What is 20th Century Decorative Art?

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When you think of decorative art, you’d be forgiven for thinking about paintings and wall hangings. Actually, there’s a difference between this type of art and fine art.

The 20th Century is a familiar one to a lot of us. Most of us lived it. But what does 20th Century decorative art actually mean?

Keep reading to see our quick guide that’ll tell you all you need to know.

What’s Decorative Art?

Your paintings, posters, and photographs come under the category of fine art.

Decorative art is different because, while pictures hang on the wall looking pretty, this type of art has a use or function. It makes everyday things beautiful.

Items, such as furniture pieces, soft furnishings, rugs, bowls, and even jewelry are some of the things considered decorative art.

If an object is beautiful and has a specific function or use, then it can be thought of as decorative art.

Artistic Styles of the 20th Century

Political upheaval and war dominated the first half of the 20th Century. The second half was the reaction to and recovery from those troubled times.

These events mainly shaped the 20th Century art movement and from these events came many of the styles mentioned below.

Art Nouveau

This style was popular in America from 1890 until around the First World War.

Art Nouveau was based on nature. You’ll often see pieces of dark wood with long flowing tendrils, living things, swirling lines, and organic matter depicted in the intricate designs.

William Morris’s wallpaper and flooring, and the famous Tiffany Lamps are great examples of this artistic style.



Think of strange, illogical imagery, and that just about sums up Surrealism. It drew inspiration from nature, objects, and the (especially female) body.

Imagine furniture showcasing body parts, like hands, or strange couches that seem to creep up the wall.

It’s a very cool, if not unusual, form of art and is still popular today.

Art Deco


The Art Deco style is eclectic and beautiful. It blends many different themes and styles under an umbrella that made older artistic themes ‘modern.’

The Art Deco style used geometric lines and bold colors.

Rene Lalique’s work is a great example of Art Nouveau that transformed into Art Deco as the movement gained momentum.

Art Deco was widely used in furniture, jewelry, cars, and architecture (think the Chrysler Building), so there’s plenty of beautiful, functional art around that’s perfect for your home.

Mid-Century Modernist


The conception of modernism stems from a complete rejection of history and tradition. What is the opposite of the past? The present.

The clean lines, uncomplex shapes, the block colors, and basic prints were something completely new and, well, modern.

The futuristic end-result was natural furniture with a modernist angle. This style used a lot of wood and natural materials, with hardwearing fabric for everyday use.



The minimalist style strips shapes and patterns down to their most basic style and showcases them as art themselves.

With sleek, geometric lines, these pieces can have anything from a sharp yet comfortable look and feel to a more industrial one.

In minimalist design, less is definitely more.

The Takeaway

The 20th Century had lots going for it regarding art, with many forms coexisting within it at the same time.

There are so many styles to choose from and heaps of symbolism used. After reading our guide, you’ll be able to pick a piece of 20th Century decorative art that’s perfect for you.

Liked what you’ve read? Check out how to decorate your home with Art Deco accessories and contact us to see our large collection of 20th Century decorative art pieces.

Paul Stamati Gallery specializes in 20th Century decorative arts and is the world’s leading source for Art Deco lighting by Lalique.