NEW YORK – A floating playground for the rich and famous, the SS Normandie epitomised 1930s decadence with luxury suites, elaborate dining and legendary entertainment. Nowhere was the vessel’s lavishness more conspicuous than in the Grand Salon with its resplendent Art Deco mural of the History of Navigation by French artist Jean-Théodore Dupas. The stunning masterpiece of verre églomisé captured the glamour and opulence of that bygone era of ocean travel. Sotheby’s upcoming Important Design in New York will be led by eight of these exceptional panels, which come to auction from the legendary Forbes Collection.
The panels, from the the Birth of Aphrodite mural, are enriched by their astounding history. Launched in May 1935, the SS Normandie was an extravagant symbol of French nationalism that captivated the popular imagination with celebrated passengers including Marlene Dietrich, Salvador Dalí and Cary Grant. When the famous ship made an arrival in New York in August of 1938; however, the escalating conflict in Europe prevented its return to France. Indefinitely docked off Pier 88 in Manhattan, the SS Normandie was repurposed as a US troopship following the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the murals and interior were fatefully removed. Shortly thereafter, in February 1942, a fire on board capsized the doomed ocean liner.
Collectors have always been fascinated with the Normandie, perhaps because of the miraculous events that led to the survival of its extraordinary art and furnishings.
In 1981, publishing tycoon and collector Malcolm S Forbes purchased the ensemble as a wedding gift to his son, Robert, just hours before the ceremony. For the next three decades, the panels were installed in the lobby of the historic Forbes Galleries in Manhattan until their closing in 2014. “Selling the great mural that greeted thousands of visitors to the Forbes building for decades continues the wonderful relationship between Forbes and Sotheby’s,” says Benjamin Doller, Sotheby’s Chairman of the Americas.
“Collectors have always been fascinated with the Normandie, perhaps because of the miraculous events that led to the survival of its extraordinary art and furnishings,” says Jodi Pollack, Sotheby’s Co-Worldwide Head of 20th Century Design. The SS Normandie Birth of Aphrodite panels will be on view 2–5 June at Sotheby’s New York along with the lots from the 6 June Important Design auction.
Click here to read the New York Times coverage of this historic offering of SS Normandie panels at Sotheby's.