Fortissimo screen, 1925–26
Jean Dunand (French, born Switzerland, 1877–1942); Séraphin Soudbinine (French, born Russia, 1870–1944)
Lacquered wood, eggshell, mother–of–pearl; Each panel: H. 98 in. (246.9 cm), W. 35 in. (89.9 cm), D. 1 1/2 in. (3.8 cm)
Gift of Mrs. Solomon R. Guggenheim, 1950 (50.102.4)
Dunand, one of the best known figures of French Art Deco, was perhaps the most renowned European lacquer artist of the twentieth century. Born in Lancy, Switzerland, he spent most of his adult life in France, becoming a French citizen in 1922. Although he first trained to be a sculptor, around 1905 he began exploring the more lucrative field of decorative arts, particularly metalworking. In 1912, he undertook to learn 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 furniture and decorative panels, at the same time experimenting with new ways of using lacquer, incorporating it into jewelry, textiles, and even society portraiture. His business thrived after World War I, and during his own lifetime his work was widely exhibited throughout Europe and the United States, and was acquired by major museums such as the Metropolitan.
This screen (one of a pair), made for the music room of the Port Washington, Long Island, residence of Solomon R. Guggenheim, is a collaborative effort between Dunand and the Russian-born sculptor Séraphin Soudbinine (a favorite student of Rodin). Soudbinine conceived the pictorial composition and carved the bas-relief figures of angels and geometrically abstracted rocks, which were then affixed to the flat screen with nails and wooden dowels; the assembled screen was then lacquered by Dunand. The sumptuous gold lacquer, both matte and glossy in finish, was probably carried out by a craftsman from Dunand's studio named Zuber, whose sole responsibility was the delicate application of gold leaf and powder to freshly lacquered surfaces. The richness of effect is enhanced with tiny shards of eggshell and shimmering mother-of-pearl scattered over the surface.