Screen: Sunrise/Sunset, ca. 1930
Jean Dunand (French, 1877–1942)
Lacquered gilt wood; Each panel: H. 72 3/4 in. (184.8 cm), W. 19 in. (48.3 cm), D. 1 in. (2.5 cm)
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Michael Chow, 2006 (2006.585)
For centuries, Asian craftsmen had customarily applied coats of natural lacquer as a decorative and protective finish for their objects. Fascinated by examples he had seen, in 1912 Dunand learned the then closely guarded secrets of traditional Asian lacquering from Seizo Sugawara, a Japanese master living in Paris. Combining age-old techniques with contemporary forms and decorative designs, Dunand himself soon began producing stylishly up-to-date furniture and decorative panels, while also experimenting with new ways of using lacquer, incorporating it into jewelry, textiles, and even society portraiture.
This spectacular screen is a tour de force of sumptuous restraint. The glimmering warmth of its monochromatic gold surface, appropriate to the solar imagery, typifies the French Art Deco approach to metallic finishes—luxurious rather than functional. While the rising sun motif may have been used either in homage to his Japanese teacher or as a subtle reference to the Asian origins of his technique, the abstract simplicity of the composition shows Dunand at his best: elegant, lyrical, and thoroughly modern.