In 1912 the government of France announced a plan for an international exhibition for 1915 that would highlight French decorative and applied arts and increase the export market for these goods. They placed emphasis on the new and modern styles developing in French applied arts. The onset of World War I delayed the exhibition, but the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes finally opened in 1925.
Study of the City of Detroit
(Adcraft Club of Detroit, 1929)
The public responded very
positively to the sleek modern, opulent objects displayed
there, this style moderne as it was called. The New York
Metropolitan Museum of Art made a number of purchases,
and in 1926 an exhibition of 400 of these objects traveled
to several major American cities. The styles seen in France
fit in with the 20s Jazz spirit and the economic boom of
the period and inspired similar modern decorative art movements
internationally in both luxury and commercial products.
It wasn't until the 1960s, however, that the term Art Deco
was applied to this movement of the 20s and 30s.
The trademark of Art Deco style was a spirit of being "self consciously new." Designers focused on decorative elements that could give objects a sleek, elegant, modern commercial feel, with a conscious rejection of traditional forms. There was a love of the machine, and designers and architects attempted to streamline everything, mimicking the forms of the ocean liner, airplane and automobile. Ornaments called "speed lines" were popular as well and gave objects and graphic works a sense of motion and excitement. Other popular motifs in Art Deco design were the sun ray (seen on the top of the Chrysler Building), the fountain, the zigzag and stylized natural forms.
Fascism: A Challenge to Democracy
(Fleming H. Revell Company, 1928)
There were many influences behind Art Deco style. This included ancient and modern cultures like the Aztec civilization, ancient Egypt and contemporary Mexico. Art Deco also pulled from other contemporary and early modernist movements like Cubism, the Bauhaus school and Art Nouveau.
This style differed from
the contemporary avant-garde modernism in its tendency
to move away from more purist forms towards more opulent
decorative styles. Also, artists aligned with modernist
movements often uttered scathing critiques of Art Deco
for being unabashedly commercial. Yet, there were some
overlaps between "high art" and Art Deco, for
instance, mutual interests in the machine and the city.
(Doubleday, Doran, & Company, 1934)
Bookbinding actually played a significant part in the
Art Deco movement, particularly in France. France had a
long tradition of fine binding that peaked in the 25 years
before WWI. Fine art binders like Henri Marius Michel created
elegant bindings whose decorations increasingly reflected
the contents of the books, but often these bindings leaned
towards lavish extravagance in material and style.
Starting in the late teens,
the style of fine bindings dramatically changed, primarily
through the influence of designer Pierre Legrain (see examples
of Legrain's covers here.)
Legrain, beginning with his work for the library of collector
Jacques Doucet, created a highly geometric style that rejected
most naturalistic or illustrative ornaments. His covers
sometimes experimented with materials other than the traditional
leather and he showed an interest in treating the entire
cover as a unified whole, with the title material also
playing a part in the overall design, thus creating a sleek,
Children of the River
(J. H. Sears and Company, 1928)
His covers took top honors in bookbinding
at the 1925 Paris Exposition, prompting the observation
by Hilaire Clément-Janin that Legrain "well
symbolizes our epoch through his bindings." (quoted
in Ray, 92). Other binders followed in his footsteps, creating
modernist covers with an Art Deco feel. The most notable
was Rose Adler, who also designed numerous covers for Doucet.
Art Deco also had a home in the world
of commercial publishers' bindings, not surprising given
the popularity of the style for manufactured goods. These
covers reflected the interest in the modern industrial
world with images of the city, the machine and dramatic
images of humans in this environment. As in the fine leather
covers of Legrain and Adler, there is an interest in geometric
form and the inclusion of other types of Art Deco motifs.
There were several distinct typefaces associated with Art
Deco, and these are present on covers of the time (for
example, pba01409 and pba00335). These typefaces have a
clean, modern, bold look; usually one horizontal stroke
is wider than the other, and sometimes other decorations
are embedded in the lettering (as on pba00929). As in Children
of the River, sometimes all it took was the distinctive
use of font to make a cover Art Deco, but this was just
one of many ways that designers pursued the self-conscious
modernism of the style.
Search the PBO Database for Art Deco
Art Deco, 1910-1939. Victoria and
Art Deco. Minneapolis, Minn.: Minneapolis Institute of
Arwas, Victor. Art Deco. Abradale
Press, 1992 & 2000.
Duncan, Alastair. The Encyclopedia
of Art Deco. Grange
Duncan, Alistair and Georges de Bartha. Art
Nouveau and Art Deco Bookbindings:
French Masterpieces 1880-1940. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1989.
Hillier, Bevis and Stephen Escritt. Art
Deco Style. London:
Phaidon Press, 1997.
Peyré, Yves and H. George
Fletcher. Art Deco Bookbindings: The Work of Pierre
Legrain and Rose Adler. New York: Princeton Architectural Press in association
the New York Public Library, 2004.
Ray, Gordon. The Art Deco Book in
NC: The Bibliographical
Society of the University of Virginia, 2005.
Tise, Suzanne. "Art Deco." Dictionary
of Art. Edited by Jane Turner. New York:
Grove, 1996. (online version is available at some colleges and universities)