Art Deco in the 1920s
In between the two world wars, the Art Deco movement emerged to reflect the industrialism of the age. Characterized by polished, streamlined forms evoking modern machinery and skyscraper silhouettes, Art Deco was the defining style of the turn of the early 20th century. The historic 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes held in Paris was meant to assert the modernization of French luxury design, leading to the adoption of the name “Art Deco.” The exposition attracted over 16 million visitors during its seven month run, effectively introducing and popularizing the eclectic new aesthetic. Fine and decorative arts, architecture, jewelry and fashion design were all involved in the worldwide artistic movement.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say Art Nouveau artists partially inspired the Art Deco movement. In the same vein as its predecessor Art Nouveau, the Art Deco era called for the integration of fine design and functionality while drawing inspiration from modern materials; however, the movements diverged as the Art Nouveau style was influenced significantly by the Arts & Crafts movement and was formally characterized by naturalism, sinuous lines and organic forms. In another blog post, we further delineate the contrasts and similarities between Art Nouveau and Art Deco. Here, we will focus on the five most well-known Art Deco artists, their highly influential works and legacies in art history.
Famous Art Deco Artists
The Art Deco style flourished through various mediums and artistic industries, as artists explored different avenues of modernism in the 1920s and 30s. Several artists listed below stand out as having defined the Art Deco movement with their innovative work.
Tamara de Lempicka
Polish artist Tamara de Lempicka, known as the “Baroness with the Brush,” was a wealthy socialite immersed in the glitz of 1920s Paris. Born in Warsaw, Lempicka fled the tumult of the Russian Revolution for France in 1918. Lempicka enrolled in Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris to take up painting, where she studied under famed avant-garde artists Maurice Denis and André Lhote, who introduced her to Cubism and abstract experimentations. Immersed in the modernist vanguard circles of Paris, Lempicka began exhibiting in the salons as early as 1922 during the Art Deco era.
Lempicka is best known for her sensual and sleek portraits of full-figured cubist women, often portraying her own friends from Paris’s glamorous and wealthy elite. The artist also explored non-figurative geometric shapes and abstraction later in her career. Much of Lempicka’s artwork resides in museums worldwide, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Musée des Beaux-Arts du Havre, and the National Museum Warsaw, among others. The artist smashed her auction record with a $21.1MM sale at Christie's in 2020, demonstrating the ever-growing love for her unique aesthetic style and fascinating background.
This Art Deco artist is often referred to as the “father of Art Deco." René Lalique originally garnered popularity through his Art Nouveau jewelry designs during the late-19th century. Trained as a goldsmith, Lalique began his career working in the famed jewelry house of Cartier and Boucheron before striking out on his own as an independent designer. Lalique famously incorporated non-traditional materials into his jewelry pieces, uninhibited by the expectation to feature precious gems. Instead, horn, ivory, semi-precious stones, enamel, and, most notably, glass came to define Lalique’s eclectic design practice.
After 1910, Lalique left behind his established jewelry house to focus solely on glassmaking. The artist produced glassware with moulded intaglio decoration in bas-relief, continuing to draw from natural forms, such as the vase pictured above. Lalique notably partnered with perfumer François Coty to produce luxury perfume bottles, substantially expanding Lalique’s glass production and allowing the artist the funds for further artistic experimentations. Lalique’s incredible contributions to art and design history in his Art Deco jewelry and glasswork cannot be understated. His jewelry is held in the collections of major museums around the world, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Musée des Arts Decoratifs in Paris, and the artist’s very own Musée Lalique in Alsace, among others.
Painter, textile, fashion, and set designer Sonia Delaunay was a force of creativity during the era of Art Deco design. A key figure in the Parisian avant-garde, Delaunay wielded vivid colors in bold abstractions to explore and create new designs in an array of mediums. Besides her fine artworks, Delaunay garnered acclaim at the 1925 Paris Exposition for her Art Deco fashion creations decorated with striking geometric patterns embodying Art Deco. Delaunay’s Robes simultanées (trois femmes, forms, couleurs), pictured below, presents the merging of the artist’s rhythmic modern clothing designs and her painting practice.
Jewelry Spotlight: Cartier
In stark contrast to the fantastical designs of Lalique, jewelry firm Cartier famously brought the glitz to the polish of Art Deco, particularly in the realm of clocks. The firm can be considered responsible for popularizing the wristwatch with its one-of-a-kind designs. Pictured below, the striking Cartier watch clip epitomizes the Art Deco style. Sophisticated and chic, this fashionable timepiece features a dial and clip of onyx, while sparkling round-cut diamonds comprise the bezel and mark the hours. This pocket watch similarly blends sleek enamel and Breguet-style hands in the luxurious gold bezel, embodying Art Deco. With a focus on technical perfection within stylish settings, Cartier successfully merged modern clockwork with the innovations of the Art Deco style.
Known for his elaborate and innovative enamel pieces, Fauré sought to break away from the centuries-old enamel traditions of Limoges, France. After enjoying immense popularity during the Renaissance, Limoges enamels again achieved considerable popularity at the end of the 19th century, a reputation that lasted through the Art Deco movement largely thanks to Fauré‘s unique take on this centuries-old art form. Partnering with artist Alexandre Marty, Fauré developed a process of building up the surface of a vase with layers of enamel, as well as incorporating new materials like copper into their works. These sculptural enamel vases were a major breakthrough.
Another French Art Deco artist and designer was Jean Dunand. He was a significant contributor in the creation of a uniquely Art Deco style of furniture that utilized metalwork, lacquer, and sculpture. As a young man, Dunand studied at the Geneva School of Industrial Arts, focusing on sculpture. After moving from Switzerland to Paris, Dunand began his career as a coppersmith and devoted himself entirely to honing his creative metalwork skills. The designer also drew from East Asian arts traditions; learning the art of lacquerware from Seizo Sugawara, he fused the traditional decorative technique with modern Western designs. He was particularly known for using the coquille d'oeuf technique, which embedded eggshell fragments into layers of lacquer.
While France is the birthplace of the Art Deco movement, it didn't take long for it to gain ground in other places. There are still remnants of the movement today in Art Deco architecture, jewelry, fine art, and even furniture. What is Art Deco furniture? Learn more about different furniture periods to discover what pieces you can add to your space. If you're interested in other types of rare art from this period, among others, don't hesitate to browse our collection.