Art Deco: From buildings to ceramics

If you follow me on Pinterest, you know that I love art deco architecture. The style we know as art deco is said to originate in Paris ca 1920. Personally, I think there’s evidence of a general movement towards art deco a bit earlier around the world but that’s a different discussion altogether! Art deco is up and coming in the antique world. It’s quite affordable to get into the pieces. In 5-10 years they will all be real antiques, so it’s not the worst time to get more into art deco. But! Telling art deco from midcentury can be hard! Especially if you’re younger and you lived through neither of the two periods traces. 😉

So, art deco. Art deco begins where art nouveau leaves off. Art nouveau, to summarize it quite vulgarly, is an over-romanticization of the styles of the 19th century imbued with a newfound fondness for nature and bright colors. Art nouveau isn’t really my market… I pay attention when the prices are low enough but I haven’t set out to learn more on the subject. Soon I will and I’ll post about it! Sorry to so quickly bastardized it for these present purposes.

And just as I’ve gotten off subject, so too did the stylists of the 1910s and 20s. They were too busy paying attention to the quickly changing world of art to keep up with the exhaustive nature of art nouveau. There are some areas of absolutely amazing blending between these two and there exists a sort of naturalized art deco that’s near the end of art nouveau. There’s a strong vein of this influence in American art pottery around 1910 but you see it in painting and architecture. If you look enough, there’s even a good connection between the arts & crafts period and the later art deco period. Hey, off track again!

What is art deco? Art deco is a commitment to using simple shapes, lines or forms to create complex, pronounced design. This represented a marked shift from what was largely a floral or natural ornamentation used in the previous periods. Though it seems quite a dramatic shift, art tends to strongly influence commercial goods and the art deco period is no exception. One nice part about the art deco period is that since the world was a lot less commercialized than it is now, the commercial production of these objects isn’t nearly as soulless as it is today. That being said, I’m sure many artists of the time viewed it with a similar distaste as many of ours do today when companies copy their work.

My familiarity in artists of the period is Piet Mondrian. Mondrian left a treasure trove of writing along with his painting work and I went through a lot of his work during college. I would guess from his writings that the surroundings of art deco architecture would be good changes to the environment. And while architecture is a bit different than a lamp, I think that with sufficient vintage we can view the two as more similar and especially useful in seeing the form. What Mr. Mondrian would think of the bourgeois nature of selling art, antiques and artifacts is a different story… Anyway, let’s start with architectural art deco. The Chrysler building in New York City is a great example here.

You can see the way the simple forms play on the traditional shape of the building. The same thing is done to other objects as adornment.

Now, I’ve actually seen small commercial copies of lamps like this that probably happened right at the end of the period. They would also happen again in the midcentury modern period. It is important to differentiate between the two as they are different eras. MCM takes, borrows and build upon the art deco tradition just as the artists of the 50s and 60s take, borrow and build from the artists of the early 20th century.

There are key differences.

  1. Art deco tends to be simpler than MCM
  2. Art deco focuses a bit more “finishing” the design, more concern with symmetry
  3. Art deco pieces are typically made of a high quality
  4. Art deco pieces are older and will have more patina
  5. Art deco pieces tend to be made in USA or Europe
  6. Art deco isn’t necessarily a revolution on “what the object is” it’s more for decoration

That’s enough on art deco vs midcentury modern. Number 6 leads me to where I wanted to go next. With the midcentury period, there’s a strong undermining in the necessity to design something any which way at all! Phones distort, chairs become non-symmetrical things out of Dali paintings and other strange things happen to the objects themselves. The difference can be no more visible than in something I picked up this past weekend.

IMG_20170729_181939_541

How funny is that? I was not expecting to find something that would illustrate this prior to writing this post. What do we have here? Well, I purchased this in farm country and it’s a well used butter crock made by Ruckels in Illinois ca 1930. It has a strong art deco design to it with the pattern of three block lines. Now, I realize this probably seems pretty standard to most people unfamiliar with crocks or antiques. “It’s just some lines” you might say. However, the lines change everything. It gives us a good date. Makes it easier to identify a maker. They actually say quite a bit. This is a great period piece and worth a solid amount. Without those lines and the same age, the item would be worth less than half what it is.

So, there’s no “revolution” going on in the concept of a crock here. It’s solid art deco with lines used for adornment. Most art deco pieces were still meant to function in much the same manner as the objects that came before them. They were just adorned differently.

Thanks for reading!

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