Famous Art Deco Designers

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Have you ever looked at an item of jewelry or clothing and thought it looked distinctly stylish and modern? It may have been in the style of Art Deco, an art and design movement that celebrated everything modern. In this lesson, learn about some famous Art Deco designers and their work.

What is Art Deco?

Art Deco was an early twentieth-century art and design style. Popular in the 1920s and 1930s, it celebrated modernity, often with new materials like glass, plastic and chrome and an emphasis on clean, geometric design elements.

Art Deco originated in Paris. In 1925, the French government sponsored a large exhibition to promote decorative arts and French luxury goods to the world, and the name of the show, Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, is where the name Art Deco originated. The style quickly spread throughout the world, impacting architecture, fine art, interior design, fashion, jewelry design and decorative items like glass and ceramics.

Common to all Art Deco works were smooth lines, angular geometric forms and very bold colors and contrasts. When it first emerged, it celebrated luxury and the promise of the modern world. Popular themes included human and mythological figures, animals and geometric designs. Industry was creating new materials like black plate glass and chrome. Machines like automobiles, airplanes and streamlined trains were becoming more common during this time period, and electricity was increasingly playing a role in everyday life. When you look at Art Deco objects, you can see echoes of these things.

Art Deco firescreen, made by Rose Iron Works of Cleveland, Ohio, 1930. This firescreen is a good example of a piece used in a building interior. Made of iron, the design elements are bold and geometric. Even the female figure looks sleek and modern.
Art Deco firescreen

Famous Art Deco Designers

Many artists, architects, and designers incorporated Art Deco ideas into their work. Let's look at three of them.

Erté: Fashion Illustrations and Designs

Russian illustrator and designer Romain de Tirtoff, better known as Erté (1892 - 1990), became famous for his sleek and stylized fashion images. He created sets and costumes for the Paris Opera; the Folies Bergère, a famous cabaret-style music hall in Paris; the Zeigfeld Follies on Broadway; and many silent films. His illustrations of fashionable women were featured on magazine covers, more than 200 for Harper's Bazaar alone. Erté used more curving lines in his work than other Art Deco designers, but the modern streamlined emphasis is there, as is a use of bold color contrast. In his long career and recognizable fashion images, Erté made Art Deco costume famous around the world.

Magazine cover, 1922, with fashion design by Erte. This image is an early one, so it has more curving lines and flourishes, but the geometric pieces at the waist of the dress and the bold constrast between black and white are elements that suggest Art Deco design.
Erté cover

René Lalique: Modern Glass Design

French jewelry and glass designer René Lalique (1860 - 1945) began his career working in the style of Art Nouveau, with its organic curving lines and emphasis on nature, but his work shifted to a look decidedly influenced by Art Deco. He began using modern industrial methods in his work, including experimenting with molded glass. Clean geometric lines and frosted surfaces give his works a distinct modern feel. Spirit of the Wind (1925), also titled Victoire, is a good example of his work.

Lalique, Spirit of the Wind, 1925. You can almost picture this frosted glass ornament on a car speeding down the highway--even the hair on the figure has become a geometric statement of speed and movement
Spirit of the Wind

To emphasize the connection to machines and modernity, Lalique designed many glass pieces that were used as luxury car hood ornaments. He also made architecture elements like doors, windows, and light fixtures and collaborated on interior design projects.

Lalique, frosted glass altarpiece for St. Matthews Church in Jersey, England, 1934. Art Deco style found its way into a wide variety of interior design applications, even in churches
Lalique glass church altarpiece

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