This floating palace had been the largest ocean liner in the world, the pride of French design, with the latest technology including one of the earliest radar sets used on such a vessel. She took the Blue Riband prize on her maiden voyage for the fastest Atlantic crossing.
Normandie entered service in 1935, but just six years later was trapped by the war in New York and taken over by the US Coast Guard and renamed USS Lafayette. In 1942, during a refitting to make her suitable as a troop transport, she caught fire and eventually capsized under the weight of the water used to fight the blaze.
The Art Deco profile of the once mighty ship was encapsulated in a famous poster by Adolphe Mouron, the artist known as Cassandre, showing a huge bow towering above the viewer and the simple but powerful word Normandie beneath. A flock of gulls emphasises the sheer scale of the vessel.
The ship was moored in New York’s harbour when it caught fire in February 1942, and it was also in the Big Apple that one of those posters came up for auction at Swann Galleries on May 25.
It sold to a collector for $18,500/£11,620 (or $22,500/£14,530 including premium) against an estimate of $12,000-18,000. Several versions of the design – a frequent but high-selling visitor to salerooms – exist, with the lettering below Normandie varying.
Art Deco classics
Cassandre (1901-68) is one of the best-known Art Deco poster designers, with the 3ft 3in x 2ft (99 x 62cm) Normandie from 1935 up there alongside ‘Nord Express’ as probably the most familiar images.
Another Cassandre poster sold at Swann was Miniwatt/Philips Radio, 1931. It went to a dealer for just under estimate at $4800/£3100 ($6000/£3870 with premium).
In December 2015 UK saleroom David Lay sold a 2ft 1in x 3ft 4in (63cm x 1.01m) Normandie poster by a different artist, Hubert Herkomer, for a hammer price of £2900 (estimate £1500-2000). Printed by Hill, Siffken and Co, it was dated 1939 and so was one of the last Normandie poster designs.
Many of the most famous artists and designers of the Art Deco era were employed to decorate the interiors of Normandie.
Among them was the French artist Jean Dupas, born in Bordeaux and renowned for his large-scale mural paintings. Dupas was commissioned to decorate the Grand Salon, one of Normandie’s largest spaces.
He devised a scheme depicting the history of navigation on 56 painted glass panels conceived in a technique known as verre eglomisé and featuring maritime and mythological subjects.
Despite the fire and sinking, many of its interior fittings survive, and on June 6 Sotheby’s will be offering eight of Dupas’ panels in its Design sale in New York.
They have an equally grand post-Normandie provenance. They were purchased in 1981 by Malcolm Forbes as a wedding gift for his son hours before the wedding and have come from the Forbes family collections. The eight panels, measuring 8ft 2in x 10ft 1in (2.5 x 3m) and depicting part of the myth of the Birth of Aphrodite, are expected to make around $1m.