19 July 2010

Therese Bonney: Advancing Modern Design

The French call them Les Annees Folles - the 'Crazy Years' and I think the French got it right. The years between the two world wars were heady years for designers of everything. The official name of the 1925 World's Fair held in Paris paid tribute through its official name Exposition des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes, but it was the 'discovery' of Art Deco design that people remembered.
The fair had been postponed from 1914, because of war's outbreak and the French were eager to reassert their preeminence as the world's arbiter of taste. And if post-war prosperity made it possible to shop freely, the designers and department stores of Paris were ready their with pavilions, each more dazzling than the last. The pavilion of the designer Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann (above) competed for attention with Lalique's Crystal Tower, the department stores Au Printemps and Galeries Lafayette, and in what may have been a marketing first - the Louvre.
American expatriate Therese Bonney covered the exhibition for her design photo service - a busman's holiday considering how many of her friends had works on display. It may be that the success of the Exposition inspired her to write guidebooks on the decorative arts, furniture, and shopping in Paris (1929). It did lead to her commission artists to design a line of wallpapers for sale: Edward Steichen, John Held, Jr., and Raoul Dufy.
As she often did, Bonney may have been wearing clothes by Sonia Delaunay, a Russian emigre who designed for private clients, when she strolled the fairgrounds. If she did, she would attracted attention; Delaunay's self-designed textiles that she began marketing in 1923 were a wearable version of the Orphism that she and her husband, Robert, had introduced around 1911.
The Irish architect Eileen Gray (1878-1976) was in the process of settling in France and, like Robert Mallet-Stevens, whose work we've seen through Bonney's photos, her furniture was sleek and made up with ingenuity what it lacked in ornament. Her bureau with drawers that pivot is as linear as the green and white armchair by Mallet-Stevens, a type of furniture that appealed strongly to Bonney's modernist aesthetic.

The zebra print chaise lounge was designed by Pierre Legrain (1888-1929), whose career was cut cruelly short, for a hotel at Neuilly-sur-Seine. What appears to be an asymmetrical dark arm at one side is actually a clever holder for magazines.

In the playful designs of Swiss-born Jean Dunand (1887-1942) we see abstraction and representation combined during a heady time of experimentation. Considered the greatest lacquer artist in the Art Deco style, Dunand, worked in a variety a media. It may be a legacy of the Nabi movement that the French were less zeaouls at patrolling the boundaries between the fine arts and the applied.

1. Photograph of the Ruhlmann Pavilion at the Exposition, 1925, French Ministry of Culture.
2. Raoul Dufy - The Tennis Party, fabric design, 1925, Art Institute of c.
3. Raoul Dufy - Seashell Vase, 1925, National Museum of Ceramics, Sveres, France.
4. Jean Despres - Silver Bowl, Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris.
5. Sonia Delaunay - Chevron fabric design, 1920s, Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris.
6. Sonia Delaunay - Red and black fabric design, 1920s, Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris.
7. Eileen Gray - Pivot Bureau, 1927, Pompidou Center, Paris.
8. Robert Mallet-Stevens - armchair, 1923, Pompidou Center, Paris.
9. Pierre Legrain - chaise lounge, 1925, Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris.
10. Jean Dunand - bowl, 1920, from Marcilhac, 1991, Editions de l'Amatuer, Paris.
11. Jean Dunand - Dancers and Musicians, c. 1924, from Marcilhac, 1991, Editions de l'Amateurs, Paris.


Neil said...

It's interesting that in the 1920s Sonia Delaunay wanted to transfer her fine art aesthetics into fabric designs and dress designs - and fellow-artists such as Raoul Dufy were also enthused by the idea of mixing fine art and fashion. But by the 1960s, when fashion designers used op-art motifs in their work, Bridget Riley was outraged.

Kristin Hjellegjerde said...

Wonderful article. Here in New York, Upper West side it has a lot of very exciting Art Deco apartments with well kept details:)

Jane said...

If I remember accurately, the catalogue to the Sonia Delaunay exhibition at the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo said that the Delaunay family's finances were poor when they returned to Paris in 1921. Money may not have been her only motivation but it's sometimes a spur to creativity. The information about Bridget Riley is new to me; my guess is that she may have been reacting to the excesses of post-war prosperity?

Jane said...

Kristin, we're lucky that there was a vogue for apartment living among the middle class. We can still enjoy the buildings. How much more appealing than the houses of no particular style of today. On a personal note, though it's not quite Deco, mr grandfather worked on the construction of the Woolworth building. There's an article about that here that you might be interested in.