Art and design boomed in 1920s and 30s Paris, as the gracious curves of art nouveau (popular from the Belle Époque to World War I) made way for the rectilinear elegance of art deco. In post-war France, the style reflected the country's desire to promote its industrial and artistic savoir-faire – consolidating design and technology in new ways, and with new materials. The five museums listed below pay homage to the movement with rich collections of art deco art, artefacts and furniture – from sumptuous period rooms in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs to neoclassical 1930s sculpture in the Musée Belmondo. If you're really into the style, book a guided tour at the Musée des Années 30, which takes you around art deco buildings in Boulogne-Bilancourt before showing you the museum's collections.
For most people in France, the name Belmondo is associated with Nouvelle Vague actor Jean-Paul Belmodo; that sexy, thick-lipped heart-throb with a distinguished boxer’s nose who shot to stardom in 1960s films like Jean-Luc Godard’s 'A bout de Souffle'. What most of us don’t know is that the actor’s father, Paul Belmondo (1898-1982), was actually one of France’s most important 20th-century sculptors, and many of his works – characterised by harmonious forms, unfussy lines and smooth surfaces – epitomise the 1930s style.
The Musée des Années 30 is a must for lovers of the art deco period, with a collection of art and sculpture from the 1930s. Look out for modernist sculptures by the Martel brothers, graphic designs and Juan Gris still lifes and drawings. The highlights are the designs by avant-garde architects Perret, Le Corbusier and Fischer. If your French is up to scratch sign up for an art deco-themed tour around Boulogne. The morning part takes you around the town centre, peppered with 1930s gems, while the afternoon is dedicated to the museum's collections.
Dina Vierny was 15 when she met Aristide Maillol (in the mid-1930s) and became his principal model for the next decade, idealised in such sculptures as Spring, Air and Harmony. In 1995 she opened this delightful museum, exhibiting Maillol's drawings, engravings, pastels, tapestry panels, ceramics and early Nabis-related paintings, as well as the sculptures and terracottas that epitomise his calm, modern classicism.
An entire section of Les Arts Décoratifs is devoted to 1920s and 1930s decorative fashions, following the transition from sinuous art nouveau to the simpler, squarer forms of art déco. For a dazzling example of early '20s décor, head to the mock boudoir of couturier Jeanne Lanvin – a riot of gold and purple silk by designer Armand Albert Rateau (1882-1938). The bathroom is just as breathtaking, lined with bronze and marble, with a stucco hunting scene (behind the bath) and geometric black and white floor tiles.
This monumental 1930s building, housing the city's modern art collection, is strong on the cubists, fauves, the Delaunays, Rouault and Ecole de Paris artists Soutine and van Dongen. The largest piece of 1930s art on display is Raoul Dufy’s 624-square-metre oil 'La Fée Eléctrique' – a behemoth of a painting, covering an entire room, created between 1936 and 1937 for Paris’s World Fair. Its gargantuan proportions depict colourful scenes of daily life during the era. One of the Seine side rooms also contains a wonderful collection of art deco furniture, by classic and modernist designers like Ruhlmann, Printz, Arbus, Chareau and Adnet.