A domestic worker who labored for many years in a convent before becoming a housekeeper, Seraphine Louis (1864 – 1942) painted floral motifs on household items, canvases and boards. Her talent was recognized by one of her employers, the German art critic, dealer, and collector Wilhelm Uhde. The title Tree of Paradise (1928) suggests a concern with religious themes, and the work’s arrangement of jewel-like leaves recalls the stained glass windows of Gothic churches. Louis flattened the elements of landscape into a single plane; a tree extends diagonally across water, as grass and sky weave together to create a decorative interplay of patterns.
German emigre Kem Weber (1889 – 1963) designed original and colorful furniture and interiors devoid of overt historical references and evocative of modern times.
Produced as part of a nine-piece dining-room suite manufactured by Grand Rapids Chair Company, this Serving Table and Arm Chair (circa 1928–29) feature finishes of painted wood, walnut, and silver leaf with original leather upholstery.
The zigzag pattern in both the walnut veneer of the table and the striking green surfaces of both table and chair attest to Weber’s knowledge of French Art Moderne, while their smooth contours anticipate the sleek look of American streamlined design that would become popular in the 1930s.
Luigi Lucioni and Paul Cadmus probably met as students, and they doubtless shared acquaintances within New York’s circles of gay artists and writers. Lucioni’s likeness of Cadmus (1928) celebrated the shared passion of two young moderns for the ideal forms of Italian Renaissance art, particularly the paintings of Piero della Francesca. Within a modern close-up format, the artist captured a gaze that is at once tentative and mesmerizing.
This Vanity (1928) stands as a harbinger in the evolution of an American modern style. Norman Bel Geddes (1893 -1988) conceived of it only a year after founding the first industrial design firm in the United States. His prior experience on theater and film sets lent a dramatic flair to his consumer products, including this dressing table and mirror, made of enameled and chrome-plated steel, which was part of a larger suite of metal bedroom furniture.
Designed a the height of the Roaring Twenties, it echoes the sleek modernity of Manhattan skyscrapers, a favored motif among Art Deco designers, with its sequence of setbacks from drawers to mirror top. The industrial materials emphasize the design’s mechanical production, while the polished enamel and elegant trim and drawer pulls suggest something of the luxurious finishes found in handmade Art Deco furniture.
Seen in the Mirror: A reflection of the painting, I Saw The Figure Five in Gold By Charles Demuth.
Photographed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.
In this design, partly inspired by an office swivel chair, Charlotte Perriand softened the rigidity of the tubular, chrome-plated frame with a stuff cushion resting on coil springs. Because the frame and the upholstery required considerable handwork, the chair was relatively expensive and manufactured in limited numbers. Perriand used such chairs in her own Paris apartment.
Installation View, Photographed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Inspired by bentwood rocking chairs by Michael Thonet, and recumbent doctor’s chairs, the angle of repose on this Chaise Lounge LC/4 (1928) is adjusted by sliding the chromed steel frame on its stationary base. The LC/4 was a collaborative design of Le Corbusier (Charles-Edouard Jeanneret), Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand, spearheaded by Perriand, who had designed other furnishings in tubular steel before joining Le Corbusier’s studio. The model was prominently displayed in numerous exhibition settings designed by Perriand, including the 1929 Paris Salon d’Automne and the Internationale Raumausstellung in 1931 in Cologne.
Le Faux Miroir (1928) presents an enormous lash-less eye with a luminous cloud-swept blue sky filling the iris, and an opaque, dead-black disc for a pupil. The allusive title, provided by Belgian surrealist writer Paul Nougé, seems to insinuate limits to the authority of optical vision: a mirror provides a mechanical reflection, but the eye is selective and subjective. Magritte’s single eye functions on multiple enigmatic levels: the viewer both looks through it, as through a window, and is looked at by it, thus seeing and being seen simultaneously. The Surrealist photographer Man Ray, who owned the work from 1933 to 1936, recognized this compelling duality when he memorably described Le Faux Miroir as a painting that “sees as much as it itself is seen.”
The Palace of Curtains, III (1928) is one in a series of paintings by René Magritte that explores the resonances between words and images. Two polygons with nearly identical profiles lean against a wood-paneled wall. Each shape frames a depiction of sky, one with a painted representation, the other with language (the French word ciel, meaning sky).
Magritte was fond of unexpected pairings between interior and exterior scenes, as with the patch of blue sky against the finite backdrop of the wall. Placing words in absurd or unexpected contexts, Magritte challenged the conventional use of language. Though the use of text in his word-picture pairings may seem incongruous, the artist viewed all language as arbitrary: “An image is not so wedded to its name,” he said , “that one cannot find another which suits it better.”