Transatlantic Travel in the 20th Century

05/18/2018     News and Film

At the beginning of the 20th century, luxury transatlantic travel reached its zenith, with the waters dominated by the British companies Cunard and the White Star Line, as well as the French Line Compagnie Générale Transatlantique (CGT). A trip between New York and London took close to two weeks, and first-class travelers, accustomed to the luxuries provided by grand, five-star hotels, came to expect the same level of service at sea. And they were not disappointed: Charles-Frederic Mewes, designer of the famed Hotel Ritz in Paris, was commissioned by the Hamburg America Line to design several of the fleet 's ships, including the S.S. Vaterland and the S.S. Imperator in 1912. Two years later Cunard hired Arthur Davis, Mewes ' partner, to design the RMS Aquitania. Art critic Bernard Berenson took to calling it “Ritzonia,” for the upscale hotel mimicry.Around the first quarter of the 20th century, big shipping companies began replacing older, more outdated ships, whose designs catered to large numbers of third—and steerage—class immigrants (as much as 80 percent of the passengers were in the lowest class of travel in the 19th century). When the focus of transatlantic travel shifted from necessity to tourism, ship companies took note, offering Americans and Europeans alike so-called “superliners,” floating luxury hotels meant to be as much a destination in and of themselves as passengers intended destination abroad.Without peer among the international ocean liners of the 20th century, the Art Deco masterpiece S.S. Normandie was built at Saint-Nazaire, France. Launched in 1932, she was the largest and fastest passenger ship afloat. Her exceptional design and sumptuous interiors set her apart from other commercial liners of the period. The decoration, planned by architect Roger-Henri Expert (French, 1882-1955), utilized work by such important French designers and artists as Jean de Brunhoff, Raymond Subes, René Lalique, Pierre Patout, Jean Dupas, Nicolas Castille and Jules Leleu.  The S.S. Normandie had been conceived as a showplace for the very best in French design, decoration, culture, and cuisine.Freeman 's May 22 British & European Furniture & Decorative Arts auction includes a set of six Art Deco dining chairs from the S.S. Normandie (Lot 406, estimate $25,000-50,000). The chairs were designed by Pierre Patout for Neuveu-Nelson, and feature scrolling seat rails with reeded borders, downswept arms above gilt-brass spacers, and have been reupholstered in velours d 'or. The First Class Dining Salon, rfom which the chairs came, boasted columns and chandeliers by Lalique, verre églomisé panels by Dupas, china by the Manufacture de Sèvres, and silverware by Luc Laner for Gallia Christofle.The ship was destroyed in a fire while docked at Pier 88 in New York City in 1942.  It was described by a former passenger as “an enchantment that could not help but end.”Passengers staying in first-class suites on liners like the Normandie no doubt brought their belongings onboard in traveling trunks, which predated the wheeled suitcase and are still in produced today. The auction also includes a selection of trunks from famous French makers Goyard and Louis Vuitton. A Goyard fitted gown trunk in black ‘Goyardine ' printed canvas (Lot 407, estimate $3,000-5,000) still boasts original shipping labels, as does a monogrammed canvas wardrobe trunk by Louis Vuitton (Lot 409, estimate $3,000-5,000). At the time, both French maisons meticulously hand-painted each piece to order, with the interlocking “LV” monogram and fleur de lis, and criss-crossing ‘Y ' shapes, respectively.These relics from a bygone era of ocean travel (often referred to as the “Gilded Age” of travel), along with more than 400 other lots of decorative objects and furniture, spanning from Russian Imperial porcelain to English silver match safes, will be offered in Tuesday 's sale.View the Catalogue