Friday, March 5, 2010

Designer of the Month: Jean Dunand

For me, Jean Dunand (1877-1942) is French Art Deco. Yes, there were many artists during the period of 1910-1939, when Art Deco was the style, whose work can be considered icons of the movement, particularly those crazy Americans who really embraced it, but Dunand, who was born Jules John in Switzerland, but changed his name to Jean after becoming a French citizen in 1922, just happens to be my touchstone for Art Deco in France.[1] This might have something to do with the fact that, during my first year in grad school, I spent an inordinate amount of time doing an in-depth study of one of Dunand’s vases from the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum’s collections, or that I went on to become a research assistant for a class about the Art Deco movement and then got to see even more of Dunand’s work, but whatever the case may be, to me, Dunand is both French Deco and March’s Designer of the Month.

Jean Dunand, Vase, ca.1925. lacquered metal. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Wowza! Just look at that fabulous lacquered vase! Jean Dunand’s pieces combine his unique style of metalwork (and sometimes wood) with traditional lacquerware. In the 20th century, lacquering techniques, which had been almost entirely forgotten in the West since the eighteenth century, were brought back into use in Paris, largely thanks to the Japanese artist Seizo Sugawara.[2] Sugawara brought the secrets of lacquerwork to a new audience, and Jean Dunand, his student, became one of the more well-known artists to use lacquer in his artwork.[3] With artists incorporating this rediscovered technique into their artwork, lacquer became one of the most characteristic materials of the Art Deco period.[4] So for the month of March, I'll be taking you all on a little journey through the life and work of Jean Dunand. Next week, we'll talk about Dunand's background: how he got into both metalwork and lacquer. In week 3, we'll take an in-depth look into just what, exactly, lacquerware is, and the ways in which Dunand employed traditional lacquer techniques in his work, as well as some of his artistic influences. Finally, week 4 will focus on dinanderie, the process of crafting an object out of a single sheet of metal, and coquille d'oeuf, a method of using tiny pieces of eggshell in order to create white-colored lacquer, two techniques that Dunand was famous for. Doesn't that all seem like stuff you've always wanted to know about? Yeah, that's what I thought.

Jean Dunand, Four-Panel Poisson Screen, ca. 1925. Lacqured wood. Courtesy of the Virgina Museum of Fine Arts.

[1] Mechthild Baumeister, “Jean Duand –A French Art D├ęco Artist Working With Asian Lacquer,” in Postprints of the Wooden Artifacts Group (Miami: Wooden Artifacts Group, American Institute for Conservation, 2002), 1, 11.

[2] Anthony Delorenzo, Jean Dunand (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1985), 3.

[3] Melanie Kenton, ”The Twentieth Century”, in Lacquer: An International History and Illustrated Survey (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1984), 220.

[4] Anna Jackson, “Inspiration from the East”, in Art Deco: 1910-1939, ed. Benton, Charlotte, Jim Benton, and Ghislaine Wood (London: V&A Publications, 2003), 77.

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