How Money, Extravagance and Fashion Moved the World from Art Deco to Art Moderne

 The 1920s saw the world enter a post-war boom of economy, color and extravagant living. Many had money to spend and ways to spend it – think The Great Gatsby.

 “Stocks reached record peaks, and Wall Street boomed a steady golden roar. The parties were bigger, the shows were broader, the buildings were higher, the morals were looser, and the ban on alcohol had backfired. Making the liquor cheaper. Wall Street was luring the young and ambitious….” – Nick Carraway, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

With this boom in new money, high fashion and leisure time also came revolutionary art movements, not the least of which were Art Deco in France and Art Moderne in the U.S. Art Deco already had appeared in France in the early 1910s but made its world debut at the Exposition international des arts decoratifs et industriels modernes, (International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts) in 1925. Coined in the 1960s, Art Deco took its name from the Exposition, arts decoratifs. The raucous design style uses bright and often-clashing colors and patterns. Which often are floral or very geometric in nature. Built initially on the style of Art Nouveau, Art Deco includes design elements from two-dimensional Egyptian art, Greek sculpture’s form and smooth surfaces, Cubism’s geometric design and contrasting shapes, Fauvism’s bright colors, the Greco-Roman sense of balance and proportion, patterns and colors from the Orient and South American Natives, Asian lacquer gloss, and French Imperial furniture. Art Deco is truly the art of the world. Meant to convey the feeling of sleek wealth as well as royal opulence, Art Deco is infused with stylized, clean lines and a bright jazzy feel.

The movement of Art Deco became so popular after the Exhibition that it flooded over the realm of decorative arts into apparel, architecture, ship designs, trains, airplanes, automobiles, every day appliances, 2-D art and sculpture. For well-known examples of Art Deco, think about the Chrysler Building in Manhattan, the Greybar Building, in Dallas, Cincinnati’s Union Terminalthe National Tobacco Company Building in New Zealand or even the Shanghai Peace Hotel.  Famous examples also can be found in Mexico, all parts of Europe, Israel, India and South America.

The Art Deco heyday ran for two decades, from the 1920s through the 1940s and took over the world of art and architecture. One of its best-known furniture designers was Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann of Paris who used dark, fine woods and clean inlays in his pieces. Art Deco jewelry from designers like Cartier, Paul Brandt, Mauboussin began to appear, and Frederic Boucheron took on this new artistic movement and moved it into the world of apparel alongside Coco Chanel and Jean Patou. Art Deco ruled the world of the chic and stylish. It even changed and modified with the Great Depression of the 1930s and began using cheaper materials like plastic, mass producing furniture instead of creating each by hand so that it would still be accessible to some of the public.

Art Moderne (a.k.a. “Streamline Moderne”), began as a result of the Great Depression in America in the 1930s. As materials grew harder to come by and the economy did not support the large, elaborate Art Deco architecture and design from the 1920s, Art Moderne stepped in to save the day. A spin-off of Art Deco, Art Moderne took the streamlined designs of Art Deco and put them into a more common use. Art Moderne is characterized by shorter buildings, glass brick walls, rounded edges, flat, cornered roofs, neutral or subdued colors, chrome accents and nautical or train-like design elements such as port hole windows or boxy shapes with rounded edges. Airstream travel trailers are probably the most commonly seen examples of a clean, Art Moderne structure. Once again, just like Art Deco, Art Moderne stole the scene with help from The Chicago World’s Fair in 1933-34, he Dallas Centennial Exhibition of 1936, along with the New York World’s Fair in 1939-40 and the San Francisco Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939. Two-Dimensional art took on less of an Art Noveau feel and became more of a flat, industrial, almost hieroglyphic feel. For example, take a look at the Chicago World’s Fair poster in comparison to the Paris Exposition of 1925. Where Art Deco was an appealing burst of color and patterns matched with wood and inlays, Art Moderne is much more sleek and simple with painted wood, solid colors and plenty of windows. Florida sports quite a few Art Moderne buildings like this one with its horizontal lines and rounded corners, and the same with this house in Denver, Colorado. Jackson, Mississippi’s Naval Reserve Building is a great Art Moderne building with nautical touches. The goal of Art Moderne was to be streamlined (thus the pseudonym, Streamline Moderne) and have a mass-produced look: very simple, unadorned and smooth.

Art Moderne also influenced automobile body structure, trains, appliances and interior decorating. The 20th Century Limited passenger train was given a new face with the 4-6-4 Hudson steam locomotive designed by Henry Dreyfuss in the Streamline Moderne style, and was touted as the most famous design of passenger train to ever run the railways. The Airstream’s Torpedo travel trailer was introduced in 1931, with more Streamline designs to follow that are still desirable and sought for today. Appliances and interior design took on a similar look and feel with horizontal features, solid colors with some chrome implements and rounded corners.

The natural successor to these very clean-cut styles – the minimalist International Style – would come in the 1950s and 1960s, but Art Moderne and Art Deco reigned supreme for incomparable decades and many of the remnants of its effects still remain in current fashion and in glorious, historic buildings. In fact, Art Deco and Streamline Moderne seem to be making a huge fashionable comeback in today’s world – I know my kitchen seems to have a similar feel to the 1930s/1940s homemaker! Good design is timeless.

Posted by Heritage Editorial

This article was written as a collaborative effort by multiple experts within the category at Heritage Auctions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *