The Art Deco Movement

The term Art Deco immediately conjures up romantic images of luxury ocean liners, extravagant fashions, and lavish parties and lifestyles. The decorative arts of the period are just as bold, and exotic, and luxurious. Clean straight lines and vivid colours combined with exquisite craftsmanship and quality. Designers utilised a wealth of new materials often taking influence from the new machine age in their designs.  The movement owes its name to the great Paris exhibition held in 1925 - the Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs et industriels modernes. However it was embraced by architects and designers the World over. It has become the signature architectural style of the great metropolises of America such as New York and Chicago. As well as finding a home in a multitude of towns and cities, even the quite corners of the World such as Napier in New Zealand.  We look at a few key areas that you may find in your own homes, and that are offered in our 20th Century Decorative Arts auctions.


Art Deco Sculpture 

The medium of sculpture was certainly re-invigorated during the 1920s and 1930s. The metal foundries of Paris and Austria were casting thousands of bronzes and other metal-ware sculptures under the instructions of many sculptors/ artists. The interpretations often depicted the female dancing form, reflecting the frivolous dance shows of the Parisian scene, and the infamous Ballet Russe productions. The figural movement is captured with great skill, whilst displaying exotic and sometimes wild costumes – if they are wearing anything at all! The materials used catered for different markets. At the top end, the sculptures were cast in bronze and often with a patinated and cold-painted finish. For the most expensive, finely carved ivory was incorporated to simulate the exposed bodies of the dancers. For the more modest pieces, composite alloys were used which made them more affordable. You might see these described today as “art metal” or “spelter”. They would then be patinated in a range of finishes, and mounted on often abstract bases of marble or onyx.

For collectors of Art Deco sculpture at auction there are a few names that truly hold international appeal – Demetre Chiparus, Ferdinand Preiss, Marcel Bouraine, and Claire Colinet, are responsible for some of the most striking sculpture of the day. Josef Lorenzl is another highly prized sculptor who produced smaller studies in a full range of materials and can command very strong prices. 


Samuel Lipszyc Art Deco bronze and ivory sculpture

Art Deco Glass

The use and manipulation of glass and its many qualities continued from the turn of the 20th century into the 1920s and 1930s. Glass powerhouses in regions such as Lorraine in France, and Bohemia in the Czech Republic continued to employ leading designers to execute decorative works of art in the new modern style. Arguably the French makers hold the most prominent position to collectors of glass today. The designs of one man in particular – René Lalique - are greatly admired. Such was his status by the mid-1920s, Lalique was commissioned to furnish a good deal of the exhibition grounds of the 1925 Paris exhibition, with souring fountains made of glass to greet visitors on arrival. His factories produced more than just tableware, spanning an array of decorative ornaments, dressing table objects, car mascots, to tables, lighting, and architectural panels. The controlled use of opalescence in a good deal of his output was revered and often imitated by competitors, such as Sabino, Verlys, and many Czech glasshouses. Many decorative wares incorporate exotic animals, fish, or birds, and time and again the stylised nude female form. 

Other contemporaries of Lalique, such as Daum and Muller Freres focused on internally coloured glass further embellished with enamel colouring to exquisite effect. You sometimes see glassmakers work in combination with metalwork designers of the day, such as Edgar Brandt.  You can see more examples and makers on our 20th Century Glass page.

Sabino, 'Gazelles' a rare Art Deco opalescent glass sculpture

Art Deco Ceramics

In the field of ceramics designers really started to break away from conventional forms. Innovative forms and shapes were created, and then enhanced by bold vivid glazes and colours. One of the best examples of Art Deco ceramic production was certainly Clarice Cliff during here late 1920s/ early 1930s output. Her use of block colours and avant garde shapes still create debate today with some people revering them, whilst to others they are not to taste. But certainly for Britain she was a doyenne of the Art Deco ceramic movement. For more examples of daring and fun Art Deco pottery, the Italian factories produced some of the most whacky figural works. Lenci, and a host of competitor potteries often set up by former Lenci workers, are responsible for some outrageous figures which are highly desirable to collectors today.

Clarice Cliff Tennis bowl

Art Deco Furniture

Some of the most iconic and magnificent items of decorative art from the Art Deco era are items of furniture and textile furnishings. As designers started to experiment with different materials, such as chromed tubular metals and the introduction of ply wood, new avenues were opened for everyday furniture. This is the period that you start to see cantilever chairs and tables being introduced, designs which have since been licensed time and again because of their “timeless” design. More traditional cabinetmakers, particularly in France, incorporated highly unusual and exotic woods with magnificent results. Macassar wood is commonly seen in combination with ebony to very dramatic effect. Fine inlay and detailing with ivory, mother of pearl, and other high-quality materials can be seen in the finest examples. Lacquered furniture became very en trend. But examples of the very finest pieces are now likely to be found in museums rather than in the home. What is still prevalent are the blonde woods such as satin walnut, birds eye maple, and birch dining and bedroom suites, produced in great quantity by the likes of Hille, and Betty Joel. The classic cloud backed chairs of dining- and lounge suites are still sought after for owners of Art Deco period homes looking to finish off their living space with a touch of period style. Even major retailers associated with the Arts and Crafts, such as Heals, have an “Art Deco” phase to their designs of the 10290s and 1930s.

Textile furnishings, if still intact, often show very linear Mordernist designs with a bold colour scheme. Carpets and rugs by designers such as Marion Dorn have become highly prized. They are truly artistic floor coverings.


Neal Jones, Art Deco style console table

Art Deco Valuations

If you have an item that you feel falls under this movement that you would like valued for auction it couldn’t be easier. You can submit an enquiry via our Valuations Form where you can upload images and details of your items.

From these images our Specialist will be able to give an initial guide into likely auction value. You can share multiple files by emailing our Specialist directly, or alternatively book an appointment to see us in person.

As with any valuation, certain factors will be crucial in determining a more accurate and realistic auction estimate. The condition of an item is especially important to dedicated collectors in this field. Not until our Specialist has seen an item in person would the final auction advice be agreed.

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Will Gilding, 20th Century Decorative Art Specialist

Will Gilding

20th Century Decorative Art Specialist

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