Greco's Ghosts

Art. History. Culture.

Art Deco, Ol’ Sport?

I recently went to see the new film adaptation of The Great Gatsby, and despite the strange incorporation of contemporary music, including for some reason hip hop by Jay-Z and Kanye West, I give the movie two thumbs up. The point is – Art Deco! I’ve always enjoyed Baz Luhrmann’s movies because they are so artsy and visually stunning. Indeed, his movies are quite over the top with their whimsical color and motion, so you either love them or you hate them. Luhrmann is so dedicated to the culture in which his projects take place, which is fascinating to watch and rather like being physically transported to these places and times as you watch. His movies go all in. In Moulin Rouge it was bohemian Paris with absinthe inebriated night clubs, in The Great Gatsby it’s the Roaring Twenties and Art Deco.


Francis Cugat for Charles Scribner’s Sons, cover art for The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925.

I’ve actually never read The Great Gatsby. Most of us were forced to read these great American novels at one point or another during school, yet every English class I ever took assigned other great American novels. My only other familiarity with Gatsby had come from seeing the earlier film version starring Robert Redford. I hardly remembered anything from that movie either. It must have been on TV or something while my mom was ironing clothes some day when I was a kid sitting around the house. So this new Gatsby was a whole new experience for me, and its exemplary portrayal of everything Art Deco inspired me to post about the movement here on Blogistemology.

Robert Bonfils

Robert Bonfils for Imprimerie Vaugirard, Paris Exposition Internationale, color woodblock poster, 1925, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

What is Art Deco? It is a movement in fine art, architecture, design, and applied arts, that lasted from about the early 1920s until the 1940s, somewhat dissolving after World War II. It’s debatable when and where Art Deco’s true beginnings are, but one global main event of the 1920s seems to help explain it. The Paris Exposition Internationale of 1925 was one of the World’s Fairs, this one dedicated specifically to the display of modern and decorative arts. Entries into the Exposition were to embrace modernism in every way. Entries that looked too much like Art Nouveau or Bauhaus were denied. The fierce Art Deco attitude toward modernism was thus promoted here.

Tamara de Limpicka

Tamara de Limpicka, The Musician, 1929, oil on canvas, 116 x 73 cm, Barry Friedman Ltd., USA.

Art Deco’s characteristics were influenced by recent abstract movements such as cubism, futurism, and constructivism. These forms contained a strong geometric focus with shapes like lightning bolts, sun bursts, and chevrons which was probably a reaction against the curving, undulating forms dominating Art Nouveau. The uses of machinery and industry were embraced in the Art Deco movement, appreciating new technologies, materials, and the ability to mass produce forms. Art Deco’s style is also very streamlined, symmetrical, often overlapping, decorative, and can be either elegant or playful.

Chrysler Thunderbolt

Chrysler Thunderbolt, 1941, Collection of the Chrysler Group LLC, Photograph by Peter Harholdt, 2013.

Sir Edward Maufe

Sir Edward Maufe, Desk, 1925. Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

Art Deco architecture emphasizes surface decoration created in low relief, rhythmic patterns made of playful lines, and repeated geometric forms all of which are purely decorative and have no structural purpose. New York’s Empire State building and Chrysler building are both classic Art Deco structures.  Fashion, typography, furniture, and other mass produced designs showed likewise characteristics. One of my favorite parts of the new Great Gatsby movie was the afternoon tea party between Gatsby, Nick, and Daisy. If you’re still planning on going to see the film, watch for this part, in particular the stunning silver tea set that Nick carries out on a tray. Kudos to Baz Luhrmann for including (and zooming in on) this beautiful tea set and many more amazing Art Deco designs in his new movie! Wouldn’t you agree, ol’ sport?

Empire State exterior

Empire State Building, New York, NY.

Empire State interior

Empire State Building, New York, NY, detail of interior decoration.

Chrysler building

Chrysler building, New York, NY, detail of sunburst ornamentation at top spire.

May I Offer You a Drink, Ol’ Sport?

In the spirit of Gatsby and Art Deco, a drink pairing is suggested with this entry on Greco’s Ghosts.

The Bootlegger

  • 1 part whiskey
  • 1 part Southern Comfort peach
  • 1 part Sambuca
  • Serve over ice in an old fashioned glass

As you sip on your Bootlegger, imagine being part of a flashy, flapper culture with glamorous, exuberant parties, noisy, smoking machines, and streamlined steam engines. Cheers!

George Lepape, Vogue

George Lepape, fashion illustration for Vogue magazine, 1927.

Alice Joyce

Actress Alice Joyce, photographed 1926, in Art Deco fashion or “flapper” garb.

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