I.- Art Déco
Originated in France, Art Déco was an eclectic style that emerged from the Interwar period when rapid industrialization was transforming the western world, embracing traditional craft motifs with Machine Age imagery and materials. It flourished internationally in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s before its popularity waned after World War II.
The first use of the term Art Déco has been attributed to architect Le Corbusier, who wrote a few articles in his journal L’Esprit nouveau under the headline 1925 Expo: Arts Déco referring to the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts).
However, the term Art Déco did not became popular until 1966, when a French exhibition celebrating the 1925 event was held under the title Les Années 25: Art Déco/Bauhaus/Stijl/Esprit Nouveau. It was used to distinguish the new styles of French decorative crafts that had emerged since the Belle Epoque and this term has been applied since then to a wide variety of works produced during the Interwar period and even to those of the Bauhaus art school in Germany.
Heavily influenced by artistic movements like Cubism, Constructivism, Functionalism, Modernism, and Futurism, and even pre-modern art from around the world, Art Déco was characterized by the use of vivid colors, bold geometric shapes, lavish ornamentation and new materials such as aluminum, stainless steel, chrome or even plastics like bakelite or galalith.
In moments of unstoppable industrialization, Art Déco embraced technology as never before. During its heyday, Art Déco became synonymous with luxury, glamour and faith in social and technological progress. Art Déco was not a reenactment, it did not look for inspiration in the past. On the opposite, it was a true contemporary artistic movement that gave birth to the mordern disciplines of industrial and graphic design and it continues to inspire designers at present.
II.- The relationship between Metropolis and the Art Deco movement
As you know, Metropolis’ Director was Fritz Lang, a German-Austrian filmmaker, screenwriter, and occasional film producer and actor. He attended a technical school, but he was trained later as graphic artist and painter, and professionally practiced architecture.
Among the several art forms represented, the Art Déco art movement is significantly included in both visual and thematic elements of Metropolis. Indeed, Fritz Lang reported in an interview that ‘the movie was born from my first sight of the skyscrapers in New York in October 1924’ and the film’s model-makers created skyscrapers that reflected both the Bauhaus’ aesthetics (with one tower almost entirely faced in glass, Mies’s iconic 1922 concept channeled through Sam Zell) and the emerging Art Déco ideas.
Irene and I think that the sketches drawed by Erich Kettelhut are probably the best proof of the majestic architecture of Metropolis.
Considered as one of the most important artists in the history of early German cinema, Erich Kettelhut was was a German production designer, art director and set decorator that teamed with artists like Otto Hunte and Karl Vollbrecht to bring to life Lang’s movies such as Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (1922) and Die Nibelungen (1924). When Fritz Lang faced the challenge of recording Metropolis, he kept faith with his old team and with Hunte as lead, Vollbrecht and Kettelhut were brought in to design the cityscape. Kettelhut’s was credited with the positions of Art Direction and Art Department on Metropolis, but also undertook several uncredited roles, including special effects, visual effects and technical consultant.
Many of these sketches may be found brought to live in the official trailer of Metropolis and the frames below:
There is no doubt that Metropolis’ imagery was strongly influenced by Art Déco and Lang’s use of this movement’s ideas was highly influential, contributing decisively to the style’s subsequent popularity in Europe and America.
Our Metropolis Collection of fine jewelry draws from these sources, if you are interested in this field do not hesitate to have a look at it.