France: Paris, The Birthplace of Art Deco (a tour in Black & White)

A collection of great Art Deco buildings, all over Paris.

Why visit?
Believe it or not, Art Deco was born in Paris. Not in Miami or New York.

So what better place to see Minor Sight's favourite architectural style than in its place of birth?

Let us show you some of the best examples of what can be called the last of the classical styles, some big, some small, but often overlooked by visitors expecting Haussmannian buildings and frilly doorposts.

All over the city. Really.

MINOR SIGHTS HAS written about Art Deco in Paris before. To be frank, we're quite smitten by this artistic style. In an earlier article, we wrote about the Art Deco gems of the 17th Arrondissement of Paris. This time, we're taking you on a tour throughout the city.

Why Art Deco? We're glad you asked. Art Deco is a quintessentially Parisian style. Really. Although often associated with landmark buildings in Miami and New York, Art Deco's roots are here in the City of Lights. In 1925, the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes gave birth to what became later known as Art Deco. Paris was an early hotbed of the new style, which comprised architecture, interior design and the visual arts.

We love Art Deco because it's really the Last of the Mohicans, as far as art styles are concerned. It's the End of Art History.

After Art Deco, there have been no more real artistic styles. Modernist architecture (also known as the International Style), which started with Bauhaus and Le Corbusier, has as its primary characteristic that it's not really architecture as art. Modernism is a mostly utilitarian construction of rectangular boxes, shorn of decoration and beauty. The kind of buildings that are now being torn down in cities across the globe.

Art Deco was really the final heir of the classical tradition of European architecture, which started in Ancient Greece, and reverberated through the Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Neo-Classicism and Art Nouveau styles. Art Deco used the same principles, including figurative decorations. 

The buildings of Paris are a feast for the eyes, full of sculptures of human faces and bodies, acanthus leaves, flower vases, etc. And Art Deco was the last wave of figurative decoration in architecture. Who decorates buildings with mascarons, caryatids or curvy leaves these days? Nobody does. Those were the days...

The 21st century still has noteworthy architects who build noteworthy buildings, but architecture these days is one big ego-trip. There is no longer a style that binds today's architectural creations together. The Gehry museums, the Beijing Bird's nest, it's mostly architectural masturbation, a competition of one-upmanship, none of them connected to the other. Artistic and architectural styles are dead: Art Deco was the last descendant, and died without issue.

Although Art Deco follows classical forms and tradition, its creators strived to be Modern with a capital M. Stylized, bordering on the abstract, influenced by Cubism, with references to machines and transport, Art Deco is the only style that's both modern and classic at the same time.

So in short, that's why we like Art Deco. Bigly.

When Art Deco first hit Paris, its classical roots meant that it was seen as a style that delivered grandeur, and therefore was fit for large public buildings and public spaces. This is obvious in a wave of theatres in Paris that date back to the 1920s. Take a look at these:
Oh la la! Les Folies Bergère, a 19th century landmark on Rue Richer (9th) was given an Art Deco make-over in 1926. 

One of the entrances to the Théâtre des
Champs Elyses (8th.)
The Salle Cortot theatre on
Rue Cardinet (17th.)

Théâtre des Champs Elysées on Ave Montaigne (8th.)

The famous Grand Rex theatre on Boulevard Poissonière (2nd.)
It's not just theatres that were given an Art Deco look. Although royalty had long been dispatched, several new Palaces were being built and Art Deco, with its columns and air of imperial grandeur, was just the ticket to lend a touch of je ne sais quoi.

This is most obvious in the Palais de Tokyo as well as in the Palais de Chaillot on Trocadero, also known as that-place-where-you-take-your-Eiffel-Tower-selfie.

But there is more. Much more.

Art deco was simply de flavour du jour for those who were looking for a fashionably modern look for their posh residences. And so a spate of houses and private accommodations was built in the red-hot style, making it easy to find hidden Art Deco gems all over Paris.

Take a look at these:
Seems like this guy is holding up the building all by himself! 49, Ave Paul Doulmer (16th.)
While his buddy at a different door of the same building is taking a more relaxed pose. 
26, Avenue de Lamballe (16th.)

20, Chaussée de la Muette (16th.)
You may have noticed a number of recurring themes. The human form appears, but in a very stylized, almost Cubist form. A very French touch are the stylized flowers and bouquets, which we explored in our article on the Art Deco houses of the 17th. Fluted columns and hexagonal forms are typical as well.And if you've visited Egypt, you'll know that the Ancient Egyptians left their mark on 1930's architecture as well...
14, Square Alboni (16th.)
Showing the influences of Cubism at 1, Rue Scheffer (16th.)
One of our favourites is the veritable zoo that appears at 34, Rue Pasquier (8th.)
Can you spot the differences?
The Egyptian influence rears is head at 53, Avenue de Villiers (17th.)
14, Boulevard Victor Hugo in Clichy. Extra-muros, but very similar to the buildings of the 17th. 
At 15, Boulevard St Denis (2nd) you can even get your groceries in an Art Deco supermarket! 

Getting there:
We've tried to include addresses where possible, but occasionally our memory failed us, as these pictures were taken over the course of several weeks in Paris. Mea Culpa.

The good thing is you can basically start anywhere- just keep your eyes peeled and Art Deco gems will start appearing in the most unexpected corners.

Useful links:
The Art Deco Society of New York has a good article on Origins & Influences.
Time Out Paris lists the best Parisian museums featuring Art Deco.
The Financial Times: Paris and the origins of Art Deco.


  1. Loved this very informative article about the Art Deco style of architecture and having seen the second largest Art Deco buildings in the world in Mumbai city, it's very impressive here too.

    1. Aadil you're right, there's lots of great Art Deco architecture in Bombay. One day we may write an article about it... unless you want to do it 😀


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