Originating in France, Art Deco developed in a variety of areas, such as visual arts, like painting and sculpture, graphic and product design, as well as architecture. This movement was validated in Paris in the year of 1925 with its first exhibition entitled International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts. During this same show, the architect Le Corbusier was also showing his interior design work, and with the influence of the Bauhaus, he maintained a rational and pure design. The architect was initially against decorative art and advocated standard style houses, with no luxury – the extreme opposite of Deco art. It is believed he gave the movement’s name in the 1925 exhibit, but the term was only officially used in the 1960’s. Eventually, Le Corbusier gives into the Deco art and becomes one of the biggest names in the movement, as he was attracted by its modern aesthetic.
The artists involved with this movement worked with stylized circles or straight lines, and abstract designs formed with geometric shapes. Very different from its predecessors of the Art Nouveau, with their asymmetrical and serpentine lines. The figurative works would often depict animals and feminine figures. Even though the Deco and Nouveau had their difference in styles, it is safe to say one emerges from another. The Deco artists were also more interested in the decorative aspect of their art – as its name states. The movement was very influenced by Cubism, Futurism, and Constructivism, along with taking inspiration from the colorful Russian ballet of Diaghilev. Rich in cultural references, Deco artists would also study Oriental, Egyptian, Hindu, and Aztec art as a source of inspiration.
Many artists worked their decorative patterns into different media like Paul Poiret, a fashion designer, and decorator. He is one of the most influential people in fashion at the time, being famous for liberating women from the corsets. Poiret worked with and influenced the illustrator, painter, and designer Paul Iribe – who later in his career moved to Hollywood, where he met and had a relationship with the fashion designer Coco Channel.
Sonia Delaunay, also a fashion designer, worked with scenography and costume design in theater production, as well as producing colorful, circular, and abstract decorative paintings. Her work reflected her great knowledge of color and how she was able to create beautiful pallets in her paintings. The Russian artist, just known as Érte, worked in France, and also inherits this versatility in media from the Deco period. Érte is highly successful in many areas, such as interior, costume, and fashion design, working with jewelry as well. His illustrations are colorfully theatrical, full of decorative detail and usually portray women figures.
The Deco art movement was initially targeted to the bourgeoisie society of the post-war, spreading through Europe. The artists worked with expensive and luxurious materials, such as ivory, jade and other precious stones. But in 1934, the Deco art takes a different turn with their first exhibition in The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. This overseas migration enabled a more direct approach to industrialized production, and artists begin to use techniques and materials of mass production. This Bauhaus related tendency marks a new era of the Deco art, for it now becomes popular and accessible, entering the everyday life of European and American families. The 1930’s are known for its Deco styled furniture, publicity, posters, fashion, jeweler, and even domestic appliances. The city of Miami, Florida is famous for its preserved Deco style architecture.
Originally Polish, Tamara de Lempicka was an extraordinary painter of the Deco art. She and her husband moved to Paris after the Russian Revolution of 1917, as he was temporarily imprisoned by the Bolsheviks. She was famous for being a bohemian woman and admittedly a bisexual, and she portrayed what was seen as a scandalous lifestyle at the time, in her paintings. She was influenced by Cubism and knew Pablo Picasso personally. Lempicka mostly represented voluptuous human figures, with dramatic and colorful fabrics. In Autoportrait (Tamara in the Green Bugatti), she painted a self-portrait in her car and was able to give movement by working with the flow of the fabric and the dynamic composition. By analyzing her paintings, you can notice how she incorporates three-dimensional geometric shapes in her figures, like in Young Lady with Gloves. Lempicka was the perfect example of a modern woman – fully emancipated in all ways.
The Deco movement dies down after the second half of the 1930’s, but it’s sophisticated and decorative style inspired many modern and post-modern artists and architects to come.