The term Art Deco refers to a style that spanned the boom of the roaring 1920s and the bust of the Depression-ridden 1930s. It affected all forms of design, from the fine and decorative arts to fashion, film, photography, transport and product design. In 2003, the V&A hosted the major exhibition Art Deco: 1910-1939.
This content was originally written in association with the exhibition 'Art Deco: 1910-1939', on display at the V&A South Kensington from 27 March - 20 July 2003.
Art Deco: Design Influences
1. Hand-coloured pochoir stencil by Georges Lepape, from 'Les Choses de Paul Poiret', France, about 1911. Museum no. CIRC.262-1976.
2. Painted stoneware plate by Cuthbert Hamilton for The Rebel Arts Centre, London, UK, about 1915. Museum no. C.120-1984
Art Deco: Global Inspiration
Art Deco was an eclectic style and drew on many sources. Designers sought to infuse jaded traditions with new life and to create a modern style based on a revitalised decorative language, drawing on distant and ancient cultures. V&A museum
Egypt held a particular fascination for artists and designers. The discovery of the tomb of the boy pharaoh Tutankhamun, by Howard Carter in November 1922, sparked enormous popular interest in all things Egyptian. The wealth of funerary goods extracted from the tomb included chariots, furniture, mummy cases, spectacular gold jewellery and the extraordinary gold mask of the pharaoh. V&A museum
1. Hand-beaded lurex jacket with Egyptian motifs, Paris, France, 1922-25. Museum no. T.91-1999
2. 'Europa and the Bull', lino printed linen furnishing fabric, by Frank & Mary Dobson, London, UK, 1938. Museum no. CIRC.104-1939
Art Deco: The 1925 Paris Exhibition
2. Mannequin head. unknown maker, 1925. Museum no. T.3-2002
1. La Danse furnishing fabric, designed by Raoul Dufy for Bianchini-Férier, about 1920. Museum no. CIRC.113-1939
Art Deco around the world
The Deco world.
In many parts of the world, Art Deco stood for modernity and the escape from convention. It offered an accessible image of modern life and progress, more fun than competing forms of design such as Modernism. At the same time, designers could adapt Art Deco to convey national or local identities and meanings, using native decorative forms and subject matter. V&A museum
Art Deco Objects in Detail
Geometry and Abstraction
Jeanne Lanvin's 1930s evening dresses, reflected the characteristic clean lines of the Deco style and were the epitome of refined and sophisticated elegance. She frequently combined simple, long and fluid forms with severe geometry.
This figure-hugging, bias cut evening gown is adorned with a structured collar, covered with narrow parallel rows of stitching. The geometric stitching not only re-inforces the fabric to allow the collar to keep its shape, but also serves a decorative purpose.
The use of reflective satin in fashion of the 1930s, often in pale colours, is also characteristic of a wider interest in Art Deco in the manipulation of light and surface sheen. V&A museum.
In the 1920s, women wore exotic evening coats, mantles or shawls to cover their bare shoulders and arms. Fashion designers created boleros, and short capes to emphasise the length and fluid shapes of the evening gowns of the 1930s. The short cape created by Lanvin to accompany this dress shows a very avant-garde design for the period. Its architectural shape, the off-the-neck gigantic collar and the use of huge buttons herald, almost 20 years before its time, a style developed by Balenciaga in the mid 1950s.
Josephine Baker is an international star of sensational, exotic cabarets including La Revue Nègre, and Folies Bergère in Paris and Berlin. She was born on 3 June 1906 in St Louis, Missouri. Most famously, Josephine Baker was joined in her act at the Casino de Paris by a cheetah, Chiquita, a gift from Henri Varna, the club's owner. Varna's idea was that the cheetah would complement perfectly Josephine's image; half exotic, untamed creature; half elegant beauty and sophistication. V&A museum.