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Art Deco Study Guide

What is 'Art Deco'?

The term 'Art Deco' was coined in 1966, following a retrospective exhibition entitled 'Les Années '25', held at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. This commemorated the 1925 Paris 'Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes'. Originally planned for 1915, but postponed on account of the First World War, the 1925 Exposition was distinctive from previous international exhibitions for two reasons. For the first time, the decorative and applied arts held a centre stage. The criteria for inclusion in the Exposition also emphasised the modern, to the extent that well established decorative artists might be excluded because they were seen as representative of a previous generation.

The architecture and decorative arts shown at the 1925 Exposition embodied a whole range of unconnected styles and sources, including a modern interpretation of the style of Louis XVI (18th century), seen as the golden era of the French decorative arts, and references to the avant-garde art movements of the time, such as Cubism and the Bauhaus. Diaghilev's 'Ballets Russes' and exotic and ancient cultures such as ancient Egyptian (following the discovery of the Pyramid tombs) and Mayan civilizations, the art of Japan and Africa, also had an impact on the style. Not to be confused with Modernist art movements, with their social philosophies and manifestos, Art Deco was purely decorative. A modern style, responding to the machine and to new materials such as plastic, Art Deco in its 1925 context was also sumptuous, a luxury style, characterised by individually produced luxury goods for wealthy connoisseurs.

The 1925 Exposition had a major influence on the decorative arts in America. Although the United States was not represented, many Americans visited the exhibition. In 1926 the Metropolitan Museum of Art held a retrospective exhibition to which original contributors were asked to send material. The American contribution to Art Deco is known as Streamlining and is characterised by clean lines and strong curves. It was applied to the design of cars, architecture and furniture. It was also applied to new mass-produced goods such as refrigerators and radios. In their attempt to reach new consumers from around 1930, manufacturers took iconic elements of the Art Deco styles and simplified them for mass production. Married to modern machine age materials such as bakelite and chrome, this style heralded an era of 'modern' design for mass consumption of affordable consumer goods.

How to Find Out About Art Deco in the National Art Library

The National Art Library has a wealth of material for studying Art Deco in its various forms, including general works on Art Deco, catalogues of the International exhibitions, Salon and other exhibition catalogues, trade literature, sales catalogues and periodicals.

The Library also houses original treasures such as fine bindings, beautifully printed and illustrated books, and printed books of designs, a selection of which is included in this guide.

General Books on Art Deco

A list has been provided below of general books on Art Deco in its various media. Many of these provide brief details about the large number of artists who contributed to the 1925 exhibition or produced work that could be considered Art Deco in style. Some of these quickly became involved in the modern art movements, but there are others whose names have become synonymous with Art Deco. Prominent names include Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann (furniture and interiors), Jean Dunand (lacquerware), Edward McKnight-Kauffer (graphics), François-Louis Schmied (luxury printed books), Paul Bonet (book bindings), Pierre Legrain (book bindings, furniture and interiors), Rose Adler (furniture and interiors, bindings), Paul Colin (graphics), Paul Poiret (fashion), Sonia Delaunay (fashion), René Lalique (glass, jewellery), Edgar Brandt (metalwork), Erté, Jean Puiforcat (silverware), Maurice Marinot (glass), and Demetre Chiparus (sculpture).

International Exhibitions

The best sources for finding out what was considered new or representative of a particular time are the International or Colonial exhibitions, which were conceived as international trade showcases, and, following the 1851 Great Exhibition, were held at increasingly frequent intervals. The best way to access the catalogues of these is to search under the Author Keyword for the main words of the exhibition name. Sources include official catalogues and commissioners' reports, guides and reminiscences of these exhibitions.

For Art Deco, the most important international exhibition was the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (1925: Paris). The Library has the 12 volume reprint of the original 'Encyclopédie des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes au XXème' (Garland: New York, 1977). A documentary record of the 1925 exhibition. Volumes are arranged by subject category; check the computer catalogue for individual volume titles.

Also of interest is the Exposition Coloniale Internationale de Paris (1931). For the US and later Art Deco style, look at the Century of Progress International Exposition (1933-1934: Chicago), the Golden Gate International Exposition (1939-1940: San Francisco) and the New York World's Fair (1939-1940). The Exposition Internationale (1937 : Paris) is more relevant for Modernism, which, with its emphasis on the machine and mass production, took hold in Europe from around 1930.

The colonial exhibitions and other international exhibitions held in the 1920s and 1930s are also useful sources. To find out about what exhibitions were held, look in:

  • Greenhalgh, Paul. Ephemeral vistas: the Expositions Universelles, Great Exhibitions and World's Fairs, 1851-1939. Manchester University Press, 1988.
  • Neuberg, Hans. Internationale Ausstellungsgestaltung;Conception internationale d'expositions; Conceptions of international exhibitions. ABC-Verlag, 1969.
  • Mattie, Erik. World's fairs. Princeton Architectural Press, 1998.
  • Findling, John E. Historical dictionary of world's fairs and expositions, 1851-1988. Greenwood Press, 1990.

Salon and Other Exhibitions

Exhibitions, usually held annually, were important for making the work of an artist known. It was at the main Salons where the work of artists was brought together. For decorative artists the main Salons were 'Société des artistes décorateurs, 'Société des artistes independants', 'Salon d'automne' and 'Société des artistes français'. Good biographies or catalogue raisonnés will usually detail or list the exhibitions to which an individual artist contributed throughout their career. Catalogues in the National Art Library can be searched using the Author A-Z or Title Keyword search for gallery or Salon names. Note that many exhibition catalogues are still currently not catalogued on computer. The blue microfiches list all catalogues acquired up to 1987 and are organised alphabetically by city and gallery name, then in exhibition date order.

Trade Literature

Many artists ran their own workshops that issued catalogues and other advertising material. These include the fashion designer Paul Poiret (Atelier Martine), glassware and lighting designer Réné Lalique and furniture and interior designers Süe et Mare (Compagnie des Arts Francais). Others designed for established manufacturing companies, such as Daum (glass) and Sèvres (porcelain) or for studios of the major department stores, such as Primavera (Printemps), Le Sylve (Le Bucheron), La Maîtrise (Galeries Lafayette), and Pomone (Bon Marché). Names of these companies can be gleaned from reading about individual artists. Many of these companies had pavilions or small displays at the international exhibitions and may be mentioned in the reports and guides to these (see above under International exhibitions).

The National Art Library actively collects examples of trade catalogues past and present. For more details about trade literature see Trade Catalogues in the National Art Library. Included in the library holdings is the EKCO collection of around 1000 catalogues and trade ephemera collected by the EKCO Radio Co. between 1935 and 1940, although it also includes some examples from later.

Library holdings for known companies can be searched using the Author A-Z or Author Keyword searches. To search for trade catalogues relating to a specific product type, such as car manufacture, try a Subject Keyword search, for example 'Trade catalogues- automobiles'. Note however, that not everything is fully catalogued to include subject headings, so this search on its own will yield incomplete results. A useful source for product and company names are advertisements found in lifestyle magazines of the time. Catalogues in the EKCO Collection are not individually listed. The collection can be found by typing EKCO using the Author A-Z search.

Sales Catalogues

Sales catalogues are a good source for tracing and finding out general information and information about specific objects. There is a guide to sales catalogues in the National Art Library available in the reading room, and on the Auction House Sale Catalogues page. In the computer catalogue under the Sales catalogues menu, a Title Keyword search for the term 'Art Deco' or an individual artist's name will bring up a large number of hits. Note that not all of the international sales catalogues have been catalogued online. To see if the Library has a catalogue for a sale where the city and date is known, the pre-1987 red microfiches (organised by city and then by date of sale) may still need to be checked. There is also an owners microfiche for searches under the name of the original owner of a collection.


The National Art Library has a large number of periodicals and subscribes to indexes which will help the researcher find articles on particular subjects. A few of the fine art and graphics periodicals published at the time highlighted the work of some of the better known decorative artists, and they could also include articles by and about important collectors, which provide insights into the fashions of the art market at the time. They also reviewed exhibitions and sales, including the international exhibitions. A selection of some of these is listed below. Fashion and lifestyle magazines published at the time are a useful source not only for showing trends in fashion but also commercial advertising graphics. A few of the ones to look out for are also listed.

Art Periodicals: A Selection of the Most Useful Published During the Period

  • Apollo - the arts for collectors and connoisseurs; features articles on artists and collectors
  • Art et Décoration - a contemporary review for modern art, often featuring articles about individual designers and collectors, and illustrations of interiors
  • L’Art et les Artistes
  • Art Work - international arts and crafts
  • The Book-collector’s Quarterly "Byblis", miroir des arts du livre et de l'estampe - devoted to the art of the book and printing
  • Commercial Art, Commercial Art and Industry, Art and Industry (title varies) - commercial graphics
  • Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration - a contemporary review for art and interiors
  • Gazette des Beaux Arts
  • Gebrauchsgraphik: International Advertising Art
  • Innen-dekoration - devoted to interior decoration
  • Mobilier et Décoration - often featuring articles about individual designers and collectors
  • Penrose Annual - a yearly review of the graphic arts
  • Publicité - advertising graphics

Fashion Magazines From the Period

The Library has selective holdings of fashion magazines from the period, including:

  • Art, goût beauté
  • Falbalas et fanfreluches
  • Gazette du bon ton
  • Guirlande des mois almanach
  • Modes et manières d'Aujourd'hui

All of the French fashion periodicals listed above are beautifully illustrated with pochoir prints, produced by some of the best known artists of the day. Gazette du bon ton is considered the most innovative illustrated fashion magazine of the period.

  • Femina - published first in France, with a subsequent British edition
  • Harpers bazaar - originally published in America, with a subsequent British edition
  • Vanity fair - published in America, a lifestyle magazine
  • Vogue - originally published in America, and subsequently in other countries

Original Art Deco Works in the National Art Library Collection

The National Art Library also collects original fine bindings, luxury printed editions and illustrated books, popular fiction for its illustrations or dust jackets and other works which are considered important visual records of an artist’s work. A selection is listed below.

Pattern Design

  • Benedictus, Edouard. Variations : quatre-vingt-six motifs décoratifs en vingt planches par Benedictus. A Levy, [1924?].
  • Benedictus, Edouard. Nouvelles variations : soixante-quinze motifs décoratifs en vingt planches par Benedictus. A Levy, 1929.
  • Benedictus, Edouard. Relais, 1930: quinze planches donnant quarante-deux motifs décoratifs, enluminure de l’art de J. Saudé . Vincent, 1930.
  • Delaunay, Sonia Compositions, couleurs, idees. Éditions d'art Charles Moreau, [1930?].

Interiors from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, Paris, 1925

  • Dufrène, Maurice. Les intérieurs français; ou, Salon des artistes décorateurs en 1926, présentés par Maurice Dufrène. Charles Moreau, 1926.
  • Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs et industriels modernes, Paris, 1925. Une ambassade française organisée par la Société des artistes décorateurs. Charles Moreau, 1925.
  • Intérieurs en couleurs, France: cinquante planches en couleurs. A. Lévy, 1926.

Illustrations of Modern Fashion and Lifestyle

  • Art, goût, beauté: feuillets d'élégance feminine. Éditions d'Art, 1921-33.
  • Barbier, George. Falbalas & fanfreluches: almanach des modes présentes passées & futures pour… Jules Meynial, 1922-26.
  • Barbier, George. Guirlande des mois almanach. Jules Meynial, 1917-21.
  • Barbier, George. Vingt-cinq costumes pour le théâtre. Camille Bloch & Jules Meynial, 1927.
  • Colin, Paul. Le tumulte noir. Éditions d’Art, [19--?].
  • Gazette du bon ton : arts, modes et frivolites. Librairie centrale des beaux-arts, 1912-25.
  • Iribe, Pau.l Les robes de Paul Poiret. Paul Poiret, 1908.
  • Lepape, Georges. Les choses de Paul Poiret . Maquet, 1911.
  • Modes et manières d'Aujourd'hui. Corrard, 1914-22.

Luxury Editions, Printed or Illustrated by François-Louis Schmied

  • Le Cantique des Cantiques, translated by Ernest Renan. F.-L. Schmied, 1925.
  • Chateaubriand, François-René, vicomte de. Les aventures du dernier Abencérage. Les Bibliophiles de l'Amérique Latine, 1930.
  • Graux, Lucien. Le tapis de prières. Published 'Pour les amis du docteur Lucien-Graux', 1938.
  • Mardrus, J. C. Histoire charmante de l'adolescente, Sucre d'Amour : grand conte oriental inédit . F.L. Schmied, 1927.

Literature with Interesting Illustrations or Dust Jackets

  • Delaunay, Sonia illustration for Blaise Cendrars, ‘La Prose du Transibérien et la Petite Jehanne de France’ (Paris: Editions des Hommes Nouveaux, 1913). Gouache on paper. French, 1913
    Restricted access; this work can be studied in Sidoti, Antoine La prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France: Blaise Cendrars,Sonia Delaunay, novembre-décembre 1912-juin 1914: genèse et dossier d'une polémique . Lettres modernes, 1987.
  • Vassos, John Contempo : This American tempo. Creations by John Vassos. E.P. Dutton, 1929.
  • Vassos, John illustrations for Wilde, Oscar The harlot's house : and other poems. E.P. Dutton, 1929.

For examples of more dust jackets see later under Archive of Art and Design.

Luxury Bindings

  • Anonymous. Binding (1926) for France, Anatole Balthasar. Ferroud, 1926.
  • Creuzevault, Louis. Binding (1925) for a de luxe edition of Le Cantique des Cantiques, translated by Ernest Renan .F.-L. Schmied, 1925.
  • Bonfils, Robert. Binding (1919) for Régnier, Henri de Les rencontres de M. de Bréot; roman. Éditions Réné Kieffer, 1919.
  • Kohn, Madeleine. Binding (ca. 1923) for Jammes, Francis Pomme d'Anis. Emile-Paul Frères, 1923.
  • Kohn, Madeleine. Binding (1924) for Morand, Paul Tendres Stocks. Emile-Paul Frères, 1924.
  • Legrain, Pierre. Binding (1914) for Toussaint, Franz Le jardin des caresses. H. Piazza, 1914.
  • Legrain, Jacques-Antoine and Legrain, Pierre. Binding (1950 to an earlier design by Pierre Legrain) for Nodier, Charles Histoire du chien Brisquet. Pelletan, 1900.
  • Pye, Sybil. Binding (1926) for Flaubert, Gustave La légende de Saint Julien l'hospitalier. Eragny press, 1900.
  • Pye, Sybil. Binding on a dummy book (1927) for Apuleius, Lucius The marriage of Cupid and Psyches. Vale Press, 1897.
  • Pye, Sybil. Binding (1934) for The Apocrypha. Nonesuch Press, Dial Press, 1924.

Related Material in the Victoria and Albert Museum

The Prints & Drawings Study Room

Works, such as prints, designs, posters, advertisement and trade cards and photographs, can be seen at the . Holdings of Art Deco material include posters by such artists as Edward McKnight Kauffer, Paul Colin and A.M. Cassandre, the fashion designs of Paul Poiret and designs for the Houses of Worth and Paquin, designs for interiors, and work by the photographers Edward Steichen, Cecil Beaton, Florence Henri and Man Ray.

Collections can be searched using the printed catalogues in the Print Room. Catalogues include those for Posters, Prints, Photographs, Wallpaper and Decorative Papers, and Drawings and Watercolours. There are also subject and topographic catalogues. The Print Room also has access to the museum-wide online collections database. The Prints & Drawings Study Room can be contacted on +44 (0)20 7942 2563 or pdp@vam.ac.uk.

The Archive of Art and Design

A large collection of mainly British book jackets from this period is held at the Archive Art and Design. These are interesting as examples of commercial graphic art and were often designed by well known poster artists. Some of the book jackets are Art Deco in design and include work by Edward McKnight Kauffer, Theyre Lee-Elliott and Eugene Thurston (Gené). See item 33 in Lomas, Elizabeth Guide to the Archive of Art and Design, Victoria & Albert Museum (London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers in association with the Victoria and Albert Museum, c2001). A detailed inventory is in the process of being compiled and there is also a brief listing of some of the designers' names.

Access to the Archive is by appointment. For further information or an appointment please contact the Archive on +44 (0)20 7603 1514 or archive@vam.ac.uk.

General Books on Art Deco

The following is a list of some of the most useful sources covering Art Deco in general. It includes books about individual media but does not include books about individual artists.

General Works

  • Arwas, Victor. Art Deco. Abradale Press, 1992 & 2000.
    - a substantial reference book, well illustrated with biographies of artists. Library has both editions.
  • Bayer, Patricia. Art deco sourcebook. Phaidon, 1988.
    - an introduction to the subject
  • Bouillon, Jean-Paul. Art Deco, 1903-1940. Editions d'art Albert Skira, 1989.
    - an introduction to all aspects of the style with a substantial bibliography
  • Duncan, Alastair. The encyclopedia of art deco. Grange Books, 2000.
    - an introduction to the subject
  • Duncan, Alastair. Art Deco. Thames & Hudson, 1988.
    - an introduction to the subject
  • Hillier, Bevis. Art deco of the 20s and 30s. Studio Vista, 1968 & 1973.
    - the original book that defined and named the style. Library has both editions.
  • Hillier, Bevis & Escritt, Stephen. Art deco style. Phaidon, 1997.
    - an overview of the style, bringing the previous work up-to-date
  • Morgan, Sarah M. Art deco: the European style. Dorset Press, 1990.
    - well illustrated essays covering different media
  • Sternau, Susan A. Art deco: flights of artistic fancy. Todtri, 1997.
    - a general introduction with short essays on many aspects of the style

Dealing with Individual Countries

  • Berents, Catharina. Art deco in Deutschland: das moderne Ornament. Anabas-Verlag, 1998.
  • Duncan, Alastair. American Art Deco. Thames & Hudson, 1986.
  • Dybdahl, Lars. Dansk design: 1910-1945: art deco & funktionalisme. Danske kunstindustrimuseum, 1997.
  • Obecný dum. Czech art deco, 1918-1938. Municipal House, 1998.
  • Peres Rojas, Javier. Art deco en Espana. Cátedra, 1990.
  • Halén, Widar. Art deco, funkis, Scandinavian design. Orfens Forlag, 1996.
  • Hornekov, Jana. Art Deco: Boemia 1918-1938. (In Italian). Electa, 1996.
  • Krzyztofowicz-Kozakowska, Stefania. Art Deco w Polsce + Art deco in Poland. Muzeum Narodowe w Krakowie, 1993.

Individual Media - Architecture and Interiors

  • Bayer, Patricia. Art deco architecture: design, decoration and detail from the twenties and thirties. Thames & Hudson, 1992.
    - covers architecture world wide in its various Art Deco forms
  • Bayer, Patricia. Art deco interiors: decoration and design classics from the 1920s and 1930s. Thames & Hudson, 1990.
    - essays on the 1925 Paris Exposition, Paris, the rest of the world and Streamline Moderne and public places, as well as the Art Deco revival and restoration of interiors, well illustrated with a good bibliography and a list of museums with collections
  • Cerwinske, Laura. Tropical deco: the architecture and design of old Miami beach. Rizzoli, 1981.
    - with very good colour illustrations and essays on different details and aspects of the subject, such as facades, doors and imagery
  • Dufrene, Maurcie. Authentic art deco interiors from the 1925 Paris exhibition. Antique Collectors Club, 1989 & 2002.
    - illustrations of original photographs with a descriptive background essay by Alastair Duncan. Library has both editions.
  • Duncan, Alastair. Art deco furniture: the French designers. Thames & Hudson, 1984.
    - an in-depth study with biographies of the designers
  • Duncan, Alastair. Art nouveau and art deco lighting. Thames & Hudson, 1978.
    - essays on different designers, black and white illustrations
  • Vlack, Don. Art deco architecture in New York, 1920-1940. Harper & Row 1974.
    - useful essays dealing with specifics, such as decorative motifs, materials, function, geometrics, black and white illustrations but includes a useful list of buildings and architects also organised by location
  • Kjellberg, Pierre. Art deco: les maitres du mobilier, le décor des paquebots. Amateur, 1998.
    - a substantial book providing a general introduction with biographies of artists and a section on different cruise liners of the period, well illustrated with a good bibliography

Bookbinding and Book Arts

  • Duncan, Alastair and de Bartha, Georges. Art nouveau and art deco bookbinding: the French masterpieces. Thames & Hudson, 1989.
    - a useful introduction to the main names and background to art deco, includes biographies of the artists
  • Lucius, Wulf D von. Bucherlust: Buchkunst und Bucherluxus im 20 Jahrhundert : Beispiel aus einer Stuttgarter Sammlung. Württenburgische Landesbibliothek, 1998.
    - beautifully illustrated, with the first chapter covering some of the most sumptuous books from this period, including fashion periodicals


  • McCready, Karen. Art deco and modernist ceramics. Thames & Hudson, 1995.
    - an overview of the subject with biographies of the artists, well illustrated
  • Stevenson, Greg. Art deco ceramics. Shire, 1998.
    - concentrating on British ceramics and covering the main designers and makers, well illustrated


  • Arwas, Victor. The art of glass: art nouveau to art deco. Andreas Papadakis Publishing, 1996.
    - includes biographies of the artists, beautifully illustrated and includes a glossary

Graphic Design

  • Ercoli, Giuliano. Art deco prints. Phaidon; Christies, 1989.
    - deals mainly with pochoir fashion printing, very well illustrated
  • Heller, Steven & Fili, Louise have written a number of works on art deco commercial graphics relating to individual countries, France, America, Holland, Italy, Spain, Germany and Britain, which provide a useful background to the subject. (Chronicle Books, 1993-8). Check the computer catalogue under the authors' names.
  • Kery, Patiricia Frantz. Art deco graphics. Thames & Hudson, 1986.
    - a generously illustrated book, with sections on poster, magazine, book and commercial graphics such as packaging and wallpaper
  • Kery, Patiricia Frantz. Great magazine covers of the world. Abbeville Press, 1982.
    - a substantial book which covers all eras, includes an essay on the history of magazines and their covers
  • Powers, Alan. Front Cover : Great Book Jacket and Cover Design. Mitchell Beazley, 2001.
    - an overview of the subject covering a wider period than Art Deco
  • Tolmer, Alfred. Mise en page: the theory and practice of lay-out. The Studio, W.E. Rudge, 1931.
    - an illustrated example from the era


  • Gabardi, Melissa. Art deco jewellery 1920-1949. Antique Collectors Club, 1989.
    - a well illustrated book with essays on the background to the applied arts, the 1925 exhibition and jewellery aesthetics
  • Raulet, Sylvie. Art deco jewelry. Thames & Hudson, 2002.
    - includes essays on the high fashion Paris designers, the 1930s and 1940s
  • Weber, Christianne. Art Deco Schmuck: die internationale Schmuckszene der 20er. Wilhelm Heyne Verlag, 2000.
    - an in-depth study, profusely illustrated


  • Lucie-Smith, Edward. Art deco painting. Phaidon, 1990.
    - essays on different themes and genres such as portraiture, the portrayal of everyday life, cubism, good colour illustrations, includes biographies of artists


  • Arwas, Victor. Art deco sculpture. Academy Editions; St Martin's Press, 1992.
    - an in-depth coverage of the subject with biographies of the main artists, very well illustrated

Textiles and fashion

  • Battersby, Martin. Art deco fashion: French designers 1908-1925. Academy; St Martin's Press, 1974.
  • Bowman, Sara. A fashion for extravagance: art deco fabrics and fashions. Bell & Hyman, 1985.
    - with essays on the main designers of the period
  • French art deco fashions in pochoir prints from the 1920s. Schiffer, 1998.
    - illustrations from the fashion journals of the era, with a commentary
  • Day, Susan. Art deco and modernist carpets. Thames & Hudson, 2002.
    - in-depth and well illustrated

V&A Books

  • Art Deco 1910-1939 by Charlotte Benton, et al.

    Art Deco 1910-1939 by Charlotte Benton, et al.

    Buy Now

  • Art Deco Fashion by Suzanne Lussier

    Art Deco Fashion by Suzanne Lussier

    Buy Now

  • Art Deco Textiles by Charlotte Samuels

    Art Deco Textiles by Charlotte Samuels

    Buy Now

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