American Moderne or French Art Deco: Who Did It Best?

Art has helped to shape the world for thousands of years. From the Renaissance to the Absurdist art that is making a resurgence today, there are thousands of recognizable works that have influenced our world. Of these many movements, Art Deco is one that has stood the test of time. This design began in France, and America quickly followed with its own spin on the movement.

Though Art Deco is sometimes used as a blanket term, French Art Deco and American Art Deco, more often called American Moderne, differ greatly in many ways. Their history, differences in inspirations and influences, influential artists, and resulting famous works make French and American designs seem only loosely related. However, art enthusiasts will find similarities that speak to the times during which this art was created.

The History of the Movement

The early 20th century was a time of change and turbulence. With World War I from 1914 to 1918 and World War II from 1939 to 1945, the first few decades gave the 20th century a rocky start. Art Deco design style emerged during a period between these two wars, which gives it its unique characteristics and interesting background.

French Art Deco

Making its emergence in France in 1925, Art Deco design gave the period a fresh look. The style was first unveiled at Paris Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels. This exposition, which was akin to the World’s Fair, but for furnishings and design, quickly popularized Art Deco. After the Paris exhibition, Art Deco design seemed to flow into every facet of life. From artwork to architecture, this stunning style defined an era in France.

American Moderne From the mid-1920s until the 1940s, the American Moderne style spread across the US, but was most prominent in urban and industrial areas. When the war was over, Americans had more time and money to devote to the development of new products, art, and buildings. This first big art style after the war shaped the country for decades and is still a popular design style today.

Inspiration and Influences

The vastly different design between American Moderne and French Art Deco are a result of influential differences between the two countries and their artists. With two very different inspirations, the French and American movements resemble each other, but their different influences are abundantly clear.

French Art Deco

While there isn’t a designated French Art Deco “look,” most of the designs have the same sources of inspiration. Nature, flowers, exoticism, and romanticized versions of everyday life are prominent in the movement.

French Art Deco pulled elements from different eras and styles to create its unique look. In many pieces, influences from Greek and Roman cultures, as well as Egyptian and Asian works, can be seen. This style also pulled from Art Nouveau and Jugendstil, which were popular movements just before Art Deco design made its debut.

The focus on shapes, both curved and straight, and textures, like leather, wood, and lacquered finishes, help to give Art Deco furniture and other works their distinct and beautiful style. Many French designs were custom made and signed by the artist, which makes owning a piece from this period truly special.

American Moderne

Though influenced by French design, American Art Deco, or American Moderne, stands out from the shapeliness and exotic nature of French works. American Moderne, also called Modernist, focused on what was popular in America at the time, which was industrialization.

The biggest influence on American Moderne was the idea of aerodynamics and streamlining across industries in America. At the time, buildings, ships, and even automobiles were ditching their ornate surfaces for a more simplified look.

This desire toward precise creations in the industrial world transcended, quite beautifully, into the artistic realm. American Moderne pieces are bolder than their French counterparts, using materials like metals, highly contrasting colors, like white and black, and fabrics.

Artists of the Movement

Every artistic movement has visionaries who create unique works and skyrocket the popularity of their style. Both France and America have their fair share of key players, each working to turn their artistic dreams into a reality. Whether they created artwork, furniture, or buildings, these designers have left behind beautiful creations that people still marvel at today.

French Art Deco

Visual designer Romain de Tirtoff, who used the pseudonym Erte, created beautiful figurative sculptures and works on paper. His original works are highly sought after today and fit seamlessly into nearly any design space.

Another famous French artist, Rene Lalique, created incredible, intricate glassworks. From perfume bottles to large décor items, Lalique remains one of the most popular names in glassworks.

Jean Dunand is known for his gorgeous lacquered works. His pieces ranged from vases to furnishings. The fragile nature of his work and its unique beauty have made owning a Jean Dunand a true statement of luxury.

Furniture and interior designer Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann, sometimes called Jacques-Emile, designed large furnishings such as vanities, chairs, and tables. His unique combination of curved and straight lines and his use of rich wood and luxurious fabrics make all Emile-Jacques’ pieces timeless classics.

Jules Leleu designed furniture with subtly curved lines, exotic woods, and intricate inlayed designs and florals.

Edgar Brandt was an expert metal worker responsible for iconic room screens and dividers, as well as stylish and often amusing lamps sometimes based on birds and reptiles.

Max Le Verrier is best known as the creator of small female nude sculptures and decorative objects, often with verdigris patina, and as often incorporating a moon motif. These are highly sought after, and not to be confused with the mass produced knockoff molded “greenies” by Frankart.

American Moderne Paul Frankl may be the most well-known American Moderne designer. After emigrating from Austria, his unique early style, known as “skyscraper,” is seen in his furniture, architecture, and paintings. In his mid-career “aerodynamic” style, he also has many pieces that combined unique curved shapes and straight lines that art enthusiasts covet to this day. Eventually his innovative work evolved into a leading mid-century modern style.

Designer Norman Bel Geddes created many famous works, but he is most recognized for his designs in his thematic section called Futurama for Ford Motor Company. His futuristic foreshadowing, teardrop-shaped works, and unique approach to the design of everyday objects have made Norman Bel Geddes an American Moderne legend.

American-born designer Henry Dreyfuss brought the American Moderne style into the homes of many Americans with his overhaul of household objects. His redesign of vacuums, fans, telephones, cameras, and so much more changed the look of the period and create pieces that art enthusiasts still wish to display in their homes.

German émigré KEM (Karl Emanuel Martin) Weber, designed several groundbreaking American designs, including the original Walt Disney Studios, tubular chrome and fabric armchairs and sofas, and the “airline” chair which was first ever furniture meant to be carried home in a flat box and assembled by the consumer.

Donald Deskey, after visiting the 1925 Paris Exposition, designed furniture, screens, and objects heavily influenced by the graphic elements he saw – geometric ornamentation, massive curved lines – but lacking access to France’s luxury wood, skins, and leathers, Donald Deskey’s work relied on shape and line for its impact. His style evolved into use of more industrial materials – metal and glass - and became starkly modern and unadorned.

Different Styles, Shared Beauty

Though French Art Deco and American Moderne differ in many ways, their common thread is the unique beauty of their designs. This beauty is what drives art and interior design enthusiasts from around the world to search for pieces of Art Deco history to complete their home interior.

At Iconic Snob Galeries, luxurious pieces from both the French Art Deco and American Moderne styles can be found among their curated collections. Whether looking for Art Deco furniture or an American Moderne sculpture, the experts at Iconic Snob Galeries have traveled the world, collecting beautiful, original works that any art lover would be proud to have as part of their collection

Iconic Snob Galeries 

2800 South Dixie Highway

West Palm Beach, Florida 33405


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