Page 1

ART DECO

1 9 1 0 – 1 9 3 9

ART DECO

1 9 1 0 – 1 9 3 9 E d ite d by Ch a r lot te B e nto n , Ti m B e nto n a n d GH I S L A I N E WOO D


1 The Style and the Age Charlotte Benton and Tim Benton

rt Deco is the name given to the ‘modern’, but

A

not Modernist, twentieth-century style that

leave a surface untouched … impress the client – million dollar budgets, human interest, sales

came to worldwide prominence in the inter-war years

pressure, psychology of the consumer, consumer

and left its mark on nearly every visual medium, from

demand. An edifice reaching to the skies, and built

fine art, architecture and interior design, to fashion

on BUNK.4

1

and textiles, film and photography (plate 1.1).

The period was one of dramatic technological

At the same time, their own publications and designs – like those of other Deco designers –

change, social upheaval and political and economic

contributed to the fragile ‘edifice’ whose foundations

crises, of bewildering contrasts and apocalyptic

were laid by the powerful confluence of commerce

visions.2 From the ‘Roaring Twenties’ to the

and desire (plate 1.2). It was symptomatic of this

Depression, the inexorable spread of capitalism was

context that Art Deco taste was communicated as

mirrored by that of Fascist and Communist

much by transitory effects – in the ‘wave of brilliant

totalitarian regimes, while remorseless globalization

colour’ of the new shop window displays, or in

was accompanied by isolationist nationalism. At the

fashion and advertising – as by more durable means.

same time, the spread of mass-produced consumer

The phenomenon was well expressed by the

goods, accompanied by the perfection of promotional

American critic Edwin Avery Park writing in 1927,

methods to generate demand, prioritized visual

‘The new spirit in design is creeping in about the

appeal in the seduction of the would-be consumer.

edges. It fastens first upon objects of a transitory

From the nouveau riche ‘flapper’ decorating her

and frivolous nature.’5

Parisian apartment to the struggling farmer in the American Midwest leafing through mail order catalogues for new equipment, hope lay in novelty. Never was fantasy so functionally necessary for survival, whether to industry or the individual. Part of the fascination of the style lies precisely in its confrontation of new values with old, and in the hint of fragility and tragedy that often lurks behind its glitter – themes evocatively portrayed in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby (1925).3 And, as revolutions in transportation and communication opened up the world, not only to the wealthy traveller but also to the reader of popular magazines or the cinema-goer in Bombay or Budapest, Manhattan 1.1 Tamara de Lempicka (born in

or Morecambe, Shanghai or Singapore, the forms of

Poland), Jeune fille en vert.

this dream coalesced in Art Deco.

Oil on panel. Around 1927. Centre

John and Ruth Vassos trenchantly identified both

Georges Pompidou, Paris. MNAM.

the dream’s fundamental frivolity and the ruthless

© Photo: CNAC/MNAM – Dist. RMN.

commercial interests that fed it:

© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London.

Feed the eye, stimulate the imagination, tickle the appetite of the mob with pictures of pretty girls. With

1.2 John Vassos, The Department

pictures of legs … Weeklies, monthlies, dailies;

Store. Illustration from Ruth Vassos,

newspapers, news reels; from the pulpit, from the

Contempo, New York, 1929. NAL.

press, from the editorial pages, from the radio; don’t

13


1 The Style and the Age Charlotte Benton and Tim Benton

rt Deco is the name given to the ‘modern’, but

A

not Modernist, twentieth-century style that

leave a surface untouched … impress the client – million dollar budgets, human interest, sales

came to worldwide prominence in the inter-war years

pressure, psychology of the consumer, consumer

and left its mark on nearly every visual medium, from

demand. An edifice reaching to the skies, and built

fine art, architecture and interior design, to fashion

on BUNK.4

1

and textiles, film and photography (plate 1.1).

The period was one of dramatic technological

At the same time, their own publications and designs – like those of other Deco designers –

change, social upheaval and political and economic

contributed to the fragile ‘edifice’ whose foundations

crises, of bewildering contrasts and apocalyptic

were laid by the powerful confluence of commerce

visions.2 From the ‘Roaring Twenties’ to the

and desire (plate 1.2). It was symptomatic of this

Depression, the inexorable spread of capitalism was

context that Art Deco taste was communicated as

mirrored by that of Fascist and Communist

much by transitory effects – in the ‘wave of brilliant

totalitarian regimes, while remorseless globalization

colour’ of the new shop window displays, or in

was accompanied by isolationist nationalism. At the

fashion and advertising – as by more durable means.

same time, the spread of mass-produced consumer

The phenomenon was well expressed by the

goods, accompanied by the perfection of promotional

American critic Edwin Avery Park writing in 1927,

methods to generate demand, prioritized visual

‘The new spirit in design is creeping in about the

appeal in the seduction of the would-be consumer.

edges. It fastens first upon objects of a transitory

From the nouveau riche ‘flapper’ decorating her

and frivolous nature.’5

Parisian apartment to the struggling farmer in the American Midwest leafing through mail order catalogues for new equipment, hope lay in novelty. Never was fantasy so functionally necessary for survival, whether to industry or the individual. Part of the fascination of the style lies precisely in its confrontation of new values with old, and in the hint of fragility and tragedy that often lurks behind its glitter – themes evocatively portrayed in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby (1925).3 And, as revolutions in transportation and communication opened up the world, not only to the wealthy traveller but also to the reader of popular magazines or the cinema-goer in Bombay or Budapest, Manhattan 1.1 Tamara de Lempicka (born in

or Morecambe, Shanghai or Singapore, the forms of

Poland), Jeune fille en vert.

this dream coalesced in Art Deco.

Oil on panel. Around 1927. Centre

John and Ruth Vassos trenchantly identified both

Georges Pompidou, Paris. MNAM.

the dream’s fundamental frivolity and the ruthless

© Photo: CNAC/MNAM – Dist. RMN.

commercial interests that fed it:

© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London.

Feed the eye, stimulate the imagination, tickle the appetite of the mob with pictures of pretty girls. With

1.2 John Vassos, The Department

pictures of legs … Weeklies, monthlies, dailies;

Store. Illustration from Ruth Vassos,

newspapers, news reels; from the pulpit, from the

Contempo, New York, 1929. NAL.

press, from the editorial pages, from the radio; don’t

13


Sources and Iconography

Inspiration from the East

the years after the First World War the number of books and articles written about Chinese art far exceeded that written about Japan.6 There were various reasons for this: Japan was no longer much of a mystery and its art had ceased to be a novelty; excavations in China brought the art of early periods to the attention of the West for the first time;7 and, most importantly, certain types of Chinese art were attributed a particular cultural significance, a subject that will be explored in more detail later in this essay. In all, it was ‘hard to recall so fundamental a revolution in the opinions of the world of arts as the marked change of attitudes towards Chinese art among the leaders of artistic thought’.8 A number of important exhibitions of Chinese art took place in Europe and America in the period, culminating in 1935 in the International Exhibition of Chinese Art held at Burlington House in London, which featured over 3,000 exhibits dating from the Neolithic period to the eighteenth century. Art Deco designers were drawn to various aspects of Chinese art and design. The powerful, mysterious motifs on ancient Shang and Zhou dynasty bronzes, the elegant shapes and monochrome glazes of Sung and Yuan dynasty ceramics, the simple lines of

6.4 Georges Lepape, ‘La belle dame sans merci’, evening gown by

Ming and Qing dynasty hardwood furniture and the

Worth. La Gazette du bon ton, Paris, 1921. NAL. ©ADAPG, Paris and

geometric forms and motifs common to much

DACS, London 2002.

Chinese decorative art and architecture, all provided inspiration.9 Interest in China was also aroused by the work of the Russian émigré artist Alexandre Iacovleff, who became famous in Paris in the 1920s for his striking paintings and drawings of East Asia, particularly the Chinese theatre (plate 6.3). Iacovleff later accompanied the two momentous expeditions led by Georges-Marie Haardt and financed by André Citroën (see Chapter 11), the second of which, the Croisière Jaune (1931-2), made the overland journey across Asia from the Mediterranean to the East China Sea. The influence of Japan, and more especially China, was evident in many aspects of Art Deco design.

6.3 General Ma-Soo in The Retreat of Kiai-Ting.

from Japanese inro-,11 but on the whole the Chinese

In fashion the impact of Asia was apparent in the

Illustration from Chu-Chia-Chein and Alexandre Iacovleff,

influence on jewellery was far more apparent.

abandonment of tightly corseted, highly structured

The Chinese Theatre, London, 1922. NAL.

This was seen in the predominance of stylized and

garments in favour of less tailored lengths of fabric

geometric motifs, the popularity of tasselled

that wrapped or draped the body. In the 1920s this

beautiful women, but the settings were often more

pendants (see plate 24.16) and, most importantly,

was seen in evening coats that enveloped the wearer

Chinese-inspired (plate 6.4). The patterns on clothes

in the use of materials. Cartier often used lacquer

and in the cylindrical line of the archetypal ‘flapper’

were also more Chinese than Japanese in style.

inlaid with mother-of-pearl taken from Chinese bowls,

dress, in which the flattened forms and straight

Dragons chased around the waistband of one of the

trays or tables.12 However, the material most

seams of Asian garments found their most visible

gowns Paquin created for the 1925 Exhibition, while

favoured for the creation of modern, colourful and

manifestation. The Japanese kimono was the most

the sequin and diamanté cloud-like motifs on the

exotic jewellery was jade. ‘Jade is all the rage at

obvious source for such styles, but the advent of

rest of the garment echoed those found on Chinese

present’, declared one journal in 1922. ‘It owes its

rounded necklines and tubular sleeves revealed the

robes (plates 6.1 and 6.5).

popularity, no doubt, both to its romantic association

6.5 Jeanne Paquin, ‘Chimère’,

with the gorgeous East and prehistoric art, and to

evening gown. Beaded silk. French,

the beauty of its delicate colour.’13

1925. V&A: T.50-1948.

influence of Chinese garments.10 Many fashion plates

Similar elements were seen in Art Deco jewellery.

of the period were reminiscent of Japanese prints of

Several of Cartier’s cigarette and vanity cases derived

68

69


Sources and Iconography

Inspiration from the East

the years after the First World War the number of books and articles written about Chinese art far exceeded that written about Japan.6 There were various reasons for this: Japan was no longer much of a mystery and its art had ceased to be a novelty; excavations in China brought the art of early periods to the attention of the West for the first time;7 and, most importantly, certain types of Chinese art were attributed a particular cultural significance, a subject that will be explored in more detail later in this essay. In all, it was ‘hard to recall so fundamental a revolution in the opinions of the world of arts as the marked change of attitudes towards Chinese art among the leaders of artistic thought’.8 A number of important exhibitions of Chinese art took place in Europe and America in the period, culminating in 1935 in the International Exhibition of Chinese Art held at Burlington House in London, which featured over 3,000 exhibits dating from the Neolithic period to the eighteenth century. Art Deco designers were drawn to various aspects of Chinese art and design. The powerful, mysterious motifs on ancient Shang and Zhou dynasty bronzes, the elegant shapes and monochrome glazes of Sung and Yuan dynasty ceramics, the simple lines of

6.4 Georges Lepape, ‘La belle dame sans merci’, evening gown by

Ming and Qing dynasty hardwood furniture and the

Worth. La Gazette du bon ton, Paris, 1921. NAL. ©ADAPG, Paris and

geometric forms and motifs common to much

DACS, London 2002.

Chinese decorative art and architecture, all provided inspiration.9 Interest in China was also aroused by the work of the Russian émigré artist Alexandre Iacovleff, who became famous in Paris in the 1920s for his striking paintings and drawings of East Asia, particularly the Chinese theatre (plate 6.3). Iacovleff later accompanied the two momentous expeditions led by Georges-Marie Haardt and financed by André Citroën (see Chapter 11), the second of which, the Croisière Jaune (1931-2), made the overland journey across Asia from the Mediterranean to the East China Sea. The influence of Japan, and more especially China, was evident in many aspects of Art Deco design.

6.3 General Ma-Soo in The Retreat of Kiai-Ting.

from Japanese inro-,11 but on the whole the Chinese

In fashion the impact of Asia was apparent in the

Illustration from Chu-Chia-Chein and Alexandre Iacovleff,

influence on jewellery was far more apparent.

abandonment of tightly corseted, highly structured

The Chinese Theatre, London, 1922. NAL.

This was seen in the predominance of stylized and

garments in favour of less tailored lengths of fabric

geometric motifs, the popularity of tasselled

that wrapped or draped the body. In the 1920s this

beautiful women, but the settings were often more

pendants (see plate 24.16) and, most importantly,

was seen in evening coats that enveloped the wearer

Chinese-inspired (plate 6.4). The patterns on clothes

in the use of materials. Cartier often used lacquer

and in the cylindrical line of the archetypal ‘flapper’

were also more Chinese than Japanese in style.

inlaid with mother-of-pearl taken from Chinese bowls,

dress, in which the flattened forms and straight

Dragons chased around the waistband of one of the

trays or tables.12 However, the material most

seams of Asian garments found their most visible

gowns Paquin created for the 1925 Exhibition, while

favoured for the creation of modern, colourful and

manifestation. The Japanese kimono was the most

the sequin and diamanté cloud-like motifs on the

exotic jewellery was jade. ‘Jade is all the rage at

obvious source for such styles, but the advent of

rest of the garment echoed those found on Chinese

present’, declared one journal in 1922. ‘It owes its

rounded necklines and tubular sleeves revealed the

robes (plates 6.1 and 6.5).

popularity, no doubt, both to its romantic association

6.5 Jeanne Paquin, ‘Chimère’,

with the gorgeous East and prehistoric art, and to

evening gown. Beaded silk. French,

the beauty of its delicate colour.’13

1925. V&A: T.50-1948.

influence of Chinese garments.10 Many fashion plates

Similar elements were seen in Art Deco jewellery.

of the period were reminiscent of Japanese prints of

Several of Cartier’s cigarette and vanity cases derived

68

69


The Spread of Deco

was organized in gilded concentric curves which, with the manipulation of complex lighting effects,

Art Deco Architecture

A theme that links Modern Movement and Art

these arrays of millions of light bulbs is to grasp

Deco architecture is the dramatic use of electricity to

instantly the difference between an architecture of

recreated a golden sunset before every performance

provide a new experience, that of ‘night architecture’.

display and one of ‘rationalism’. Similarly, the lighting

(plate 22.15).61 These ‘acres of seats in gardens of

Where the Modernists used structural transparency

schemes perfected for other major national and

dreams’ brought spectacle and escapism into the

to allow internal illumination to make an impact

international exhibitions after 1925 became an

heart of urban communities across the world, despite

at night, Art Deco designers began to develop a new

autonomous science of self-determining construction.

the Depression. Art Deco, with its magically

language of pure lighting. Exhibitions, cinemas and

Experimentally displayed in exhibition design, curving

illuminated surfaces supported by the latest

department stores gave a lead, but soon applied

forms intended only to reflect and project light

structural sleight of hand, provided the necessary

neon lighting and the use of lighting troughs to

grew their own organic forms. These, and scalloped

language to create this miracle, and Hollywood’s use

conceal coloured light sources began to compose the

fronds, repeating step-backs in gold or silver, and

of top designers, including many European

streetscape at night.

syncopated contour lines in shallow relief, became

immigrants, to confect fabulous Art Deco settings for their films, completed the illusion (see Chapter 30). The Streamline Moderne style was a variant of Art

An important precedent was set by the annual Salon de l’automobile and Salon de l’aéronautique in Paris. For more than a decade, beginning in 1926,

the essential building blocks for the Art Deco interior.63 Art Deco architecture was a modern but not

Deco particularly important in America (see Chapters

the Grand Palais was given a dramatic lighting grid by

Modernist architecture. It developed from the

33 and 34). Innumerable small roadside structures,

André Granet and Roger-Henri Expert. Their

application of Deco ornament to classical or

dependent on their dramatic external form to catch

transformations, to celebrate the most modern forms

Modernist buildings into a new kind of building

the eye, spread Art Deco imagery nationwide. Diners,

of transportation, embraced both completely artificial

capable of expressing the aspirations of dynamically

high street shops and petrol stations competed for

decorative effects – like a coloured floral canopy –

developing consumerist societies. This was a popular

attention, often brilliantly clothed in stainless steel or

and rigidly geometrical arrangements. They were a

style, occasionally vulgar but bursting with vitality, in

rendered concrete and always dramatically picked

revelation to architects (plate 22.16). To see the

striking contrast with the more austere forms of

out with neon light at night.62

massive tubular steel structures required to support

Modernism. The criticisms levelled against the latter

258

by Post-modern architects like Robert Venturi and

by Art Deco architects.65 As one of their supporters,

22.16 André Granet, colour rendering of the 1928 Exposition

Denise Scott Brown, from the 1960s onwards, would

Edwin Avery Park, wrote in 1927: ‘Life seems to have

de locomotion aérienne at the Grand Palais, Paris. Gouache on

have been shared by Art Deco architects.64 Venturi

become fragmentary, a thing to be caught in

paper. French, c.1928. Fonds Granet, IFA.

and Scott Brown valued the ‘fun’ of Art Deco

passing’; and (quoting from the philosopher Will

architecture and played an active role in preserving

Durant), ‘inductive data fall upon us from all sides

it. The human values of desire, warmth, sensuality

like lava of Vesuvius; we suffocate with

gave it an imaginative spark. And, if we accept

and anecdotal incident were embodied in Art Deco

uncoordinated facts; our minds are overwhelmed

Baudelaire’s definition of modernity as incorporating

skyscrapers, cinemas and other commercial buildings

with sciences breeding and multiplying into specialist

the ephemeral and transient alongside the universal

22.15 Donald Deskey &

in a way that was excluded by Modernism. The Post-

chaos for want of synthetic thought and a unifying

values of art, a case can well be made for seeing the

Associated Architects, RCA

modern vision of modern life as a fragmentary and

philosophy. We are all mere fragments of what man

main line of modernity in the inter-war period as

Music Hall, New York. 1933.

illusory spectacle, as characterized by Jean

might be.’66

running from the avant-garde movements of the

Museum of the City of

Baudrillard and others, which has challenged the

New York. Theatre Collection.

claimed rationalism of the Modernists, was prefigured

If the Modernist project was to supply the unifying philosophy, Art Deco faithfully mirrored the times and

years around the First World War into Art Deco rather than into the ambitious orthodoxy of Modernism.

259


The Spread of Deco

was organized in gilded concentric curves which, with the manipulation of complex lighting effects,

Art Deco Architecture

A theme that links Modern Movement and Art

these arrays of millions of light bulbs is to grasp

Deco architecture is the dramatic use of electricity to

instantly the difference between an architecture of

recreated a golden sunset before every performance

provide a new experience, that of ‘night architecture’.

display and one of ‘rationalism’. Similarly, the lighting

(plate 22.15).61 These ‘acres of seats in gardens of

Where the Modernists used structural transparency

schemes perfected for other major national and

dreams’ brought spectacle and escapism into the

to allow internal illumination to make an impact

international exhibitions after 1925 became an

heart of urban communities across the world, despite

at night, Art Deco designers began to develop a new

autonomous science of self-determining construction.

the Depression. Art Deco, with its magically

language of pure lighting. Exhibitions, cinemas and

Experimentally displayed in exhibition design, curving

illuminated surfaces supported by the latest

department stores gave a lead, but soon applied

forms intended only to reflect and project light

structural sleight of hand, provided the necessary

neon lighting and the use of lighting troughs to

grew their own organic forms. These, and scalloped

language to create this miracle, and Hollywood’s use

conceal coloured light sources began to compose the

fronds, repeating step-backs in gold or silver, and

of top designers, including many European

streetscape at night.

syncopated contour lines in shallow relief, became

immigrants, to confect fabulous Art Deco settings for their films, completed the illusion (see Chapter 30). The Streamline Moderne style was a variant of Art

An important precedent was set by the annual Salon de l’automobile and Salon de l’aéronautique in Paris. For more than a decade, beginning in 1926,

the essential building blocks for the Art Deco interior.63 Art Deco architecture was a modern but not

Deco particularly important in America (see Chapters

the Grand Palais was given a dramatic lighting grid by

Modernist architecture. It developed from the

33 and 34). Innumerable small roadside structures,

André Granet and Roger-Henri Expert. Their

application of Deco ornament to classical or

dependent on their dramatic external form to catch

transformations, to celebrate the most modern forms

Modernist buildings into a new kind of building

the eye, spread Art Deco imagery nationwide. Diners,

of transportation, embraced both completely artificial

capable of expressing the aspirations of dynamically

high street shops and petrol stations competed for

decorative effects – like a coloured floral canopy –

developing consumerist societies. This was a popular

attention, often brilliantly clothed in stainless steel or

and rigidly geometrical arrangements. They were a

style, occasionally vulgar but bursting with vitality, in

rendered concrete and always dramatically picked

revelation to architects (plate 22.16). To see the

striking contrast with the more austere forms of

out with neon light at night.62

massive tubular steel structures required to support

Modernism. The criticisms levelled against the latter

258

by Post-modern architects like Robert Venturi and

by Art Deco architects.65 As one of their supporters,

22.16 André Granet, colour rendering of the 1928 Exposition

Denise Scott Brown, from the 1960s onwards, would

Edwin Avery Park, wrote in 1927: ‘Life seems to have

de locomotion aérienne at the Grand Palais, Paris. Gouache on

have been shared by Art Deco architects.64 Venturi

become fragmentary, a thing to be caught in

paper. French, c.1928. Fonds Granet, IFA.

and Scott Brown valued the ‘fun’ of Art Deco

passing’; and (quoting from the philosopher Will

architecture and played an active role in preserving

Durant), ‘inductive data fall upon us from all sides

it. The human values of desire, warmth, sensuality

like lava of Vesuvius; we suffocate with

gave it an imaginative spark. And, if we accept

and anecdotal incident were embodied in Art Deco

uncoordinated facts; our minds are overwhelmed

Baudelaire’s definition of modernity as incorporating

skyscrapers, cinemas and other commercial buildings

with sciences breeding and multiplying into specialist

the ephemeral and transient alongside the universal

22.15 Donald Deskey &

in a way that was excluded by Modernism. The Post-

chaos for want of synthetic thought and a unifying

values of art, a case can well be made for seeing the

Associated Architects, RCA

modern vision of modern life as a fragmentary and

philosophy. We are all mere fragments of what man

main line of modernity in the inter-war period as

Music Hall, New York. 1933.

illusory spectacle, as characterized by Jean

might be.’66

running from the avant-garde movements of the

Museum of the City of

Baudrillard and others, which has challenged the

New York. Theatre Collection.

claimed rationalism of the Modernists, was prefigured

If the Modernist project was to supply the unifying philosophy, Art Deco faithfully mirrored the times and

years around the First World War into Art Deco rather than into the ambitious orthodoxy of Modernism.

259


The Spread of Deco

Art Deco Jewellery

novelties among which the ‘diamants mystérieux’ of

24.9 Horst P. Horst, model

1934 stand out. These were individually mounted

wearing Cartier’s ‘diamants

diamonds with clips so discreet and strong that they

mystérieux’. British Vogue,

could be fixed securely to the thinnest wisp of hair or

September 1934. NAL.

even to the eyebrows. Cartier recommended that ten

© Cartier.

or twelve be worn together arranged at will, pointing out that they had the potential to ‘completely turn upside down our idea of ornament’ 14 (plate 24.9). One of the most distinctive and popular types

A writer in the Goldsmiths’ Journal bemoaned that

of jewel at this date was the double clip, a pair of

‘mechanical finish has eliminated the virtuosity of

symmetrical brooches that could be worn as one

technique; and, worse than that, the public have

or separately. Their ubiquity can be sensed in the

been taught to value invisible setting above visible

contemporary comment that ‘By the end of

craftsmanship ... they prefer mechanical perfection,

the twenties it had become essential to possess a

viz., sharpness, smoothness etc., before subtlety,

pair of diamond, or pseudo-diamond, clips. They

poetry, and invention.’ 24 It could be argued that

were clipped not only on to hats but on to everything

these critics were simply attuned to the

else, even the small of the back, where they served

fundamentally conservative nature of their

to keep underclothes out of sight.’ 15

mainstream customers. When the Prince of Wales visited Birmingham’s jewellery quarter in May 1931

Pearls remained one of the most desirable of jewels and well matched strings were of immense

he was surprised that half-hoop and cluster rings

value. In 1917 Cartier New York had acquired its new

were still top sellers. He himself was reported as

premises, a large Renaissance-style town house on

preferring pieces in ‘the modernistic theme, where

Fifth Avenue, in exchange for a two-row oriental pearl

the contour is somewhat bold, geometric in style and

necklace. Two years later fashion commentators

set with square cut and baguette diamonds, together

noted, ‘There have never been seen so many pearl

with brilliants’.25 In the years that followed he was

necklaces, short and long’ and ‘Pearl necklaces no

to indulge this taste magnificently in the jewellery by

longer go round the neck. The fashion is to let them

Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels and others that he

fall down to the waist, or lower still, and to twist them

lavished on Wallis Simpson.

up in any original way.’ 16 Imitation pearls, which had

The ‘modernistic’ theme was developed to its most extreme by a small number of innovative Parisian

always been available, became extremely fashionable

designers whose work was distinguished by an

in the mid-Twenties. One debutante recalled, Then came choker pearls, the size of gooseberries.

uncompromising geometry that could, on occasions,

Up till then it had been thought good taste to wear

appear almost brutally stark. At the forefront of this

small Técla pearls of a size in proportion to one’s

style were Jean Fouquet, Raymond Templier and

income, so that they might be mistaken for real.

Gérard Sandoz, all from families long established in

I was afraid that my mother would think large

the jewellery world (plates 24.10 to 24.19). Aiming

chokers vulgar so I only wore mine when I was sure

to create a new style that was sensationally modern

that she wasn’t about.17

and rational, they broke away from the jewellery

The following year Alphonse, the Paris correspondent

alike when faced with virtually indistinguishable

but there are few firmly dated examples of their use

But how new is this white stone jewellery, and how

for Queen magazine, commented on the vogue for

pieces of such vastly different values.

at this time. As the writer and curator Henri Clouzot

much it differs from the old! Progress has been

contemporary ‘modernist’ jewellery. Seventy-five

designers and avant-garde architects, founded the

wrote in 1929, ‘Diamonds could be baguette-cut in

made in working on the diamond, and this stone

pieces were featured by designers designated

Union des Artistes Modernes. Drawing much of its

unashamedly fake pearls, larger than walnuts and

It was during the 1920s that the rectangular

stained in different shades to match one’s dress.18

baguette-cut for diamonds came to prominence.

1925, but we were far from suspecting that cut’s 21

By 1929 the baguette had come into

Journal published a series of articles illustrating

establishment and in 1930, together with other

may now be treated like the coloured stones ...

‘progressive’, including Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels,

inspiration from the strong and simple forms

Pieces are composed and carried out which consist

Imitation or costume jewellery was being worn in

Henry Wilson had noted in 1925 that ‘Much is being

implications.’

Boucheron, Mauboussin, Vever, Sandoz, Brandt and

associated with machine production, theirs was a

society quite deliberately at this time, as is clearly

made to-day in Paris of diamonds cut in rod form

its own and, together with discreet platinum mounts,

of a mixture of brilliants and brilliants cut in the

Templier. Most were French, but Belgian, Swiss,

powerful and influential aesthetic. In 1930 Templier

shown by Chanel’s provocative statement, ‘It does

“taille en bâton ou en allumette.” This has only been

was at the centre of the ‘completely white note’ that

forms of wands, triangles, or any other form,

Italian and Spanish pieces were also shown. Its tone

stated, ‘As I walk in the streets I see ideas for

not matter if they are real as long as they look like

general for the last two years, I am told.’ 20 However,

Georges Fouquet identified as the innovation for

allowing the artist to obtain from diamonds whatever

was markedly cautious, noting that this was a more

jewellery everywhere, the wheels, the cars, the

effect he chooses. The wand-shaped brilliants give

19

22

The style was featured in Paris at a

it is clear from photographs of work exhibited by

that year.

dramatic change of fashion than usually occurred

machinery of today. I hold myself permeable to

pearls, however, came with the arrival on the

the major jewellers such as Cartier, Fouquet and

sumptuous exhibition of contemporary jewellery held

different reflections from the round ones, and the

and remaining non-committal as to whether it would

everything.’ 26 They argued too for the use of less

international market of the cultured pearl, developed

Boucheron that baguette stones were not in

at the Palais Galliéra the same year. It was, by all

most varied play of light may be obtained by

stand the test of time. In Britain there was a degree

traditional materials in jewellery, stating in their

commercially by Mikimoto K¯okichi of Japan (see plate

widespread use in 1925 and that their design

accounts, a magnificent spectacle and was written

arranging them side by side.23

of resistance to this new, severe style of work within

manifesto that ‘a beautiful material is not necessarily

junk.’

The greatest challenge to the prestige of

35.9). It delighted consumers but sent waves of

potential had not yet been fully grasped. Around

up by Fouquet for Studio magazine with photographs

Further contrasts of texture and lustre were achieved

the trade, particularly among those whose training

rare or precious. It is above all a material whose

alarm through the trade and prompted much debate

1924 Boucheron had made a watch brooch in which

of work by Mauboussin, Chaumet and Boucheron.

in the early 1930s with the addition of polished rock

had encouraged a more florid style and who now

natural qualities or whose adaptability to industrial

in the 1920s over the necessity of accurate trade

the watch hangs on a chain of baguette diamonds

Conscious of the long legacy of jewels set purely with

crystal.

failed to recognize the very real craftsmanship

processes are pleasing to the eye and to the touch,

descriptions and protection for retailer and consumer

individually set and arranged like rungs of a ladder,

diamonds, Fouquet wrote,

required to produce such stark and minimal effects.

and whose value derives from judicious use.’27

278

In the first three months of 1929 the Goldsmiths’

279


The Spread of Deco

Art Deco Jewellery

novelties among which the ‘diamants mystérieux’ of

24.9 Horst P. Horst, model

1934 stand out. These were individually mounted

wearing Cartier’s ‘diamants

diamonds with clips so discreet and strong that they

mystérieux’. British Vogue,

could be fixed securely to the thinnest wisp of hair or

September 1934. NAL.

even to the eyebrows. Cartier recommended that ten

© Cartier.

or twelve be worn together arranged at will, pointing out that they had the potential to ‘completely turn upside down our idea of ornament’ 14 (plate 24.9). One of the most distinctive and popular types

A writer in the Goldsmiths’ Journal bemoaned that

of jewel at this date was the double clip, a pair of

‘mechanical finish has eliminated the virtuosity of

symmetrical brooches that could be worn as one

technique; and, worse than that, the public have

or separately. Their ubiquity can be sensed in the

been taught to value invisible setting above visible

contemporary comment that ‘By the end of

craftsmanship ... they prefer mechanical perfection,

the twenties it had become essential to possess a

viz., sharpness, smoothness etc., before subtlety,

pair of diamond, or pseudo-diamond, clips. They

poetry, and invention.’ 24 It could be argued that

were clipped not only on to hats but on to everything

these critics were simply attuned to the

else, even the small of the back, where they served

fundamentally conservative nature of their

to keep underclothes out of sight.’ 15

mainstream customers. When the Prince of Wales visited Birmingham’s jewellery quarter in May 1931

Pearls remained one of the most desirable of jewels and well matched strings were of immense

he was surprised that half-hoop and cluster rings

value. In 1917 Cartier New York had acquired its new

were still top sellers. He himself was reported as

premises, a large Renaissance-style town house on

preferring pieces in ‘the modernistic theme, where

Fifth Avenue, in exchange for a two-row oriental pearl

the contour is somewhat bold, geometric in style and

necklace. Two years later fashion commentators

set with square cut and baguette diamonds, together

noted, ‘There have never been seen so many pearl

with brilliants’.25 In the years that followed he was

necklaces, short and long’ and ‘Pearl necklaces no

to indulge this taste magnificently in the jewellery by

longer go round the neck. The fashion is to let them

Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels and others that he

fall down to the waist, or lower still, and to twist them

lavished on Wallis Simpson.

up in any original way.’ 16 Imitation pearls, which had

The ‘modernistic’ theme was developed to its most extreme by a small number of innovative Parisian

always been available, became extremely fashionable

designers whose work was distinguished by an

in the mid-Twenties. One debutante recalled, Then came choker pearls, the size of gooseberries.

uncompromising geometry that could, on occasions,

Up till then it had been thought good taste to wear

appear almost brutally stark. At the forefront of this

small Técla pearls of a size in proportion to one’s

style were Jean Fouquet, Raymond Templier and

income, so that they might be mistaken for real.

Gérard Sandoz, all from families long established in

I was afraid that my mother would think large

the jewellery world (plates 24.10 to 24.19). Aiming

chokers vulgar so I only wore mine when I was sure

to create a new style that was sensationally modern

that she wasn’t about.17

and rational, they broke away from the jewellery

The following year Alphonse, the Paris correspondent

alike when faced with virtually indistinguishable

but there are few firmly dated examples of their use

But how new is this white stone jewellery, and how

for Queen magazine, commented on the vogue for

pieces of such vastly different values.

at this time. As the writer and curator Henri Clouzot

much it differs from the old! Progress has been

contemporary ‘modernist’ jewellery. Seventy-five

designers and avant-garde architects, founded the

wrote in 1929, ‘Diamonds could be baguette-cut in

made in working on the diamond, and this stone

pieces were featured by designers designated

Union des Artistes Modernes. Drawing much of its

unashamedly fake pearls, larger than walnuts and

It was during the 1920s that the rectangular

stained in different shades to match one’s dress.18

baguette-cut for diamonds came to prominence.

1925, but we were far from suspecting that cut’s 21

By 1929 the baguette had come into

Journal published a series of articles illustrating

establishment and in 1930, together with other

may now be treated like the coloured stones ...

‘progressive’, including Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels,

inspiration from the strong and simple forms

Pieces are composed and carried out which consist

Imitation or costume jewellery was being worn in

Henry Wilson had noted in 1925 that ‘Much is being

implications.’

Boucheron, Mauboussin, Vever, Sandoz, Brandt and

associated with machine production, theirs was a

society quite deliberately at this time, as is clearly

made to-day in Paris of diamonds cut in rod form

its own and, together with discreet platinum mounts,

of a mixture of brilliants and brilliants cut in the

Templier. Most were French, but Belgian, Swiss,

powerful and influential aesthetic. In 1930 Templier

shown by Chanel’s provocative statement, ‘It does

“taille en bâton ou en allumette.” This has only been

was at the centre of the ‘completely white note’ that

forms of wands, triangles, or any other form,

Italian and Spanish pieces were also shown. Its tone

stated, ‘As I walk in the streets I see ideas for

not matter if they are real as long as they look like

general for the last two years, I am told.’ 20 However,

Georges Fouquet identified as the innovation for

allowing the artist to obtain from diamonds whatever

was markedly cautious, noting that this was a more

jewellery everywhere, the wheels, the cars, the

effect he chooses. The wand-shaped brilliants give

19

22

The style was featured in Paris at a

it is clear from photographs of work exhibited by

that year.

dramatic change of fashion than usually occurred

machinery of today. I hold myself permeable to

pearls, however, came with the arrival on the

the major jewellers such as Cartier, Fouquet and

sumptuous exhibition of contemporary jewellery held

different reflections from the round ones, and the

and remaining non-committal as to whether it would

everything.’ 26 They argued too for the use of less

international market of the cultured pearl, developed

Boucheron that baguette stones were not in

at the Palais Galliéra the same year. It was, by all

most varied play of light may be obtained by

stand the test of time. In Britain there was a degree

traditional materials in jewellery, stating in their

commercially by Mikimoto K¯okichi of Japan (see plate

widespread use in 1925 and that their design

accounts, a magnificent spectacle and was written

arranging them side by side.23

of resistance to this new, severe style of work within

manifesto that ‘a beautiful material is not necessarily

junk.’

The greatest challenge to the prestige of

35.9). It delighted consumers but sent waves of

potential had not yet been fully grasped. Around

up by Fouquet for Studio magazine with photographs

Further contrasts of texture and lustre were achieved

the trade, particularly among those whose training

rare or precious. It is above all a material whose

alarm through the trade and prompted much debate

1924 Boucheron had made a watch brooch in which

of work by Mauboussin, Chaumet and Boucheron.

in the early 1930s with the addition of polished rock

had encouraged a more florid style and who now

natural qualities or whose adaptability to industrial

in the 1920s over the necessity of accurate trade

the watch hangs on a chain of baguette diamonds

Conscious of the long legacy of jewels set purely with

crystal.

failed to recognize the very real craftsmanship

processes are pleasing to the eye and to the touch,

descriptions and protection for retailer and consumer

individually set and arranged like rungs of a ladder,

diamonds, Fouquet wrote,

required to produce such stark and minimal effects.

and whose value derives from judicious use.’27

278

In the first three months of 1929 the Goldsmiths’

279


The Deco World

‘ The Filter of American Taste’: Design in the USA in the 1920s

and showed work in a wide range of media, among

Modern Interiors: ‘This spirit finds expression in

them Cubist-inspired silver plated vases, bowls and

skyscrapers, motor-cars, aeroplanes, in new ocean

candlesticks (plate 31.6). Born and trained in

liners, in department stores and great industrial

Budapest, Karasz was well steeped in other currents

plants. Speed, compression, directness – these are

of the avant-garde and manipulated them to form

its attributes.’20

her own distinct style. A bold, sanserif Bauhaus

Frankl was one of the designers who embraced the

typography distinguishes her catalogue cover; textile

Manhattan set-back skyscraper as the building type

designs reveal the influence of German Expressionist

that most captured the spirit of American innovation

desk and bookcase. Walnut, paint

painting as well as traditional folk art. Karasz was

– and then adapted it to furnishings. With its

and brass handles. American,

the only woman designer commissioned to supply

characteristic form a response to a city ordinance

c.1928. For Frankl Galleries, New

complete rooms at the exhibition. Her geometric,

requiring all buildings over a certain height to be set

York City. Collection John P. Axelrod,

brightly coloured children’s nursery was considered

back so that light could reach the street, the

Boston, MA. Courtesy Museum of

‘one of the gayest, jolliest and most practical rooms

skyscraper embodied civic pride, industrial prowess

Fine Arts, Boston.

ever designed for a child’;17 Arts and Decoration

and a complete break with the past. Although

declared it the first nursery ‘ever designed for the

Frankl’s line of ‘skyscraper’ furniture was all custom

very modern American child’.18

made and, therefore, too expensive for wide

Many critics, designers and style-conscious consumers welcomed the adaptation of the latest

31.7 Paul T. Frankl (born in Austria),

distribution, it still reached a large audience through exhibitions and publications (plate 31.7). He

European fashions, and they were convinced that

displayed a whole room of skyscraper furniture at

these permutations could be developed ‘into a

Macy’s 1927 Art-in-Trade exhibition as well as at the

distinctive and distinguished style as subtly different

American Designers’ Gallery exhibition in 1928.

from its European inspiration as Early American

Good Furniture was only one of many journals that

furniture and interiors are different from their English

wrote admiringly of the skyscraper line, declaring it

and French ancestry’.19 Even more desirable,

was ‘as American and as New Yorkish as Fifth

31.5 Donald Deskey, table lamp. Chrome-plated metal and

however, would be a style that came more directly

Avenue itself’.21 The skyscraper was depicted in

glass. American, c.1927. Made by Deskey-Vollmer.

from the country’s own experiences and

every possible medium – ceramics, metalwork,

Collection John P. Axelrod, Boston, MA. Courtesy Museum

achievements. By 1930, many articles and books

textiles, paintings, photographs and prints as well

of Fine Arts, Boston.

addressed the issue of a distinctly American

as furniture.

expression of modernity – what designer Paul Frankl lamp, in particular, a jazzy saw-tooth machine of chrome-plated steel and glass (plate 31.5).

15

While

all the furnishings were produced to order, they were

called the ‘new spirit manifest in every phase of

31.6 Ilonka Karasz (born in Hungary), vase, bowl and

American life’. As he elaborated in his influential

candlestick. Silver-plated metal. American, c.1928. Cooper-

book Form and Reform: A Practical Handbook of

Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution.

largely made of new or newly inexpensive materials that would soon enable modern design to be more accessible. When Deskey began collaborating with large manufacturers in the early 1930s, the materials used in the ‘Man’s Smoking Room’ – aluminium for the ceiling, cork for the walls, chrome-plated metal for furniture, Vitrolite and Bakelite for the table tops, linoleum for the floor – would truly become indicators of modernity for the middle classes. This vocabulary of angularity, of abstracted geometric forms, was recognized at the time as a commercial dissemination of the principles of Cubism. Assessing what he considered the dominant style of the Paris 1925 Exhibition, one reviewer declared, ‘architects, furniture makers, and decorative designers uniformly apply the principles of composition introduced by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Juan Gris’.16 In addition to Deskey, other American designers mastered these principles as well. At the American Designers’ Gallery exhibition, Ilonka Karasz provided the cover of the catalogue

340

341


The Deco World

‘ The Filter of American Taste’: Design in the USA in the 1920s

and showed work in a wide range of media, among

Modern Interiors: ‘This spirit finds expression in

them Cubist-inspired silver plated vases, bowls and

skyscrapers, motor-cars, aeroplanes, in new ocean

candlesticks (plate 31.6). Born and trained in

liners, in department stores and great industrial

Budapest, Karasz was well steeped in other currents

plants. Speed, compression, directness – these are

of the avant-garde and manipulated them to form

its attributes.’20

her own distinct style. A bold, sanserif Bauhaus

Frankl was one of the designers who embraced the

typography distinguishes her catalogue cover; textile

Manhattan set-back skyscraper as the building type

designs reveal the influence of German Expressionist

that most captured the spirit of American innovation

desk and bookcase. Walnut, paint

painting as well as traditional folk art. Karasz was

– and then adapted it to furnishings. With its

and brass handles. American,

the only woman designer commissioned to supply

characteristic form a response to a city ordinance

c.1928. For Frankl Galleries, New

complete rooms at the exhibition. Her geometric,

requiring all buildings over a certain height to be set

York City. Collection John P. Axelrod,

brightly coloured children’s nursery was considered

back so that light could reach the street, the

Boston, MA. Courtesy Museum of

‘one of the gayest, jolliest and most practical rooms

skyscraper embodied civic pride, industrial prowess

Fine Arts, Boston.

ever designed for a child’;17 Arts and Decoration

and a complete break with the past. Although

declared it the first nursery ‘ever designed for the

Frankl’s line of ‘skyscraper’ furniture was all custom

very modern American child’.18

made and, therefore, too expensive for wide

Many critics, designers and style-conscious consumers welcomed the adaptation of the latest

31.7 Paul T. Frankl (born in Austria),

distribution, it still reached a large audience through exhibitions and publications (plate 31.7). He

European fashions, and they were convinced that

displayed a whole room of skyscraper furniture at

these permutations could be developed ‘into a

Macy’s 1927 Art-in-Trade exhibition as well as at the

distinctive and distinguished style as subtly different

American Designers’ Gallery exhibition in 1928.

from its European inspiration as Early American

Good Furniture was only one of many journals that

furniture and interiors are different from their English

wrote admiringly of the skyscraper line, declaring it

and French ancestry’.19 Even more desirable,

was ‘as American and as New Yorkish as Fifth

31.5 Donald Deskey, table lamp. Chrome-plated metal and

however, would be a style that came more directly

Avenue itself’.21 The skyscraper was depicted in

glass. American, c.1927. Made by Deskey-Vollmer.

from the country’s own experiences and

every possible medium – ceramics, metalwork,

Collection John P. Axelrod, Boston, MA. Courtesy Museum

achievements. By 1930, many articles and books

textiles, paintings, photographs and prints as well

of Fine Arts, Boston.

addressed the issue of a distinctly American

as furniture.

expression of modernity – what designer Paul Frankl lamp, in particular, a jazzy saw-tooth machine of chrome-plated steel and glass (plate 31.5).

15

While

all the furnishings were produced to order, they were

called the ‘new spirit manifest in every phase of

31.6 Ilonka Karasz (born in Hungary), vase, bowl and

American life’. As he elaborated in his influential

candlestick. Silver-plated metal. American, c.1928. Cooper-

book Form and Reform: A Practical Handbook of

Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution.

largely made of new or newly inexpensive materials that would soon enable modern design to be more accessible. When Deskey began collaborating with large manufacturers in the early 1930s, the materials used in the ‘Man’s Smoking Room’ – aluminium for the ceiling, cork for the walls, chrome-plated metal for furniture, Vitrolite and Bakelite for the table tops, linoleum for the floor – would truly become indicators of modernity for the middle classes. This vocabulary of angularity, of abstracted geometric forms, was recognized at the time as a commercial dissemination of the principles of Cubism. Assessing what he considered the dominant style of the Paris 1925 Exhibition, one reviewer declared, ‘architects, furniture makers, and decorative designers uniformly apply the principles of composition introduced by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Juan Gris’.16 In addition to Deskey, other American designers mastered these principles as well. At the American Designers’ Gallery exhibition, Ilonka Karasz provided the cover of the catalogue

340

341


The Deco World

New Materials and Technologies

33.10 John R. Morgan, Waterwitch

outboard motor designed by John R. Morgan, an in-

outboard motor. Steel, aluminium

house designer at Sears, Roebuck (plate 33.10).

and rubber. American, 1936.

Although the typical weekend fisherman probably did

Made by Sears, Roebuck & Co.

not consult style trends when purchasing a motor for

Gift of John C. Waddell, 1998.

his boat, Morgan created an object later praised by

The Metropolitan Museum of Art,

the art historian Richard Guy Wilson as a piece of

New York.

‘machine age sculpture’.16 With a semi-circular engine housing flanked by two teardrop fuel tanks, it reminded later generations of the starship Enterprise in Star Trek. In 1936, however, it brought boating some of the glamour of modern transportation. Although many American Art Deco products of the 1930s, from irons to refrigerators, made reference to recognizable formal analogues, other objects fabricated from aluminium relied for their attractiveness almost entirely on the surface qualities of their material. Noteworthy in this regard was the RCA Victor Special, a portable phonograph designed by John Vassos (plate 33.12). This high-style variation on the old fashioned hand-wound record player came

33.11 Russel Wright, spherical

mounted for high-impact resistance in a rectangular,

vase, planter and cocktail shaker.

round-edged aluminium case. Devoid of direct visual

Spun aluminium and cork.

references to streamlined vehicles or other machine-

American, c.1932. John C. Waddell

age icons, the Special’s every detail evoked

private collection. Promised gift

modernity, especially the mirror inside the lid that,

to the Metropolitan Museum of

when open, enabled an operator to gauge visually

Art, New York. The Metropolitan

how much playing time remained on a record. An

33.12 John Vassos (born in Romania),

Museum of Art, New York.

owner of a Special could take pride in possessing a

portable phonograph, model RCA Victor

piece of equipment that looked as if it belonged on

Special. Aluminium, chrome plated steel,

the Graf Zeppelin airship (see plate 29.11).

plastic and velvet. American, c.1937.

Even more dependent on the material itself for

Made by RCA. V&A: W.1-1997.

aesthetic effect were the pitchers, urns, cocktail shakers and other aluminium serving pieces spun by Russel Wright on his own lathe in the late 1920s and early 1930s (plate 33.11). Starting from thin, lightweight tubes of metal, the young artisan transformed the era’s most high-tech material into objects whose delicacy belied the aura of the machine shop they retained. Although Wright rendered these pieces vaguely organic by stretching their forms and supplying them with wooden handles, such effects drew attention by contrast to the surface of the material itself, a muted silver-grey but enriched by finely brushed horizontal lines. As American designers adapted the luxurious motifs of Paris 1925 for a middle-class market, they retained Art Deco’s central emphasis on decorative effects. However, economic constraints forced them to do more with less, to stylize mercilessly, to suggest rather than to execute, and finally to rely on innovative surface effects achieved with such new materials as aluminium, stainless steel, chrome plating and synthetic plastics, all of which depended on new technologies. The inherent tension between

356

357


The Deco World

New Materials and Technologies

33.10 John R. Morgan, Waterwitch

outboard motor designed by John R. Morgan, an in-

outboard motor. Steel, aluminium

house designer at Sears, Roebuck (plate 33.10).

and rubber. American, 1936.

Although the typical weekend fisherman probably did

Made by Sears, Roebuck & Co.

not consult style trends when purchasing a motor for

Gift of John C. Waddell, 1998.

his boat, Morgan created an object later praised by

The Metropolitan Museum of Art,

the art historian Richard Guy Wilson as a piece of

New York.

‘machine age sculpture’.16 With a semi-circular engine housing flanked by two teardrop fuel tanks, it reminded later generations of the starship Enterprise in Star Trek. In 1936, however, it brought boating some of the glamour of modern transportation. Although many American Art Deco products of the 1930s, from irons to refrigerators, made reference to recognizable formal analogues, other objects fabricated from aluminium relied for their attractiveness almost entirely on the surface qualities of their material. Noteworthy in this regard was the RCA Victor Special, a portable phonograph designed by John Vassos (plate 33.12). This high-style variation on the old fashioned hand-wound record player came

33.11 Russel Wright, spherical

mounted for high-impact resistance in a rectangular,

vase, planter and cocktail shaker.

round-edged aluminium case. Devoid of direct visual

Spun aluminium and cork.

references to streamlined vehicles or other machine-

American, c.1932. John C. Waddell

age icons, the Special’s every detail evoked

private collection. Promised gift

modernity, especially the mirror inside the lid that,

to the Metropolitan Museum of

when open, enabled an operator to gauge visually

Art, New York. The Metropolitan

how much playing time remained on a record. An

33.12 John Vassos (born in Romania),

Museum of Art, New York.

owner of a Special could take pride in possessing a

portable phonograph, model RCA Victor

piece of equipment that looked as if it belonged on

Special. Aluminium, chrome plated steel,

the Graf Zeppelin airship (see plate 29.11).

plastic and velvet. American, c.1937.

Even more dependent on the material itself for

Made by RCA. V&A: W.1-1997.

aesthetic effect were the pitchers, urns, cocktail shakers and other aluminium serving pieces spun by Russel Wright on his own lathe in the late 1920s and early 1930s (plate 33.11). Starting from thin, lightweight tubes of metal, the young artisan transformed the era’s most high-tech material into objects whose delicacy belied the aura of the machine shop they retained. Although Wright rendered these pieces vaguely organic by stretching their forms and supplying them with wooden handles, such effects drew attention by contrast to the surface of the material itself, a muted silver-grey but enriched by finely brushed horizontal lines. As American designers adapted the luxurious motifs of Paris 1925 for a middle-class market, they retained Art Deco’s central emphasis on decorative effects. However, economic constraints forced them to do more with less, to stylize mercilessly, to suggest rather than to execute, and finally to rely on innovative surface effects achieved with such new materials as aluminium, stainless steel, chrome plating and synthetic plastics, all of which depended on new technologies. The inherent tension between

356

357


The Deco World

chromed steel, granite and terracotta, were ones that possessed – or could be given – the surface brilliance so characteristic of Art Deco. Architectural terracotta, introduced in Australia during the 1920s, was used extensively as a decorative material, often to cover entire façades of buildings. In Goulburn, New South Wales, famous for its fine wool, Wunderlich Ltd, tile manufacturers, in conjunction with the architect L. P. Burns, rose to Dellit’s challenge and produced a rich polychrome ornamental façade for Elmslea Chambers (1933); neo-classical pilasters surround a design based on a ram’s head (plate 38.5). Ernest Wunderlich had visited the Paris 1925 Exhibition and recorded: It is a pleasure show like all French Exhibitions ... full of novel conceits and, but for the modern sculpture, which is uniformly vile, pleasing and striking. In furniture and interior decoration, especially in lighting effects, many ideas could be picked up. Even when the designs are outré they are always artistic and possess a cachet of their own ... and the palais des marbres et mosaïques is gorgeous.9

The firm’s subsequent work and their showroom were much influenced by what Ernest Wunderlich had seen at the exhibition. In addition to architectural terracotta, used to clad and ornament several buildings, Wunderlich promoted Art Deco designs in their decorative pressed metal ceilings. Napier Waller and his wife, Christian, were the most important Australian artists in stained glass during the 1920s and 1930s. Both worked in other media including printmaking; Napier was also a painter. They had been exposed to contemporary ideas about stained-glass design while studying at Whall & Whall in London in 1929 and were strongly influenced by contemporary international design tendencies more generally. After their return to Australia in 1930, there was a pronounced change in Christian’s style. Her graphic work – prints, illustrated books and bookplates – with its emphatic geometry and often elongated forms, was strongly influenced by Art Deco. Her remarkable group of illustrations for the book The Great Breath (1932) are based on 38.5 L. P. Burns, terracotta

410

The Anzac Memorial appears to be made of stone

theosophical thought and, like many Art Deco

decoration on Elmslea Chambers,

but is largely of reinforced concrete. The possibilities

designs, also drew on ancient Greek and Egyptian art

Goulburn, New South Wales.

opened up by new materials and technologies were

(plate 38.6). Similarly, the Wallers’ stained glass

Australian, 1933. Made by

welcomed by Dellit, who advocated that architects

shows the same preoccupation with geometric form,

Wunderlich Ltd.

should exploit them: ‘Modernity has produced such

apparent in the leading as much as in the figure and

Photo: Patrick Van Daele.

wonderful materials and methods ... glass, electric

decorative work. Napier Waller’s most pronounced

38.6 Christian Waller, The Spirit of

38.7 Napier Waller, detail from

light, synthetic materials, highly finished materials,

statement in the style was the Leckie window for

Light. Linocut. Australian, 1932.

Ceres, Leckie Window, University of

structural steel, reinforced concrete, terra cotta –

Wilson Hall in the University of Melbourne (1935).10

Plate 1 of The Great Breath,

Melbourne. Stained glass and lead.

each with possibilities unknown to the ancients –

Its complex design draws on Greek mythology and

Melbourne, 1932. National Gallery of

Australian, 1935. University of

mechanical inventions and mass production.’ 8 Many

biblical images to illustrate the Creation and the

Victoria, Melbourne.

of the materials to which Dellit referred, such as

evolution of European culture (plate 38.7).

Melbourne Art Collection. Gift of John E. Leckie.


The Deco World

chromed steel, granite and terracotta, were ones that possessed – or could be given – the surface brilliance so characteristic of Art Deco. Architectural terracotta, introduced in Australia during the 1920s, was used extensively as a decorative material, often to cover entire façades of buildings. In Goulburn, New South Wales, famous for its fine wool, Wunderlich Ltd, tile manufacturers, in conjunction with the architect L. P. Burns, rose to Dellit’s challenge and produced a rich polychrome ornamental façade for Elmslea Chambers (1933); neo-classical pilasters surround a design based on a ram’s head (plate 38.5). Ernest Wunderlich had visited the Paris 1925 Exhibition and recorded: It is a pleasure show like all French Exhibitions ... full of novel conceits and, but for the modern sculpture, which is uniformly vile, pleasing and striking. In furniture and interior decoration, especially in lighting effects, many ideas could be picked up. Even when the designs are outré they are always artistic and possess a cachet of their own ... and the palais des marbres et mosaïques is gorgeous.9

The firm’s subsequent work and their showroom were much influenced by what Ernest Wunderlich had seen at the exhibition. In addition to architectural terracotta, used to clad and ornament several buildings, Wunderlich promoted Art Deco designs in their decorative pressed metal ceilings. Napier Waller and his wife, Christian, were the most important Australian artists in stained glass during the 1920s and 1930s. Both worked in other media including printmaking; Napier was also a painter. They had been exposed to contemporary ideas about stained-glass design while studying at Whall & Whall in London in 1929 and were strongly influenced by contemporary international design tendencies more generally. After their return to Australia in 1930, there was a pronounced change in Christian’s style. Her graphic work – prints, illustrated books and bookplates – with its emphatic geometry and often elongated forms, was strongly influenced by Art Deco. Her remarkable group of illustrations for the book The Great Breath (1932) are based on 38.5 L. P. Burns, terracotta

410

The Anzac Memorial appears to be made of stone

theosophical thought and, like many Art Deco

decoration on Elmslea Chambers,

but is largely of reinforced concrete. The possibilities

designs, also drew on ancient Greek and Egyptian art

Goulburn, New South Wales.

opened up by new materials and technologies were

(plate 38.6). Similarly, the Wallers’ stained glass

Australian, 1933. Made by

welcomed by Dellit, who advocated that architects

shows the same preoccupation with geometric form,

Wunderlich Ltd.

should exploit them: ‘Modernity has produced such

apparent in the leading as much as in the figure and

Photo: Patrick Van Daele.

wonderful materials and methods ... glass, electric

decorative work. Napier Waller’s most pronounced

38.6 Christian Waller, The Spirit of

38.7 Napier Waller, detail from

light, synthetic materials, highly finished materials,

statement in the style was the Leckie window for

Light. Linocut. Australian, 1932.

Ceres, Leckie Window, University of

structural steel, reinforced concrete, terra cotta –

Wilson Hall in the University of Melbourne (1935).10

Plate 1 of The Great Breath,

Melbourne. Stained glass and lead.

each with possibilities unknown to the ancients –

Its complex design draws on Greek mythology and

Melbourne, 1932. National Gallery of

Australian, 1935. University of

mechanical inventions and mass production.’ 8 Many

biblical images to illustrate the Creation and the

Victoria, Melbourne.

of the materials to which Dellit referred, such as

evolution of European culture (plate 38.7).

Melbourne Art Collection. Gift of John E. Leckie.

Art Deco 1910–1939  

Art Deco – the style redolent of the flapper girl, the luxury ocean liner, Hollywood film and the skyscraper – came to epitomize the glamour...

Art Deco 1910–1939  

Art Deco – the style redolent of the flapper girl, the luxury ocean liner, Hollywood film and the skyscraper – came to epitomize the glamour...

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