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  • gerard van weyenbergh

Art Deco, a basic description.

Updated: Apr 13, 2023

Synonymous with elegance and preciousness, Art Deco is, first of all, a style specific to the 1925s. Opposed to architectural nudism, to the minimalist style of the modernists, it expresses the return to a classic sensibility, both in fine art. arts, furniture, as architecture. The movement is, however, more complicated than it seems because it also includes artists and architects in search of modernity and functionalism (stylistic purity, taste for geometric or aerodynamic forms). Do not confuse the Art Deco decorative arts: the first term is a creation of the 1960s while the concept of decorative art comes to us from the XIXth century and the Art Nouveau in particular

History of movement

Art deco did not suddenly appear in 1925, the year of the International Exhibition of Decorative Arts in Paris, which marked its triumph. The beginnings show up in 1910, in response to the abundance of the new art: it was a question of offering a return to a more classic style but nourished by the influence of avant-garde movements such as Cubism. It is first a style associated with the needs of reconstruction after the destruction of the First World War in the invaded and devastated regions. Using new and less expensive materials than stone (concrete in particular), Art Deco brought out a unique urban aesthetic in certain cities of France like Reims or Soissons, from 1918.

At the International Exhibition of Decorative Arts, the public can discern two trends:

a/ one focused on functionalism and geometric purity;

b/ the other towards traditionalism and luxury.

The period is therefore dominated by contradictory, if not opposite, research. In 1925, Le Corbusier thus exhibited his Pavilion of the New Spirit, "equipped" rather than decorated, with a purist and universal aesthetic. It approaches modernism or international style. On the other hand, the designer Jacques-Émile Ruhlmann offers his Collector's Hotel, with classic and refined architecture, decorated with bas-reliefs by Joseph Bernard, sculptures by François Pompon and Alfred Janniot. It is this last style, qualified as a traditionalist, which constitutes Art Deco.

One of the strong trends in art deco in the years 1925–1930 was the return to an absolute preciousness, both in the fine arts and decorative arts, aimed at wealthy clients. It is synonymous with luxury and artisanal perfection, rejecting all serial production. In the fine arts, painting in particular, Art Deco refers to a return to mannerism mixed with modernity, as well illustrated by the work of Tamara de Lempicka, a Polish aristocratic painter, both cubist and ingrate.

This mixture between modernism and traditionalism, which forms the sophisticated DNA of the Art Deco period, is well expressed on the floating palaces that were the great transatlantic liners connecting France to New York, the Ile de France (1927) and the Normandy (1935) being the most famous. Many decorators, such as Jean Dunand, Louis Süe, and André Mare, René Lalique, intervene to create a unique and luxurious atmosphere.


Art expert art deco
© George Pagan III


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