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What are the origins and influences of Art Deco?

In the early 20th Century, a group of Parisian designers began to develop a new modern design style. Whilst some of these designers became well established during the Art Nouveau era, they looked to move away from that style’s curvaceous, nature inspired forms to develop something altogether more formal. This, of course, led to the creation of Art Deco.

A chair designed by the designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh
Charles Rennie Mackintosh Chair

Designers in Glasgow, like Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and Vienna heavily influenced the Parisian designers with their proto-modern furniture and interior creations. Other, slightly more indirect influences came from ancient Egypt, the orient, tribal Africa, classical antiquity, neoclassicism and the Mayans. These diverse influences help explain why the style is so eclectic and exotic in nature and it should be noted that these influences are not just limited to subject matter, they also include production techniques - the lacquering of furniture was originally mastered in the Far East for example.

Two ancient Egyptian influenced entrance to the Carreras Cigarette Factory guarded by two large statues of cats.
The Carreras Cigarette Factory

Ancient Egyptian influence is more obvious in British and American versions of Art Deco than Parisian. The architecture of the Carreras Cigarette Factory in Camden, North London with it's striking Ancient Egyptian influenced facade is a great example. The reason for the influence is partly down to the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb by Howard Carter in 1922 and the craze for Ancient Egypt that followed. In America it was the Mayans that had a particularly big influence on the style, while tribal African influences were more popular with Parisian designers.

Poster advertising the Ballet Russes in Paris featuring a female ballet dancer.
Poster for the Ballet Russes

Another major impact on Parisian Art Deco, which in turn influenced the style around the world, was the colourful stages and costumes of the Ballets Russes, but perhaps the greatest influence on Parisian Art Deco was from France itself, especially eighteenth-century Gallic styles. De Stijl, Futurism, Constructivism, Cubism the English Art and Crafts, the Bauhaus and even its predecessor Art Nouveau are all art movements that, to a greater or lesser extent, also had an influence on the development of the style and further adding to its eclectic nature.



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