Art deco Paris: You may well have sat behind a desk in your working life. But it’s unlikely that you’ve worked while seated at an Art Deco masterpiece of furniture. To do so these days (or to imagine doing so) you could visit the permanent Art Deco exhibit at Paris’s Museum of Decorative Arts. Here you’ll find a fascinating room dedicated to the celebration of 1930s Art Deco modernity. All its sharp edges, sleek surfaces, highly polished metals, luxurious lacquers, dramatic intersections of verticals and horizontals and a sweeping sense of movement.
Art Deco Paris
Hausmann’s nineteenth century Paris is definitely not the first city that comes to mind when you’re thinking about obvious Art Deco influences. Although you can still find the first and one of the few Art Deco buildings in Paris, the Theatre des Champs-Elysées, on the Avenue Montaigne in the First Arrondissement. But really, Paris is half a world away from the most exuberant Art Deco city, being Napier in New Zealand. It was re-built pretty much completely in the style after a massive earthquake in the early 1930s. Miami in Florida is also a contender for the Art Deco city crown.
Despite its defiantly un-Deco look, Paris can fairly claim to be the city that seriously launched the angular and streamlined Art Deco style into the public consciousness. In 1925, Paris hosted the World’s Fair Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes. That big mouthful of words was soon shortened to ‘Art Deco’ to encapsulate the expo’s dominant design and style.
1925 World Fair Paris
The expo was a massive seven-month, open-air affair, featuring a staggering 15,000 exhibitors and attracting 16 million visitors. And all this was long before the era of long-haul commercial air travel and mass tourism. Amazingly, the expo occupied a substantial continuous slice of prime Paris sites, from the Esplanade of Les Invalides across to the entrances of the Grand Palais and Petit Palais and along both banks of the Seine.
The manager’s desk that you can see today, designed by Michel Roux-Spitz, remains an astonishing expression of a challenging style that rejected the gentle sinuous and soft ‘organic’ tendrils of Art Nouveau. Instead, Art Deco embraced the materials and forms of the (then) modern industrial world across many artefacts and functions, from jewellery to locomotive engines.
A popular modernist saying of the time was that a house was a machine for living in. As we can see, this manager’s desk was a machine for working in. It is utterly functional and is stripped of any trifling decoration. Everything about the desk is dedicated to rationality and efficiency. But paradoxically, the desk is also an artefact of sheer beauty. It invites the viewer’s eye to run around every turn and detail. It is that rarest of objects: a machine that actually lifts our spirits.
You can visit the Museum of Decorative Arts in the west wing of the Palais du Louvre at 107 rue de Rivoli in the First Arrondissement of Paris.
By Brad Allan, writer and wine tasting host in Melbourne, Australia and frequent visitor to France…
Art deco buildings in Paris
If you’re a fan of art deco, there are some spectacular buildings in Paris to check out. It’s a style that was prevalent for buildings created for leisure activities – theatres, cinemas, swimming pools. The Grand Rex cinema is a great example with its fabulous facade and inside an trompe l’oeil starry sky ceiling. Le Luxor cinema is also a great example of Art Deco. The Palais de Tokyo, the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris and the Palais de Chaillot, Trocadero all have art deco architecture. And the Palais de la Porte Dorée, built for the 1931 International Exhibition now hosts exhibitions in its art deco halls.
More on art deco in France
Villa Cavrois – an art deco jewel in Hauts-de-France
La Piscine – the art deco swimming pool turned world class museum in Roubaix
Musée des Arts Decoratifs, Paris