ART DECO FIXATION
At Canonbury Antiques we are great fans of the art deco era. Though the style took its name from ‘L’Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes‘, held in Paris in 1925 it initially began to emerge during the 1910’s reaching its height during the roaring 1920’s. The art deco aesthetic influenced all creative areas – architecture, typography, fashion, music, paintings, furniture, design and of course the figural form, mainly in the shape of art deco bronzes and statues, which will be our focus.
In this piece we will examine the main influences that affected the shaping of the figural form of the time and some of it’s most famous proponents, including Chiparus, Fayral, Max Leverrier, Ferdinand Preiss, Lalique, Colinet, Joe Descomps and a whole host of other artists, a rolecall of the deco greats. We have all manner of art deco bronzes available at Canonbury Antiques , mainly of the female form which was obviously the most favoured subject of the artists.
The 1920s seem to be a time of great social change, technical development and historical advances in science and travel that really influenced the overall look and feel of the time. Here’s some of the main factors:
1920s VERSION OF THE IDEALISED WOMAN
(Above: Gorgeous Biba – or Clarte – figurine in the form of a lamp. Classic example of the 1920s idealised female form)
Every era has it’s asethetic version of the idealised female form. Whether it be a Rubenesque 1600s version of the more rounded female to the wasted heroin chic waif look popular in the 90s. In the 1920s it seemed like the first stirrings of the fully modern woman were made – female suffrage clearly gave women independence and confidence. Women were granted suffrage (the right to vote) in the United States in 1920 and in Britain in 1918 (although propertied and over 30 was a requirement). Hence, coming in the aftermath of the First World War, the twenties are often looked at through rose tinted glasses as a time of progression and growing freedoms. The 1920s idealised form of the female was all lithe athleticism, perhaps in a skimpy bathing suit. It was almost a hark back to classical antiquity with the degree that youth, beauty and perfect physical proportion were worshipped. It certainly made for some great statues and works of art.
(Above: The fashion designer Erte extered a massive influence sartorially)
Romain de Tirtoff was a Russian born artist who worked out of France in the 1920s and worked under the pseudonym Erte. Erte was a polymath who worked in jewellery, costume, set design and fashion and had a sweeping influence, particularly on female dress that can be seen in various dresses and fashions of women featured in art deco bronzes. He would have dressed the stars in the silent movies of the time and just a cursory search of his imagery on Google will reveal how big an influence it was.
(Above: Ballet Russe’s influence can really be seen in the works of DH Chiparus)
The Ballets Russes was a travelling ballet company based in Paris who toured the world throughout the twenties. The companies productions created a big sensation and influenced performance art and costumes. It also introduced European and American audiences to designs, motifs and music from Russian folklore. Art deco artists, particularly DH Chiparus were extremely influenced.
(Above: Streamline Moderne in the architectural medium. If this was in marble could almost be a base to a bronze)
Sleek aerodynanism was a recurrant look and feel to the art deco figural form. This can be seen as a response to the technical advances in travel – by air, car, train and boat – that were enabling mass commercial travel to really grown in the 1920s. In turn the designs of these modes of travel incorporated a streamline look for quicker travel. These advances can really be seen in the architectural works – for eg the Streamline Moderne movement – of the day which have fine lines, elegant areoplane-like curves and a clean symmetry.
Cubism is an early Twentieth century art from that emerged in Paris in the early 1900s. It’s leading proponents were Georges Braque and of course Picasso. The impact of Cubism were far-reaching and definitely influenced the art deco bronze figural form, mainly in the way faces were depicted with slightly exaggerated features and clean angular lines. The look often had an almost tribal art feel, again a response to an opening up of the world to other cultures and arts as anthropologists and ethnographers encroached on formerly remote tribes and parts of the world.
(Above: Egyptian Dancer statue by Colinet)
In 1922 Howard Carted and George Herberts (5th Earl of Carnarvon, and owner of Highclere Castle aka Downton Abbey) discovered Turankhamun’s nearly intact tomb. This led throughout the 1920s to a fascination with all things Egyptican – pharos, pyramids, pharaoh hounds, obelisks etc – as images and photos were brought back from Egypt and manifested itself in the art and design. Again particuarly Chiparus who had a penchant for all manner of Egyptian dancers and belly dancers, a flirtation with the exotic.
(Above: A right bunch of Flappers! Where’s the champagne and jazz records?)
Tieing in with female emancipation touched on above through universal suffrage, was the emergence of the ‘new breed’ of young Western women called ‘flappers’. The flapper wore short skirts, had bobbed hair, danced to jazz, drank, smoked, had casual sex and generally flouted any social norms they could. They sound like a lot of fun and greatly advanced the cause of liberalism. As such it was a great influence on the art deco bronze figural form.
CLOWNS AND ODALISQUES
(Above: Lovely Odalisque figurine in the form of a lamp)
Clowns – predominantly the Harlequin and Pierrot – seem to be a recurring fixation in the figural form. Clowns have always been a mild obsession in French culture and in the 1920s silent films, clown antics would have been a main source of humour and entertainment. As most of the important figural works and artists came out of Paris we can see the direct causation here.
The odalisque – another 1920s artistic fixation – was a concubine in a Turkish harem. Artistically it emerged as an eroticised genre in which a normally semi nude Eastern woman lies on her side on display for the specator. Maybe it was just another great motif within which to study the female form, preferrably in a partially clothed manner.
DH Chiparus, although now ubiquitous, has to be the most important and iconic sculpturist working out of Paris in the 1920s. Original works of his command figures well into six noughts and are highly sought after and collectable. He really was a man of his times and the whole look and feel of the roaring twenties seem to reach its zenith in his statues and figurines. Here are some of our current favourite Chiparus pieces:
(Above: Chiparus Fan Dancer statue – Harlequin meets Ballets Russes)