Art Deco was essentially an arts and crafts movement, and didn't attract a lot of painters into its fold, or they aligned themselves with other modernist movements which we give different names to, such as cubism, fauvism and so on. Even then in the twenties and thirties the term 'Art Deco' didn't exist, it having been coined in the late 1960's by art critic Bevis Hillier. When it was new they would probably have termed it the 'modern style or something similar.
There were painters of course who stood out at the time as having the not completely ignoble ambition of making work that entertained and was beautiful to look at. The two painter decorators of the twenties and thirties who are usually named as the epitome of the Deco style are Tamara de Lempika (1898 - 1980) and Jean Dupas (1882 - 1964). Their work has been re-evaluated since the 1970's and has risen in popularity ever since.
|Tamara de Lempicka. Portrait of the Marquis d Afflito. 1925|
Born Tamara Gorska she came from a wealthy Polish family and married a Russian lawyer named Tadeusz Lempitzski. Together they were forced to escape Russia at the revolution and found themselves, living on little money in Paris. Although expecting her first child, she split from Lempitzski, and decided to support herself and her daughter by making use of one of those skills that the women of the upper middle class were always taught - painting. She took lessons from André Lhote for a short time, whose new style of cubism - so called 'synthetic cubism' she developed for her own ends. But she is really the last of the 'Neo classicists', creating figures that are hard edged, marble smooth, and often muted in colour. Not for nothing did one critic (rather unkindly) term her 'a perverse Ingres of the machine age'.
|Tamara de Lempicka. A second portrait of the Marquis d Afflito, looking strangely like movie actor Peter Lorre!|
For a long time I knew only the bare bones of the career of Jean Dupas, that of a painter and designer, in fact even now I have never seen a photograph of him either in a book or on a website. However thanks to the Stephen Ongpin Auction rooms website, I now know a little more. They state (in their small biography of Dupas) that Dupas was the son of a merchant marine captain and first worked as a merchant seaman, but due to illness had to give up this career, and decided to go into painting and design. In this he is similar to Lempicka, who due to difficulties with the life she had mapped out for herself decided to make use of her latent skills as an artist.
|An old photograph of the tea rooms on board the SS Ille de France. I had seen this photo some time ago, but have never seen a modern image of this painting. I wonder if it still exists, or is it hidden away in a private collection.|
This appeared as a set piece in the Grande Salon of the 'Hôtel d'un collectionneur' at the Exposition des Arts Décoratifs in Paris in 1925, the very exposition from which Art Deco derives its name. From then he followed the usual path of designers, working on advertisements, posters, magazine art and private commissions. He worked for Harpers Bazaar, and Vogue magazine, and on a series of posters for London Transport, depicting various leisure activities in London.
|Jean Dupas. Detail of the glass frieze decoration onboard the ocean liner SS Normandie.|
For this ship he designed his most famous work, a huge glass frieze entitled 'The History of Sail' which can now be seen in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Lempicka and Dupas shared many traits of style and approach, and are classicists at heart. If she was the Ingres of the machine age, then surely he was its David.
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