Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The History of Art Deco

Art Deco was the most fashionable international design movement in modern art from 1925 until the 1940s. It was exemplified by the geometric designs of famous New York buildings such as the Chrysler Building and Rockefeller Centre.

Like the earlier Arts and Crafts Movement, as well as the curvilinear style of design known as Art Nouveau, Art Deco embraced all types of art, from fine arts to custom furniture.

Smooth lines, geometric shapes, streamlined forms and bright, sometimes garish colors characterized the art deco style, which above all reflected modern technology. Art Deco was initially a luxury style and a reaction against the austerity from World War I. It utilized costly materials like silver, crystal, ivory, jade and lacquer. After the Great Depression of the early 1930s, Art Deco designers began using less expensive and mass-produced materials like chrome and plastics, catering to an escalating middle class taste for a style that was elegant and glamorous.

The Origins of Art Deco

The term “Art Deco” comes from the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs Industriels et Modernes that was held in Paris. The art show was organized by a team of French artists known as, La Societe des Artistes Decorateurs (Aociety of Decorator Artists), led by its founders Hector Guimard, Paul Follot, Raoul Lachenal, Maurice Dufrene, Eugene Grasset, and Emile Decour, some of whom were also involved in Art Nouveau.

Art Deco actually comes from several of the major art styles of the early 20th century. These formative influences include the unifying approach of Art Nouveau, the geometric forms of Cubism, and the machine-style forms of Constructivism and Futurism. Art Deco’s intense colors may be derived from Parisian Fauvism. Art Deco also borrowed from Egyptian and Aztec art, as well as from Classical Antiquity.

The Art Deco style, adopted by architects and designers around the world, spanned the "Roaring Twenties", the Great Depression, and the years leading up to World War II. It started declining in popularity during the late 30s and early 40s, when it began to be seen as too gaudy for wartime solemnity. The first resurgence of interest in Art Deco occurred in the 1960s and coincided with the movement's impact on Pop Art. It became popular again in the 1980s, due to growing interest in the graphic arts.

Characteristics & Materials

Utilizing new building materials that contrasted sharply with the fluid motifs of Art Nouveau, Art Deco architecture represented the progress of science, and the rise of commerce and technology. This made Art Deco design especially appropriate for the interiors of cinemas, ocean liners, and the architecture of train stations. It survived the Great Depression due to the practicality and simplicity of its design.

The structure of Art Deco is founded on mathematical geometric shapes that were established by Greco-Roman Classicism, the faceted architectural forms of Babylon, Assyria, Ancient Egypt, and Aztec Mexico, and Machine Age streamline designs from aviation and skyscrapers. Art Deco designs are specifically characterized by zigzagged, trapezoidal, and triangular shapes, chevron patterns, stepped forms, and sweeping curves. Sunburst motifs have also been widely used and are visible at the Radio City Music Hall auditorium, and the spire of the Chrysler Building (1928-30) in New York.

Art Deco introduced exotic finishes like sharkskin and goatskin, while utilizing high quality Art Nouveau materials such as molded glass, horn, and ivory. Materials such as stainless steel, inlaid wood, natural quartz and semi precious stones have also been used in Art Deco furniture.

Modern Applications

In the Modern world, Art Deco can be seen in architecture, interior design, poster art, graphic design, jewelry, fashion and furniture design. In architecture, the Art Deco look signaled a return to the simplicity and symmetry of Neoclassicism, but without its classical regularity. Architects and artists in countries as diverse as Great Britain, Spain, Cuba, Indonesia, the Philippines, Argentina, Romania, Australia, New Zealand, India, Brazil and Colombia have enthusiastically adopted Art Deco architectural designs. This serves as a testament to the style's lasting monumentality.

Furniture Design: Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann

“To create something that lasts, the first thing is to want to create something that lasts forever.”

-- Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann

Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann was born in Paris on August 28, 1879 to Alsatian parents. His family owned a painting and contracting firm, and Ruhlmann spent most of his youth learning his father’s trade. During this time he met several young architects and designers who would turn out to be Ruhlmann’s first exposure into the world of furniture design.

Ruhlmann took over the family business in 1907 after his father’s death. Around 1910, a newly married Ruhlmann had his first experience designing furniture for their new apartment. This was also the first year in which he exhibited his custom furniture to the public.

His early work reflected the Art Nouveau influence that was popular in France at the turn of the century. Ruhlmann’s influences can also be traced to architects and designers creating custom furniture in Vienna during World War I.

Contrary to popular belief, Ruhlmann had no formal training in cabinet or furniture design and did not construct the furniture himself. Other cabinet shops did all of his work until 1923 when he assembled his own cabinetmaking shop. By 1927, Ruhlmann’s shop had grown to two locations, employing master cabinetmakers, finishers, upholsterers, and draftsmen.

To understand the art of Ruhlmann’s furniture, one needs to take careful notice of his subtle use of grain. Ruhlmann was careful in not allowing the figure of the wood to vie for attention with the form of the furniture. His two favorite woods — Macassar Ebony and Amboyna Burl — both create soft but striking background patterns, without focusing attention on the wood itself. This allowed the veneers to support the design details instead of competing with them.

Ruhlmann’s talent for design and his mastery of material combinations produced unique furniture that is historically incomparable. His formal elegance made his contemporaries’ work appear lackluster in form, and garish with respect to materials and color. His impact on designer furniture will surely last forever.

Visit www.perczek.com for more information on custom furniture and modern furniture design influenced by Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann.