Designer: Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann (French, Paris 1879–1933 Paris)
Date: Designed 1922; manufactured 1925–26
Medium: Macassar ebony, amaranth, ivory, oak, lumber-core plywood, poplar, chestnut, mahogany, silvered brass
Dimensions: 50 1/4 x 33 3/4 x 14 in. (127.6 x 85.7 x 35.6 cm)
Credit Line: Purchase, Edward C. Moore Jr. Gift, 1925
Accession Number: 25.231.1
Disillusioned by the failure of Art Nouveau and competing with advances in design and manufacturing in Austria and Germany, French designers in the early twentieth century felt the need to reestablish their role as leaders in the luxury trade. The Société des Artistes Décorateurs, founded in 1900, encouraged new standards for French design and production through its annual exhibitions at the Salon d'Automne. In 1912 the French government voted to sponsor an international exhibition of decorative arts promoting French preeminence in the field. The exhibition, scheduled for 1915, was postponed on account of World War I and did not take place until 1925. It was this fair, the Exposition des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, that gave its name to the style Art Deco.
Held in Paris between April and October 1925, the exposition, which occupied a large site in central Paris, drew more than six million visitors. The primary requirement for inclusion (over twenty foreign countries were invited to participate) was that all works had to be thoroughly modern; no copying of historical styles of the past would be permitted. Nevertheless, the majority of work exhibited was firmly rooted in the traditions of the past. The stylistic unity of the exhibits (which ranged from architecture to perfume bottles) indicates that Art Deco had become an internationally mature style by 1925 — one that had flourished following World War I and peaked at the time of the fair. The enormous commercial success of Art Deco ensured that designers and manufacturers throughout Europe would continue to promote the style well into the 1930s.
Perhaps the most renowned French designer of his day, Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann is considered the primary exponent of high-style French taste following World War I. Aesthetic refinement, sumptuous materials, and impeccable construction techniques place his work on a par with the finest eighteenth-century furniture — a formal and ornamental source for many of his designs. This cabinet, commissioned by The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1925, is a variant of a piece shown at the Exposition des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes that was purchased by the French government.