveau designers like Louis Majorelle, who personally designed every piece, they assembled a team of skilled craftsmen and produced complete interior designs, including furniture, glassware, carpets, ceramics, wallpaper and lighting. Their work featured bright colors and furniture and fine woods, such ebony encrusted with mother of pearl, abalone and silvered metal to create bouquets of flowers. They designed everything from the interiors of ocean liners to perfume bottles for the label of Jean Patou.The firm prospered in the early 1920s, but the two men were better craftsmen than businessmen. The firm was sold in 1928, and both men left.[71]

The most prominent furniture designer at the 1925 Decorative Arts Exposition was Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann, from Alsace. He first exhibited his works at the 1913 Autumn Salon, then had his own pavilion, the "House of the Rich Collector", at the 1925 Exposition. He used only most rare and expensive materials, including ebony, mahogany, rosewood, ambon and other exotic woods, decorated with inlays of ivory, tortoise shell, mother of pearl, Little pompoms of silk decorated the handles of drawers of the cabinets.[72] His furniture was based upon 18th century models, but simplified and reshaped. In all of his work, the interior structure of the furniture was completely concealed. The framework usually of oak, was completely covered with an overlay of thin strips of wood, then covered by a second layer of strips of rare and expensive woods. This was then covered with a veneer and polished, so that the piece looked as if it had been cut out of a single block of wood. Contrast to the dark wood was provided by inlays of ivory, and ivory key plates and handles. According to Ruhlmann, armchairs had to be designed differently according to the functions of the rooms where they appeared; living room armchairs were designed to be welcoming, office chairs comfortable, and salon chairs voluptuous. Only a small number of pieces of each design of furniture was made, and the average price of one of his beds or cabinets was greater than the price of an average house.[73]

Jules Leleu was a traditional furniture designer who moved smoothly into Art Deco in the 1920s; he designed the furniture for the dining room of the Elysee Palace, and for the first-class cabins of the steamship Normandie. his style was characterized by the use of ebony, Macassar wood, walnut, with decoration of plaques of ivory and mother of pearl. He introduced the style of lacquered art deco furniture at the end of in the late 1920s, and in the late 1930s introduced furniture made of metal with panels of smoked glass.[74] In Italy, the designer Gio Ponti was famous for his streamlined designs. In the United States,

The costly and exotic furniture Ruhlmann and other traditionalists infuriated modernists, including the architect Le Corbusier, causing him to write a famous series of articles denouncing the arts décoratif style. He attacked furniture made only for the rich, and called upon designers to create furniture made with inexpensive materials and modern style, which ordinary people could afford. He designed his own chairs, created to be inexpensive and mass-produced.[75]

In the 1930s, furniture designs adapted to the Streamline Moderne form, with smoother surfaces and curved forms. The masters of the late style included Donald Deskey was one of the most influential designers; he created the interior of the Radio City Music Hall. He used a mixture of traditional and very modern materials, including aluminum, chrome, and bakelite, an early form of plastic.[76]

Streamline Moderne design[edit]

Main article: Streamline Moderne

Streamline Moderne (or Streamline) was a variety of Art Deco which emerged during the mid-1930s. It was influenced by modern aerodynamic principles developed for aviation and ballistics to reduce air friction at high velocities. The bullet shapes were applied by designers to cars, trains, ships, and even objects not intended to move, such as refrigerators, gas pumps, and buildings.[15] One of the first production vehicles in this style was the Chrysler Airflow of 1933. It was unsuccessful commercially, but the beauty and functionality of its design set a precedent; Streamline Moderne meant modernity. It continued to be used in car design well after World War II.[77][78][79][80]

New industrial materials began to influence design of cars and household objects. These included aluminum, chrome, and bakelite, an early form of plastic. Bakelite could be easily molded into different forms, and soon was used in telephones, radios and other appliances.

Ocean liners also adopted a style of Art Deco, known in French as the Style Paqueboat, or "Ocean Liner Style". The most famous example was the SS Normandie, which made its first transatlantic trip in 1935. It was designed particularly to bring wealthy Americans to Paris to shop. The cabins and salons featured the latest Art Deco furnishings and decoration. The Grand Salon of the ship, which was the restaurant for first-class passengers, was bigger than the Hall of Mirrors of the Palace of Versailles. It was illuminated by electric lights within twelve pillars of Lalique crystal; thirty-six matching pillars lined the walls. This was one of the earliest examples of illumination being directly integrated into architecture. The style of ships was soon adapted to buildings. A notable example is found on the San Francisco waterfront, where the Maritime Museum building, built as a public bath in 1937, resembles a ferryboat, with ship railings and rounded corners. The Star Ferry Terminal in Hong Kong also used a variation of the style.[12]


In the 1920s and 1930s, designers including René Lalique and Cartier tried reduce the traditional dominance of diamonds by introducing more colorful gemstones, such as small emeralds, rubies and sapphires. They also placed greater emphasis on very elaborate and elegant settings, featuring less-expensive materials such as enamel, glass, horn and ivory. Diamonds themselves were cut in less traditional forms; the 1925 Exposition saw a large number of diamonds cut in the form of tiny rods or matchsticks. The settings for diamonds also changed; More and more often jewellers used platinum instead of gold, since it was strong and flexible, and could set clusters of stones. Jewellers also began to use more dark materials, such as enamels and black onyx, which provided a higher contrast with diamonds. [81]

Jewellry became much more colorful and varied in style. Cartier and the firm of Bucheron combined diamonds with colorful other gemstones cut into the form of leaves, fruit or flowers. to make brooches, rings, earrings, clips and pendants Far eastern themes also became popular; plaques of jade and coral were combined with platinum and diamonds, and vanity cases, cigarette cases and powder boxes were decorated with Japanese and Chinse landscapes made with mother of pearl, enamel and lacquer. [81]

Rapidly changing fashions in clothing brought new styles of jewelry. Sleeveless dresses of the 1920s meant that arms needed decoration, and designers quickly created bracelets of gold, silver and platinum encrusted with lapis-lazuii, onyx, coral, and other colorful stones; Oher bracelets were intended for the upper arms, and several bracelets were often worn at the same time. The short haircuts of women in the twenties called for elaborate deco earring designs. As women began to smoke in public, designers created very ornate cigarette cases and ivory cigarette holders. The invention of the wrist-watch before World War I inspired jewelers to create extraordinary decorated watches, encrusted with diamonds and plated with enamel, gold and silver. Pendant watches, hanging from a ribbon, also became fashionable. [82]

The established jewelry houses of Paris in the period, Cartier, Chaumet, Georges Fouquet, Mauboussin, and Van Cleef & Arpels all created jewellry and objects in the new fashion. The firm of Chaumet made highly geometric cigarette boxes, cigarette lighters, pillboxes and notebooks, made of hard stones decorated with jade, lapis lazuli, diamonds and sapphires. They were joined by many young new designers, each with his own idea of deco. Raymond Templier designed pieces with highly intricate geometric patterns, including silver earrings that looked like skyscrapers. Gerard Sandoz was only 18 when he started to design jewelry in 1921; he designed many celebrated pieces based on the smooth and polished look of modern machinery. The glass designer René Lalique also entered the field, creating pendants of fruit, flowers, frogs, fairies of mermaids made of sculpted glass in bright colors, hanging on cords of silk with tassels. [82] The jeweller Paul Brandt contrasted rectangular and triangular patterns, and embedded pearls in lines on onyx plaques. Jean Despres made necklaces of contrasting colors by bringing together silver and black lacquer, or gold with lapis lazuli. Many of his designs looked like highly polished pieces of machines. Jean Dunand was also inspired by modern machinery, combined with bright reds and blacks contrasting with polished metal. [82] .

Glass art[edit]

Like the Art Nouveau period before it, Art Deco was an exceptional period for fine glass and other decorative objects, designed to fit their architectural surroundings. The most famous producer of glass objects was René Lalique, whose works, from vases to hood ornaments for automobiles, became symbols of the period. Louis Majorelle, famous for his Art Nouveau furniture, designed a remarkable Art Deco stained glass window portraying steel workers for the offices of a steel mill in Longwy, France.

Metal art[edit]

Art Deco artists produced a wide variety of practical objects in the Art Deco style, made of industrial materials from traditional wrought iron to chrome-plated steel. The American artist Norman Bel Geddes designed a cocktail set resembling a skyscraper made of chrome-plated steel. Raymond Subes designed an elegant metal grille for the entrance of the Palais de la Porte Dorée, the centerpiece of the 1931 Paris Colonial Exposition. The French sculptor Jean Dunand produced magnificent doors on the theme "The Hunt", covered with gold leaf and paint on plaster (1935).[83]


Parker Duofold desk set, c. 1930

Art Deco was a globally popular style and affected many areas of design. It was used widely in consumer products such as automobiles, furniture, cookware, china, textiles, jewelry, clocks, and electronic items such as radios and telephones. It also influenced architecture, interior design, industrial design, fashion, graphic arts, and cinema.

During the 1930s, Art Deco was used extensively for public works projects, railway stations,[84] ocean liners (including the Île de France, Queen Mary, and Normandie), movie palaces, and amusement parks.

Art Deco architecture around the World[edit]

Art Deco architecture began in Europe, but by 1939 there were examples in large cities on every continent and in almost every country. This is a selection of prominent buildings on each continent. (For a comprehensive of existing buildings by country, see List of Art Deco architecture)


Most Art Deco buildings in Africa were built during European colonial rule, and often designed by Italian and French architects.


A large number of the Art Deco buildings in Asia were designed by European architects, but in the Philippines local architect Juan Nakpil was preeminent. Many art deco landmarks in Asia were demolished during the great economic expansion of Asia the late 20th century, but some notable enclaves of the architecture still remain, particularly in Shanghai and Mumbai.

Central America and the Caribbean[edit]

Art Deco buildings can be found throughout Central America. A particularly rich collection in found in Cuba, built largely for the large number of tourists who came to the island from the United States.

South America[edit]

The Kavanagh building in Buenos Aires (1934), by Sánchez, Lagos and de la Torre, was the tallest reinforced concrete structure when it was completed, and a notable example of late Art Deco style.

Art deco buildings are also prominent in Montevideo, Uruguay, including the Palacio Salvo, which was South America's tallest building when it was built in 1928.


The architectural style first appeared in Paris with the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées (1910–13) by Auguste Perret but then spread rapidly around Europe, until examples could be found in nearly every large city, from London to Moscow. In Germany two variations of Art Deco flourished in the 1920s and 30s: The Neue Sachlichkeit style and Expressionist architecture. Notable examples include Erich Mendelsohn's Mossehaus and Schaubühne theater in Berlin, Fritz Höger's Chilehaus in Hamburg and his Kirche am Hohenzollernplatz in Berlin, the Anzeiger Tower in Hannover and the Borsig Tower in Berlin.[86]

One of the largest Art Deco buildings in Western Europe is the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Koekelberg, Brussels. In 1925, architect Albert van Huffel won the Grand Prize for Architecture with his scale model of the basilica at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris.[87]

Spain and Portugal have some striking examples of Art Deco buildings, particularly movie theaters, including the Rivoli Theater in Porto (1937) and the Cine Rialto in Valencia, Spain (1939).

During the 1930s, Art Deco had a noticeable effect on house design in the United Kingdom,[13] as well as the design of various public buildings.[49] Straight, white-rendered house frontages rising to flat roofs, sharply geometric door surrounds and tall windows, as well as convex-curved metal corner windows, were all characteristic of that period.[50][88][89]

The London Underground is famous for many examples of Art Deco architecture,[90] and there are a number of buildings in the style situated along the Golden Mile in Brentford. Also in West London is the Hoover Building, which was originally built for The Hoover Company and was converted into a superstore in the early 1990s.

Canada, Mexico, and the United States[edit]

In Canada Art Deco structures that survive are mainly in the major cities; Montreal, Toronto, Hamilton, Ontario, and Vancouver. They range from public buildings like Vancouver City Hall to commercial buildings (College Park) to public works (R. C. Harris Water Treatment Plant).

In Mexico, the most imposing Art Deco example is interior of the Palacio de Bellas Artes Palace of Fine Arts, finished in 1934 with its elaborate decor and murals. Examples of Art Deco residential architecture can be found in the Condesa neighborhood, many designed by Francisco J. Serrano.

In the United States, Art Deco buildings are found from coast to coast, in all the major cities. It was most widely used for office buildings, train stations, airport terminals, and movie theaters; residential buildings are rare. In the 1930s, the more austere streamline style became popular. Many buildings were demolished between 1945 and the late 1960s, but then efforts began to protect the best examples. A neighborhood of art-deco buildings in Miami Beach has been protected to preserve the best examples of the style..

Australia and New Zealand[edit]

Melbourne, Australia and Sydney, Australia have several notable Art Deco buildings, including the Manchester Unity Building and the former Russell Street Police Headquarters in Melbourne and the Grace Building (Sydney) and the AWA Tower and the ANZAC War Memorial in Sydney.

Several towns in New Zealand, including Napier and Hastings were rebuilt in Art Deco style after the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake, and many of the buildings have been protected and restored. Napier has been nominated for UNESCO World Heritage Site status, the first cultural site in New Zealand to be nominated.[92][93] Wellington has retained a sizeable number of Art Deco buildings.[94]

Preservation and Neo Art Deco[edit]

In many cities, efforts have been made to protect the remaining Art Deco buildings. In many U.S. cities, historic art deco movie theaters have been preserved and turned into cultural centers. Even more modest art deco buildings have been preserved as part of America's architectural heritage; an art deco cafe and gas station along Route 66 in Shamrock, Texas is an historic monument. The Miami Beach Architectural District protects several hundred old buildings, and requires that new buildings comply with the style. In Havana, Cuba, a large number of Art Deco buildings have badly deteriorated. Efforts are underway to bring the buildings back to their original color and appearance.

In the 21st century, modern variants of Art Deco, called Neo Art Deco, have appeared in some American cities, inspired by the classic Art Deco buildings of the 1920s and 1930s. Examples include the Smith Center for the Performing Arts in Las Vegas, Nevada, which includes art deco features from Hoover Dam, fifty miles away, and from the Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth, Texas, an art deco landmark built in 1936.


Antoine Bourdelle, 1910–12, Apollon et sa méditation entourée des 9 muses (The Meditation of Apollo and the Muses), bas-relief, Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris. This work represents one of the earliest examples of what became known as Art Deco sculpture

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]