By Cynthia and Jean-Marc Fray
The term “Art Deco” was coined after the name of the prestigious French Decorative Arts Expo held in Paris in 1925: “L’Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratif et Industriels Modernes”. This post-war exposition, intent on showing the world that France would once again lead the way in creating new standards of taste in fine and decorative art, served as a showcase for the most talented designers and craftsmen of the time, and officially launched the period of an emerging style that would become known as the Art Deco Period (1925-1940).
Inspired by cubist artists of the time (Picasso, Braques, Gris…), Egyptian art and French colonial art, the designs of the Art Deco period are characterized by clean lines, exotic woods, bold colors and unusual materials such as glass and steel. The graceful curves of the early 20th century Art Nouveau period were suddenly replaced with a new kind of angularity. Geometrical shapes, symmetry and streamlined designs offered a stark contrast to the sinuous, organic feel of the Art Nouveau period. Craftsmen preferred imported materials such as macassar, rosewood and ebonized wood; ivory and bone became materials of choice for intricate marquetry designs. Leather, chrome and glass were also being used in unusual ways. French Art Deco design introduced an exciting new sense of exoticism to the decorative arts, serving as an international display of France’s tolerance for and acceptance of other cultures. This bold new style, a quintessential symbol of fine taste, would endure for over 20 years, and prove to be the ultimate reference in the history of modern furniture design.
Notable designers of the period such as Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann not only defined the furniture trends of the time but set the highest of standards in craftsmanship, just as their forebears did in the 18th century. In fact, Ruhlmann himself, along with several other French Art Deco designers of the time, was often compared to the cabinetmakers that earned France’s reputation as the indisputable world leader for fine furniture design during the reign of Louis XIV. For instance, Ruhlmann’s pieces were handmade by only the most skilled cabinetmakers in France. Their work was one of meticulous perfection, both technically and aesthetically speaking, and very labor intensive thus driving the prices to all time highs.