S.S. Normandie

A Triumph of French Art Deco Design

First-class smoking room of the S.S. Normandie with Dunand's final, full-scale Archers composition

Designed to present the pinnacle of French artistry and celebrate national pride, the S.S. Normandie was built at the French port of Saint-Nazaire for the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique and entered service in 1935. Over 1,000 feet in length and outfitted with four turbo-electric motors, the Normandie was the largest and fastest ship of its time. It remains the most powerful steam and turbo-electric propelled passenger ship ever built. The Normandie was likewise exceptional for its luxuriously appointed interiors, decorated by some of the finest French architects and designers of the age, including Roger-Henri Expert, Jean de Brunhoff, Jean Dupas, and Jean-Maurice Rothschild. Painter, designer, and sculptor Jean Dunand was commissioned to decorate the ship's first-class smoking room and part of the first-class salon. The present lot is a small-scale variation of the final design seen in the period photograph above.

Jean Dunand 1877–1942

Jean Dunand was born in Lancy, Switzerland, in 1877. Beginning his formal training at the School of Industrial Arts in Geneva, Dunand excelled at creating decorative arts. Apprenticing at the workshop of noted sculptor Jean Damp in Paris, Dunand became accomplished in the arts of sculpture and carving. Inspired by Japanese art, Dunand developed his skills in repoussé metalworking, creating elegant bowls and vases of copper. To learn the Japanese art of lacquer, Dunand made a deal with Seizo Sugawara trading his skills in bronze for lessons in lacquer work skills. Following the First World War, Dunand created his own studio exclusively for making lacquered Art Deco furniture and interiors. Trying his hand at a new craft, Dunand extended his metalworking skills to jewelry, fashioning pieces deeply reminiscent of Cubist sculpture and African tribal art, and he exhibited his jewelry in a show alongside pieces by Elsa Schiaparelli and Jeanne Lanvin in 1924. Elected vice president of the metal display by his peers for the International Exhibit of Modern and Industrial and Decorative Art, Dunand was additionally asked to create a room representing the theme of “A French Embassy Abroad.” The elegant, black and red lacquered smoking room was a crowd favorite. An innovative craftsman in every sense of the word, Dunand combined the complex art of lacquer with the geometric and precise forms of Art Deco, creating an entirely new and groundbreaking style. Jean Dunand is recognized as one of the key figures in French design of the 20th century, the greatest lacquer artist of the Art Deco period and his work is held in the permanent collections of major museums around the world.

Auction Results Jean Dunand