NEW YORK — The Art Deco style is admired and widely collected in its many forms, but Art Deco expert Alastair Duncan, formerly of Christie’s and a respected author on the subject of Art Deco, says that the ivory ban in the United States has limited the trading of some Deco items, many of which were inlaid with ivory. Asked about the most desirable forms of Art Deco, he said Lalique glass, jewelry, furniture and graphic arts rank high on his and others’ lists.
“Lalique is very popular but my first choice would be furniture,” Duncan said, noting the furniture with marquetry is especially prized. “There is also a very large collector base for the top jewelry.”
Among Art Deco jewelry, top designers include Cartier, Tiffany & Co. and Buccellati. Most pieces are made of white gold or platinum (yellow gold was out of vogue in this era), and diamonds used were old European cut. Geometric banding was common and the pieces had an industrial feel.
The highest price for Art Deco on record in LiveAuctioneers’ database was for a natural fancy blue diamond ring, featuring a 3.5 carat marquise-cut stone, which sold at Heritage Auctions on April 2013 for $1,400,000. Other significant pieces included a Cartier Art Deco Colombian 4-carat emerald-and-diamond bracelet (shown at top) for $190,000 in April 2018 at Fortuna Auction.
Cartier was a big name in Art Deco luxury goods. For example, a Cartier 18K solid gold Art Deco desk set, 1930s, earned $76,000 in December 2017 at Vogt Galleries in Texas. Also, a Cartier, Paris, enameled gold and agate table box in an unusual large size sold in December 2016 for $60,000 at Rago’s Arts & Auction Center.
Also in metalware, silver was popular during this time. Standouts include a rare French Art Deco silver and silver-gilt dinner service in the Biarritz pattern, by Jean E. Puiforcat, Paris, 1925-1947, one of which realized $42,000 in November 2014 at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers.
Art Deco sculptures for the home are also highly collectible. Demetre Chiparus (Romanian/French, 1886-1947) was a renowned sculptor whose works are synonymous with Deco. Reflecting elegance in every line, his sculptures of the 1920s often depicted tall, slim Russian ballerinas and theatrical figures. A major price was paid for one of his bronze sculpture, The Split Skirt. It was signed and numbered #1, stood 21 inches tall, and brought $235,000 in August 2015 at Miami Auction Gallery. In the same sale, Chiparus’ Thais, earned $185,000.
Leading furniture designers in the Deco period included Louis Majorelle, Jean Dunand, Paul Follot, Emile-jacques Ruhlmann and Eileen Gray. Polished and often lacquered to a high sheen, Art Deco furniture pieces were usually constructed of ebony, burled walnut, ash or maple with exotic woods used for the veneer. The pieces were inlaid with ivory, mother-of-pearl or brass; while shagreen and other animal hides were popular materials used in the finishing. Owing to the laborious process of lacquering furniture, pieces were expensive to make and the international market was hard to maintain.
Majorelle’s work spanned the Art Nouveau and Deco periods, moving from floral designs to symmetrical pieces having geometric forms. Ruhlmann was known for designing simple furniture pieces with sumptuous decoration, as well as ornately patterned rugs and bright textiles. Renowned for his lacquered pieces, Dunand made works that are boldly decorated with organic and geometric motifs as well as stylized animals and fish. Dunand is also known for his lacquered vases and jewelry.
Aside from ocean liners, Art Deco style also ruled the open road. In the mid 1930s, Art Deco evolved into what was known as Streamline Moderne (or Art Moderne), which brought a very sleek, bullet-like shape to the design of autos and trains. Notable examples included the 1934 Chrysler Airflow, the 1936 Bugatti Atlantic, one of which sold in 2009 for around $40 million; and the 1934 Pioneer Zephyr locomotive train.
Deco posters are highly collectible and coveted for their graphics. Their style is instantly recognizable for the use of bold colors and typography. If Alphonse Mucha was the king of Art Nouveau illustration — and there can be no question but that he was — then A.M. Cassandre (the pen name of Adolphe Mouron) ruled over Art Deco posters and illustrations. Cassandre created iconic travel posters marketing the S.S. Normandie ocean liner and the Nord Express train, as well as compelling images of food and drink, pi Volo Apertif and Dubonnet to name but two. His masterful and stylized artwork captured all the glamour of travel or the product being advertised.
The sleek look of Art Deco design across a swath of items from jewelry and fashion to silver to posters rebelled against the organic traditions of Art Nouveau and ushered in the Machine Age. Appealing to sophisticated tastes, Art Deco conveyed modernity, power, speed and technology while highlighting the sumptuous quality of luxury goods.
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