ART DECO: 1910-1939

Sonali Sitaram

ART 335

Book Review


Art Deco:1910-1939. By Charlotte Benton, Tim Benton, and Ghislaine Wood. (Victoria & Albert Museum, 2015).


The term ‘Art Deco’ covers a style applied to design, architecture, and visual arts during the 1920s and 1930s. This new style originally appeared in France before the first World War. Art pieces and objects created during this movement were considered luxurious, glamorous, and encouraged technological processes. ‘Art Deco: 1910- 1939’ combines images from this time period and works influenced by this, as well as essays and critiques from this period. It was created and edited by Charlotte Benton, Tim Benton, and Ghislaine Wood. All three authors are considered art historians, whose expertise range from teaching to curating Art Deco exhibitions. The text is broken up into sections, discussing topics from the 1925 Paris Exhibition to Iconography, and finishing with how the Art Deco movement influenced many artists and pieces not only in Europe, but around the world.

Unlike traditional textbooks, this book refrains from spitting information in one tone, as many points of view and different historians give their take on this style. Though each passage and even section has its unique information given, it may not be something to smoothly read from one section to another. Each individual essay gives the reader a taste of the Art Deco period. As you begin to wrap your head around one idea or element, it will jump to the next topic and begin a new idea or segment. Architecture still around today is heavily influenced by this period, such as the Chrysler Building and Grand Rex movie theater in Paris. Gustav Klimt was a renown artist during this period. His painting subjects, as well as others during this period centered around woman. They also portrayed women in a less conservative manner. These works began to stray from linear pattern, and focused on curvatures, making the curves the subject of the composition- also shown by using the woman’s hair to map the structure of the piece. Klimt’s ‘Golden Age’ pieces were an innovation in themselves, using gold ink to make up majority of the canvas. One could open to a page comparing the influence on architecture by a historian, and on the very next page dive into an in depth discussion of Klimt’s Golden Age paintings by an art critic. Because the topics cover overall mediums and areas that Art Deco influenced are scattered, it may be confusing to follow along for someone who is searching just to get an overview of this period.

Art Deco: 1910-1939 also gives its information in chronological order. From when it first came about in France, to its influence it left behind, we see the evolution of thoughts and ideas still used in architecture and artworks today. As discussed earlier, women during this period become some of the primary subjects of these works, and even in magazines today it is not uncommon for woman to be portrayed in a less conservative manner. Now, we mainly see Art Deco’s style in furniture, apart from fine artwork and architecture. Its influence is commonly seen on household items, such as glamorous mirrors with gold borders, or chairs and tables designed to stand with geometric patterns. Articles are referenced amongst each other, relating to back  to previous topics as the book progresses. For example; viewing gold work now, geometric patterns and the use of feminine pattern. Comparing different throughout history and being able to visually see what is being covered allows the viewer to join and connect to discussions.

Overall, this book is enjoyable to read, but the name is misleading. Many students don’t enjoy art history textbooks because it’s dense information doesn’t hold their attention. Pictures in this book are large and clear, which allows the reader to have a stronger connection to the information given. Clarity and size of pictures make it a more interesting read, as the reader is able to visualize and connect to the passages. The various essays introduce a unique way to discuss information, and communicate with the reader. However, for those looking for a quick overview of this period, this is probably not the best book. The name itself Art Deco: 1910-1939 is misleading because of its broad name. The title gives the assumption that it covers generally everything related in this time period. The Benton’s and Wood go in depth to discuss each individual piece or medium. Unless one is interested in external opinions and critiques of this period, they may not get the information they are looking for. From reading about Klimt to discussing the influence on everyday items that followed, this book reviews how Art Deco touched many mediums and spread throughout time through various points of view.



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