Architectures : recueil publié sous la direction de Louis Süe & André Mare.  Plate 1. Paul Vera's stunning title page evokes the unity of the arts, Classicism, "things French" ....and Cubism. Smithsonian Libraries. f NA680 .S84 1921.

 

Art Deco: Cubism and Classical Tradition

If  c.1900 - 1914 the international avant-garde held sway over the cultural life of Paris, the period immediately following World War I -- often referred to as the "return to order" --  saw a renewal of French cultural values -- that is, "tradition" and, of course, "Classicism."  When these values in design were touched by the lingering spirit of the avant-garde, the result was one of the most successful and admired styles of the 20th century:  Art Deco. Architectures, the manifesto of the ensembliers, La Compagnie des Arts Francais (CAF), represents this phenomenon better than any other artifact of the period. Headed by Louis Süe, a classically trained architect, and André Mare, a Cubist painter, the CAF not only embodied that superb dichotomy of classical/ avant-garde, they were also committed to the concept of artistic unity: collaboration among artists in various media.

(l:) Broad, clean rectangles, squares, arches - evoke Classicism, but also abstraction and Cubism, especially when intensely and obliquely colored. (r:) Though the shell has been a ubiquitous element in Classical design since Antiquity, their “ribs” and stained glass effect recalls that most French of styles - the Gothic.

(l:) The Cubist-Classical nude is surrounded by signifiers of eighteenth-century French aristocratic life: a fan, devices that indicate gardening or pick-nicking, and of course, lots and lots of roses. (r:) The form and pattern of the upholstery draw upon designs from the great French styles of the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries, but the palette is totally “Cubist”.

In the collection of the Cooper-Hewitt Library, Architectures showcased this by including, alongside interior design projects illustrating the results of this alliance, works of art by some of the firm's associates, who ranked among the most important Cubist artists of the era. The most unique and exceptional component of the book is the Socratic-style dialogue by the great, French Symbolist poet and man of letters, Paul Valéry. Commissioned by Süe and Mare for Architectures, the story, Epaulinos ou l'architecte, which emphasizes the essential role of the architect in bringing ideal form and beauty into existence, provides a most French, most Classical, and most cutting-edge backdrop for the works to follow:  stunning renderings, melding the structure and color of Cubism with Classical geometry and traditional details; and carefully selected works of fine art -- a field in which France was the current world leader -- which, if by some of the most important avant-garde painters of the pre-war era, also celebrated "French-ness" as much as modernity. Architectures is available full text online.

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