Decorative art

The term "Art Deco" is an abbreviation of "Decorative Arts". Art Deco is an artistic movement that began in the 1910s and ended in the late 1930s. This artistic movement applies in particular to the world of architecture and more specifically to interior design and decoration. Art Deco was the first style to spread worldwide, created in Belgium and then affecting France, Portugal, Spain, then North Africa, and all the Anglo-Saxon countries (the United Kingdom, the United States and its active "Art Deco" associations, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, the Philippines, etc.), as well as the main cities of Vietnam for the initial movement, several Chinese cities such as Shanghai and Hong Kong, or Japan, for example, for the Palace of Prince Asaka, in Tokyo.

Prince Asaka Palace, Tokyo


Order, colour and geometry: the essential vocabulary of Art Deco is established. This vocabulary took different forms according to the regions, the architects and their clients, but its stylistic unity was due to the use of geometry, the aim of which was essentially decorative, in contrast to the international avant-garde movement, also known as modernism or international style, which established architectural principles of bay volumes and harmonious circulation. These two architectures of "rich" and "pure" decoration are more or less applied depending on the architect. Indeed, each architect and each region of the world produces different works. However, a work of the Art Deco period can be identified by certain characteristics 

Here are some of the main characteristics of Art Deco:


  • The refusal of right angles: this characteristic mainly affects buildings

  • Bow windows: these are windows that break up the monotony of a façade and increase the interior surface area

  • The use of simple materials: in Art Deco no particular material is favoured. In practice, reinforced concrete is often used

  • Cut-offs: these are the Art Deco style because they avoid right angles

  • Ornamentation: contrary to what one might think, Art Deco is very attached to ornamentation, whether for interior or exterior decoration. It is therefore not strange to see fascinating motifs on the balconies or facades of Art Deco buildings

  • Elegance and comfort: Art Deco furniture is characterised by geometric lines, precious materials, minimalism and above all refinement. All this can be seen in the furniture created by great Art Deco artists such as Jean-Michel Franck, Jean Dunand, Eugène Printz and Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann

  • Spiral and floral motifs: these two motifs are very much in use in Art Deco, especially the spiral motif which can symbolise flowers or fruit.

Duthoo building, Tours (1907-1910)

The origins of art deco date back to the years 1900-1910. During this period, in many European countries (Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, etc.), art nouveau was challenged by many artists. The trend was towards simpler lines and more classical compositions, a return to order and sobriety. The cumbersome and exuberant decorations were thus challenged and gave rise to the art deco movement.

This evolution in taste and concept was introduced in Brussels between 1905 and 1911, even though there were already signs of a transition from Art Nouveau to Art Deco, particularly in the work of Henri Bellery-Desfontaines from 1902-1904. Little by little, Art Deco became a worldwide phenomenon.

The differences between the forms of Art Nouveau and Art Deco were summarised by André Vera in his article in the magazine L'Art Décoratif: Art Deco rejects all forms of Art Nouveau, asymmetrical forms, picturesque polychromes where feelings take precedence over reason. Art Deco plays on a single material and on obvious symmetry: honour to harmony and pragmatism.

In Austria, for example, the undulating lines of the early Art Nouveau period were quickly replaced by a network of orthogonal lines and simple volumes, under the influence of the Scottish architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Emblematic artists of this trend were Josef Hoffmann, Koloman Moser, Otto Wagner and the Wiener Werkstätte. The chance of a commission to Josef Hoffmann introduced this evolution in Brussels, a great Art Nouveau city, from 1905-1911: the Stoclet Palace. The interiors, known from photographs, mobilised the entire Wiener Werkstätte and the painter Gustav Klimt.

Palais Stoclet, Brussels (1905-0911)

In France

In France, the first signs of this desire for change are perceptible from the 1900s. Analysing the work of Henri Bellery-Desfontaines allows us to measure the transition, from 1902-1904, between Art Nouveau and Art Deco: this generous artist was not the only one at that time to operate a junction between styles, to reduce the boundaries between "decorative", craft and artistic: Jean-Frédéric Wielhorski proceeded in the same way when he designed the Duthoo building in Tours (1907-1910).

In 1907, Eugène Grasset published a Méthode de composition ornementale (Method of Ornamental Composition) which gave pride of place to geometric forms and their variations. This vision contrasts with the undulating freedom of Hector Guimard's style, so popular in Paris a few years earlier. The following year, Paul Iribe designed a fashion album for Paul Poiret, whose aesthetic struck the Parisian milieu with its novelty.

The third important event, the 1910 Autumn Salon, saw the invitation of Munich artists who for several years had been adopting strict and uncluttered forms. Around 1910, the French decorators André Mare, Louis Süe and Paul Auscher also moved towards a more rigorous and restrained style. In sculpture, François Pompon created his famous bear.

On the architectural front, between 1910 and 1913, work began on the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, another sign of the radical aesthetic change that was taking place in Paris at the time. Initially entrusted to Henry Van de Velde, the design and construction work quickly fell to Auguste Perret. The rigorous composition of the facade and the limited space given over to decoration were striking features of the inauguration in 1913. Since the beginning of the century, Henri Sauvage has been renewing the formal architectural references and his technical references with tiered buildings.

Finally, the Paris of the 1910s discovered Serge Diaghilev's Russian ballets, mixing dance, music and painting, inspired by the Thousand and One Nights. They were an invitation to luxury and exoticism; the costumes were created by Léon Bakst and many others. Hence the fashion for fans, feathers, water jets and bright colours. Unusual colours were used in the décor and furniture: boudoirs with orange walls and lounges covered in black.

François Pompon: polar bear, Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Auguste Perret : theatre des champs Elysées, Paris

In France, the success of Art Deco, at its peak in the 1920s and 1930s, was cut short by the Second World War. Anticipating the interest of museums, Parisian gallery owners and antique dealers initiated its rediscovery in the 1960s and 1970s, which led to an explosion in the market from the 1990s onwards. Among the most emblematic are Alain Blondel and Robert and Cheska Vallois, as well as Stéphane Deschamps and Yvette Baran, whose names regularly appear in monographs on Art Deco and Art Nouveau. It was in particular the sale of the Jacques Doucet collection in 1972 that repopularised Art Deco for the general public.

Cabinet d'Orient, part of the Jacques Doucet collection.

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