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Société des Artistes Décorateurs

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(established 1901)

The establishment of the Société des Artistes Décorateurs in 1901 reflected the growing importance of this new profession in France. This stemmed from a series of government‐funded initiatives undertaken in the French schools of the fine and applied arts in order to enhance the status of—and training in—the applied arts. These sought to counter significant developments in other countries that increasingly recognized the economic significance of design education. As well as the overhaul of existing French schools of the fine and applied arts, in the closing decades of the 19th century new institutions were also created. These included the national schools of decorative arts at Limoges and Nice (both opening in 1881), the national school of applied arts at Bourges (also opening in the same year), and the École des Arts Appliqués in Saint‐Étienne (commencing in 1889). Amongst the new breed of Parisian institutions were the École Boullée (opened in 1886), and the École Estienne (opened in 1889). The SAD was modelled on the Société des Artistes Français, of which its first president, Guillaume Dubufe, was a member. From the outset SAD was committed to the promotion of high‐quality French craftsmanship, cabinetmaking, and satisfying the taste of an affluent urban elite. In addition to exhibiting the decorative arts in other contexts the Société set up its exhibitions from 1904. In the years leading up to 1910 the Société experienced some difficulties with falling membership and, in 1910 itself, a visible threat from the display of German applied arts at the Salon d'Automne in Paris. Such work was characterized by modernizing forms, bold colours, and aesthetic unity, making a significant impact on critics and French decorative artists. The economic significance of Germany's increased market share in the field was an added anxiety for the French, strengthening moves in the years leading up to the First World War to mount an international exhibition where French traditions of craftsmanship and quality in luxury goods would be re‐established. After a number of postponements the proposed Paris Exposition des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels eventually took place in 1925. Despite misgivings amongst the membership of SAD about the terms ‘modern’ and ‘industrial’ in the title of the 1925 Paris Exposition, its showing was impressive. Although SAD played a less central role than had been anticipated, its exhibit was subsidized by the state and took the form of a French Embassy with an impressive display of interiors designed by artistes‐décorateurs of the calibre of Maurice Dufrène, Paul Follot, Pierre Chareau, René Herbst, and André Groult. Despite considerable debate about the relationship between art and industry the Société's long‐standing commitment to the luxury end of the market resulted in considerable tensions between its more conservative members and others more sympathetic to modern design principles. This led to the establishment in 1929 of the ideologically opposed Union des Artistes Modernes, a body committed to design production and consumption that firmly embraced new materials, manufacturing technologies, and the realities of modern life. Acknowledging the significance of modern design, in 1930 SAD invited the Deutscher Werkbund (DWB) to exhibit in Paris. Amongst the DWB designers on show were Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, Herbert Bayer, and László Moholy‐Nagy. Although the SAD continued after the Second World War its position never regained the vitality and sense of purpose of its earlier years.


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