To Dream, to Collect

4.5/5 (4)

Art Deco born as a celebration of progress, capitalism and machinery. This timeless decorative arts and architecture movement originated in 1920 and is still really influential today, inspiring designers and architects all over the world.

Related articles: The art of the Century in 26 powerful movements 20 modern artists you should know Art as Activism: discover 20 political artists

After the first World War, and the end of the times of Art Nouveau, the world started to become more and more industrialised. Following daily and alienating routines, people started paying increasing attention to the pleasures of life. These included leisure activities such as going to the cinema or listening to the radio, as well as the development of a new aesthetics sense. People were inherently excited about the future ahead and about the infinite possibilities new technologies were opening up. Within this new cheerful and hopeful spirit, the Art Deco movement was born.


Tamara de Lempicka, “Self Portrait in a Green Bugatti”, 1929. Via Widewalls.


Discover here all available works by Tamara de Lempicka.


What is Art Deco?

The Art Deco period contains all of the decorative arts and architectural designs that originated in the 1920s, and quickly spread through Western Europe and the United States. This movement is often confused with other similar movements such as Art Nouveau, Art Moderne, Bauhaus school, or Arts and Crafts movement. Despite this element of confusion, the Art Deco period is easily recognizable for two main reasons. Firstly, we should say that Art Deco is directly influenced by movements such as Cubism, Constructivism, Bauhaus, De Stijl, and Futurism, reflecting the speed of the time and using geometric forms and vivid colors to describe its modern style. In depth, the Art Deco period expresses stylized forms while using a variety of historical styles to enhance its aesthetic. On the other hand , the clean shapes, the brighter colors, the usage of expensive materials and the connections with the previous Art Nouveau, both aesthetically and philosophically, show the Art Deco period’s strong relation and association with the pivotal aesthetics of Modernism.


Juan Gris, “Guitar and Newspaper”, 1925. Via


This specific style was lively and luxurious, and it largely represented the shift towards a more consumerist culture, following the influence of Art Nouveau, its close relative of the times of the Belle Èpoque. This new aesthetics firstly appeared in France at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, in 1925. After this massive launch, Art Deco style became extremely popular, spreading across different artistic disciplines such as visual and decorative arts, fashion, architecture, filmography and product design, serving itself of modern materials and bright colors to describe its clean shapes and angular corners. Despite its popularity, the Art Deco received its recognition only in the late '60s as an art movement that continued to proliferate its exciting and luxurious hope for a new future throughout the '80s.


Tales of the Jazz Age by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Via


What was Art Deco influenced by?

Art Deco, as previously mentioned, is a luxurious aesthetics that had a variety of influences from other movements. As it was born as a celebration for the future and its accelerating progress, this major style resembles a lot to most of the Cubist artworks of the time, with its bright colors, blocky forms and exotic materials. Although it is primarily related to the Cubist movement, it was influenced by several artistic practices deriving from the Avant-Garde, and post Art Nouveau settings. Moreover, it was full of exotic cultural elements, rich of motifs from ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Asia, Mesoamerica and Africa, which were used, for instance, by French designers, aswell as all over the world.

Palmer House Hotel, Chicago. Via


What are the main characteristics of the Art Deco style?

Art Deco is famous for priming simplicity as a luxury. Art Deco, as the term suggests, was very focused on the decorative elements of this aesthetic, being highly fascinated with geometry, symmetry, continuous vertical lines, fragmented forms and abstraction. The decorative pieces of design displayed plain forms and shapes with clean, geometrical lines. This movement also demonstrated an excitement for machine-made products which reflected why everything looked so simple and symmetric: because the machines were not advanced enough at the time to produce more complex pieces. Similar to its precedent Art Noveau, Art Deco continued to use organic motifs such as flowers, animals or human figure in stylised lines. To emphasise the celebration of the machinery and the new times, Art Deco preferred materials such as plastics, Bakelite, and stainless steel. To refine the designs into a wealthier look, the designer often opted for more exotic materials such as ivory, horn, and zebra skin. This art style was not well received from painters and sculptors, having little or no impact.


Whiting & Davis Purse, circa 1920s. Via


Art Deco in Furniture

Art Deco, more than a feeling of excitement for the future felt in society, it was also inherently ornamental and decorative. As people started priming their love for the leisure time, that leisure was also to be regarded as much inside of their homes as outside. This decorative art style gave a new stylist approach to furniture. This furniture favoured the use of wood with contrasting and exotics highlights. Jacques-Emile Rhulmann (1879-1933) was a famous French furniture Art Deco designer of that time, and he often used high-quality wood, contrasting with exotic wood surfaces. Incorporating bulky and curvy shapes, his designs were sleek, geometric and elegant. Other Art Deco furniture tried to incorporate more mechanical looking materials such as aluminium and chrome. The contrasts were popular, featuring smooth and highly polished surfaces in a bold and lively black and red colours. These contrasts perfectly emphasised the modernity of the time and completed the austere look of the architectural designs at the time.


Interior of the Paris shop La Maison Moderne, designed for Julius Meier Graefe, 1898. Via idesign.


Art Deco in Graphic Design

The influence of Art Deco in Graphic Design was huge. Taking inspiration from Futurism and its exaltation for speed and the machine, Art deco in Graphic Design experimented a lot with the use of lines to simulate that same speed and with repetitive geometrical shapes. Typography was vastly affected by this new aesthetic with a surge of typefaces Bifur, Broadway, and Peignot. Art Deco in design had a considerable influence from Japanese woodblock prints and its massive blocks of bold colours.


Students in 1921 learning how to use a printing press. Via


With the rise of the consumerist culture, posters were very popular, as you may imagine. With the integration of illustrative images, keeping a bold and glamourous style with geometric and stylized lines, these posters are iconic. Graphic designers at the time were interested in the use of images along with language and text, creating a powerful and communicative style.


New Yorker Magazine, 1920. Via


Art Deco and Architecture

Everything building you may associate with Modernist Movement it probably has a touch of the Art Deco style. From garages, airports, ocean liners, cinemas, swimming pools, office buildings, department stores, power stations and factories, the use of the clean line along with minimal decoration, was there. The type of buildings showing the influence of the Art Deco style was also a reflection of the more consumerist and industrialised culture. The architecture was probably one of the most influenced areas by this new movement that continued into the '80s. These buildings were associated with entertainment, such as restaurants or hotels, with luxurious and glamourous interiors, full of lights and mirrors. The use of mirrors reflected light, emphasising the elegant vibe of the buildings along with polished furniture.


Hoover Building, London. Via


Art Deco architecture was characterized by its vertical lines, emphasizing its splendour, driving the eye upwards. With blocky, geometrical shapes and forms, along with rooftop spires and/or curved ornamental elements, often in pastel-coloured walls. Windows were very characteristic, looking like punctured openings, either square or round but still allowing enough light to enhance the inner glamour of the building.


Portland Hotel deluxe. Via


Art Deco was a transitional period between traditional and modern approaches to building. This art style is still profoundly alive in the buildings across some big cities in America.

Here are some examples:

1. Chrysler Building, New York Designed in 1930 by William van Alen.

 Chrysler Building, is a crucial building to the Art Deco Movement- 1,046 feet (314 m) tall and it was the highest building during its first year, moving the second highest in the world in 1931. This is the fifth tallest building in New York City today, and in total the building currently contains 3,862 windows on its facade and 4 banks of 8 elevators. The building was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976.


The Chrysler Building, New York. Via


2. The Delano, Miami This was a popular hotel designed by the architect Robert Swartburg in 1947 and renovated in 1995 by Philippe Starck.

Miami District is full of Art Deco examples, and it preserves 960 historic buildings built between 1923 and 1943. The Delano is currently a resort, but it was first built as military housing. The hotel is named after U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.


The Delano, Miami. Via ArchitecturalDigest.


3. Eastern Columbia Building, Los Angeles Built in 1930, the landmark was designed by prominent L.A. architect Claud Beelman.

This building screams glamour and luxury on its own, now being made of 140 luxury condominiums. The clock on top, the gold colour details, neon letters, the tonal turquoise with vertical lines, the wealthy motifs (geometric shapes, zigzags, chevrons and stylised animal and plant forms) all contribute to the luxurious feeling of the Art Deco Style. This is now part of Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument # 294.


Eastern Columbia Building, Los Angeles.Photo by Adrian Scott Fine. Via L.A. Conservancy. 


Art Deco today

Art Deco style, although born in 1920, it has spread along the 20th century, becoming extremely popular during the late sixties, just after World War II. People feel this style as a celebration of the now and the future, a style reminding of hope and excitement, and for these reasons it is still one of the most appreciated styles in the art history. Its enduring and long-lasting vibe is gaining it's going through a third revival right now but with a completely different concept. If in the early '20s, Art Deco was about the excitement of the machinery and progress, today it is about moving away from the fast, disposable industry. Designers today are re-using this style as a statement of needing luxury, high-quality items that will prevail time and save the environment. Art Deco revival is about quality over quantity. Although Art Deco feels forever a sneak peek into the future, we are no longer enlightened by the speed. Instead, designers are interested in creating timeless spaces.

Not only this new fascination is bringing new ideas to our present about how we should live the future, but also it is helping us understand the past movement. It is helping us restoring accurately important buildings from the past, keeping it alive for future generations to appreciate the beauty of such movement.


Cover image: Eastern Columbia Building, Los Angeles.Via Medium 

Written by Tania Teixeira and MS.

Stay Tuned on Kooness magazine for more exciting news from the art world


Please rate this post

Thank you for your vote!


I read the Privacy Policy and I consent to the processing of my personal data