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Restoration of Jean Dunand lacquer panels at Museum of Modern Art in Le Havre

  • 27.01.2015

The BNP Paribas Foundation funds restoration of Jean Dunand lacquer panels at the André Malraux Museum of Modern Art (MuMa) at Le Havre on the coast of north-western France.

Fishing - Jean DunandJean Dunand (1877-1942), a French artist of Swiss birth, is famous for his sculptures, decorative brasswork and lacquerwork. As a young man he conceived a passion for Asian art, especially lacquerwork. In a quest for technical perfection, he worked closely with Japanese craftsmen and then developed his own formulations in order to create a Western lacquer technique.

In the 1920s and 30s Jean Dunand worked on the decoration of the iconic transatlantic ocean liners of the interwar period, including the famous Normandie, launched in 1935. He created five large lacquer panels for the smoking room of the Normandie: Taming the Horse – a composition on two lacquer panels, The Grape Harvest, The Gazelle Hunter, and Fishing.

The huge transatlantic ocean liners such as the Ile-de-France and the Normandie were at this time a key venue for major decorative projects, and many Art Deco works were created for these vessels by noted French masters of the period, including furniture and interior designer Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann, painter, artist, designer, poster artist and decorator Jean Dupas, painter Jean Despujols and sculptor Alfred Janniot.

The decorative panels for the Normandie smoking room met with such huge acclaim that the artist reproduced them in smaller versions for the houses and city apartments of wealthy clients.

Taming the Horse - Jean Dunand

Between 1973 and 1974, the MuMa acquired reproductions of these five lacquer panels, the original works having been dispersed. On show since then as part of the Museum’s permanent collection, the panels had by the present day come to be seen as a rather unsatisfactory exhibit, as their varying conditions prevent visitors from viewing the set of panels as an artistic whole. The five panels are currently undergoing restoration in the MuMa workshops and by spring of this year will be back on display in the Art Deco section of the permanent collection, accompanied by an explanation of the various stages of the restoration work.