The classical craze swept across Europe and could be seen in Fascist-approved art in Italy, in draped garments emulating antiquity by high-fashion designers in Paris, and in the choreography of George Balanchine (1904–1983) as he worked on his ballet Apollo (1928).
In Germany the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) movement called for a realistic mode (in contrast to Expressionism and abstraction), while in France the Purists “criticised the fragmentation of the object in Cubism” and “proposed a kind of painting in which objects were represented as powerful basic forms stripped of detail,” to lend a “timeless, classical quality.” Even the Surrealists were persuaded. As Sigmund Freud (1856– 1939) had used Greek myths in developing psychoanalysis, the Surrealists—who were influenced by him—took classicism as their new pictorial language.
“The return to order that pervaded interwar painting and sculpture also appeared in objects for daily use. Rather than mere copies, models from the glorious past were treated to novel modernizations, effectively updating classical imagery—along with the attendant values of antique harmony and proportion—for contemporary life.”
A pioneer of Italian modern design, Gio (Giovanni) Ponti (1891–1979) was vital in bringing the modern classical aesthetic to the decorative arts. “He interpreted Roman subjects in ‘a modern and quirky vein,’ producing delightfully self-conscious send-ups of serious historicism.” In the plate An Archaeological Stroll (La passeggiata archaeologica, 1925), Ponti modified the Greek lekythos, a vessel for oil or perfume that features a long shape and a thin neck. The pattern on Ponti’s flask resembles Roman brickwork, and its color is like marble masonry. Fashionable figures in period dress appear among various relics, including columns, sundials, vessels, and candelabra, that mix classical motifs with a playful modern attitude.