A viewing of the Art Deco 1910-1939 exhibition at the V & A was a visual delight with a whole range of decorative work that was brought together to reflect what has come under the generic umbrella of Art Deco.
To my view 1910 is rather an early start to lay claim to this title but it does allow for the display of the Smoker’s Cabinet from 78 Derngate (although the catalogue states that the piece was made for ‘Derngate House’). Certainly Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s (CRM) piece for Bassett-Lowke is a splendid ebonised wood with yellow Errno1d triangle inlay example of the furniture made for the hall-lounge and is in the early part of the exhibition. It is the only Mackintosh piece represented. (For those of you who are going to the V & A who might wish to see more of the 78 hall-lounge furniture given by Florence Bassett-Lowke, it is on display in the 20C Gallery and 20C Studio Gallery in the upper part of the museum. If you don’t know the V & A, there is also a splendid Frank Lloyd Wright room too).
For me, where the exhibition really came into its own was the coverage of the Paris 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et lndustriels Modernes and their recreation of the room for the modern art collector where they had hung Jean Dupas’ exotic Les Perruches. The following gallery also considered how the exotic materials such as ebony, ivory, sharkskin (particularly the sensuous chiffonier by Andre Groult) showed how luxurious and sensuous decorative art had become.
The vogue for ‘l’art negre’ was also a fascinating part of the Josephine Baker’s Danse Sauvage which transformed her into an icon for that period.
The exhibition moves into the Moderne with a range of materials including Clarice Cliff china and Cartier jewellery, and I particularly liked the Lalique Bakelite box too, though I found the genuine silver bed made for the Maharajah of Jodphur a little too fantastical for my taste.
Where the universality of Art Deco seems to really come into its own is through buildings. The part reconstruction of the Strand Place Hotel foyer 1930/1, is very striking and creates the atmosphere of the era (and just as well it was rescued from destruction by the V & A in 1969) and the final part of the exhibition that soars to the ceiling of the gallery to create the skyline of New York. Specifically the Chrysler building dominates here and which in turn is complimented with archive film of the liner Normandie and the dance routines from the Gay Divorce.
If I could take one thing home from the exhibition I’d have to admit it wouldn’t be one of the paintings, or decorative pieces, and although I am not ‘into’ cars, it would have to be the maroon 1935, 2 tonnes, supercharged Boat tail-speedstar (that’s if I couldn’t get the Chrysler tower into my pocket!)
First published in April 2003 In The Friends of 78 Derngate Newsletter Issue 23.
Author: Rob Kendall
Transcribed 2018: Barbara Floyer