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Paris Exposition des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes

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This important exhibition gave the name Art Deco to a rich vein of decorative design across a wide range of applications, from cinemas to ceramics, textiles to tableware, and graphics to gramaphones. The underlying aim of the landmark 1925 international exhibition in Paris—the centre of the contemporary arts world—was to re‐establish French decorative arts, fashion, and luxury goods at the forefront of international developments in the field. There had been increasing concern about the diminishing standing of French work in design and the decorative arts in the years before the First World War, with economic and aesthetic competition from German manufacturers and designers in particular giving increasing cause for comment. During this period there were a number of proposals to mount an international exhibition as a means of showing French decorative arts to advantage. The first of these was a response to the Exposizione Internationale in Milan in 1906, with a further initiative coming from the Société des Artistes Décorateurs in 1911 and voted on by the Chambre des Deputés in the following year. However, the original plans to hold such a display of modern decorative arts that linked art, crafts, and industry in 1915 were postponed in 1914 since it was felt that more time was needed to show French goods and expertise to telling advantage. After the First World War, largely due to economic uncertainties, the proposed exhibition was eventually put back to 1925. In keeping with the promotion of her national interests, supported by the Ministries of Commerce and Fine Arts, French manufacturers, decorative artists, craftsmen, and retailers dominated the 1925 exhibition. The majority of exhibiting nations were European, although Germany was not invited to participate until it was too late for her to make a credible contribution. The United States was another notable absentee, declining on the grounds of having insufficient original designs to exhibit, although the refusal was more likely to have been for economic reasons than any real inability to comply with the exhibition regulations that ‘strictly excluded’ all copies and imitations of old styles. The ethos of the 1925 Exposition was epitomized by the outlook of leading designer of luxury goods and cabinetmaker Jacques Émile Ruhlmann. The lavish, brightly coloured interiors for his Pavilion of a Wealth Collector contained the work of many leading contemporary French craftsmen, characterized by a use of expensive materials and high‐quality decorative motifs. His own furniture designs drew on the traditions of French craftsmanship but were also infused with an unmistakably contemporary feel. Prominent also was the work of the influential Societé des Artistes Décorateurs (SAD) displayed in the 25 ‘Reception Rooms and Private Apartments of a French Embassy’, supported by the patronage of the Minister of Fine Arts, designed by architect Charles Plumet. Amongst designers whose work was featured prominently in this often exotic setting were Pierre Chareau, Maurice Dufrène, Jean Dunand, Paul Follot, André Groult, René Herbst, and Francis Jourdain. Fashion itself was a major aspect of the exhibition, including the work of leading couturiers such as Lanvin, Jenny, and Worth seen in the Pavillon de l'Élégance. Also of note were the couturier Paul Poiret's popular displays aboard three large barges moored on the Seine, Sonia Delaunay's ‘simultaneous’ clothing and textiles in the Boutique Simultané on the Pont Alexandre III, and the fashion exhibits in the pavilion of the French fashion magazine Fémine. Many of the leading firms associated with luxury goods such as Christofle for goldsmithing and Baccarat and Lalique for glass had prominent displays, the latter with a striking Lalique‐designed fountain at the front of its pavilion. Lalique's work was also seen elsewhere in the French displays, including his dining room for Sèvres Porcelain with its walls of inlaid glass mosaic. A more commercial edge was given by the pavilions of the decorative arts studios of Paris's leading department stores—Studium Louvre (under Étienne Kohlmann and Maurice Matet) of the Magazins des Louvres, La Maîtrise (under Maurice Dufrène) of Galeries Lafayette, Pomone (under Paul Follot) of Bon Marché, and Primavera (under René Guilleré) of Grand Magazins du Printemps. The many shops on the Rue des Boutiques on the Pont‐Alexandre III and the Esplanade des Invalides also played a key role in promoting French design to a more bourgeois audience. Strictly opposed to this spirit of luxury, handcrafted goods was Le Corbusier's Pavillon de l'Esprit Nouveau, whose Modernist, machine age forms were in tune with a vision of design firmly embedded in the 20th century. Embedded within a rational outlook the Pavillon was characterized by a lack of decoration and expensive handicrafts as well as a commitment to modern technologies, new materials, and an industrial aesthetic. Amongst the items of furniture displayed were the spartan forms of standardized Thonet chairs and Le Corbusier's own designs that incorporated the use of tubular steel. There were also many foreign pavilions built for the 1925 Paris Exposition. Remarkably modern in spirit was the Constructivist USSR Pavilion designed by Konstantin Melnikov, containing within it avant‐garde furniture and settings by Alexander Rodchenko and others. In the USSR and a number of the national pavilions there were significant displays of indigenous, vernacular, and ‘folk’ art, albeit infused with a contemporary edge. These included many of the Crakow School‐inspired contents of the Polish Pavilion such as the decorative frescoes of peasant festivals by Zofia Stryjenska and the vernacular‐inspired interiors and office chair by Józef Czajkowski's office. Similar tendencies were also apparent in many of the displays and objects of the Czechoslovakian and Austrian Pavilions, the latter including the folk art ethos pervading the painted floral motifs interior of the Salle des Vitrines by Christa Ehrlich. Other significant trends also emerged at the 1925 exhibition, notably more widespread attention to the neoclassically tinged grace and elegance of Scandinavian design. Although the Finnish and Norway contributions were modest, Sweden and Denmark had their own national pavilions as well as displays in the Grand Palais. In particular, Swedish furniture by Gunner Asplund and by Carl Malmsten for the AB Nordiska Kompaniet, glass by Simon Gate for Orrefors, and ceramics by Edward Hald and Wilhelm Kåge for Gustavsberg attracted favourable critical attention. This interest was taken further with the extensive displays of Swedish design and architecture at the Stockholm Exhibition of 1930. Italian contributions to the Paris Exhibition reflected two tendencies in Italian design: the gently innovative work of designers such as Gio Ponti, whose work pointed the way towards the elegance for which Italian design became recognized in the 1930s and 1940s, and the Futurist inclinations of Fortunato Depero. The British design contribution at Paris was undermined by the lack of interest by British manufactures who saw their markets as being catered for in the British Empire. They tended to avoid the more aesthetically and economically competitive European markets, devoting their energies to the displays at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924 and 1925 when it opened for a second season. However, the influence of the exhibition was considerable and widely felt throughout the industrialized world, sustained by the many visitors and widespread international publicity, critical comment, and even official reports. These included that of a substantial commission appointed by Herbert Hoover, the US Secretary of Commerce, to report back on developments in the European decorative arts and design. In the United States the decorative tendencies seen at 1925 were subsumed into an alternative modernizing aspect of an up‐to‐date design vocabulary that utilized modern materials, colour, decoration, and the metaphors and symbols of contemporary life.


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