Design Styles

Applauding Art Deco

Design Styles

Applauding Art Deco

To mark the perennially popular style's 90th anniversary, 1stdibs specialists share their favorite examples of Art Deco style, from buildings to jewelry to furniture.

Few design styles are as widely recognized and appreciated as Art Deco. The term alone conjures visions of the Roaring Twenties, Machine Age metropolises, vast ocean liners, sleek typography and Prohibition-era hedonism. The iconic movement made an indelible mark on all fields of design throughout the 1920s and ’30s, celebrating society’s growing industrialization with refined elegance and stunning craftsmanship.

In honor of its 90th anniversary this year, we celebrate Art Deco, outlining its history and enlisting several 1stdibs Deco specialists to discuss both this revolutionary and glamorous style and the era out of which it was born.

 

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This woodblock poster, by Robert Bonfils, helped advertise the 1925 Paris design exhibition that led to Art Deco’s becoming a global phenomenon (image (© Victoria and Albert Museum, London). Top: Future of Steam, 1930s, by Frank Newbould, offered by Darnley Fine Art

Art Deco design is a modern re-interpretation of classicism: Pieces in this style are symmetrical, rectilinear and clean-lined. Art Deco furniture carving and ornament is relatively subdued; the look is pared-down and streamlined; wood is detailed with refined geometric shapes — spheres, trapezoids, chevrons. Works in the style mainly achieve visual delight via their rich and exotic materials. These were produced as luxury goods for a new class of wealthy people, who wanted a new look, all their own.

The term “Art Deco” is derived from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, the exhibition, held in Paris from April 25 through October 25, 1925, that brought the style to worldwide attention. The star of that show was decorator Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann, who used finishes such as lacquer and eggshell, and exotic wood veneers like amboyna and palissander. His peers included glass designer René Lalique; the elegant interior designer Jules LeleuMaurice Defrène (neoclassical fluted chairs and table legs are a keynote of his work); Paul Follot (signature details include gilt- and silver-leafing); the team of Süe et Mare (both were painters, and created sensuous pieces with curving, Rococo-esque elements); and André Groult (who loved voluptuous bombé forms).

“Art Deco” is often used expansively, to describe the work of creators in associated or ancillary styles. This is particularly true of American Art Deco, which is also referred to as “Streamline Moderne” or “Machine Age” design. In the U.S., the sleek, pared-down, speed-suggestive designs of Donald Deskey, Paul Frankl, Gilbert Rohde, Norman Bel Geddes and others, though highly influenced by the French, were more an expression of muscular American forward-thinking. Even so, in the larger sense, Art Deco design is all of a piece. It was the style of an assertive modernity: bold, elegant, chic and impossible to ignore.


Kirill Kalinin, Founder, Antikbar

London

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The Freemasons’ Hall in London, 1927-33, was designed by architects Henry Victor Ashley and F. Winton Newman and is still in use as the headquarters of the United Grand Lodge of England.

FAVORITE CREATOR

Adolphe Jean-Marie Mouron, whose poster artwork and graphic design represent Art Deco at its best. During the 1920s and ’30s, posters were the most effective and broad-reaching medium for advertising and propaganda. They absorbed the prevalent style of the time. Mouron’s streamlined, minimalist style captures the glamour of the era.

FAVORITE BUILDING

One of London’s lesser-known architectural gems is the Freemasons’ Hall, on Great Queen Street, which can be visited by appointment. Built between 1927 and ’33 as a memorial to the Freemasons who died during World War I, the building features frescoes, stained glass windows and architectural elements indicative of the Art Deco style.

BEST ART DECO ON PUBLIC VIEW

The galleries of the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden include period London Underground posters and displays of old buses and trams that submerge you in the Art Deco era.

ON OFFER FROM YOU

Although the USSR of the 1930s isn’t always associated with glamour, Soviet travel posters used Art Deco stylings to attract foreign tourists. This image captures the Soviet ballet’s first modern theme, its 1927 ballet entitled The Red Flower, and conveys the dynamism of Russian dance through the sharp contrast of twirling yellow ribbon and black backdrop.

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Russell Colletti, Owner, Colletti Gallery

Chicago

The Chicago Motor Club building opened in January 1929 and is slated to re-open soon as a boutique hotel.

FAVORITE CREATOR

Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann exemplified a time when furniture makers were king. His marquetry of ivory and rare woods, coupled with the exceptional design and cohesiveness of his work, set the standard for Art Deco interior design.

FAVORITE BUILDING

The 1929 Chicago Motor Club Building, designed by Holabird & Root, is one of the finest examples of American Art Deco. The lobby’s 29-foot mural by John Warner Norton — a stylized geometric map of the United States — is a stunning complement to the overall design of the space.

BEST ART DECO ON PUBLIC VIEW

Jean Dupas’ mural The History of Navigation, 1934, at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, was created for the grand salon of the SS Normandie, which until recently was the most powerful steam turbo-electric ocean liner ever built and is a true expression of Art Deco style.

ON OFFER FROM YOU

This mahogany table with shagreen tile top, tapered legs and brass accents is a marvelous example of clean Art Deco lines and luxurious materials.

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Simon Khachadourian, Owner, Pullman Gallery

London

René Lalique
René Lalique examines one of his 1913 pieces, Lézards et bleuets (Lizards and bluets), in 1925.

FAVORITE CREATOR

René Lalique was a prolific creator — he designed more than 1,000 pieces, from lamps and vases to car mascots. Particularly of interest to me is his career shift from jewelry to glass when he was already an established artist in his 50s. The 25 years that followed were his greatest commercially.

FAVORITE BUILDING

The only Art Deco palace ever constructed was Prince Asaka’s Teien Palace, 1933, in Tokyo. Now a museum, the palace features interiors largely designed by Henri Rapin, then artistic director for the Sèvres porcelain factory, in France, and a friend to Lalique. In fact, architectural glass panels by Lalique adorn the palace’s entrance doors and some of its grandest rooms.

BEST ART DECO ON PUBLIC VIEW

Lalique’s 1905 masterpiece, the Poissons et Grenouilles table lamp, at Paris’s Musée des Arts Decoratifs. It was thought to be a unique piece…until I found the pair to it in Switzerland a few years ago!

ON OFFER FROM YOU

The René Lalique Victoire car mascot, or hood ornament, from 1928, exudes speed and streamlined elegance.

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Colin Smith, Co-founder, Smith & Robinson

London

Eileen Gray
The subject of museum shows and sought out by collectors (her early Dragons chair was bought at the 2009 Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé auction for $28 million), Eileen Gray is seen her circa 1910.

FAVORITE CREATOR

Eileen Gray was a foremost pioneer of Art Deco as well as modernism. In her early furniture and lighting, she combined geometric design with the luxurious materials associated with Art Deco.

FAVORITE BUILDING

I recently met with a client at Claridge’s hotel in Mayfair, London, and it just oozes timeless Art Deco glamour — particularly the bar, a hidden gem.

BEST ART DECO ON PUBLIC VIEW

The Victoria and Albert Museum, in South Kensington, London, includes a beautiful, geometrically lacquered screen by Eileen Gray.

ON OFFER FROM YOU

Art Deco is our specialty, and we strive to offer a range. One unique example is this beautiful card case engineered in silver, rose and yellow gold with a sapphire clasp.

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Greg Kwiat, CEO, Fred Leighton

New York

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Rockefeller Center, including its centerpiece tower (seen here shortly before its 1933 opening and now familiarly known as 30 Rock) was primarily designed by architect Raymond Hood. Photo by Samuel H. Gottscho

FAVORITE CREATOR

The house of René Boivin stands out among Art Deco jewelers. Jeanne Boivin, who took over the business in 1917 from her husband, was a leading arbiter of design with a strong sense of individual style. Her designs went beyond the linear aesthetic that most jewelers embraced during the Art Deco movement. From the House of Boivin also came Suzanne Belperron, who shared Jeanne Boivin’s love of form and pure expression. More than 80 years after their jewels were originally created, they still feel wonderfully modern and forward-thinking.

FAVORITE BUILDING

In my opinion, Rockefeller Center is the leading example of Art Deco style in New York. Originally intending to build a complex that would house the Metropolitan Opera, John D. Rockefeller created a new vision for Rockefeller Center anchored by the tenets of Art Deco design. The buildings and plazas boast some of the most iconic Art Deco architectural elements and sculptures ever created.

BEST ART DECO ON PUBLIC VIEW

For the recent Jewish Museum exhibition “Helena Rubinstein: Beauty Is Power,” we loaned an Art Deco pink tourmaline-and-rock crystal bracelet that was once in the collection of Mrs. Rubinstein herself. This piece is now on view at the exhibition’s iteration at the Boca Raton Museum of Art through July 12.

ON OFFER FROM YOU

One of our most exceptional Art Deco jewels is a three-stone bande bombe diamond ring by Boivin. Featuring bold geometric lines, this ring is instantly recognizable as Art Deco; yet it is distinctively unique, with a graduated design that builds to a central round diamond weighing more than two carats.

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Benoist Drut, Managing Partner, Maison Gerard

New York

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Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret built Villa Savoye as a country retreat for the Savoye family on the outskirts of Paris, but it passed to the French state in 1958 and is now a museum.

FAVORITE CREATOR

I have a weakness for the Pierre Legrain club chairs he did for Jacques Doucet, but otherwise I look to Jules Leleu. Jules was the founder of the family’s esteemed firm, eventually shared with his daughter, Paule, and two sons, André and Jean. Maison Leleu is one of our specialties and we are impressed with their genuine ability to stay in touch with the style of the times without ever forgetting the firm’s roots.

FAVORITE BUILDING

Villa Savoye, designed by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret and built between 1928 and ’31 in Poissy, France, was a triumph of modernism, efficiency and intelligence. One of my favorite features is the rectangular openings of the upstairs terrace walls, creating a beautiful frame for the outside view. The house also stands on stilts and was designed so that pulling a car into the property mirrors the curvature of the building. Villa Savoye was influenced by the era’s modern vernacular: Even its tubular railings match those on ocean liners of the period.

BEST ART DECO ON PUBLIC VIEW

In Paris’s Musée des Arts Décoratifs you’ll find a re-creation of the famed French fashion designer Jeanne Lanvin’s bathroom. Designed by Armand-Albert Rateau, this interior is the ultimate in refinement and elegance, incorporating bronze furniture and accents.

ON OFFER FROM YOU

Our rare occasional table by Maurice Dufrène was one of the original models created for the Paris Exposition and was published in print as early as 1925. It is extremely elegant and refined, enriched with mother-of-pearl and ebony inlays around the edge of its top. Its provenance dates back to the collection of the ultra-chic Anne-Sophie Duval, a Parisian dealer and one of the most knowledgeable pioneers to devote her life’s work to Art Deco.


Marjolein van der Slikke, Owner, Deconamic

Antwerp

François Pompon’s L’Ours Blanc, 1922, resides at the Middelheim Open Air Museum, in Antwerp, Belgium.

FAVORITE CREATOR

Pierre Le Faguays was a prolific and versatile avant-garde French sculptor. Working predominantly in bronze, he created delicate dancing girls as well as powerful male figures.

FAVORITE BUILDING

Completed in 1931 and rising to a height of 318 feet, Antwerp’s KBC tower, or Boerentoren, was Europe’s first skyscraper, remaining the tallest building on the continent until 1940. The masterful stone structure is outfitted with eight Art Deco bronze sculptures by Arthur Pierre above the main entrance. This is an icon on the city’s skyline.

BEST ART DECO ON PUBLIC VIEW

One highlight is François Pompon’s white marble polar bear sculpture from 1920, titled L’Ours Blanc, among the 215 sculptures on view at Antwerp’s beautiful Middelheim Open Air Museum.

ON OFFER FROM YOU

The juggling nude was a popular subject during the Art Deco period, evoking vaudevillian performance and entertainment. This exemplary model, created by Pierre Le Faguays, is a stylish object that combines fine silvered-bronze and multiple marbles.

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Steven Kelly, Owner, Kelly Gallery

New York

A detail of Michael Kenna’s Chrysler Building, Study 3, New York, USA, 2006, 2006, offered by Jackson Fine Art

FAVORITE CREATOR

My favorite artists are Jean Dunand and Jean Goulden, two friends who exhibited alongside each other at the Galerie Georges Petit from 1921 to ’32. The most wonderful characteristic of an Art Deco object is its materials. Throughout this period, lacquer, enamel, shagreen, ivory, parchment, tortoiseshell and exotic woods composed objects with bold shapes and clean lines. Whereas Dunand became a master in lacquerwork, taking an ancient art form and giving it a modern vocabulary, Goulden specialized in enamel and created fewer than 200 highly collectible pieces during his career, often pulling influence from Cubist art.

FAVORITE BUILDING

My favorite Art Deco building is New York’s Chrysler Building, both for its exterior and interior. The façade came as a complete break from the architecture preceding it, and the interior exemplifies the detailed craftsmanship and exotic woods with which Art Deco is associated. Given the Chrysler Building and Rockefeller Center, architecture was likely the United States’ greatest contribution to this period.

BEST ART DECO ON PUBLIC VIEW

The Metropolitan Museum of Art currently has several special examples of Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann furniture from the 1920s. However, this is not on permanent exhibition. The best museum visits for Art Deco in New York would be the fine art at the Met and the Museum of Modern Art; my favorite is the Leonard Lauder Collection of Cubism recently unveiled at the Met.

ON OFFER FROM YOU

Jean Dunand studied Oriental lacquerwork under the Japanese lacquer artist Seizo Sugawar and mastered the skill to the level of his Asian predecessors. It was Dunand who was credited with having mastered the most spectacular lacquer technique of all: coquille d’œuf, the use of crushed eggshells soaked in lacquer to produce a craquelure effect. The result here is subtly delicate yet visually dramatic against a contrasting dark base color.

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Marty Wolpert, Owner, Papillon Gallery

Los Angeles 

Young Girl in Green, 1927-30, by Tamara de Lempicka, is in the collection of the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

FAVORITE CREATOR

From the Bordeaux school of artists, Jean Dupas, Raphael Delorme and Jean Despujols all truly represent Art Deco. Dupas, in particular, is known for having designed many famous posters and worked with the best designers of the period.

FAVORITE BUILDING

In Los Angeles, the Wiltern Theater and the James Oviatt Building represent the best of Art Deco in Los Angeles, the latter featuring an interior designed in part by René Lalique.

BEST ART DECO ON PUBLIC VIEW

Tamara de Lempicka’s Young Girl in Green, 1927-30, at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. De Lempicka was overlooked for many years until she was rediscovered in the 1970s. Influenced by Cubism, she took painting in an entirely new direction, capturing the opulence, modernity and fashion of the age through her portraits of famous people and her elegant nudes.

ON OFFER FROM YOU

The harlequin and his lover was a commonly depicted narrative among Art Deco period artists. This particular piece is a watercolor executed in 1925 by Macao Kono, a Japanese artist working in Paris.

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Heinz Leichter, Founder and President, Ritter Antik

New York

A circa-1935 miniature by Jean Dunand of a panel he designed for the cigar salon of the SS Normandie

FAVORITE CREATOR

Paul Follot is certainly one of the best. By 1904, at the age of only 27, he had created his own style in the discipline of Classicism with splendid decoration. His furniture is often described as “pure Art Deco” and is a testament to his training as a sculptor.

FAVORITE BUILDING

My favorite Art Deco building is the Chrysler Building; I am especially impressed with how Walter Chrysler had architectural details modeled after his automobiles, including the Plymouth.

BEST ART DECO ON PUBLIC VIEW

Housed in the recently opened Okrojan Private Art Deco Museum, in Moscow, is a fine lacquered-and-gilded miniature of a panel created by Jean Dunand for the cigar salon used by first-class passengers on the French ocean liner SS Normandie. Dunand was the most important lacquer artist in the French Art Deco movement. The complete mural depicts a hunter and hound within a tropical forest with gazelles, foxes and three marabouts.

ON OFFER FROM YOU

Marcel Guillemard’s dining room suite exemplifies the best of Art Deco, having been exhibited at the original Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris in 1925 and minimally modified for Atelier Primareva.


Nadine Krakov, Owner, Nadine Krakov Collection

Los Angeles

Georges Fouquet’s 1923 jade, onyx and diamond dress ornament is in the collection of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

FAVORITE CREATOR

Giovanni Janesich was a second-generation jeweler who ran Janesich during the Art Deco period, designing jewelry with geometric shapes and clean lines in typical Deco fashion. What separated Janesich from other designers of the period was the subtle whimsy in his pieces, which speaks to me as both a dealer and collector.

FAVORITE BUILDING

Since I am a jeweler in Los Angeles, I have the benefit of being surrounded by architecture from Hollywood’s Golden Age. One such Art Deco building is Clifford A. Balch’s El Rey Theater, on Miracle Mile. I’ll never forget the first time I stepped into this Streamline Moderne theater outfitted with scarlet-red walls and zigzag motifs.

BEST ART DECO ON PUBLIC VIEW

A personal favorite of mine is a Georges Fouquet piece — a jade dress ornament — that I once saw at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

ON OFFER FROM YOU

Our Janesich diamond and pearl enhancer clasp layers a multitude of geometric shapes in the whimsical form of a bird. This is a pure example of Art Deco in our collection.

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Jacques De Vos, Owner, Galerie Jacques De Vos

Paris

Pierre Chareau, Bernard Bijvoet and Louis Dalbet designed Paris’s La Maison de Verre (House of Glass) from 1928 to ’32.

FAVORITE CREATOR

Though Pierre-Émile Legrain died prematurely at the age of 40 in 1929, he famously refreshed the art of leather bookbinding during his 15-year career — his most famous contribution to the Art Deco period. He also crafted furniture with the quality of a sculptor, covering pieces with such lush materials as ivory, python, shagreen and mother-of-pearl.

FAVORITE BUILDING

La Maison de Verre by Pierre Chareau, Bernard Bijvoet and Louis Dalbet, on rue Sainte-Guillaume in Paris, built between 1928 and ’32, is incomparable in its modernity. In fact, Le Corbusier was jealous of it. Every detail of the interior was designed with ingenuity and intelligence.

BEST ART DECO ON PUBLIC VIEW

On view at Paris’s Musée des Arts Décoratifs is a Pierre-Émile Legrain long chair crafted in ebony, mother-of-pearl and faux zebra.

ON OFFER FROM YOU

This stately walnut desk was part of the interior decoration of the Puiforcat store on Boulevard Haussmann, in Paris, used to display pieces of Jean Puiforcat’s silverware to clientele. Puiforcat was very familiar with interior and furniture designer René Herbst as they were both members of the Union des Artistes Modernes collective (UAM). This particular model we are presenting is from the original shop floor.

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