To understand how artistic styles influence one another is as crucial to a connoisseur’s understanding of high-end rugs as any craft, but few styles can boast the sheer range and depth of their impact overtime as the Art Deco movement can to carpets.
How many styles, after all, can trace their origin back to a single momentous premier like Art Deco rugs can of their unveiling on the world stage? Even among the handful of venerated styles that could make a similar boast, how many have become so traveled as Deco that there are so many respected, fascinating provincial interpretations of the style that have persisted in architecture, design, rugs and so many other crafts today?
Any keen eye can learn to appreciate the beauty of a handmade rug before understanding the sheer devotion of time and technique that sets any single piece apart. Still, as devoted students of our craft we know firsthand how meaningful the context of any style can be to the newcomer and connoisseur of handmade carpets alike. Understanding anything from the barest history to the boldest element of rugs can be the most enriching and engaging experience — a practice perhaps exemplified in understanding the profound impact of the many provenances of Deco carpets we’re proud to share here. In exchange, we’d love for our readers to share their own thoughts and questions on the style with us.
What is Art Deco?
Though the term “Art Deco” was first coined at the Paris World’s Fair Exhibition of Industrial Decorative Art in 1925, books can, and have, been written on the many influences behind the sensibility in the turn of the century preceding.
In this period, while Europe had to be one of the challenging places and times for an artist to live and make a name, it was also one of the most exciting epicenters of cultural diffusion of its time. As industry surged forward in connecting the world, so too did the arts, and a particular fascination with ‘exotic’ cultural aesthetics like Egyptian and Aztec imagery would have a lasting impact on the many aesthetics that would create Art Deco interior design and architecture.
The bold works and ideas that emerged from the Arts & Crafts movement, the Vienna Secession movement and even Swedish Modernism would soon reach far beyond their own borders. Even before the meteoric rise of the Bauhaus movement a few short years later, creators like Bastaad’s own Märta Måås-Fjetterström, Austria’s Josef Hoffmann, France’s own Paule Leleu of the famed artisan family, and countless contemporaries were collaborating and challenging principles of conventional design in so many mediums.
Paintings, illustrations, textiles, tapestries, furnishings, and of course rugs of this era were gradually experimenting with more grand, architectural interpretations of form and symmetry that would influence countless other artists around the world. Of its many mothers and fathers in counterculture, Fjetterström, Hoffmann, Leleu, and the many hands behind the Wiener Werkstätte played a vital role as pioneers of the modernist sensibility that would evolve into Art Deco in France and beyond from the 1920s onward. Soon Swedish Deco, Austrian Deco, and French Deco were everywhere — the latter in particular making a stunning debut in Paris.
The ‘Birth’ of Art Deco in 1920s Europe
What a weaver wouldn’t give to have been there that day when, in a bold display, many of the first Art Deco pieces were literally scattered in a riot of rich variety on the pavilion of the World’s Fair for all to see. The initial 1920s style that took France by storm offered a more-refreshing, less-restrictive approach to lesser-used color combinations, fewer patterns confined to painstaking symmetry, and ultimately a departure from the idea of the ‘neutral’ rug that had been rising in popularity. What we know as a classic was, without a doubt, the new face of modernity in the art and home furnishings world (often, alternatively, called “Style Moderne” in the French vernacular).
Even compared to the richest antiques of any culture — say, for example, the grand commissions of the classic Persian courts with the most vibrant uses of color — it can be argued that the Art Deco rug revived and reimagined the rug as an essential building block in design again. Even before the sensibility became an institution of design and architecture for years to come, the woven world took notice of a new language in design with baited breath and renewed passion; French Deco rugs at the forefront, soon to travel the world.
The Rise and Vital Role of Chinese Deco Rugs
Not long after Deco’s birth in France, China became the competitive home for the lion’s share of production for much of the home furnishings world; particularly the rising audience in the United States. While many foreign figures we know today planted their roots in this pivotal time — veritable legends of the loom like Walter Nichols and Helen Fette who still loom to this day — the incubation of Art Deco became as inherently Chinese as it was French.
With the low cost of manufacturing lending China a competitive edge, Tianjin (then Tientsin), Peking, and a handful of other provinces were the most abundant centers of production in the Jazz Age.
There and then, the ornate Dynastic styles of antique Chinese rugs once inherent to these provinces were transformed into the earliest Chinese Deco rugs. Celebrated cultural motifs and pictorials already coveted for centuries in Oriental rug making were reimagined in new, dynamic fashions and more functional, durable foundations. The machine-spun works of Nichols and the hand-knotted counterparts from Fette were both of such quality that their durability is an integral part of their lasting desire on the luxury market today.
By the mid-1930s these titans and their peers in Europe and the US had flourished in production. Artisans like Marion Dorn and her husband Edward McKnight Kauffer, Betty Joel, Maison Myrbor and so many others each pioneered their own take on the style. Soon after, though, the steadfast looms in China were summarily destroyed in the onslaught of World War 2, as were countless institutions of art and culture the world over, and the decline in the production of Art Deco rugs had begun.
As much as the beauty, variety, and quality of pieces found today is inherent to their desire on the market, the rarity of these productions found after WW2 is key to what drives the market price of antique and vintage works from these provenances.
How the Style Transformed the Mid-Century Modern Movement
While the 1920s may be synonymous with the idea of Deco as an aesthetic, to understand how the style would evolve and change in major design centers of the world is key to understanding its profound impact.
Though many of the more architectural Art Deco rugs were lost to the war, Fjetterström and her contemporaries were still pioneering the Scandinavian design aesthetic that would change the world of art and design forever. The “Swedish Deco” modernist style, as many in our craft know it, inspired some of the most exciting productions in textiles and carpets ever to draw on the architectural, bold geometric principles that traveled from Europe to the rest of the world long after.
Mid-Century Modern Rises from Art Deco Influences
As the Scandinavian aesthetic reached post-WW2 Europe and the US alike, new generations of textile makers, weavers, painters and other craftspeople were swept up by the fervor of postmodernism that breathed life back into the world of art and design.
The iconic style known as Mid-Century Modernism as we know it had begun, with some of its earliest and most influential works in our craft were deeply rooted in Art Deco as a foundation of inspiration. The idea of Deco had evolved once again as distinct interpretations of the style varied dramatically from region to region in the woven world. The new mid-century interpretation of Deco was revived in its home in France — where notable icons like Andre Arbus continued to weave masterful works as late as 1945 — but now the once modern-classic design embraced refined, arresting plays of angular movement and graphic cubist interpretations revered to this day.
[Photo: Paule Leleu-inspired blue piece from our Deco works]
Even in Turkey, where the Kilim remained tethered to the soul of the country’s major productions, Zeki Müren was equally ahead of his time in designing some of the most breathtaking works in mid-century Art Deco rugs we know today. An amalgam of Swedish, French, British, Chinese, and even traditional Anatolian ideas of symmetry can be found in Müren’s inspirations, given new life and attitude with more dramatic colors, casual geometry, and playful interpretations of “industrial” Deco style in the greatest number of his cherished works we’ve curated today.
One could even be so bold to say without the Art Deco movement, there would be no mid-century modernism, let alone the breathtaking mid-century modern rugs that emerged from the culmination of styles.
What We See in Art Deco rugs Today
Like many of the great styles — including the countless it helped create and influence — the modern take on Art Deco rugs on the market has been trending toward contemporary, more subdued designs in the last few years.
Collectors and luxury decorators still covet the original 1920s and 1930s works of renown, but today’s decorator is undeniable more focused on the pragmatic approach — though the Swedish Deco style remains every bit as, if not more, desired in modern decor than ever since the 1970s. Still, what’s considered ‘Deco’ today has transformed into a broad concept, and in many cases any repetition of a more bold, angular design might be classified as such.
Just as the excitingly textural, colorful tribal works of antique and vintage Moroccan rugs have gradually seen less preference than their more quiet, simple geometric descendants, many contemporary Deco works trend toward a softer reimagining of their origins in cubism and the rectilinear patterns inspired thereof. The preference of less graphic, more obsequious pieces in any style is neither surprising nor sad, though, as the connoisseur will always have a presence in the more high-end market — and if one grand thing stands above the many that have risen out of Art Deco’s many marks upon the world, it’s that the rare representation of its origins has inspired our team to build a more comprehensive modern collection that reveres the original styles as much as the evolved variants.
Our Growing Deco Collection, Classic and Modern
Even beyond our antique and vintage curations, some of the most exciting new creations from Rug & Kilim are those we’ve begun to share from our Deco Collection — inspired from the most important, and even the most unsung, editions of the style in our craft. Ever aspiring to honor the icons that inspire him, Josh and his Art Department are delighted to bring new elements to every variety of Deco that exists in the already encyclopedic collection.
Bold blends of wool and natural silk bringing a whole new play of the light to these works, meticulous high-and-low pile variations bringing new depth to classic pattern, lesser-known styles adapted to more refined textures and new large scale productions — we anticipate some of the most exhilarating, elegant projects to come as our colleagues continue to take notice.