design research home



The Thirties - Art Deco and Streamline Style


Federation, the European influence

Contemporary - the Australian way of life

Art Deco in Europe

While Art Nouveau's functionalism aspects had developed into Modernism in it's various regional forms, the more decorative, whimsical and stylistic aspects developed into something else altogether. We now call that style Art Deco, although at the time it was known as a variety of other names, most of which reflected the event that was seen as the birthplace of Art Deco - the 1925 Paris Exposition.

Although much of Art Deco's character developed directly from Art Nouveau, there was also a strong new influence, partly inspired by the colonialist idea of the Noble Savage. African, Aztec, Mayan, Egyptian - all were somewhat ironically appropriated in this style that strove to be completely modern. This was the Roaring 20's and "anything goes".

As the term "Art Deco" was not even used until the 1960's, it should be noted that there is considerable debate about what Art Deco includes. Some insist it finished with the Great Depression - which may be true of the more opulent original styles, particularly in France. Others (myself included) consider that Art Deco persisted right up to the 1950's, when Modernism finally killed the last vestiges of the whimsical style in regional backwaters such as Perth, Western Australia. Movie houses built here in the late 1930's and public housing estates built after WWII show classic signs of Art Deco.

More about the Art Deco movement in general can be seen in my Design & Cultures 1 unit (for Furniture and Design for Industry students).

While early French Art Deco emphasised the very best, most luxurious of materials for wealthy patrons, it also captured the imagination of the public and there was wide demand for the "Style 1925". Manufacturers obliged, and Art Deco spread rapidly throughout the world. The UK was one of the few places where it met resistance, as the Arts & Crafts tradition was still having an effect there.

We will be dealing with Art Deco and Streamline Style in the US in a few weeks.

1925 Paris Exposition

Officially known as the "Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes". Originally planned for 1914 but delayed until 1925 due to WWI, this International Exposition was planned by the French government to symbolise all that was new and modern. Over 15 million people attended the Exposition. Many European countries participated, but the US and Canada chose not to. That's not to say it didn't influence them, as we'll see a little later.

Jean Dunand (1877 - 1942)

Luxurious lacquerware and beautiful bookbindings. Some of Dunand's lush lacquerware furniture took months to finish, requiring hundreds of layers of varnish to be applied. Dunand contributed to the three great French ocean liners of the period, the lle de France (1928), the Atlantique (1931) and the Normandie (1935).


Cassandre (1901-1968)

Full name was Adolphe-Mouron Cassandre. Graphic Designer, born in Russia but active mostly in France. Best known for his posters, but was also a painter, theatre designer, typographer and artist. During his lifetime, he was of the most successful commercial designers in Europe.

Erte (1892-1990)

Like Cassandre, Russian-born Romain de Tirtoff moved to Paris and took up a snappy single name. He was also a poster and theatrical designer, heavily influenced by the work of Art Nouveau icon Aubrey Beardsley.

retrokat.com quite nice sites

all graphics, text and design: copyright retrokat.com 2001-4

Note: If you personally hold copyright to any images or other content herein and wish it to be removed or credited, please email me on kat@retrokat.com and I'm more than happy to do so.