The Art Deco Movement.


Hugh Shelley HND 01

So what is Art Deco.?

As diverse as its origins & its influences are, so too are the artists who are associated with the Art Deco style. Leading figures in the movement come from all over Europe, the USA & elsewhere.

While it has been recognised as a style movement in its own right it has not been without some controversy, it wasn’t generally recognised as an art style or movement in its own right until the mid 1960s. A key aspect of Art Deco is the symbolism & iconography that it borrows from other styles & influences from around the globe, it is often described as a Pastiche of styles having an eclectic combination of influences, materials & shapes.

From African symbols & Egyptian iconography to Japanese inspired architecture, the style is inspired by a mixture of styles from Constructivism, Cubism & Futurism along with elements of Arts & Crafts and Art Nouveau among others. In Europe it was driven by the steadily increasing availability of travel where people could now see other cultures in situ. In the United States it was also heavily influenced both by the industrial machine age and also the futuristic escapism entertained by the public in the depression years.

Fallingwater – Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright & built in Arizona shows an understanding of blending architecture with the landscape surrounding it.

ArtDeco RugIts vast number of influences have encouraged the argument that Art Deco is not a style in its own right, however, the argument that Art Deco has not only enjoyed its own era of popularity but also a significant resurgence of interest & demand for Art Deco works and has also influenced subsequent art styles, lends strength to the argument in its favour.

This rug, inspired by the Art Deco movement was commissioned in the late 90’s and shows the continuing demand for the style that Art Deco lends.

(Modern Retro N. Bingham & A. Weaving 2000 – Ryland,  Peters & Small.)

 Recognising Art Deco.

We are all at some point confronted with a piece of design that is either entirely or in part influenced by the Art Deco movement. But how do we recognise it.?

Art Deco drew its look from concepts as global as the rustic tribal designs of Africa, the sleek sophistication of Paris, the elegant geometry and sculpture used in ancient Greco-Roman architecture, geometrically influenced representational forms of Ancient Egypt and the stepped pyramid structures and bas relief carvings of the pre-Columbian cultures of Mesoamerica. (

Design elements included everything from the luxurious Egyptian motifs of King Tut’s tomb—the discovery of which in 1922 stirred the world’s imagination—to the futuristic art movements of Fauvism, Cubism, Bauhaus, and others. Initially a very luxurious style, partly in response to the austerity of the war, it used expensive materials and lacquers. But in later depression years the trend moved to introduce more mass produced materials such as plastics & chrome.

Typically, Art Deco works would tend towards the flamboyant decorative features such as those 0b89e-vlcsnap-2010-08-08-13h08m55s103on the Grand Rex theatre in Paris & the Radio City Music Hall in New York, but most works make use of elements taken from its many influences such as the strong shapes, angles & colours of Cubism & Constructivism, Egyptian elements such as Sun Rays, Pylons & Pyramids and also elements that influenced the futurist inspired Hollywood movies and industry such as Flash Gordon & Metropolis by Fritz Lang.

Paramount Building
Paramount Building
Chrysler Building


Art Deco in use.

The American Art Deco movement saw the influence of the industrial age & the Hollywood era on the style. Designers such as Frank Lloyd Wright & William Van Allen lead the architectural charge of Art Deco in America with their designs of the Falingwater House in Arizona (above) & the Chrysler Building (above left)in New York.

The Paramount Building (above right) in New York designed by C.W. and George L. Rapp is very much styled after a Mayan Ziggurat. Each building had a stepped pyramidal structure & highly decorated façade, although the designers were constrained by New York’s planning laws namely the Setback Law which endeavoured to protect the light falling on the streets below as the buildings became higher & higher, they could easily have created something with much less style & personality.


Mowhawk Power
Niagra Mowhawk Power Corp.

The Niagara Mowhawk Power Corporation created a series of posters that were heavily inspired by the Art Deco movement.

This series of four posters uses elements such as bold shapes, sharp angles & curves, rays of light/energy, rich gold hues & the strong Art Deco typeface.

They give a very strong feeling of industry & futurism along with a hint of almost opulent class. If you were aiming to glamorise a power company & its product then this was a great way to do it.

(Images taken from American Art Deco)


Art Deco Today

Although it has lost its popularity after the World War II, Art Deco was revitalized during the sixties with the rise of the consumerist culture. Due to its global visual language and its nature that responds well to the requirements of the mass production, the heritage of this decorative style is still present today, mostly in the field of fashion, product and industrial design. Art Deco items are also becoming increasingly popular in the art market.

   Egyptian Arch Templar ClockYou can see the appropriation of the Ancient Egyptian temple form in the Cartier Temple clock. There is no attempt here to hide the origins of the designers’ inspiration.




The most common Mesoamerican influence in Art Deco architecture, decorative arts and design is the ziggurat, or stepped pyramid form. This can be seen when comparing the Mayan Ziggurat to the top of the Paramount Building. (

Mayan Temple
Mayan Temple
Parramount Building
Parramount Building









Two Key Figures of the Art Deco Movement

Edward McKnight Kauffer (1890-1954)

Born in Montana, USA, Kauffer was sponsored by a Professor Joseph McKnight after seeing the promise in his work. He travelled to Paris & Munich then to London at the outbreak of WW1. While in London he struck up a friendship with the publicity manager for the London Underground, eventually he produced a prolific 140 posters for them.

On a brief trip back to the USA, Kauffer found that his work was not as well received as in the UK so he returned there. He reluctantly returned home to the USA at the onset of WW2. This time he found his work was received favourably & received many commissions and awards and a position as Honorary Advisor to the Department of Public Information of the United Nations.

He found renewed energy & inspiration on a trip to the mid west & continued to create until his death. (Design Museum)

In terms of style, McKnight Kauffer used a very painterly range of shapes & colours in an organic way. His use of fluid shapes rather than bold strokes & geometrical shapes gave his posters for the London Underground a very comfortable, personal connection with the viewer.


Kauffer 01
Kauffer 01
Kauffer 02
Kauffer 02
Kauffer 03
Kauffer 03

 A.M Cassandre (1901-1968)

Cassandre was a painter, commercial poster artist and typeface designer. His inventive graphic techniques show influences of Surrealism and Cubism and became very popular in Europe and the US during the 1930s.

After setting up the advertising agency Alliance Graphiqe with several partners they gained a broad client base through the 1930s. Cassandre is notable for his magazine & poster work such as the posters for the Normandie transatlantic route. His use of bold colours, strong lines & very different viewing angles put the viewer in a different seat & gave the images much greater impact.

In contrast to Edward McKnight Kauffer, Cassandre’s use of very bold lines & shapes and his choice of perspective bring a much more dynamic & exciting feel to his images. His experience as a typographer shows much stronger in his work than some of his contemporary’s. Whether it’s the treatment of the font in use or the energetic planes he places it on, he uses the message as a very active part of the composition.

If I was thinking of traveling at the early part of the century these posters would definitely be catching the eye & the imagination.











In summary

Art Deco was probably the most popular art style between the two world wars.

A style that, when romance and nostalgia are thrown into the mix, provides an infectious energy and ‘snap’ that resonates beyond its diehard fans to the public at large. ( Alastair Duncan)

Unlike other Art movements such as the Bauhaus, Art Nouveau or the Arts & Crafts movement, Art deco was not motivated by political or idealistic agendas; it was instead motivated by the love of art & design for its own sake.

In Relation to Butlers.

The design brief for this project was to produce a vintage style packaging for a luxury range of chocolates. This would include a box & a single bar of chocolate.

We are to research various types of materials and, using our chosen art movement, create a colour palette for use in the packaging.

I have chosen to design a look that gives the customer a feeling of quality & richness that is sometimes evoked when you look at a high value product. For instance, when you look at the latest Mercedes car you might not know what the various add-ons are, what kind of interior it has or even what kind of engine. What you do feel is an instant recognition of a quality product & a touch of an impulse to want to own one.  You have that instant recognition of quality.

I also wanted to create a look & feel of a vintage product that was reminiscent of the 30s USA & nothing says that better than Art Deco.

When you look at the advertisements & posters offering something of value since the 30s, they very often have that glamorous model minimally presented with jewellery & fine cloths. They can often be placed on a very simple sometimes dark background with a minimum of text to distract. They are almost selling the feeling as much as the product itself. This is the look & feel I am aiming for.

Art Deco Poster
Art Deco Poster

I have used 3 elements to convey my message, Colour, Shape & Icon. I have used a rich brown as the base colour the Box & a deep black in the 100G Bar. I have then used Gold for the logo, the lines around the shell icon & on the line pattern. I have used a representation of a shell & sunburst as icons to evoke the art deco feeling.

The colour palette I have chosen uses a mix of rich browns, gold & black. While I have used the original company logo & tagline I have created a sub logo using the typeface Bifur which is very much in the Art Deco style.

I also looked at using a thick card to stick my designs onto as making a box from just the printed paper left me with a very flimsy & not well defined box. However, although the card was the original type used in Butlers packaging it was still too bulky when the design was attached.

To overcome this I printed the design onto normal paper then used a second sheet, laminating the two together. This gave me a very flexible material but not so thick that is was difficult to manage.

I then hand created the design elements such as the background & the shell pattern. The shell is slightly reminiscent of Cassandre’s poster for the Normandie as viewed from low down & to the front.

GE Building
GE Building
Cassandre – Normandie









It is also suggestive of the stepped back style of the New York buildings adhering to the city’s planning laws while using the inspiration of Art Deco. (GE Building Above left)

For the background design I created a handmade reproduction of the art deco pattern one often see’s on posters, products & even in architecture. The overall look will, I hope, convey my intended feeling of playfulness & quality. Recognition of that vintage feel and that “snap” of resonance with the purchaser.

100g Wrapper
100g Bar Wrapper
Box Sleve 1-2
Art Deco Inspired Box








( 2016

FallingWater – Frank Lloyd Wright

Images from American Art Deco – Alastair Duncan 1986 – Thames & Hudson

Image of rug from Modern Retro – Living with Mid-Century modern style.  N. Bingham & A. Weaving 2000 – Ryland,  Peters & Small.


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