Florida International University
Art Deco is not a singular style
Texts by Silvia Barisione and Shoshana Resnikoff
Instead, it is the result of a search by designers and artists for ornament that was suited to modern times. Inspired by many sources and resulting in different stylistic outcomes, Art Deco flourished in Europe in the 1920s and quickly spread around the world. In the United States, what began as an imitation of French luxury decorative arts assumed its own distinct qualities by the 1930s.
As they adapted to the Great Depression and mass production, American designers forged a new streamlined style that shaped everything from industrial products to the architecture of Miami Beach. Drawing from The Wolfsonian’s collection of design and decorative arts, Deco: Luxury to Mass Market offers an overview of Art Deco.
ART DECO IN EUROPE
1925 Paris Exposition
Poster design, Paris 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes
[International Exposition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts],
923. Robert Roquin (French), designer. Gouache on paper.
The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection, XX2017.207
The 1925 Paris Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes celebrated a new taste in architecture and decorative arts that would later come to be known as Art Deco.
The exposition asserted French supremacy in luxury goods and high fashion, with objects and buildings that—in their emphasis on surface ornament, symmetry, and stylization—marked a departure from the earlier Art Nouveau movement.
Department stores further popularized the new aesthetic
and demonstrated its commercial potential
The interior design of the Primavera pavilion in 1925 exposition,
a true demonstration of the creative possibilities of the workshops of Printemps Department stores
Department stores were pioneers in disseminating Art Deco to consumers, retailing modern decorative arts as early as the 1910s. They built their own pavilions and exhibited goods at the 1925 Paris exposition, and continued to carry Art Deco goods into the next decade, with a Deco: Luxury to Mass Market particular focus on home furnishings and beauty products. Stores sold items created by outside designers, such as perfume bottles by Lalique, as well as merchandise from their own in-house design firms, including Atelier Primavera du Printemps and Atelier Pomone du Bon Marché.
Pavilions of PRINTEMPS and “BON MARCHÉ” Department stores in the exposition of 1925
Medal, Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, Paris [International Exposition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts], 1925. Pierre Turin (French, 1891–1968), designer. Paris Mint, manufacturer. Bronze. The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection, 83.1.37
Art Decó expands
Variants of Art Deco developed in other countries, fusing local traditions with modernist tendencies and drawing inspiration from nature, historical precedent, abstract geometry, and exotic cultures. In the 1930s, as producers expanded beyond the luxury market, the elegance and fine artisanship of the early years gave way to a more industrial look.
Over twenty countries participated in the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, held in the center of Paris. Originally planned for 1915, the exposition featured a wide variety of decorative arts and architecture, reflecting trends that had begun to develop before the First World War. The displays expressed different national traditions and different ideas about what “modern” design should be.
The emphasis on ornament, opulent materials, and artisanal skill found in many of the French and foreign pavilions proved especially popular and would set the tone for luxury goods production in both Europe and abroad for the next decade.
Pavilions of Japan, Belgium and Italie
Stylization of nature
Nature was one of the main features of Art Deco décor and architecture. Exotic animals, such as the gazelle, appear amidst abstracted vegetation or topping an archaically styled urn. These geometrized natural forms could be rendered in media as diverse as the delicately stylized flowers and stems adorning the glass vase by Jaap Gidding, the stoneware column sculpted by Céline Lepage, or a silver teapot manufactured in India.
Tea service, 1920–29. Narotamdas Bhau, Bombay (Mumbai), India, manufacturer. Silver, celluloid. The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection, 188.8.131.52–.3
Centerpiece, L’Oiseau de feu [Firebird], c. 1925. René Lalique (French, 1860–1945), designer. SARL René Lalique & Cie, Wingen-sur-Moder, France, manufacturer. Glass. The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection, 84.8.113
Powder compact, Fleurs d’amour [Love Flowers], 1922. René Lalique (French, 1860–1945), designer. Roger et Galet, Paris, manufacturer. Aluminum, paint, paper. The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection, XX1990.988a,b
Urn, 1932, Umberto Bellotto (Italian, 1882–1940) Exhibited at the 1932 Venice XVIII Biennale. Wrought and cast iron. The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection of Decorative and Propaganda Arts, Promised Gift, WC2009.2.30.3 (XX1991.273NC)
Plaques, 1930–32. Mario Moschi (Italian, 1896–1971) Florence, Italy. Brass plate. The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Private Collection, Miami, Florida, 184.108.40.206–.2 NC.
Mario Moschi’s polished brass panels exemplify the variety of sources that Art Deco designers drew upon. Highly geometrized acanthus leaves form part of a classical capital, supporting sleek female figures holding a car and an airplane, icons of the machine age. Technology, historical references, and stylized nature come together to create the sophisticated allure typical of Art Deco.
Vase with lid, Kracht [Strength], model no. 21, 1923, Theo Colenbrander (Dutch,1841–1930) designer. Plateelbakkerij Ram, Arnhem, the Netherlands, manufacturer. Glazed majolica. The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection, TD1990.180.1 a,b
Several models of this vase, each with a different design, were shown in the Dutch pavilion at the 1925 Paris exposition. The vase’s shape and its vibrant geometric pattern both echo Indonesian forms, an example of how European countries such as the Netherlands drew inspiration from their colonies around the world
Fabric sample, La chasse [The Hunt], c. 1920. Raoul Dufy (French, 1877–1953), designer. Bianchini-Férier, Lyon, France, maker. Printed linen. The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection, 2014.17.1
In showcasing contemporary trends, the 1925 Paris exposition revealed the tension between modernity and tradition characteristic of Art Deco design. Objects that simply copied folk art or historic styles were banned from the fair, but those sources of tradition were nevertheless present as inspirations for up-to-date decoration and architecture in the French and foreign pavilions. French Fauve painter Raoul Dufy, for example, designed a series of printed fabrics that modernized the vernacular motifs of eighteenth century French “Toiles de Jouy” textiles.
Vase with lid, Mappemonde [Globe], 1932. Henri Rapin (French, 1873–1939), form designer, Victor Menu (active Sèvres, 1920–38), décor designer. Adrien Leduc (active Sèvres, 1919–54), decorator. Manufacture nationale de Sèvres, France, manufacturer. Glazed soft stoneware. The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection, 85.7.383a,b.
Sèvres, the national porcelain factory of France, presented a vase in this shape (Rapin 21) in its pavilion at the 1925 Paris exposition. The designer, Henri Rapin, was studio director at Sèvres in the 1920s and 1930s. In these decades the factory produced both utilitarian and ornamental wares, including some limited-edition luxury pieces, such as this vase illustrating the overseas voyages of European explorers to exotic lands.
In pursuit of a new aesthetic, many Art Deco designers sought inspiration beyond Europe, whether in the cultures of colonized peoples or the traditions of Japan, China, and the Islamic world. Some designers made specific stylistic references—Gerhard Schliepstein alluding to Chinese red lacquer in his cabinet, or Helene Wallrath-Haasbauer referencing pagoda architecture in her poster design—while others created romantic fantasies of the exotic.
Cabinet, c. 1928. Gerhard Schliepstein (German, 1886–1963), designer. Berlin. Painted hardwoods and softwoods, plywood. The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection, XX1990.80a-b
Many Art Deco designers drew from Cubism and other avant-garde movements to create household goods and graphics that used angles and lines as their primary decorative scheme. Geometric shapes, color blocking, and negative space could produce abstract designs and a sense of dynamic movement. In some cases, the result was pure abstraction—as with the Charles Catteau’s footed bowl—while other works, such as Ernesto Puppo’s aluminum gate, employed geometry to generate stylized representation of classical arches and columns.
Gate, 1933. Ernesto Puppo (Italian, 1904–1987), designer. Officina Matteucci, Faenza, Italy, manufacturer. Exhibited in the 1933 Mostra dell’ENAPI, Terza Fiera Nazionale dell’Artigianato, Florence. Aluminum. The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection, 87.15220.127.116.11–.2.
Officina Matteucci made its reputation initially from wrought and cast iron architectural elements. In the 1930s, the firm began working with modernist architects and using aluminum, a more affordable material in Italy, a country rich in bauxite ore.
Rather than copying or rejecting tradition, Art Deco designers adapted it for modern taste. Designers in the 1920s and 1930s borrowed from historic styles in architecture and decoration, reinterpreting such elements as classical figures and columns or rococo motifs, and incorporating them into modern buildings, furniture, and housewares.
Plate, Le attività gentili. I progenitori [Noble Activities. Our Ancestors], 1924. Gio Ponti (Italian, 1891–1979), designer. Richard-Ginori, Doccia, Italy, manufacturer. Porcelain, gilt. The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection, 84.7.51.
Gio Ponti interpreted Greco-Roman precedents with a modern sensibility in this plate representing arts and industry. Ponti viewed the classical lexicon as a model for creating a modern Italian aesthetic in the decorative arts.
ART DECO IN THE UNITED STATES
Although the United States did not take part in the 1925 Paris exposition, American museums and department stores championed the new movement at home. Retailers promoted Art Deco design in their display techniques as well as in their products.
American designers—many of them European immigrants—initially borrowed from European goods but soon developed their own aesthetic, looking to the skyscraper in particular as a motif. The Great Depression encouraged this transition from European luxury to American mass market. Designers turned to affordable materials, such as Bakelite (an early plastic) and chrome-plated steel, and further economized by limiting ornamentation.
At the same time, they introduced streamlining—using aerodynamic forms and horizontal bands to convey speed—thereby lending everyday goods some of the technological glamour of trains, ocean liners, and automobiles. Suitable for mass production, these objects entered the homes of middle-class American families.
American museum curators and department store directors toured the 1925 Paris exposition and returned to the United States as advocates for Art Deco. Museums developed exhibitions showing the latest decorative arts from Europe, while department stores marketed them and used Art Deco motifs in their promotions and displays, even designing new showrooms to match the aesthetic.
Bookcase, Skyscraper, c. 1926. Paul Theodore Frankl (American, b. Austria, 1886–1958), designer. Frankl Galleries, New York City, retailer, 1926–30. Maple, birch, lacquer. The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection, 87.661.11.1a,b
An émigré from Vienna, Paul T. Frankl was a prominent designer and a savvy marketer. In the early 1920s, he opened his own showroom in New York City, exhibiting his work along with other examples of modern design. His Skyscraper furniture line was particularly popular: bookcases like this were shown in Art Deco exhibitions at museums and were retailed in his store. Frankl also published an advice book for home decorators, making himself a household name in the period.
Inspired by their European counterparts, American designers in the late 1920s created furniture and domestic wares using traditional techniques and a wide range of materials. Some, like Kem Weber’s desk for the J. W. Bissinger residence, were unique commissions, while others were produced on a larger scale. Designers also integrated characteristically American motifs into their work, especially the stepped towers of skyscrapers, which were referenced in barware, handbags, radios, and more.
Desk and chair, 1928–29. For the J. W. Bissinger residence, San Francisco, California. Kem (Karl Emanuel Martin) Weber (American, b. Germany, 1889–1963), designer. Lacquer, wood, silver leaf, leather. The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection, 18.104.22.168–.2
The profession of industrial design began to emerge in the United States in the late 1920s. Working in collaboration with manufacturing corporations who hoped to fuse mass production with popular style, many of these designers become celebrities in their own right. Norman Bel Geddes, a self-taught designer and architect, was one of the first and most prominent of these designers, and his seminal publication Horizons introduced the concept of streamlining to the American public. Like Gilbert Rohde, Walter Dorwin Teague and other well-known figures, Bel Geddes helped democratize design, making Art Deco available to the growing middle class.
Bedroom suite, 1931–35. Donald Deskey (American, 1894–1989), designer. Estey Manufacturing Co., Owosso, Michigan, maker. Burl walnut, holly, beech, poplar, plywood. The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection, 87.922.214.171.124, .3–.4
Like many other industrial designers of the 1930s and 1940s, Donald Deskey worked in both large and small scale. One of his most famous commissions was the interiors of New York City’s Radio City Music Hall (1932), but he also produced textile designs, tableware, and domestic furniture at a range of price points. This mass-produced bedroom set features minimal ornamentation and carefully matched veneers that make for a sleek, glossy aesthetic. This set was marketed to upper middle-class families who had both the space and money for matching bedroom sets but could not afford custom furniture.
First developed for aircraft, ocean liners, trains, and automobiles, streamlining reduced drag from wind or water by minimizing hard angles and surface protrusions in favor of stripped-down teardrop and bullet shapes. As transportation became a symbol of the modern age, designers applied these principles of form to everyday objects. A bullet-shaped soda siphon, a refrigerator pitcher styled like the prow of a ship, an aerodynamic camera—these are examples of the streamlining of goods in this period. To confer a sense of forward motion and emphasize machine production, designers often added horizontal bands to these stationary objects.
Camera box, 1930
For No. 1A Gift Kodak Camera
Walter Dorwin Teague (American, 1883–1960), designer
Eastman Kodak Co., Rochester, New York, manufacturer
Cedar, lacquer, chrome-plated and enameled metal. The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection, 83.15.4a,b
Shaver, Colonel, c. 1942
(American, b. France, 1893–1986), designer
Schick Dry Shaver, Stamford, Connecticut, manufacturer
Bakelite, steel, enameled aluminum, rubber
The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of the Liliane & David M. Stewart Collection, Gift of Eric Brill, 2008.9.10a–e
Butter dish and fork, c. 1935. Walter von Nessen (American, b. Germany, 1889–1943), designer. Chase Brass & Copper Company, Waterbury, Connecticut, manufacturer. Chrome-plated metal, Bakelite. The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Stephen Borkowski, in memory of Wilfrid J. Michaud, Jr., 2005.5.6–.7
Phonograph, RCA Victor Special, model M, c. 1935. John Vassos (American, b. Romania, 1898–1985), designer. Alfred Weiland (American, 1887–1975) and Selden T. Williams (American, 1892–1983), engineers. RCA Manufacturing Company, Inc., Camden, New Jersey, manufacturer. Aluminum, chrome-plated steel, velvet, plastic. The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection, XX1989.415.
Born in Romania to Greek parents, John Vassos immigrated to the United States after the First World War. He consulted with RCA Victor as their key designer for more than forty years, designing store displays, radios, television sets, and phonographs. Less committed to streamlining than other industrial designers of the period, Vassos still employed sleek materials and curved lines in his work. Also known as an illustrator and book designer, Vassos collaborated with his wife Ruth, who wrote the texts for the publications “Ultimo and Contempo”.
Book, Contempo: This American Tempo, 1929. John Vassos (American, b. Romania, 1898–1985), designer. Ruth Vassos (American, 1893–1965), author. Robert S. Josephy (American, 1903–1993), typographer. E. P. Dutton & Company, Inc., New York City, publisher. The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection, 83.2.833
Book, Ultimo: An Imaginative Narration of Life under the Earth, 1930. John Vassos (American, b. Romania, 1898–1985), designer. Ruth Vassos (American, 1893–1965), author. E. P. Dutton & Company, Inc., New York City, publisher. The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection, 83.2.836
Florida Tropical House
The Home and Industrial Arts Group was one of the most popular exhibits at the Chicago fair, attracting over one million visitors. Comprised of eleven houses on the shores of Lake Michigan, the exhibit was constructed around specific themes and industries—The House of Tomorrow, the Lumber Industries House—with one, sponsored by the State of Florida, promoting the modern tropical lifestyle.
The Florida Tropical House, designed by Miami architect Robert Law Weed, embraced Floridian conditions, extending the streamlined living space into the outdoors with flat roofs that served as entertaining spaces and huge windows to take advantage of sunlight and ocean breezes. The interior featured dining room furniture that was similarly spare. Exotic hardwood veneers looked to European Art Deco, even as the Bakelite and metal fixtures spoke to an embrace of new materials and machine-age aesthetics.
Dining room suite, 1933. From the Florida Tropical House, A Century of Progress International Exposition, Chicago, 1933.
Ralph Widdicomb (American, 1873–1959), designer. John Widdicomb Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan, manufacturer.
Hardwood, plywood, mahogany, curly birch veneer, avodiré veneer, lacquer, chrome-plated steel, aluminum, Bakelite, leather, paint.
The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection, 126.96.36.199–.3, .5–.7, .9
Magazine rack, McKaycraft line, c. 1933. From the Florida Tropical House, A Century of Progress International Exposition, Chicago, 1933. James Waring Carpenter (American, 1900–1967), designer. The McKay Company, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, manufacturer. Steel, iron, chrome, enamel. The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection, 87.678.15.1
Miami Beach Architecture
Influenced by the modern architecture of the American world’s fairs of the 1930s, the Miami Beach construction boom adapted the glamour and luxury of metropolitan hotels and high-rises to a beach resort for middle-class tourists. Architects such as L. Murray Dixon and Henry Hohauser combined vertical elements with horizontal, curvilinear streamlining. They incorporated local motifs, creating a modern tropical architecture characterized by shade-providing “eyebrows,” ribbon windows, roof terraces, porches, and patios.
Radio, Nocturne, model 1186, c. 1935. From the Lobby of the Park Central Hotel, Miami Beach. Walter Dorwin Teague (American, 1883–1960), designer. Sparton Corporation, Jackson, Michigan, manufacturer. Mirrored glass, chrome-plated metal, wood. The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection, XX1990.168.
Postcard, Nash Senator Hotel, c. 1939.
Lawrence Murray Dixon (American, 1901–1949), architect.
Colourpicture Publishers, Inc., Boston, publisher.
The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of H. Lawrence Wiggins III, XC2008.10.6.1
Postcard, Hotel New Yorker, c. 1939.
Henry Hohauser (American, 1895–1963), architect.
Colourpicture Publishers, Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts, publisher.
The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of H. Lawrence Wiggins III, XC2008.10.6.10.
Postcard, Essex House, 1939
Henry Hohauser (American, 1895–1963), architect
Curt Teich, Chicago, publisher
The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of H. Lawrence Wiggins III, XC2008.10.6.4
Postcard, The Delano, Hotel and Cabana Club, c. 1950
B. Robert Swartburg (American, b. Romania, 1895–1975), architect
Colourpicture Publishers, Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts, publisher
The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of H. Lawrence Wiggins III, XC2008.10.6.5
Postcard, Century Hotel, c. 1939
Henry Hohauser (American, 1895–1963), architect
Colourpicture Publishers, Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts, publisher
The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of H. Lawrence Wiggins III, XC2008.10.6.6
Program, Floor Plan of the Exposition of Modern French Decorative Art, c. 1925
Lord & Taylor, New York City, publisher
The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection, XB1992.1627
Deco: Luxury to Mass Market is organized by The Wolfsonian–Florida International University. The exhibition is made possible by Diane and Alan Lieberman and the South Beach Group, with the support of Jamestown, L.P., and Saul and Jane Gross and Streamline Properties. The Wolfsonian–FIU gratefully acknowledges the lenders to the project, cited throughout the exhibition.
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