When Cubism Met the Decorative Arts in France

From side tables to the dazzling dress designs of Sonia Delaunay, a new exhibition at the Portland Museum in Maine surveys the scene

In 1909 when Picasso and Braque made their first forays into what would later be called Cubism, critics were less than overwhelmed; their reactions ranged from "ugly" to "grotesque." But within two decades, the new style, with its bold colors and fractured geometry, had found its way into French homes as decorative artists created Cubist-inspired lamps, folding screens, clothing and other everyday objects.

Now, in an exhibition at the Portland Museum of Art, the early impact of Cubism on France's decorative arts is explored. "Picasso, Braque, Léger and the Cubist Spirit, 1919-1939" includes a section that places decorative-arts objects alongside Cubist artworks of the same era. Among the highlights are colorful dress-design sketches by Sonia Delaunay, whose clients included Hollywood actress Gloria Swanson, and an aluminum-and-plastic desk lamp designed by Jacques Le Chevallier that looks modern even today. The exhibit, which will not travel, runs through October 20.

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