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Art Deco
(1920s - 1930s)

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Art Deco was an innovative design style popular in the 1920s and 1930s that took over from Art Nouveau.  

It was used primarily in furniture, jewellery, textiles, ceramics, and interior design.  Its sleek, streamlined forms conveyed elegance and sophistication.  

Although the style took shape in the 1920s, the term Art Deco was not applied to it until 1925, when it was recognized as a result of the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, the seminal design exhibition that was held in Paris. 

  • France 1925.  Sheet of 7 stamps issued for the International Stamp Exhibition "Le Pavillon d'un Collectioneur", issued at the occasion of the International Exhibition of Decorative Arts in Paris. Below are shown three individual stamps from the sheet. 

France 1925. Art Deco. Sheet of seve stamps issued for the International Stamp Exhibition.

France 1925. Art Deco. La Lumiere. France 1925. Art Deco. Poterie. France 1925. Art Deco. Architecture.

Art Deco developed both as a reaction against the elaborate and sinuous turn-of-the-century Art Nouveau style and as a new aesthetic that celebrated the machine age, which was gathering momentum.  Its central characteristics are clean lines and sharp edges, stylishness and symmetry.  Bright primary colours, the use of chrome, enamel, and highly polished stone, and references to ancient Egyptian and Greek design are also associated with the style.  The finest Art Deco designs were not generally mass-produced; however, its inherent simplicity made it adaptable to the mass production of less refined objects such as cheap jewellery, tableware, and household items. 

Of particular philatelic interest for the Art Deco art style is the French engraver Abel Mignon, whom the French magazine Relais No. 91 (September 2005) honoured with an an extensive article. Click on any of the thumbnails below to read the article (in French only). 

Art Deco. Article about Abel Mignon, page 1 (in French). Art Deco. Article about Abel Mignon, page 2 (in French). Art Deco. Article about Abel Mignon, page 3 (in French). Art Deco. Article about Abel Mignon, page 4 (in French).

Art Deco became more geometric and linear as objects were increasingly mass produced and as the United States supplanted France as the spiritual centre of the movement.  In America, the style found expression in objects as diverse as locomotives, skyscrapers, roadside diners, radio cabinets, jukeboxes, and advertising displays.  

In France notable examples of Art Deco in architecture were Ruhlmann's Paris exhibition rooms Le Pavillon d'un Collectioneur at the exhibition of 1925 (see the stamps at the top of this page) and the grand salon (c. 1930) of the French liner Normandie, with lighting and décor by Lalique. 

In Britain, a well known example of Art Deco architecture and design is the Hoover factory in Perivale, West London, designed by Wallis Gilbert and Partners in 1932. 

Of primary interest in The United States is the interior of Radio City Music Hall (1931) in New York, designed by Donald Deskey; and William van Alen's Chrysler Building (1930, New York), with its sleek aluminium-banded façades and arched and pointed spire, see the below stamp from USA 2005. 

  • Poster of the French liner "Normandie". 

Art Deco. Poster of the French Liner "Normandie".

USA 2005. Art Deco. Masterpieces of American Architecture. William van Alen. Chrysler Building.

The Chrysler Building in New York is frequently praised as the greatest art deco skyscraper; its distinctive peak is a symbol of the jazz age. Since its completion in 1930, it has remained one of the most recognizable elements in the Manhattan skyline. 

William Van Alen's design incorporated many references to Chrysler automobiles. Photographed by the late Margaret Bourke-White. 

  • USA 2005.  Stamp from the sheet "Masterpieces of American Architecture", depicting the spire of the Chrysler Building. Click here to see an image of the full sheet. The link will open in a new window. The stamp is located in the top row, No. 2 from left. 

Also in New Zealand Art Deco has found its explicit expression in many cities.  In 1999 New Zealand issued a set of four stamps showing Art Nouveau architecture in Auckland, Napier, Hastings, and Westport.   
New Zealand 1999. Art Deco. Stamp #1. New Zealand 1999. Art Deco. Stamp #2. New Zealand 1999. Art Deco. Stamp #3. New Zealand 1999. Art Deco. Stamp #4.

Art Deco declined after 1935 but enjoyed a revival in the 1960s and 1970s, particularly in the US, where numerous illustrations appeared in books and magazines.  A philatelic example is the below stamp depicting Ayn Rand.  In 1999 the United States added to its Literary Arts stamp series the novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand, the author of We The Living (1936), Anthem (1938), The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957). Born Alissa Rosenbaum in St. Petersburg, Russia, Ayn Rand came to the United States in 1926 at the age of 21, and later became a U.S. citizen.  

USA 1999. Art Deco. Ayn Rand. Novellist and Philosopher. First Day Cover. USA 1999. Art Deco. Ayn Rand. Novellist and Philosopher. Portrait.

Ayn Rand believed that a productive society is the result of individual freedom and effort. Her philosophy about Objectivism influenced all of her books and made her a controversial, but respected author.  Ayn Rand was known as an ardent stamp collector since the age of 10. The Ayn Rand stamp issue is an elusive example of "modern" Art Nouveau. 

Sources and acknowledgements:

Below is a listing of leading artists (not necessarily represented on stamps) from the Art Deco period. None of the artists have appeared on stamps. 

  • René Lalique (French glassmaker) 

  • Raymond Hood (American architect)

  • Jean Dupas (French designer)

  • William van Alen (American architect) *

  • Paul Manship (American Sculptor)

  • Erte (Russian-French painter and designer) 

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