21 September 2011

Lord & Taylor Does Deco

In 1928 when the Fifth Avenue department store Lord & Taylor mounted an in-store art exhibition, the name of the style Art Deco was still decades in the future. An Exposition of Modern French Decorative Art was organized by the store’s canny Fashion Director,  Dorothy Shaver. and constructed by architectural designer Eli Jacques Khan. Two months later rival R.H. Macy’s debuted its own exhibition of the latest decorative arts from France.

In the triumphalist version of history, Paris introduced Art Deco to the world in 1925 at its Exposition internationale des arts d√©coratifs et industriels modernes.  No matter that style in the decorative arts had been evolving quickly with new scientific and industrial developments.  No mention of simmering French pique at the success of Jugendstil design in the pre-war years.  In the wake of the "war to end all wars", it would seemed blasphemous to dwell on the years the French had put into planning their reassertion of dominance in the design world.
Dorothy Shaver (1893-1959) knew something the captains of American industry had missed, which may be why she went on to be the first woman to preside over a multi-million dollar corporation.  The United States had declined to participate in the 1925 World's fair in Paris because, according to Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes, American manufacturers were not interested in a fair devoted to modern design.   Official indifference meant nothing to the thousands of Americans tourists who attended, even in those days before commercial air travel.  American journalists sent back glowing reports from the Fair, full of exciting words like sleek, elegant, and streamlined. 

What Shaver did was to connect the dots in an imaginative way.  Parisian department stores had pioneered studio boutiques for artists, like Atelier Primavera for the Prentemps department store.  The Au Bom Marche store's pavillon at the Paris World's Fair, designed by Louis-Hippolyte Boileau, showed the new style's exciting applications for architecture.  Edgar Brandt's ironwork soon showed up on New York City buildings such as the Madison-Belmont and Rockefeller Center, constructed from 1931.  The Metropolitan Museum and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts mounted exhibitions in response to Paris in 1926, it's true.  But the Met had been encouraging modern American design with periodic exhibitions, to modest public attention.  Shaver had an eye for artists, too.  Her exhibition featured paintings by Braque, Picasso, Derain, and Utrillo.  Two years after Shaver's exhibition,  the Chrysler Building opened in midtown Manhattan, and a year after that ground was broken for Rockefeller Center.

1. Fernand Legeer - poster for Lord & Taylor, 1928, Museum fo the City of New Ork.
2. Sigurd Fischer - a room for Lord & Taylor designed by Eli Jacques Khan, Museum of the City of New York.
3. Horace Taylor - poster for the Royal Mail Line, c.1928-1930, Victoria & Albert Museum, London.
4. unidentified photographer - Exposition Pavillon for Au Bon Marche department store, designed by Louis-Hippolyte Boileau, 1925, Museum of the City of New York.
5. Edgar Brandt - Les Cigognes d'Alsace - for Selfrdiges department store - London, 1928, Victoria & Albert Museum, London.
6. Georges Braque -  Still life with compote and tobacco pouch, 1920, Pompidou Cneter, Paris.
7.unidentified photographer - Dorothy Shaver (front) with her sister Elsa Shaver, University of Arkansas, Little Rock.


DSM said...

Those bronze egrets! I'll take a dozen,please...
Thanks for this post.

Jane said...

Brandt's ironwork was gorgeous, wasn't it. Those early department stores were exercises in architectural fantasy. I recently included )in an article about Joseph Urban) a drawing of the lobby of Kaufmmann's department store in Pittsburgh. To mention shopping malls in the same breath is painful.