JEAN DUNAND: FOUR LACQUERED PANELS FROM ‘LA CHASSE’Posted: 2011/05/11
JEAN DUNAND FOR THE OCEALINER NORMANDIE, CIRCA 1935, AND PIERRE DUNAND FOR THE OCEANLINER LIBERTÉ, CIRCA 1949
IMPORTANT 20TH CENTURY DECORATIVE ARTS
FOUR LACQUERED PANELS FROM ‘LA CHASSE’ Jean Dunand for the Ocealiner Normandie, circa 1935, and Pierre Dunand for the Oceanliner Liberté, circa 1949 two panels featuring an archer with bow drawn, the adjacent two panels featuring jungle foliage archer panels (upper) 391/8in. (99.4cm.) x 41¼in. (104.8cm.), (lower) 50¾in. (128.9cm.) x 41¼in. (104.8cm.), the foliate panels (upper) 60½in. (153.7cm.) x 43¼in. (109.8cm.), (lower) 321/8in. (81.6cm.) x 43¼in. (109.8cm.) (4)
With thess great looking panels, We came across the guy who the story behind.
Brandon McKinney wrote the interested story in his Flickr.
This paneling has a pretty long and windy history.
This is but a small section of what once was an enormous wood and lacquer panel that was executed by Jean Dunand for the French Line’s 1935 flagship Normandie.
This is one of two fragments that are installed today in a specialty restaurant aboard the GTS Summit (Celebrity Cruises.) The fragments stand roughly eight and a half feet tall, and about six feet wide. This figure, the archer, is joined by the hunter with a calf around his neck opposite to him.
These two fragments account for only one fourth of the original panel’s size. So basically double first of those dimensions I gave you (eight and a half feet tall) and triple or quadruple the second figure I gave you (six feet wide) and that should be closer to the original dimensions of the work. And even that is smaller than the original was.
Why the enormous dimensions? What could such an enormous panel be needed to cover?
The answer lies in the design of the Normandie itself.
Normandie was built differently than the ships of her period. Taking their cue from Albert Ballin’s Imperator, Vaterland, and Bismarck, the French designers split the boiler uptakes (ventilation and exhaust routes from the engine rooms below the accomodation areas) and ran them up the sides of the hull. So rather than having a single boiler casing to futz and fidget the public rooms around, the designers could run long spans of public areas down the center of the ship, creating a feeling of openness not found in typical, conventionally constructed liners. Two out of the three of the “Ballin Trio” (all three ships were built between 1913 and 1922 – Bismarck being the last, delayed by WW1) were constructed in this manner.
This is where Normandie and this Dunand paneling comes into play.
Normandie was the first ship in a decade to have the split uptake construction, and so the designers of her interiors (I believe to be Bouwens and Expert) could have long expanses and wide arcs to place the public rooms. Almost all First Class public areas took advantage of this design aspect. The Dining Room, clad in gold-mirrored pressed glass and red marble, spanned three hundred and eight feet long, forty-seven feet wide, and at its tallest ceiling height, twenty-seven feet tall. The cavernous room (often loud during dinner service) was lit by twelve nine-foot tall light stanchions, designed by Rene Lalique. The room had absolutely no windows – and was the first room on a passenger ship to have air conditioning.
The Grand Salon, its walls covered in etched glass paneling, reverse painted in gold, platinum, silver, and palladium, had a ceiling height of thirty feet, and spanned nearly the whole beam of the ship on the Promenade Deck. It too was lit by light stanchions that were wrapped in Lalique glass. Immediately aft of the Salon, was the Smoking Room. The rooms divided by an enormous proscenium – if you could call it that.
It was between these two enormous rooms that this paneling spanned: just one side of a two-sided pocket-door that divided the two rooms. This was the Smoking Room side. The Salon Side, last displayed in Aurora, Illinois, I believe, was also executed by Dunand, but from drawings by Jean Dupas – the designer of the Salon glass paneling.
The Smoking Room and Salon only accounted for a small part of the Promenade Deck public rooms. The Smoking Room was surmounted by a long, broad stairway, leading aft to a foyer and the Cafe Grill – a minimalist deco room that was Normandie’s night club and a la carte restaurant. Forward of the Salon was the long, tapestry-hung Gallery, and the Upper Main Foyer with gilded elevator cages. The foyer opened into the Theater – the first room on an ocean liner to be specifically devoted for theatrical entertainment (before Normandie’s theater, movies or plays were presented on portable stages, or stages that were also used as bandstands in lounges, or projection screens put up in dining rooms or chapels or lounges after dinner.)
On Normandie it has been said that you could stand on the stage of the Theater, and look aft – and if all the doors between you and the Cafe Grill were open, you would be able to see from the stage, through the Foyer, Gallery, Salon, Smoking Room, up the stairs, through the Cafe Grill and out the windows of the Cafe Grill to the open ocean – a span of nearly six or seven hundred feet.
It was this that would later be the doom of the liner. After being seized by the US Navy in 1941, the Normandie was stripped of her fittings. She was to become a troop transport ship to send US troops around the world to help defeat Hitler. Those Lalique glass light stanchions in the Salon had to be removed too, but not without using acetylene torches to remove their brass frameworks. Everything went smoothly, until a spark from one of the acetylene torches landed on a pile of kapok life vests.
Kapok was used throughout the maritime industry in life jackets because of its highly bouyant qualities. What people didn’t know about it was that it burned like napalm.
The kapok (read: napalm) life vests lit up – and the fire spread faster than anyone could have predicted. That long expanse of space, that had made Normandie so well known, had become a wind tunnel, and fanned the flames.
The fire got out of control, people died (though not as many as could have perished) and the fire-extinguishing effort was hasty and not well thought-out. Fire tugs rushed to the scene and dumped water into the burning liner. Thousands upon thousands of gallons of water were dumped into the ship, and she began to list. They kept pumping water into the ship.
The Normandie finally capsized in her berth.
By the time the ship had been righted – an effort requiring the demolition of the superstructure – the War was over. The Navy had no use for her, and declared her surplus. They sent the burnt out hulk to a Bayonne, New Jersey scrapper, where she was broken up into little pieces and shipped out on flatbed railway cars. Her superstructure went on to serve as landfill for Riker’s Island Prison.
Although Normandie was gone, the French Line still had all the interior furnishings and fittings left from her that were stripped from the vessel for the conversion. After the war, when the US awarded the French the 1928 built Europa a siezed German express liner, the French Line refitted her and installed the Dunand paneling on her, along with numerous Normandie furnishings and rechristened her Liberte. The line’s 1927 ship Ile de France had the same treatment done to her. Both ships carried on Normandie’s visual legacy – but after both ships went to the scrappers in the 1960s, those fittings were sold at public auction and scattered to the wind.
When these Dunand fragments of the Smoking Room divider had been recovered, they had been severely damaged by time, wear and tear. They had hung in Mr. Chow’s Chinese Restaurant, and then in a private residence for some years. Some of the paneling had been damaged by fire, and other sections had been broken. It took painstaking restoration by a Japanese lacquer artist to bring them back to their original 1935 appearance.
Once again, this artwork has taken to sea again, and I think it’s rather fitting for them.
(If anybody happens to ask, I wrote virtually all of this from memory.)
by Brandon Mckinney