Monday, January 4, 2010

Art Deco

The late nineteenth century was characterized by Art Nouveau, a lush, decadent style known for its sinuous lines and muted colors. By the early 1900s, however, Nouveau was being supplanted by a growing desire for design that reflected the technology and speed of modern urban life. Many professional illustrators also looked to the development of Modernist art movements such as Fauvism (known for its vibrant colors), Futurism (which embraced the new world of the machine), and Cubism. Although advances in printing technology readily accommodated the rapid evolution of professional graphic design, the anti-industrial Arts and Crafts movement revived old-fashioned ideals of artistry and individual workmanship. And thus, Art Deco was born.

Unfortunately, being a product of its time, Art Deco had its less savory side as well. Its adherents were deeply influenced by "Orientalism" and the public's fascination with the exotic. Josephine Baker, a black cabaret performer, personified this in the minds of many. She was an American in Paris, just like Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Stein, but due to her race, she was "othered" in a way that white Americans were not.

It is very telling to look at this image alongside all the other beautifully rendered portraits in Art Deco's famed advertisements and fashion plates.

Click here and here for more Deco and Nouveau advertisements.


rhapsodyinbooks said...

I love these! If I say I love the princess best will you not tell anyone?!!!

Thanks so much for posting these!

Emily said...


That is all.

Actually, the last image & text reminded me what an interesting figure Josephine Baker is to me. I'd like to read a biography of her sometime; she seems like she walked that line between pandering to the unsavory tastes of the mob (as shown here), and bringing some very complex, original thinking to living her life & making her art.

Beautiful post.

Eileen said...

Rhapsody: My personal favorite is the bottom one! (Not the racist poster, but the orange-colored one above it.) The book had so many great images it was hard to choose.

Emily: I have been DYING to read a biography of Josephine Baker! She's right up there with Gertrude Stein, Mabel Dodge, and Alfred Stieglitz on my list of Modernist-Era People I Wish I Could Be. If you find a great biography, please please let me know!

Anonymous said...

The orange one is my favorite too. This book looks splendid - thanks for sharing!

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