This is the 1948 Tasco automobile prototype. Only one of these cars was ever built. The design borrowed many ideas from airplanes at the time.

©iStockphoto.com/Nancy Nehring

What is art deco?

Before we learn about Art Deco cars, let's learn about the artistic movement itself. The term refers to the stylistic changes that occurred to nearly every visual medium -- paintings, architecture, and even appliances -- in the period between the two world wars and a number of years after.

The movement originated in Paris and was an outgrowth of the previous Art Nouveau style, which was popular around the turn of the 20th century and was characterized by excessive decorations, organic motifs of flowers and plants and highly stylized curved forms.

When it emerged in the 1920s and 1930s, Art Deco represented a simplified version of Art Nouveau styling. These designs had distinct geometric shapes, clean lines, bright colors and were very streamlined. Art Deco designs are visually striking but simplistic. It tended to characterize luxury goods, a response to the austerity brought on by World War I and in-line with the excesses of the roaring '20s. They also incorporated motifs from ancient cultures like Egypt and the Aztec empire.

Since the interwar period was a time of tremendous urban growth, Art Deco designs characterize many famous buildings, including the Empire State Building, the Radio City Music Hall and the Chrysler Building in New York City. Los Angeles and Miami sport countless examples of Art Deco as well -- it was extremely popular during the era of "Old Hollywood."

Art Deco furniture was aimed at the high luxury market and was characterized by rounded shapes, simplistic designs, and high-quality woods, metals and leathers. They were designed to be both modern and functional.

The Art Deco style began its decline in the 1940s as the world once again went to war and the aesthetic changed, but its influences continued through the decade. In addition, there have been several attempts at its revival and it continues to capture imaginations today.

On the next page, we'll look at Art Deco's influence on automobiles and see some of the most famous Art Deco cars.