French 1930s sideboard in Macassar ebony,
Modernism Gallery, Coral Gables, Florida.
by Adam and Rebecca Silverstein
As seen in Antiques & Art Around Florida, Winter/Spring
For those of us who live in Florida, when we think
of Art Deco, Miami Beach immediately comes to mind. A walk down
Ocean Drive and the theme is clear; pastel, streamlined, ornamental
buildings representing that distinctive era of the 1920s and
1930s. Five minutes of window shopping on Lincoln Road and you
will see everything from toasters and hairdriers to elaborate
lighting fixtures and unique pieces of furniture, all of which
will be labeled "Art Deco". Although we have a treasure
in preserved architecture in Miami, understanding the Art Deco
movement or style takes us back to the 1920s in France.
To trace the development or emergence of Art Deco,
one must start at the 1925 Paris World's Fair. The Exposition
Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes was
the origin of this controversial, new style. The style, in its
day, was referred to as "moderne" or "contemporarian";
and only in the 1960s, was the term "Art Deco" used.
Defining this style is not easy because it is
a combination of many diverse and conflicting influences. Best
known among these are African tribal art, Central American (Aztec
and Mayan) architecture and Egyptian art, as well as the bold
designs and the bright colors of the Ballets Russes, the glazes
and lacquerwork of the Far East and the imagery and metalwork
of classical Greece and Rome. French furniture forms such as
Louis XV and Louis XVI also contributed. Contemporary fine arts
such as Fauvism, Cubism, Constructivism and Italian Futurism
played a part as well. Along with its other attributes, Art Deco
became a middle range between the conservative and radical design.
A charming variety of French perfume bottles,
c 1900-30 from Bizarre Bazaar, New York.
Some of the most famous designs of the twentieth
century have a Deco signature style; Rockefeller Center, the
Chrysler Building, the Empire State building, the oceanside hotels
of Miami Beach, the Golden Gate Bridge, Broadcasting House in
London, neighborhood cinema houses, gas stations, bus stations
and diners, the S.S. Normandie, Greyhound buses, Air-King radios
and the Electrolux vacuum cleaner. This list is endless and as
one can see, Art Deco influenced everything from architectural
landmarks to everyday household products.
Designers of Art Deco furniture embellished
and sometimes entirely covered their pieces in exotic materials
such as mother-of-pearl, sharkskin, snakeskin, gold and silver
leaf, crushed egg shell lacquer and ivory. These materials usually
formed some type of pattern such as flowers or a geometric motif.
The shapes of these pieces of furniture ranged from the very
traditional to the strikingly modern.
Emile-Jacques Ruhlman, a prominent French
designer, was a master craftsman whose pieces occupied an entire
pavilion at the 1925 Paris Exposition. Other important designers
of this style included: Paul T. Frankel, known for his terraced
bookcases which resembled the massive skyscrapers of the time;
and Donald Deskey, who produced hundreds of modern designs using
new industrial materials such as bakelite and stainless steel.
Norman Bel Geddes was hired by the Simmons Company to produce
those currently popular bedroom sets; and Russel Wright was retained
by Heywood Wakefield. It was the English manufacturer, Ambrose
Heal who took this new streamline design and made it affordable
for everyday use. This list is long and distinguished, but these
are a few that should be mentioned.
An eye-catching bar cabinet.
Courtesy of the author.
As a dealer, specializing
in English Art Deco, it gives me endless pleasure when someone
walks into my store who loves this period. I guess that it's
the beautiful, matched grain, walnut bars that seem to attract
the most attention. The craftsmanship never seems to end when
one stands in front of one of these pieces. Some open by pulling
the front down, automatically opening the top. The center slides
forward and a light goes on. I am not sure what fascinates people
the most. Is it the original bakelite handles or the fascinating
burl walnut veneer? Maybe it's the mere fact that they are looking
at a piece of history that allows them to slip back into time
when people used this furniture as a center piece in their home.
A wonderful round china cabinet. Courtesy of the author.
piece is the round china cabinet. Each one is distinctively different.
Some stand on tall, slender legs and others are floor level.
Some have leaded glass doors, mirrored in the back; while others
have astrical glazed doors which are hand pieced together. Some
people are most fascinated by the beautiful armoires. These stunning
pieces are made from walnut, birdseye maple and oak. Many are
accented with intricate carvings and original bakelite handles.
Others enjoy the stylized vanities with large round mirrors.
Whatever one's tastes may be, everyone is sure to find these
special pieces intriguing.
As quoted in "Antique
Fair News", many collectors are as much in love with Art
Deco furniture now as people were in the 1920s when this exciting
new style created a sensation at the 1925 Paris Exposition. Casting
off heavy Edwardian lines, Art Deco was fun. It caught the mood
of the early years between the two world wars. Now Art Deco is
very much back in fashion and rapidly rising in price.
This could be
the best buy of the nineties. Anyone who appreciates Art Deco
furniture would do well to buy now while reasonably priced pieces
are still available.
About the Authors:
Adam and Rebecca Silverstein specialize in European Art Deco
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