As an antiques dealer, I am often asked how I determine the approximate age of an antique or vintage item. While the true answer to that question is from the experience gained through many years of directly handling antique and vintage items, one aspect of any determination of age is the aesthetic style or design of the item in question. And to this end, the Art Deco style of antiques is one of the easiest styles to recognize.
Prior to World War I, the Art Nouveau style reigned the aesthetic world from 1890 to 1914, with an emphasis on lavish, free-flowing designs, which focused on organic motifs. However, by the time World War I ended in 1918, people around the world had experienced a sobering loss of innocence that profoundly affected our global consciousness, and which, of course, was reflected in the art and design of the 1920s and 1930s.
Consumers were no longer interested in the elaborate carvings and extravagant nature of Victorian and Revival design styles after WWI, but instead demanded a new modern style based on simplicity and a streamlined design, such as the Set of 6 Antique Art Deco Dining Chairs above. At the same time, consumers were fascinated by new technologies that were recently introduced to the world: the radio, the television, the automobile, the airplane, and architectural wonders known skyscrapers, such as the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building in New York City.
Ever wonder how the name of this modern, streamlined aesthetic originated? It all began at The International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Art (Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes) that was held in Paris in May of 1925 to showcase the new, modern, and functional design of France. Forty three years later in 1968, a museum exhibition was held of many pieces from the 1925 Paris Exposition, and that is when the term Art Deco was first used to describe this exuberant style, firmly rooted in the promise of the future.
Early Art Deco style of the 1920s uses dynamic, sweeping curves, which give the feeling of velocity and speed, and the aerodynamic design of airplanes and automobiles. The Art Deco style at its heart is the celebration of the Age of Machines, of the optimism of spirit that announced the future had already arrived, and it had been carried on the wings of technology.
This disconnection with the past was also expressed by the Flappers, young women who rebelled against societal norms, in the Roaring Twenties. These women shocked society by taking off their girdles, cutting their hair short, and then smoking, drinking, and dancing all night long in the Jazz clubs. This radical break in tradition required a bold, new, and dramatic style, and Art Deco design was recognized as the “bee’s knees” and the “cat’s pyjamas.”
As the Art Deco style progressed through the 1930s, emphasis shifted away from sweeping curves, switching instead to a focus on rectilinear lines and geometric shapes. These geometric shapes were often fractionated, reflecting the Cubist influence of the contemporary artist, Pablo Picasso.
Key attributes of the Art Deco style are the use of geometric shapes, zigzags, trapezoids, chevron and starburst patterns, as well as the stylized use of flowers and animals such as gazelles and birds. The Antique Art Deco Buffet and the Antique Art Deco Vanity above show the focus on a rectilinear design in combination with stylized flowers, as does the Antique Art Deco Chandelier below. Notice the sunburst design combined with stylized lettering on the Antique Art Deco Crucifix below.
A dramatic and bold color palette was favored in Art Deco design. Bright yellow, red, orange, green, and blue were used abundantly, especially in the joyful dishware line called Fiestaware in the United States.
After the stock market crash of 1929 when unemployment reached 25% in the US, inexpensive Art Deco products in cheery colors were still in demand as they helped boost sagging spirits, while the focus on technology and the future promised better things to come.
Art Deco designs took center stage at The World’s Fair in Chicago in 1933, and again in 1939 in New York City. The most prominent architects of the Art Deco era include the streamlined designs of Frank Lloyd Wright and the father of the steel and glass Bauhaus movement, Walter Gropius. In furniture design, Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann and Jules LeLeu ruled the day, while outstanding glassware was designed by Rene Lalique, whose style was inexpensively reproduced and later became known as Depression Glass.
I hope you enjoyed learning about the vibrant Art Deco style of antiques, and that you agree it is quite easy to recognize.
Thanks for stopping by the EuroLux Antiques blog!
Aimee owns EuroLuxAntiques.com with her best friend, Greg. Aimee sources amazing antique furniture, vintage lighting, & high-quality reproduction furniture to help her customers decorate their homes in a unique way. She loves her 8 (you read that right) fuzzy children and is renovating a 1920s bungalow in South Carolina. Connect with Aimee on Google+ or sign up to receive this blog in your inbox!