The public exposure that resulted from the fair brought in a growing number of private, high-end commissions from the Parisian elite. One of such clients, silent film star Jane Renouardt, commissioned this “Lit Soleil” (or “Sun Bed”) from Ruhlmann in 1930. The present piece is one of two models made for the actress, the other one being held in the Sydney and Frances Lewis Collection at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. This extravagant creation stands out from other contemporaneous pieces from the designer. The dramatic, crescent-shaped headboard, whose sunburst effect is heightened by the radiating veneers, demonstrates Ruhlmann’s extraordinary craftsmanship and unique sense of theatricality. The slight elevation of the footboard and raised side rails, technical devices that the designer often relied on, further indicate that the piece was not simply conceived as a bed, but as a complete work of art.
Made of white oak and veneered in Macassar ebony, the piece reportedly required over 252 hours of work from Ruhlmann’s craftsmen and cost 11,375 Francs, the equivalent of half of the designer’s annual salary. Ruhlmann applied the highly polished veneer onto over-poplar battens, a technique often used among Art Deco furniture makers. The veneer additionally laid over a backing of laminated softwood slats, which helps in reducing warping. Such attention to technique speaks to the designer’s concern for the durability and posterity of his furniture.
The “Sun Bed” reflects Ruhlmann’s stylistic shift towards the end of the 1920s, a period during which he favored a modernist approach to lines and forms. As opposed to his earlier, more ornamental designs, the bed displays well-defined outlines and simplified geometric elements. Together with its extravagant scale and valuable materials, the “Lit Soleil” is widely considered one of Ruhlmann’s most ambitious pieces and the finest expression of Art Deco design.
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