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  • Making It ModernThe Art Deco Illustrations of Ernesto García Cabral
  • Kristine Somerville

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Ernesto photographer unidentified, 1950, courtesy of Taller Ernesto García Cabral, A.C. and Museo del Estanquillo

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In April 1925 the Exposition International des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes opened in Paris, exhibiting everything from furniture and interior decoration to paintings, graphics, posters, and bookbinding. The exhibition of fine and applied arts was awash in a bold array of bright, often acidic colors, geometric patterns, and a strong juxtaposition of cultural and historical motifs meant to convey eroticism, cosmopolitan chic, and modernity. Art deco was on full display.

Because of art deco’s wide-ranging references—borrowing from East and West, high art and popular culture—and its eclecticism, utilizing geometric and asymmetrical shapes and naturalistic and abstract surface decoration, its aesthetic was difficult to define. In fact, the term was not coined until 1968 by art historian Bevis Hillier. Deco borrows its visually eclectic vocabulary from avant-garde painting, cubism, futurism, and fauvism, artistic movements that had been developing for decades in Paris salons. Also, rather than rejecting art nouveau, the artistic movement that predates deco, it shares with its predecessor a strong use of bright colors, novel surface decoration, exotic materials, and a sense of spectacle, making deco an offshoot and continuation of art nouveau.

While deco does not have a homogeneous style, it does convey a common set of attitudes and a mood that thrived between the early 1920s and the outbreak of World War II. Postwar economic austerity ignited a craving for luxury and glamour. Deco offered novelty, high style, and an escape from traditional religious, family, and social values. By the ’20s the Jazz Age was in full swing, and the young and affluent were seeking fun and liberation. Everyday life came under the sway of mass media, celebrity, and consumerism. Deco fit the bill, offering luxury and novelty to these new purveyors of cool. In particular, the fashion-conscious flapper, along with socialites and glamorous film stars, set the standard of taste. Together they became the cultural authorities, glorifying whatever expressed modernity and the new technologies: the cool steel of skyscrapers, the sharp, elegant angles of ocean liners, and the speed and freedom of sleek planes and automobiles.

Because deco looked to different cultures for influence, the movement soon had a broad international appeal. Deco artists were fascinated with archaeological discoveries. In 1922, when Howard Carter excavated the tomb of the boy-pharaoh Tutankhamun, a wave of Egyptomania swept the country. A fascination with all things Egyptian was reflected in the iconography of deco: sequined jackets and gowns worn with pharaoh sandals employed Egyptian motifs such as scarabs, cobras, and vultures. [End Page 96]


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Carnival, Magazine of Magazines. The National Weekly, No. 616, 1922, courtesy of Taller Ernesto García Cabral, A.C. and Museo del Estanquillo

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Untitled, Magazine of Magazines. The National Weekly, No. 645, 1922, courtesy of Taller Ernesto García Cabral, A.C. and Museo del Estanquillo

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Lady in Autumn, Magazine of Magazines. The National Weekly, No. 756, 1924, courtesy of Taller Ernesto García Cabral, A.C. and Museo del Estanquillo

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Tribute to the Ship Italy, Magazine of Magazines. The National Weekly, No. 747, 1924, courtesy of Taller Ernesto García Cabral, A.C. and Museo del Estanquillo

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Untitled, Magazine of Magazines. The National Weekly, No. 860, 1926, courtesy of Taller Ernesto García Cabral, A.C. and Museo del Estanquillo

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The Future Woman, Magazine of Magazines. The National Weekly, No. 812, 1925, courtesy of Taller Ernesto García Cabral, A.C. and Museo del Estanquillo

Huge lacquered panels depicted scenes from Egyptian life: ancient fishermen harpooning and netting fish, farmers baling wheat in the field.

The art of Japan and China also had an influence on the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 95-107
Launched on MUSE
2018-07-20
Open Access
No
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