> Art Deco

Art Deco

Started: Around 1915.

Ended: Late 1930s.

Key Artists: A.M. CASSANDRE, Romain DE TIRTOFF, Georges LEPAPE. 

Art Deco is a style of visual arts, architecture and design that developed into an international design movement in the 1920s and 30s.

Named after the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts held in Paris in 1925, art deco can be seen as successor to and a reaction against art nouveau. Seen in furniture, architecture and art, it was also a notable style of cinema and graphic design of advertisements and periodicals.

This movement is different from the fine arts (painting and sculpture) where the art object has no practical purpose or use beyond providing interesting viewing.

With the advent of large-scale manufacturing, artists and designers wished to enhance the appearance of mass-produced functional objects - everything from clocks and ashtrays to cars and buildings. 

Art Deco's pursuit of beauty in all aspects of life was directly reflective of the relative newness and mass usage of machine-age technology rather than traditional crafting methods to produce many objects. The Bauhaus school was also interested in industrial production, but in a sense The Bauhaus is the polar opposite as it refrained from artistic embellishments - preferring clean and simple geometric forms.


The Art Deco style exerted its influence over the graphic arts in a manner that reveals the influence of Italian Futurism with its love for speed and adoration of the machine. 

In terms of imagery, simple forms and large areas of solid colour are reminiscent of Japanese woodblock prints, which had become a major source of influence for Western artists, especially in France, following the end of the isolationist Edo period in 1868. The subsequent influx of art from Japan to Europe made an enormous impact. In particular, artists found in the formal simplicity of woodblock prints a model for creating their own distinctly modern styles beginning with the Impressionist.

Art Deco’s bold lines, geometric shapes and modern aesthetic represented luxury, glamour and technological prowess during the wartime and post-wartime era. 

Art Deco manifested in graphic design with images of industry, like colossal ocean liners with sleek, airbrushed surfaces that emulate steel and chrome plating. The style is represented in architectural icons like the Chrysler Building and the American Radiator building. They are constructed with an exterior of reinforced concrete and an interior of highly polished marble, glass and steel.

After WWI, advertisement posters also shifted from flowing, floral illustration to streamlined, geometric graphic design. Strong diagonals and dynamic typefaces demonstrated the desire for glamour, power, luxury and strength.

Machine age style

More than just a style, the Art Deco aesthetic reflects the major cultural shifts happening between the 1920s to 40s, when metalworking machinery and freight locomotives started changing the world. This era, known as the Machine Age, was characterized by mass production, automobile assembly lines, high speed printing presses, the nationwide distribution of goods and modern aircrafts & battleships. Likewise, in Art Deco, shapes became simplified and streamlined. Strong vertical lines and aerodynamic forms mirrored skyscraper steel beams. Airbrushing effects and sunbursts evoked wartime machinery. Sleek and angular typefaces reflected a Jazz Age gleam.

A.M. Cassandre, the father of Machine Age poster style, has popularized airbrushing techniques that give a machine-like surface to his images and revolutionized design for years to come. In fact, his iconic Art Deco posters are highly sought after, even today.

Art Deco has come to represent cosmopolitanism and the ultramodern, and Art Deco advertisements, in particular, present products and services in a striking, futurist light. The style’s influence also spread internationally, and in Japan, came to typify Western influence and the boldness of the modern era.


A movement that in many respects sought to break away from the past, has now become a nostalgic, fondly remembered classic. Since the 1960s, there has been a steady, continued interest in the style. Echoes of Art Deco can be seen in Mid-Century Modern design, which carries forward the streamlined aesthetic of Deco and revisits the clean simplicity of the Bauhaus. Art Deco inspired the design and production of an array of objects - from magazine covers and colourful advertisements to functional items such as furniture, cars, and even ocean liners.