Art Deco--Between the Wars

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The pre-World War I art scene was awash with a "new visual language, color and iconography" influenced by Fauvism, Cubism, Expressionism, Art Nouveau and other styles sometimes lumped under the general heading of Modern Art. (Benton, et al. 101) At first only a few appreciated--as esoteric and arcane--the new designs that made their way into "the popular media, fashion and quotidian domestic goods." (Benton, et al. 101) Advertising represents a particularly rich venue of Art Deco expression. The posters of the 1920s attest to how Art Deco appealed to and catered to a mass audience, and sold them products or experiences as well.(Benton, et al. plate 2.3) The Soviets and Nazis made particularly effective use of poster art for propaganda purposes, but that is part of another story.



A sub-text in Art Deco included "streamlining," or conscientious evocations of movement, travel, and especially speed" (Benton, et al. 315). Mass tourism had been made available by the commercialization of mass travel by airplane, train, car, bus, and steamship. "The twentieth century added flexibility, diversity, increased opportunities,..and a greater degree of personal freedom." (Benton, et al. 315). The advertisers were quick to capitalize on new opportunities. (Benton, et al. plate 2.4)


Art Deco advertising--especially the technique of streamlining--crossed international borders; it affected attitudes and influenced consumer spending patterns all over the world. The middle class, or mass consumer, had both the leisure time and the where-with-all to travel, at least in the 20s. (Benton, et al. plate )


Steamship travel on luxury liners made it possible to cross the Atlantic or the Pacific in record time. The French ship, Normandie, (left) was the "last word" in luxury travel in an Art Deco context, with the British or American or Canadian liners not far behind!

(Normandie < >;
Empress, Benton, et al. plate 29.7)

Streamlining and all that it implied (speed in combination with new materials and mass consumption) influenced product design and all that modernity in the Jazz Age encompassed. It was evident in everything from "buildings to movie sets to table top radios" (Striner flyleaf). Consumers with leisure time (or craving leisure time in the case of housewives) with new credit opportunities took advantage what the magazines advertised and the stores stocked on their shelves. In the case of the radio, and extending into the 1940s and 1950s, broadcasters aired daytime soap operas (Helen Trent, Our Gal Sundae, Oxydol's Own Ma Perkins), concerts and operas; President Roosevelt offered "fireside chats"; detective series abounded (The Green Hornet, The Shadow, Bulldog Drummond); for children, there were The Lone Ranger, Jack Armstrong, Tom Mix; comedy performers earned stardom. (Benton, et al. plate 33.8)

With leisure time and cheaper products, consumers engaged in sporting activities such as boating and
played swing and jazz on their new victrolas
(Benton, et al. plates 33.10, 33.12):




Labor-saving devices had both to save labor and adhere to the streamlining image; this 1937 model was a classic of "chromium-plated...enameled steel, cast aluminum, vinyl...and rubber." (Striner 66) My mother had one just like it! (Benton, et al. plate 33.9)




Art Deco 1910-1939, ed. by Charlotte Benton, et al. London: V&A Publications, 2003.

(Background, plate 29.1)

Hodges, J. S. "Normandie." Posters. Online Available.
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Striner, Richard. Art Deco. New York, et al.: Abbeville Press Publishers.



McKee, Peggy. "Advertising and Products." Art Deco--Between the Wars. May 7, 2013 . Online Available.
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(McKee. "Advertising and Products.")