Friday, March 26, 2010

Designer of the Month: Jean Dunand

Week 4: getting technical - dinanderie and coquille d'oeuf

I'm one of those people who likes to know how things are made. This probably has a lot to do with the fact that I just really love making things myself, but I find the technical aspects about how an object is constructed to be fascinating. So when writing this week's Designer of the Month post, I wasn't sure if anyone other than me would actually be interested in some of the technical aspects of Dunand's work, but I finally decided to write about dinanderie and coquille d'oeuf anyway, because I figure that if I find it interesting, there has to be other people out there who do too. And for those of you who are already bored to tears, well, tough luck this week kiddos, but there will be a new designer to read about next week.

Jean Dunand, Dinanderie Vase, ca.1920. Courtesy of Christie's.

Jean Dunand was a master at the technique of dinanderie, the process of crafting an object, in this case, a vase, out of a single sheet of metal, with almost all of Dunand’s vases being shaped in this way.[1] This process takes its name from the town of Dinant near Liège in Belgium, where this craft gained popularity in the Middle Ages.[2] The process of dinanderie is a long and complicated one, and begins with a single circular metal sheet, which is then hammered into the desired shape, with the metal being heated and hammered over and over again during the shaping process.[3] The craftsman must begin hammering at the center of the piece, beating the metal in a regular spiral form, then shaping the object from the inside while the piece rests on a iron support.[4] Because this process of hammering causes the metal to gradually lose its malleability, making it brittle, in order to avoid fracturing the piece while working on it, the craftsman must anneal the metal by heating it to a cherry-red color after the initial shaping has been completed.[5] During this time, between thirty and forty reheatings are required to help restore the metal’s malleability, with the piece continuing to be worked throughout.[6] While the process of dinanderie has been around since the Middle Ages, Dunand modernized it by decorating the surfaces of his vases with lacquer, working with the lacquer on metal as opposed to wood, which was the material on which lacquer was traditionally applied.[7]

Jean Dunand, 1918. Courtesy of Paris Originals.

There he is, the man himself, working away in his studio. Now, one major problem with the natural resin lacquer that Dunand used in his work was working with the color white. While the colors for lacquer are created using vegetable dyes, it is impossible to create the color white using such dyes.[8] Dunand solved this problem through the process of coquille d’oeuf, an ancient technique that he revived, which consists of using tiny pieces of eggshell within the lacquer to create variations on this color.[9] Because the color of an eggshell’s interior and exterior differ slightly, Dunand was able to create a wide range of effects by applying the eggshell pieces in alternating patterns between use of the inside and outside of the shell.[10] As Mechthild Baumeister discusses in an essay about Dunand and this process:

Dunand’s eggshell lacquer became so popular that he maintained a chicken coop in the courtyard of his workshop to guarantee a steady supply of eggs. In order to create different shadings and color contrasts, Dunand also incorporated into his lacquer crushed eggshells of ducks, partridges, and exotic birds.[11]

I love this image of Dunand keeping a veritable menagerie of birds in order to achieve just the right shade of white for a particular piece that he was working on. The idea of different parts of the eggshell and different types of eggs producing different variations on the color white can be seen in the vase below, with noticeable differences in the white hues, particularly between the white used for the lines versus dots, as well as for the different color white used in the vertical versus horizontal lines. This piece also serves as an excellent example of the many uses of coquille d’eouf, with the look of solid lines as well as a mottled and dotted look being achieved through this process.

Jean Dunand, Coquille d'oeuf Vase, ca.1925.[12]

The particular vase above and the eggshell decoration used in it is discussed in an article written by Gabriel Henriot in 1926, in Mobilier et Décoration (p. 40): “There are no particles of acid or incrustations of fine silver on this solid, bulging vase. To decorate it, the artist has resorted to a totally original and new process; he has used eggshell and lacquer.”[13] While this process of coquille d’oeuf is not, in fact, a new one, this process does lend itself particularly well to Dunand’s work, with the variations in the color white produced particularly bold and striking when used on the traditional black lacquer background. The technique of coquille d’oeuf helps to gives the piece a sense of the modern with its striking look, making this process once again available to the public through the style of Art Deco.

[1] Anthony Delorenzo, Jean Dunand (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1985), 1.

[2] Felix Marcilhac, Jean Dunand: His Life and Works (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1991), 164.

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

[4] Felix Marcilhac, Jean Dunand: His Life and Works (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1991), 165.

[5] Ibid., 165.

[6] Katherine Morrison McClinton, “Jean Dunand, Art Deco Craftsman,” Apollo 116, no. 247 (September 1982): 177.

[7] Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Lacquer: An International History and Illustrated Survey (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1984), 15.

[8] Felix Marcilhac, Jean Dunand: His Life and Works (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1991), 172.

[9] Anthony Delorenzo, Jean Dunand (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1985), 1.

[10] Ibid., 37.

[11] Mechthild Baumeister, “Jean Duand –A French Art Déco Artist Working With Asian Lacquer,” in Postprints of the Wooden Artifacts Group (Miami: Wooden Artifacts Group, American Institute for Conservation, 2002), 9.

[12] Ibid., 61.

[13] Ibid., 61.

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