Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Art Deco

The term Art Deco was later derived (in the 1960s) from French Arts Decoratifs, also called The Jazz Style, Jazz Modern. Art Deco celebrates the luxury and decadence in the Golden Age of 1920s and 1930s. Art Deco provided images of what fashion-conscious culture of the time desired: cocktail glasses and jazz bands and ocean liners. The movement can be seen as a response to Art Nouveau’s inspiration from the natural world with curves and sinuousness. After WWI came a reassessment of the machine with utopian potential, and Art Deco does not shy away from metallic colors.

The movement was modern in its embracing of industrial materials, and Art Deco plundered historical styles like Egyptian (especially sparked by the discovery of the tomb of Tutenkhamen), Assyrian, African (because of colonial expansion). Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes’ exotic costumes also influenced the artists. Art Deco can be found in architecture, interior design, jewelry, fashion, etc. The Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, the London Zoo Penguin Pool are all Art Deco creations.

William Van Alen

Chrysler Building, New York (1928-1930)
Car tycoon Walter P. Chrysler wanted his building to reflect the glory of industry. At the 40th floor, Van Alen included a frieze of car wheels and hubcaps with wings. Art Deco: stepped patterns, narrowing towards peak, the sunburst motif.

Cassandre (1901-1968)

Adolphe Jean-Marie Mouron’s adopted name. He won Grand Prix for poster design at the 1925 Paris Expo.

Normandie (1935)
Elegant posters for various transportation companies combine romance with speed, travel, and luxury. The ships were floating palaces, but this one sank in NY harbor in 1942.

New Statendam Travel Poster (1928)
Cruise ships appear like skyscrapers.

Erté (1892-1990)

George Barbier (1882-1932)

L’Orgueil (1924-1925)
This piece appeared in an annual French fashion album in 1925. The central figure represents Pride, and this is a companion piece to Sloth in a seven deadly sins series.

Tamara de Lempicka (1898/1902-1980)

Autoportrait, or Self-Portrait (or, Tamara in the Green Bugatti) (1925)
One of the defining images of Art Deco with its bold angular forms, metallic colors, and overall streamlined sleek look. An emancipated woman is in control of own destiny, and the punning title is cheeky. The piece betrays a love of machinery (esp. stylish cars), and all things chic, glamorous, and expensive. Lempicka never owned this car, just a yellow Renault. This art piece appeared on the cover of a German fashion mag. The woman’s movement in 1974 called the woman in this piece “inaccessible, a cool discerning beauty.”

Andromeda (1929)
From Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the story of Andromeda involved her being sacrificed to a sea monster but saved by Perseus. Here a cubist cityscape frames Andromeda, whose heavy manacles indicate less victimhood and more, perhaps, decadence and sexual role-playing. So is Andromeda here a victim or a temptress?

Adam and Eve (1932)
Sensuous curves and glowing flesh tones are vibrant. The famous couple is removed from Eden as a nature-scape and placed in an Art Deco city.

Works Consulted

The Art Book. London: Phaidon Press Ltd., 1996.

Dempsey, Amy. Art in the Modern Era: A Guide to Styles, Schools & Movements. NY: Harry N. Abrams Inc., Pub., 2002.

Zaczek, Iain. Art Deco. Bath, UK: Parragon Publishing, 2000.