Art Deco Paris, an exhibition drawn from the Metropolitan Museum's collections that complements the recent special exhibition Ruhlmann: Genius of Art Deco, provides an opportunity to examine the broader context of high-style Parisian design in the 1920s. It includes outstanding examples of the work of Ruhlmann's contemporaries—both collaborators and competitors—from furniture by Süe et Mare to jewelry by Georges Fouquet, bookbindings by Pierre Legrain, lacquer by Jean Dunand, metalwork by Edgar Brandt, and costumes by Jeanne Lanvin.
In 1912, the French government proposed an international decorative arts exhibition to reestablish France as an arbiter of good taste and modern style, producing luxury goods of a quality unmatched by any other country. The exhibition, planned for 1915 but postponed by the onset of World War I, finally took place in 1925, at the height of what was later dubbed the Art Deco period.
Joseph Breck, curator of the Department of Decorative Arts at the Metropolitan Museum in the 1920s, visited the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, and among his most important purchases were a monumental ebony and gilt-bronze desk and chair, which formed the centerpiece of the highly influential Suë et Mare pavilion. This desk and chair, together with a Suë et Mare-designed carpet later commissioned by the Museum to be shown with them, are featured in the exhibition. Breck's acquisitions were among the earliest of any by a public institution of objects in the Art Deco style and provided the foundation for the Metropolitan's outstanding collection.
Since the landmark Exposition, the Museum has continued to build its collection of Art Deco design and decorative art. In 1976, it received an important gift of works made for the French ocean liner Normandie, perhaps the last great expression of Art Deco taste. Many of the best-known Art Deco designers, such as Jean Dunand, Lalique, and Ruhlmann, as well as notable French manufacturers such as Christofle and Daum, created settings for the ship, which was designed to seduce the most sophisticated traveler. The verre églomisé (reverse painted and gilded glass) panels by Jean Dupas depicting the history of navigation, made for the Normandie's first-class salon, are on view as well as a tapestry-upholstered armchair and examples of silver designed for the first-class dining room.
The use of precious materialsivory, shagreen, rare woods, and gold and platinum leafwere often employed by Art Deco designers, using the highly refined techniques seen in eighteenth-century aristocratic interiors. Elaborate inlays, gilding, lacquer work techniques from China and Japan, and other embellishments were used to impart luxury and modernity at the same time. Taken together, the objects displayed in "Art Deco Paris" provide an overview of the Art Deco style at its best.