Artworks and Artists of Art Deco

Progression of Art
René Lalique: Victoire (1928)


Artist: René Lalique

Lalique's sculpture nearly shouts "Art Deco," so exemplary is it of the style that had by 1930, become the American aesthetic par excellence. Spanning many media and even functions, the style was stamped on everything from luxury ocean liners and racing cars, to toasters and toilets. This piece stands on its own as a sculpture but it doubles as the added, elegant touch to the automobile for which it was designed to grace the hood. With Victoire, the craft of glassblowing produces both a fine art sculptural object and a functional although inarguably luxurious product. Lalique was a French designer known for his glass art, perfume bottles, vases, jewelry, chandeliers, and clocks which he produced first in the Art Nouveau and then in the Art Deco style. The use of glass, a fragile and brittle material, increases the object's status as a rare and decadent purchase.

Victoire represents a female figure, who seems to be facing into the wind, her face eagerly jutting forward, hair trailing behind her like a single, sharply ordered wing. Although only her head is visible, one can imagine her body arching into the force of the wind (maybe even like the pose of the ancient Greek sculpture of Winged Victory in the Louvre Museum, a work that likely influenced Lalique in many ways). Lalique's sculpture and car hood ornament embodies the sensation of speed. In fact, the Art Deco style was, among other things, a celebration of the machine age, which found expression in the sleek new machines for transport, such as trains, cars, motorcycles, and ships. Proponents of the movement paid homage to the social and physical liberation that technological innovations brought in the 1920s.

Glass hood decoration for an automobile - Glass hood mascot, Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann: État Cabinet (1922)

État Cabinet

Artist: Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann

Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann was born in Paris to a family that owned a decorating business, so it seemed only natural that his creativity would find expression in the luxurious home wares for which he became renowned. From furniture and light fixtures to a variety of other decorative elements such as wallpaper, Ruhlmann produced one-of-a-kind, elegant home furnishings using rare, exotic woods with ivory embellishments from Africa and the Far East, thereby incorporating the era's preoccupation with the art of previously considered "primitive" countries. Bridging the divide between the uniqueness of Art Nouveau pieces and the Art Deco impulse to incorporate unusual materials, his pieces demonstrates a blending of Art Deco and the more lavish and ornamental Art Nouveau style that preceded it.

This cabinet, which diverges from Art Nouveau in its symmetry and limited palette resulting from the use of the wood contrasting with the ivory, still features a somewhat elaborate floral design that borrows from Art Nouveau. It is less a departure from the older style than an updating and simplification of it.

Macassar ebony, amaranth, ivory, oak, lumber-core plywood, poplar, chestnut, mahogany, silvered brass - The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


Pivolo Aperitif Aux Vins De France

Artist: A.M. Cassandre

A.M. Cassandre, one of the most influential poster artists and graphic designers in the Art Deco style, created this poster for the French liqueur Pivolo Aperitif in 1924. It won an award at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris that same year, which was an exhibition that was widely regarded as having launched the Art Deco style on an international scale.

Cassandre is best known for his distinctive, sleek and minimal advertising posters promoting furniture, travel, and alcohol. He is also considered to be one of the pioneers of modern graphic design, including innovations in the design of new, distinctly Art Deco typefaces, some of which were inspired by notable artists such as Pablo Picasso and Max Ernst.

In this poster, a stylized, monochrome bird is perched behind a small glass of honey-colored liqueur. Though representational, both images are simplified in a manner similar to Cubist deconstruction and reconstruction: objects are broken down into basic, overlapping geometric shapes. The artist relies on a limited palette of black, gray, and a narrow range of cool colors contrasted with warm ones - the royal blue of the text juxtaposed with the inviting amber hue of the aperitif - to create a harmonious coexistence between elements in this piece.

Cassandre's minimalist typography plays an integral part in the image. Basic geometric forms are combined to create the letters. Those making up the words "Pivolo" at the top of the page look as though they could have been machine-produced and assembled, themselves resembling the simple, functional machines cropping up everywhere in the era of Art Deco. The advertising or functional aspect of this piece fuses seamlessly with the aesthetic side: even the individual characters of the text become artful components of the overall work.


Egyptienne chiming clock

Artist: Louis Cartier

When the British archaeologist Howard Carter excavated the tomb of the pharaoh Tutankhamun in 1922, the event sparked immediate global fascination. Suddenly, Ancient Egypt become a common subject in popular culture, including music, films, popular literature, and the decorative arts. The French jeweler Louis Cartier translated this fascination with Ancient Egypt into his works of the 1920s, many of which incorporate traditionally Egyptian materials and decorative techniques. For some pieces, Cartier even used authentic historical relics.

The American iteration of the Art Deco style is particularly evocative of the Ancient Egyptian visual aesthetic. The use of simplified geometric shapes, fields of unblended color, symmetry, and an emphasis on line are exemplary of this, for American Art Deco artists, architects, and designers strived to create a truly international style. Just as the nation had established itself as a genuine world power politically, economically, and militarily, so it endeavored to occupy a superior position on the cultural world stage. Incorporating characteristics of the most notable historical artistic styles from around the world was part of the strategy for the U.S. to attain a culturally respected stature.

This elaborate clock mimics Egyptian temple architecture and decoration with its inlaid reliefs depicting human and divine figures. The base of the clock is carved from Lapis Lazuli which is a deep blue stone thought to possess divine powers and commonly associated with the creator goddess Isis, who is represented by the winged figure who appears at the top of the clock.

Gold, Vermeil, Mother of Pearl, Coral, Lapis Lazuli, Polychrome and Enamel over Brass Clock Mechanisms - Private Collection


Mariage d'Amour. . . Mariage de Raison Cover Design for Harper's Bazaar

Artist: Romain de Tirtoff

The work of the prolific Russian-French artist, Romain de Tirtoff, better known by the pseudonym Erté, spanned a number of disciplines. His set and costume designs were featured in the Ziegfeld Follies, the Folies Bergère, and a number of silent films produced by Louis B. Mayer. Between 1915 and 1937, he designed more than two hundred magazine covers. Many of these, as in the example above, were for the popular, upscale fashion magazine, Harper's Bazaar. His designs and illustrations also appeared in many widely read women's glossies of the day, including Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and Ladies' Home Journal. Since the majority of Americans were more likely to read magazines and go to movies than to visit galleries and museums, the fact that Erté's work was so visible in popular culture made it possible for the Art Deco style to be disseminated more widely rather than remaining largely the domain of a wealthy elite.

In this cover illustration for the May 1927 issue of Harper's Bazaar, a seated female figure with short, bobbed hair in the flapper style holds a spherical orange flower in her right hand. In her left hand, she delicately grasps a length of an immense strand of pearls heaped in an elaborate red box. As a pictorial allegory of marriage, she is debating the choice to marry for love, which is represented by the flowers, or for money, which is represented by the pearls. Erté also drew inspiration from Egyptian art as well as representations from the Italian Commedia dell'arte, imagery from ancient Greek pottery, among other diverse historical sources. His is a more elegant and curvilinear version of the simplified style of Art Deco, in its way a less direct departure from the more complex forms and signature serpentine lines of the preceding Art Nouveau style.

Gouache on Cardboard - Gouache on Cardboard


Young Lady With Gloves

Artist: Tamara de Lempicka

Polish-born painter Tamara de Lempicka became a major proponent of the Art Deco style in Europe and North America, creating high-end stylized, trendy portraits of the famous and fashionable: actors, socialites, and aristocrats. She was rewarded richly for her work, which earned her notoriety and critical acclaim. Lempicka was actively involved in the bohemian scene in Paris during the 1920s, where she befriended Picasso as well as the writers Andre Gide and Jean Cocteau. Her dramatic love life often attracted comment and scandal.

This painting is among her best known works. Young Lady With Gloves depicts a fashionably demure woman in a green dress, wearing a matching white hat and gloves and vivid, red lipstick. The sharp linearity, fractured planes of green fabric, the shallow gray background, and the stark interplay of light and shadow on her face reveal the substantial influence of Cubism on the Art Deco style, although Lempicka avoids the more extensive abstraction of that style. The majority of her works are figurative and their bold colors and precise, clean lines are common features of the streamlined and elegant Art Deco style.

Lempicka's work reflects another common feature of the Art Deco style, tasteful sensuality. In this portrait, the young woman's silk dress clings to the contours of her body, accentuating her abdomen and breasts. In fact, what was at the time regarded as the sexually provocative nature of this painting sparked controversy when it was first exhibited at Paris' Salon des Independants in 1932.

Oil on Plywood - Musée du Luxembourg, Paris

William Van Alen: Chrysler Building (completed 1930)
completed 1930

Chrysler Building

Artist: William Van Alen

This Art Deco icon of the New York skyline was designed by William Van Alen, a French-trained American architect previously known for designing several eye-catching skyscrapers in Midtown Manhattan. The building was completed in less than two years since roughly four floors were completed per week, which at the time was a surprisingly rapid rate.

As the skyscraper was financed by Walter P. Chrysler, founder of the automobile company that bears his name, and the architectural details were designed to reference Chrysler products. This includes the building's gargoyles, modeled after the Chrysler hood ornament, and details along the exterior of the thirty-first floor that are reminiscent of radiator caps. The most recognizable aspects of the building are the seven arched crowns at its top, each of which bears a distinctive sunburst pattern. The arches of the shimmering spire evoke spinning chrome hubcaps as well as rising suns, and the slick, geometric quality of the crown reflects the drive toward streamlined, machine-age elegance typical of American Art Deco.

Many of the iconic buildings in New York City were built at the height of the Art Deco movement. In countries such as India, Cuba, and the Philippines, Art Deco architecture continued to be popular and commonplace well into the 1960s. Dozens of cities in the world are heralded for their Art Deco architecture.

Brick Building with Steel Frame and Stainless Steel Crown - Lexington Avenue and East 42nd Street, New York

Philco Model 41-230T Table Radio, Bakelite Cabinet, Two Band (1941)

Philco Model 41-230T Table Radio, Bakelite Cabinet, Two Band

Streamline Moderne is the culmination of the American Art Deco style. It developed during the 1930s and is evident in objects as diverse as elegant skyscrapers to budget-friendly kitchen supplies. This pared-down aesthetic also fit with the more subdued world view prevalent in the U.S. following the 1929 stock market crash. Whereas previous designers often incorporated exotic and expensive materials, Streamline Moderne utilized cheap, readily available industrial materials, such as plastic and chrome.

With this radio, there are no extraneous details and the functional features of the radio are turned into integral elements of the design. The design pairs a modern aesthetic with modern technology. It uses Bakelite, a recently invented plastic that was light, durable, and inexpensive to produce, meaning that these objects could be mass-produced and sold as design-driven consumer items to the large middle-class market.

Bakelite radio

Jose Maria Sert: American Progress Murals (1937)

American Progress Murals

Artist: Jose Maria Sert

The well-known mural painter Jose Maria Sert was commissioned in 1937 to create decorative imagery for the main lobby of the Rockefeller Center, a classic of modernist Art Deco architecture, which was scheduled to open officially in 1939. Diego Rivera was originally chosen to create the murals, but he offended the Rockefeller family by painting the Communist revolutionary Lenin as part of his design for the work, Man at the Crossroads (1934), and so the mural was subsequently destroyed, and the job was offered to Sert instead.

The work exemplifies Art Deco's typical combination of classical and contemporary. The painting features allegory and tropes from classical painting such as the muses of poetry and dance. Simultaneously, it is also a celebration of the people and values that contributed to modern American life, featuring historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln and Ralph Waldo Emerson. It is an assertion of America's forward-thinking developments in all areas of the arts and sciences, and as Clare Cardinal-Pett argues "celebrates technological progress and themes of man's capacity for mastering the universe" in a uniquely American way. There is a palpable nationalist spirit to the work, similar to other public murals produced in the U.S. between the two World Wars.

Murals are designed to function in harmony with the architecture of the room so that fine art and design merge quite seamlessly, a feature that became distinctly characteristic of the Art Deco style. In this example, the painted figure of Atlas appears to be holding up the ceiling of the room, striding between two real supporting pillars. Heavy-limbed, blocky figures like these were common features of the Art Deco style; if Art Nouveau emphasized the sensuous curve, Art Deco could be said to focus on the angular and, at most, the slightly curvilinear. The robust, muscular bodies of the figures in Sert's mural are reminiscent of those on the Sistine Chapel ceiling painted by Michelangelo, a reference that was very deliberate on the part of the artist. Just as the Sistine Ceiling so exemplified the best of the Italian Renaissance, so the murals by Sert were intended to express the excellence of American creativity, production, and innovation during the prosperous, post-WWI period of the 1920s and 30s, a golden age in the United States.

Murals - Main Lobby of 30 Rockefeller Plaza

Giuseppe Figoni and Ovidio Falaschi: Delahaye 135M Figoni & Falaschi Competition Coupe (1935)

Delahaye 135M Figoni & Falaschi Competition Coupe

Artist: Giuseppe Figoni and Ovidio Falaschi

This sporty, two-seater coupe was designed by the Italian-born French coachbuilders Giuseppe Figoni and Ovidio Falaschi for rally races. The car was commissioned by a French racing driver and was later owned by a countess and a Hollywood actress, so broad was the appeal of this more sensual iteration of the Art Deco style, one that resisted the minimalism and emphasis on the right-angle and symmetry.

The automobile's aerodynamic design, gracefully flowing lines, and chrome, teardrop-shaped accents make it an iconic representation of Art Deco style, particularly in its celebration of speed in the fast-paced modern world. The curving front and rear fenders sweep down to cover the wheels, and the car sits quite low to the ground, giving it the illusion of moving forward at speed even when parked. The vehicle blends the peak of technological innovation, modern materials, and performance with streamlined, contemporary elegance through the elliptical chrome embellishments, luxurious interior wood trim, and headlights and door handles melded seamlessly into the frame. A driver of this car was doing nothing less than becoming a component of a completely functional work of art.

Aluminum Frame with Chrome Accents - The Patterson Collection, Louisville, Kentucky

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Content compiled and written by Jen Glennon

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Art Deco Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. .
Content compiled and written by Jen Glennon
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 03 Nov 2016. Updated and modified regularly
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