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What is Art Deco?

What is Art Deco?

There has never been a fixed Art Deco style. The name did not really gain widespread recognition until the 1966 exhibition “Les Années 25” at the Paris Museum of Decorative Arts. Since that 1966 exhibition, it has become customary to use the term “Art Deco” for all sorts of things from the interwar period (approximately 1920 to 1940).

But we can trace the name back further, probably to 1925 when the international “Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes” exhibition was held in Paris. Hence the name of our company, “Art Déco 1925”, was chosen as a fitting tribute to that exhibition by Uwe Marbs when he founded his antiques business in 1989.

However, the term “Art Deco” is not only used in the decorative arts. It also describes the “zeitgeist” of those two decades.

“If you want to describe an era,
it is not so important what survived from that time,
aso much as the strength of the spirit that it breathed”

(Ludwig Marcuse, German philosopher and writer, 1894-1971)

The Great War changed the world. The 20 short years after the First World War were characterised by the desire to forget, by dreams and visions – not by reality.

For those who were young then, that time shone in golden splendour.
Those who were old could only watch on… full of melancholy,
as a world they had loved fell apart.
For those that followed, the picture will always be tinged with darkness
from the knowledge of what came next”
(Peter Bamm, dt. Journalist und Schriftsteller, 1897-1975)

An era we now know as the “Roaring Twenties” began with a penchant for slimline precision, for cool and discreet colours, for hard, metallic sheen and for elegantly-drawn contours. That era was characterised by ideologically conditioned edginess, succinctness, brightness, transparency, sensitivity in choice of materials, clarity, as well as by its objectivity. In art and crafts and in painting, in interior design, sculpture and architecture, the commitment to fine contours and decorative shapes was as important as the use of beautiful and expensive materials, such as ivory and rare tropical woods. Influenced by Cubism and Expressionism, the arc of Art Deco covers a huge span: from veneer furniture by various renowned artists, such as Jacques-Émile Ruhlmann, Jules Leleu and Dominique; via delicate glasswork by Sabino, Etling and Charles Schneider; to painstakingly detailed sculptures by Demetre Chiparus, Ferdinand Preiss and Joé Descomps, to say nothing of jewellery by René Lalique; right the way through the erotically enchanting paintings of Louis Icart. And if, as they say, a single shard of clay may provide information about a culture that has been swallowed up by history – how much more does a chrome-plated octagonal king’s chandelier by Petitot say about those two short decades!

Art Deco is rightly regarded as the most exciting epoch in the art history of the past century. That era has had a huge impact on our own – in areas ranging from technology to morality. Today, the art of those years is enjoying increasing popularity. So there must be parallels between then and now. Thoughts, shapes and sounds seem to take on new meaning and are reborn in new guises. Art Deco combines history and modernity in a fascinating way and will doubtless continue to cast its spell on us on into the future.


  • ART DECO 1920-1940, by Paul Menz, 3rd edition of 1984 published by DuMont Buchverlag, Köln
  • ART DECO, by Albrecht Bangert / Gabriele Fahr-Becker, published in 1992 by Wilhelm Heyne Verlag GmbH & Co. KG, Munich
  • Wikipedia