Influence of Egypt on Art Deco Design

The unearthing of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922 was said to be a curse. But, for the Art Deco movement, it was nothing but a blessing.

When Howard Carter and his team discovered Tutankhamen and the many treasures surrounding the young pharaoh, Egyptomania gripped the world. Rumours of a curse following the untimely demise of his sponsor, Lord Caernarvon, simply added to the furore.

It was still early days for Art Deco which took its name (in the 1960s in fact) from the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative & Industrial Art that was held in Paris in 1925. Whilst defining the distinct style, the great designers of the day became enchanted by the rich colours, distinct angular shapes, hieroglyphic characters and mysterious symbols presented by ancient Egypt. These features were unmistakable in Art Deco furniture, art, clothing, jewellery and, most importantly for me, architecture.

In London, there are a great number of buildings influenced by ancient Egypt; the most famous being perhaps the temple-like Hoover Building on the A40. More obvious are the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square which has grand Egyptian columns, and Highgate Cemetery’s Egyptian circle which has obelixes and sphinxes on the various tombs.

Many of the Art Deco buildings in central Brighton have subtle Egyptian features such as those on West Street (west side) and Western Road (north side). The stepped facades on several of these buildings are based on both pyramids and temples. Pylons are the monumental gateways to the temples of ancient Egypt and are clearly represented too. On the outskirts of Brighton, these features can clearly be seen on The Pylons, the two welcoming boundary pillars on the London Road which date from 1928. The temple-like Sussex Masonic Centre of 1928 on Queen’s Road, inside anyway, is the most ornate of all. The colour of the shades on its giant stairwell chandelier? Nile green!

Along with a great number of Art Deco buildings locally, we are blessed with frequent talks and lectures on the subject. On top of that, Brighton Museum has an enviable collection of 20th century furniture and, since 28th March, a dedicated Ancient Egypt exhibition.

Sarah Tobias is an established lecturer and general authority on all things Art Deco. I’ve so far had the pleasure of attending two of her talks and certainly intend on going again. Please contact Sarah on sarah.tobias@ic24.net for details of future events.