It was a wet and blustery day for our visit, so we were relieved to reach the shelter of the Sainsbury Centre, Norwich. A quick coffee, then we joined the 12 pm guided tour of the Art Deco By the Sea exhibition. Our guide was so knowledgeable and dedicated, almost losing her voice but she valiantly soldiered on. She was quite happy for us to dip in and out of the tour as we walked round.
There was something for everyone really…. paintings, furniture, pottery and textiles, all beautifully staged and curated.
We were given a brief history of the Art Deco movement …I knew roughly when the Art Deco era was …post WW1, but not very much about its origins and reasons for its rise in popular culture.
In America, following the Great Depression there was a need to boost the morale of the people, and in Europe, people were recovering from the aftermath of WW1.
The Art Deco look arrived in California and Florida in the latter part of the 1920’s with the film industry and its stars wanting to display their wealth in sumptuous stylish homes with a new look. …. people loved the clean lines and curves, and apartment blocks, cinemas and lidos sprung up. The designs were very varied, inspiration often taken from ancient Egypt, Aztec, Mayan and Colombian cultures. Modern forms of transport also featured in designs. Hotels mirroring the ocean liner style, both internally and externally, were very popular designs.
The Art Deco style is not a single form, but a mix of styles. I think we are more familiar with railway poster styles and the glamorous fashion images by Erte. Cubist and modernist influences were also strong in some Art Deco design. The style, being so varied in its nature, found it’s way into fine art, architecture, fashion and furniture, and many manufacturing industries.
In Europe, Art Deco emerged during an exhibition held in Paris in 1925, and developed into a major style in Western Europe in the 1930’s. Post WW1 Britain was also in need of a boost to the economy and there was a move to open up tourism to the masses by train travel, and revive the flailing fortunes of seaside towns ….big train companies commissioned artists to produce vibrant posters portraying seaside resorts such as Morecombe and Blackpool in all their glory …. highlighting their fun and leisure activities …. others, the sunshine and beaches of the South.
These colourful and dynamic posters, no doubt enticed people living in the big industrial cities to head for the coast or more rural locations for their hard-earned holidays.
The Art Deco era was short but left an indelible mark on western culture, and we certainly left the exhibition with a more profound understanding of this iconic style of the last century. The exhibition is on till the 14th June so there plenty of time for you to visit….in better weather, I hope!