Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Lionel Barrymore Takes The Devil's Doll to the Art Deco Exposition-


April 28, 1878 – Lionel Barrymore, American stage and screen icon, was born. He was the elder brother of Ethel and John Barrymore, the uncle of John Drew Barrymore, and the granduncle (or great-uncle) of Drew Barrymore. If all you know about him is that he played Old Man Potter in 'It's a Wonderful Life', you need to hie yourself to Netflix or, better yet, your local independent video store, as quickly as possible.

Yes- now. Go on, we'll wait.

April 28, 1925: The Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (from which the phrase Art Deco was coined) opens in Paris. It would run all summer, closing in October, and the world would never be the same.

I'm going to quote for a moment from an excellent essay on the Fair, its history and influences, from World's Fair magazine, Volume VIII, Number 3, 1988-

"To some extent, Art Deco was a movement very much in the spirit of art nouveau. Both forms rejected the decorative vocabularies of the past, with their inevitable longings for classical motifs, themes, and proportions. Both were essentially surface arts, reflecting John Ruskin's earlier pronouncement that ornamentation is the principal part of architecture. But since the dawn of the twentieth century, there were three new influences that exerted themselves on the imagination of artists and craftsmen alike: Cubism in painting, colonial art from the French colonies, and the Bauhaus movement in architecture. Each of these influences could be seen clearly in the architecture and exhibits of the 1925 exposition.

"Art nouveau had favored a kind of sinuous grace in its lines – the grace of draped vines, or of the languid movements of exotic dancers. The Cubism of Braque, Gris, and Picasso, though, heralded a new taste for abrupt angularity. Translated in to the decorative arts of furniture, clothing, and architecture, this abruptness was smoothed into a sleekness of line that we now call streamlined. "All that clearly distinguished the older ways of life was rigorously excluded from the exposition of 1925," wrote Waldemar George. The new style would be aggressively modern, taking its lead from the avant-garde in the other arts in expressing a new spirit of the age.

"The art and artifacts of black Africa, collected by connoisseurs since the opening years of the century, were also seen as sources of a kind of primitive, muscular vitality that was unavailable either to the traditional decorative modes or to the languid lines of art nouveau. Many of the highly stylized and brilliantly colored fabric designs of Art Deco owe their existence to French designers' admiration for, and translation of, African fabrics and masks. The 1925 exposition marks a real turning point with regard to the French feeling towards the colonial peoples. African fabrics, once seen as quaint productions of a retarded people, were now energetically incorporated into the Art Deco style, which seemed to fit well with the angular energy of "primitive" art. Paralleling the fascination with African crafts and art was the mania for Josephine Baker and her Revue Nègre, which took Paris by storm in the 1920s. The enthusiasm with which the French embraced these two manifestations of black culture is, in one respect, a carryover of the thirst for the exotic that has marked French society for centuries. But, on higher level, the French acceptance of black culture marks a turning point in the acceptance of the society and mores of a people whom she once felt were backward and benighted. Art Deco is the clearest sign of a measure, not just of tolerance, but acceptance of the value of other cultures..."

You can read a LOT more about the Exposition, and see many vintage images of it, here.


"Der Neue Stil in Frankreich"
[Cover title: Der Moderne Stil in Frankreich]

By Henry Van de Velde.
Published in Berlin by Verlag Ernst Wasmuth: 1925.

A wonderful survey of Art Deco design in France, chosen by one of the leading architects and designers of the era. Van de Velde writes an introduction (in German) and then 64 plates present the work of Legrain, Jeanneret, Puiforcat, and dozens of others, in furniture, silver, glassware, lighting, interiors, architecture, and even hair styles and a motorcar.



Lionel Barrymore, 1936:

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