Thursday, 8 October 2009

Art Deco – the modern stream

The art and design of the Art Deco era (1920-1939) is characterised by geometric shapes, bright colours and decorative motifs deriving from a wide range of styles of the 20th Century such as Neo-classical, Constructivism, Cubism, Modernism, Art Noveau and Futurism. In Europe, its popularity peaked in the 1920s and in the USA it continued strongly through the 1930s. Differing from other art and design movements which have political or philosophical intentions, Art Deco was purely decorative. The term Art Deco, also known as moderne or modernistic, is an abbreviation of the French words art and décoratif, from the 1925 Paris Exposition des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels, which showcased new and exciting forms of French design that sparked the Art Deco style.

Poster for the influential exposition

The stylistic label Art Deco was introduced later in the mid 1960s when the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris organised an exhibition named Les Années 25: Art Déco/ Bauhaus/ Stijl/ L'Esprit Nouveau. And the term became more familiarized by the publication of the book Art Deco of the 20s and 30s by Bevis Hillier in 1968.

Art Deco design is based on mathematical geometric shapes in trapezoidal, zigzagged and jumbled designs, seen in the motifs of abstracted garlands of flowers, flowing fountains, running deer, chevrons, lightning flashes, and sunbursts. These shapes were influenced by the crystalline and faceted forms of decorative Cubism and Futurism, as well as ethnographic arts of Africa, Aztec Mexico and especially Egypt after the opening of Tutankhamun's Tomb in 1922.

A selection of Art Deco shapes

The collecting of ‘primitive’ artefacts at the beginning of the 20th Century inspired designers to use exotic woods, ivory, snake, shark and zebra skin. Art Deco design was also influenced by Machine Age or streamline technology, such as modern aviation, electric lighting, the radio, the ocean liner and the skyscraper. New materials such as Bakelite, Vitrolite, and chromium plating were important to the Art Deco style, as well as aluminium, stainless steel, lacquer and inlaid wood. In architecture, Art Deco was applied in sleek columns and radiating shapes such as in the Chrysler Building, and the colourfulness of Art Deco is best seen in Miami Beach.

Miami Beach Art Deco houses

Art Deco lost its fame in the West after reaching mass production in the late 1930s and began to be thought of as gaudy and an unecessary luxury, and its presence was cut short by the austerities of The Second World War. Many later artistic movements were influenced by Art Deco such as Memphis and Pop Art, and in the 1960s, and again in the 1980s graphic design used Art Deco imagery, and its association with film noir and 1930s glamour were used to advertise fashion, jewellery and perfume.

The symmetry and repetition of Art Deco design spanned across jewellery, kitchen ware and decorative objects, seen in a selection of items from Alfies:

Colourful deco crystal necklaces and a dog brooch in celluloid. Prices from £ 35.00, from The Originals – Paola & Iaia

A pair of rare Art Deco salt and pepper shakers with radiating designs, c.1925 offered by W & L Antiques

Two tier silver plated cake stand designed by Mappin and Webb, offered by Goldsmith & Perris

Five mirror Deco vases. One pair of clear mirror, one pair of yellow mirror and one tall bronze mirror, all from Thirteen.

Two vases with stepped pyramid bases, offered by Renato

Lighting from the Art Deco era shows the gradual symmetry, such as these examples:

Orange phenolic and stepped chrome base original art deco table lamp, 1930's offered by Thirteen

Art Deco brown bakelite table lamp offered by Thirteen

A 1930's Art Deco crystal chandelier, width 80cm, offered by Lorna Lee Leslie

In interior design, the symmetry of Art Deco was combined with the beautiful use of wood, leather, metal and glass:

Elegant pair of 1930s consoles with drawers, in burr wood and leather, 90cm wide x 45 cm deep x 75 cm high, offered by Bent Ply

Round green glass Art Deco mirror offered by Louise Verber

A French Deco hall stand, from Stephen Lazarus

Ebonised and chrome sideboard made by P.E.L., measuring 152cm x 57cm x 92cm high, offered by Travers Antiques

Walnut and mirror shelves. 40cm x 40cm x 80cm high, also from Travers Antiques

More Art deco to be found in Alfies, over three floors of wonders!

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