Art Deco is an architectural and decorative-arts
style, popular from 1910 to 1940, that is characterized by highly stylized natural and geometric
forms and ornaments, usually strongly symmetrical. Outstanding American examples of Art Deco are
the Chrysler Building and Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Some of the century's most
significant artists, such as Pablo Picasso, Fernand Leger, Sonia Delaunay, and Wassily Kandinsky,
produced work in the style, as did designers of furnishings, textiles, jewelry, and advertising.
Art Deco themes were often classical motifs
reduced to geometric stylizations. Edgar Brandt decorated wrought-iron screens with symmetrical
fountains; Emil Ruhlman inlaid ebony cabinets with ivory to depict floral arrangements of geometrical
precision; René Lalique etched scenes, such as a gracefully striding female with a wolfhound or
a gazelle, into crystal or frosted glass; and Jean Puiforcat and Daum depicted abstract geometric forms.
The term Art Deco, coined in the 1960s when interest
in the style revived, was derived from L'Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et
Industriels Modernes. This Paris exhibition of 1925 came midway in Art Deco's development and was a
definitive display of the style. At this time Art Deco was also known as "Art Moderne" or "Modernistic";
later it was called "Jazz Pattern," or "Skyscraper Modern."
The International Style in architecture developed at
the same time, and after 1925 it considerably influenced the final phase of Art Deco. Along with cubist
painting and the German Bauhaus school, the work of Le Corbusier and other International Style architects
effected a change from the earlier, more decorative phase of Art Deco toward a simpler, bolder approach
typical of the 1930s.
Art Deco emerged as a reaction to Art Nouveau. Its
two forerunners were Charles Rennie Mackintosh of Scotland and Josef Hoffmann of Vienna. These men were
reformers of the excesses of the Art Nouveau style, and their works in 1900 were an indication of what
was to appear in the next decades.
Hoffman's austere Palais Stoclet in Brussels (1905-11),
with its mosaic murals by Gustave Klimt, was surprisingly advanced for its time, and it marked the
transition from Art Nouveau to Art Deco. In 1903 Hoffman founded the Wiener Werkstatte, a workshop that
produced some of the earliest Art Deco designs.
These concepts were introduced in Paris in 1910 with
an exhibition of decorative arts from Munich and Vienna at the Louvre. On display was a new style based
on a simplification of the early 19th-century neoclassical Biedermeier style and of peasant art, or folk
art, quite the antithesis of Art Nouveau. Another significant event in Paris in 1910 was the presentation
by the Ballets Russes de Serge Diaghilev of Scheherazade. Leon Bakst had concocted oriental sets and
costumes in dazzling, barbaric colors; this brought a demand in the fashion world for exoticism, soon
answered by the couturier Paul Poiret. In 1912, Poiret created his own design school, the Atelier Martine,
to further his Art Deco ideas. By the 1920s the effects of cubist painting were seen in advertising and
product designs. Coco Chanel used cubist colors and forms in creating women's fashions, which she adorned
with Art Deco jewelry.
African sculpture and ancient Egyptian and Southwest
American Indian arts all had their influence on Art Deco in this decade, as did Archaic Greek art. With
the influence of the Bauhaus and the International Style after 1925, Art Deco arrived at a final
development that reflected the industrial age, thus achieving a reconciliation of the arts and machine
production that had troubled artists and designers since the Industrial Revolution began.
E. M. Plunkettm, Art Historian.
Source: The Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, Release #9.01, ©1997.
Bibliography: Victor Arwas, Art Deco (1985), Art Deco Sculpture (1985),
and Glass: Art Nouveau to Art Deco (1987);
Martin Battersby, Art Deco Fashion (1974; repr. 1984);
Alistair Duncan, American Art Deco (1986) and, as ed.,
The Encyclopedia of Art Deco: An Illustrated Guide to a Decorative Style from 1920 to 1939 (1988);
Bevis Hillier, The World of Art Deo (1971; repr. 1981);
Alain Lesieutre, The Spirit and Splendour of Art Deco (1974);
Edward Lucie-Smith, Art Deco Painting (1990);
Theodore Menten, The Art Deco Style (1972).
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