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What is Art Deco?

A couple of weeks ago, I said that I was going to do a series about design movements.

I'll start today with one of the best known:

Art Deco is one of the most famous of the Design Periods.  Everyone has heard the term, and people may or may not know exactly what it means.

August Walther & Söhne
(Germany) c. 1935
Deco, which reached its height in the 20s and 30s, provided a respite from the gloom and austerity of World War I and the Great Depression that followed. It is easily recognised due to its bold lines. Art Deco was a radical departure from previous styles; its designs were grand, often colourful; they were geometric and streamlined. Its designers used unexpected materials. Paradoxically, Art Deco was considered modern and functional, with simplified materials and lines, and yet it was also very extravagant and large in scope. Art Deco permeated every field of design, from art and architecture to jewellery, fashion and transportation. The movement was international.

Art Deco takes its name from a French exhibition: l'Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Moderne, which took place in Paris in 1925.  The style was one of those in the Movement known as ‘modernism’ or style moderne ('modern style').  It was not called ‘Art Deco’ until the latter half of the 20th Century.

Some of the big names in Art Deco are:  
 Clarice Cliff's bold patterns,
geometric designs and bright colours
epitomised the genre.

Above: Blue Crocus Creamer
from the 'Bizarre' range
Clarice Cliff (UK) c. 1935

Preserve Pot in the My Garden pattern.
Clarice Cliff (UK) c. 1935
  • Clarice Cliff, Susie Cooper and Charlotte Rhead, ceramicists
  • Rene Lalique (he made fabulous jewellery but is of course best known for glass), 
  • Lloyd Wright, son of the more famous Frank Lloyd Wright, architect
  • Demetre Chiparus (sculptor)
  • Charles Schneider (master glassmaker)
  • William Moorcroft (designer and potter)

Small vase in the Eventide pattern.
William Moorcroft (UK) c. 1925

Of course, the top designers may have been working through more than one period. Art Deco followed an artistic period called Art Nouveau; as always, there was a period of transition, and Deco started before Nouveau ended.

Compared with long-lived movements like Romanticism, the Art Deco period was a short one.  Just as surely as it had once been considered stylish, lavish and opulent, it was soon regarded as over-the-top: garish, ostentatious and extravagant. The style fell out of favour as the hardships and shortages of World War II became a reality.  

Large glass vase in fer forgé armature. 
Charles Schneider (France) c. 1925

Deco was rediscovered in 1966 when a retrospective exposition, 'Les Années 25: Art Deco', was held in Paris. A book about the art form and another exhibition in 1968 helped publicise the catchy nickname. An Art Deco renaissance began in the ’70s.  

All things Art Deco have been much in demand since the turn of the Millennium.