Art Deco Origins & Influences
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 in 1922 stirred the world’s imagination—to the futuristic art movements of Fauvism, Cubism, Bauhaus, and others.
Ancient Egyptian forms and stylization:
Note the similarities between the reeds depicted on the Egyptian scroll and the decorative motif used for the elevator doors of the Chrysler Building. You can also see the appropriation of the Ancient Egyptian temple form in the Cartier Temple clock.
African tribal design and forms:
When comparing the geometric forms of the tribal African ceremonial textile to the base of the McGraw Hill Building, the geometric similarities become evident. The windows, doors and decorative features of the building can be reduced to the basic geometric forms of the textile. You can also see how Art Deco borrowed from the formal qualities of tribal furniture when comparing the Ashanti Ghana Stool to the stool of Pierre Legrain.
Mesoamerican forms and decoration:
The most common Mesoamerican influence in Art Deco architecture, decorative arts and design is the ziggurat, or stepped pyramid form. This can seen when comparing the Mayan Ziggurat to the top of the Paramount Building. It is also common that decorative embellishments emulate Mesoamerican sculptural relief as seen when comparing the Aztec relief to the relief of the GE Building.
Greco-Roman relief, patterning and materials:
There is a strong aesthetic relationship between the pedimental embellishment often utilized in Greco-Roman temples and the portal decoration used in Art Deco architecture. This relationship is apparent in the majority of New York Art Deco buildings but is specifically prominent when comparing this entrance to Rockefeller Center to the reconstruction of the Nereid Temple. Art Deco also embraces the Greco-Roman preference for geometric ornamentation as well as the use of mosaics. When looking at the Ancient Roman mosaic depicting Achilles dragging the body of Hector through Troy, in comparison to the mosaic of Hildreth Meiére at Temple Emanu-El, the choice of material and geometric patterning are obviously related.
Art Deco design can be found in all sorts of objects in its day—a simple perfume bottle was made to resemble a Mayan pyramid; furniture was inspired by dynamic coloration of rich woods used in African design; and Egyptian motifs found their way to the lavishly designed movie palaces. Advertising posters from the era are highly prized today as examples of the bold styling, design and elegance of the Art Deco era. View the below video to get a taste of Art Deco decorative arts and design.
Art Deco wasn’t officially given its name until 1966. The designation was taken directly from the name of the1925 Paris World’s Fair–Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes. One of the earliest examples of the shift to a new design movement can be seen in 1909, when Sergei Diaghilev created Ballets Russes in Paris. The new ballet company created a stir with many levels of experimentation that promoted innovative collaborations among new designers, composers, choreographers and the most renowned, predominantly Russian-trained, dancers. The ballet introduced the idea of bold color and design in its costuming and stage sets.