Book design, in both illustration and binding, attracted many artists in the 1920s and 1930s. This selection of their work showcases the distinctive contributions of French, English and American designers. Despite the apparent variety, all the examples are infused by the spirit of Art Deco.
Wood-cuts and wood engravings were for many illustrators the mediums of choice. Some of the work is experimental as in Lynd Ward's novel Madman's Drum (1930) in which the narrative is carried forward exclusively through the 128 wood engravings; there is no written text. The American artist Ward (1905 –1985) worked in wood engraving, watercolour, oil, brush and ink, lithography and mezzotint. Madman's Drum is one of the six wordless novels told entirely through dramatic wood engravings that Ward produced.
Rockwell Kent (1882–March) was an American painter, printmaker, illustrator, and writer. He often illustrated his own texts with wood-cuts as in the case of N by E in which he recounts his voyage from New York to Greenland and the ensuing shipwreck. He also illustrated the works of others including some of the classics of the Western tradition: Canterbury Tales, Beowolf, Moby Dick, Faust and Candide.
Some of the illustrators are unexpected; the American novelist John Dos Passos (1896-1970) not only translated Blaise Cendrars' (1887-1961) novel Panama from the French but also provided the illustrations which are colour lithographs.
The work of the French illustrator and book designer François-Louis Schmied exemplifies everything that is best in Art Deco. His use of colour in the wood engravings, his sense of design and his integration of text and illustration not only epitomize the 1920s and 1930s but remain among the high points of twentieth-century book design.