Art Deco Artwork: Defining Pieces of the Deco Movement

During the 1920s and 30s, a new artistic sensation swept across the globe – a cross between modern fashion and industrial design, the aesthetic influenced several aspects of American culture, and is known today as art deco. Short for arts d√©coratifs (decorative arts), art deco originated in France during the early 1910s, but was introduced to the world at the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern and Industrial Decorative Arts. After this World’s Fair, art deco became immensely popular throughout Europe and the US, heavily influencing US architecture in particular.

But what exactly is art deco?

An artistic style that defined the decades between World War I and II, art deco (sometimes just called deco) has defied a consistent definition in the years since the height of its popularity. Initially described as a decorative art with a “modern style,” art deco took on many forms between the first and second world wars: ranging from the exotic and ornate decorations of the 1920s, to the avant-garde streamlined and sleek stylization of the 1930s and 40s. The style was also used to describe work completed under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Project Administration (WPA), which led an initiative to complete public works of art known as the Federal Art Project. These varying types of design were linked, however, through their intent to showcase the forward-looking aspects of American culture as the country progressed following WWI.

While art deco is perhaps best-known for its use in architecture (particularly in skyscrapers such as the Empire State Building or Chrysler Building), it was also widely used in artwork like murals, sculptures, and graphic design to depict American culture in the early 20th century. Here we’re featuring examples of art deco artwork, which shows not only the wide breadth that deco came to represent, but the culture of a post-World War I America.


Art Deco Murals


Reprinted from San Francisco Art Deco by Michael F. Crowe and Robert W. Bowen (pg. 74, Arcadia Publishing, 2007).

Reprinted from San Francisco Art Deco by Michael F. Crowe and Robert W. Bowen (pg. 74, Arcadia Publishing, 2007).


Painted in 1934, this mural within the stairway at Coit Tower in San Francisco was meant to depict the contemporary daily life on Powell Street, which remains a prominent thoroughfare of the city. The mural was completed by a group of master artists employed through President Roosevelt’s Public Works of Art Project, a precursor to the Federal Art Project, and depicts several of the artists and their family members. It also portrays then-First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who can be seen near the bottom of the stairs.



Reprinted from Long Beach Art Deco by Suzanne Tarbell Cooper, John W. Thomas, and J. Christopher Launi courtesy of Drown New Agency, E.C. Kropp Company (pg. 107, Arcadia Publishing, 2006).
Reprinted from Long Beach Art Deco by Suzanne Tarbell Cooper, John W. Thomas, and J. Christopher Launi courtesy of Drown New Agency, E.C. Kropp Company (pg. 107, Arcadia Publishing, 2006).


A mosaic completed in 1932, the Municipal Auditorium Mural was created by artists Henry Allen Nord, Stanton MacDonald Wright, and Albert Henry King to depict the typical Long Beach lifestyle. The mural features the conventional clothing choices of the time and popular hobbies, such as sailing and picnicking. The mosaic was saved after the original Municipal Auditorium was torn down, and is now displayed at Third Street and Promenade in Long Beach.



Reprinted from Art Deco in Detroit by Rebecca Binno Savage and Greg Kowalski (pg. 26, Arcadia Publishing, 2004).
Reprinted from Art Deco in Detroit by Rebecca Binno Savage and Greg Kowalski (pg. 26, Arcadia Publishing, 2004). 


A fresco by artist David Frendenthal, this mural was completed for the Detroit Naval Armory in 1936. The armory features several murals, and over 20 carved wooden insets, most of which were completed as a part of President Roosevelt’s Federal Art Project, making it Michigan’s biggest collection of WPA art deco artwork.


 

Art Deco Graphic Design



Reprinted from Cincinnati Art Deco by Steven J. Rolfes and Douglas R. Weise (pg. 18, Arcadia Publishing, 2014).
Reprinted from Cincinnati Art Deco by Steven J. Rolfes and Douglas R. Weise (pg. 18, Arcadia Publishing, 2014).


A 1937 poster for music lessons in Cincinnati, this advertisement places special emphasis on using the modern focus of art deco to attract new customers. Focusing on smooth, minimalist lines, the advertisement combined its sleek aesthetic with a list of modern music trends, like radio singing and announcing.



Reprinted from Art Deco Tulsa by Suzanne Fitzgerald Wallis courtesy of the Wallis collection (The History Press, 2018).
Reprinted from Art Deco Tulsa by Suzanne Fitzgerald Wallis courtesy of the Wallis collection (The History Press, 2018).


A 1929 postcard from Tulsa, Oklahoma, this picture captures both the ornate architecture of the time period, and the detailed artwork of the 20s. The church depicted, the Boston Avenue United Methodist Church, has been a National Historic Landmark since 1999, and is widely recognized as one of the best examples of art deco architecture in the 1920s.


Reprinted from Art Deco of the Palm Beaches by Sharon Koskoff (Arcadia Publishing, 2007).
Reprinted from Art Deco of the Palm Beaches by Sharon Koskoff (Arcadia Publishing, 2007).

Although art deco artwork and style was most popular in the years between World War I and World War II, deco saw a revival in the 1980s. Here, in The Jazzman by Sharon Koskoff, a take on the 1920s jazz aesthetic can be seen. Printed in 1987, The Jazzman is now the logo of the Art Deco Society of the Palm Beaches.


Art Deco Fine Art


Reprinted from Los Angeles Art Deco by Suzanne Tarbell Cooper, Amy Ronnebeck Hall, and Frank E. Cooper Jr. (Arcadia Publishing, 2005).
Reprinted from Los Angeles Art Deco by Suzanne Tarbell Cooper, Amy Ronnebeck Hall, and Frank E. Cooper Jr. (Arcadia Publishing, 2005).


A 1926 watercolor by artist Arnold Ronnebeck, this painting depicts a stylized Los Angeles during its heyday of the 1920s. Completed during Ronnebeck’s tour of Southern California, the painting features many of the city’s major industries, such as agriculture and real estate. Industry was a main focus of the art deco movement, as the US moved towards a more modern commercial economy.


Reprinted from Art Deco of the Palm Beaches by Sharon Koskoff courtesy of the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach and Norton Museum of Art (pg. 12, Arcadia Publishing, 2007).
Reprinted from Art Deco of the Palm Beaches by Sharon Koskoff courtesy of the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach and Norton Museum of Art (pg. 12, Arcadia Publishing, 2007).


This sculpture, otherwise known as Diana, was completed in 1925 by art deco sculptor Paul Manship. Manship, who is probably best known for the Prometheus sculpture in Rockefeller Center in New York, produced several mythology-based pieces. His art deco artwork focused on using the sleek lines indicative of the movement, and also attempted to incorporate the impression of speed, embodying the deco principle of progress.


To learn more about deco in America, check out our books on art deco in American cities!


Do you have a favorite piece of art deco artwork, or do you think we missed an exemplary piece here? Let us know in the comments below!





















 
Posted: 5/18/2018| with 0 comments


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