The term Art Deco is used to broadly evoke the style of an era. The seeds of Art Deco were sown just before the Great War; the style flourished with the regeneration of the arts of luxury after the trauma of this conflict, found its most sumptuous expression in the Paris Exposition Internationale of 1925, and then evolved towards a less flamboyant, more reductive aesthetic. But the reality is that Art Deco is elusive of clear definition as a prevailing style and can only truly be appreciated in the individuality and diversity of the greatest creative talents associated with the period. Foremost among these are Jean Dunand and Eugène Printz, giving particular and significant stature to a major work that is the fruit of their collaboration.
Jean Dunand’s career and reputation were built on his mastery of two crafts. Trained as a sculptor, he developed a fascination with metals and became the most brilliant dinandier or worker in non-precious metals of his era. His research into the patination and finish of his metal vessels introduced him to the qualities and mysteries of oriental lacquer, and he soon developed the skills to position himself as the greatest lacquer artist of his generation. As a designer he showed great versatility, adept at an array of themes and styles that ranged from the lush and decorative that could involve exotic flora and fauna, to the crispest dynamic geometric motifs. Whatever the style, his creations on all scales, from belt buckle to armoire, were unfailingly sure in their proportions.
Eugène Printz, heir to a family cabinetmaking business, came to prominence around 1930 as a designer of furniture and furnishing schemes characterized by meticulous execution and quality materials in the service of a distinctive style that placed the greatest importance on structure and silhouette rather than decorative effects. Printz had the eye of an architect in conceiving furniture forms – and a modern architect at that, one for whom less is more and who appreciated the merit of rigor. Yet Printz was not averse to luxury, and this he expressed in the finesse of his cabinetwork, in his particular fondness for the rich veining of palmwood and his judicious use of bronze or other patinated metals for such elements as sabots and handles.
This magnificent enfilade is a powerful example of the collaboration of the master dinandier Jean Dunand and the master furniture designer Eugène Printz. The deceptively simple rectangular form is shallow enough, and just low enough, to maintain a sense of lightness, an impression enhanced by the delicate scrolls of the feet, which are carefully positioned so as to allow the cabinet to appear to float, cantilevered. The absence of any detailing on the structure of the piece is counterpointed by the masterful geometric patterning of the paneled façade, the metal leaves angled, suggesting the folds of a screen. The decoration is a subtle play of squares, dots, and lines inlaid in a white metal against the warm metal ground, the whole with a light patination that creates an effect of soft, smoky mists.
The piece has an interesting and fully documented story. It was kept by Printz himself for his own collection and passed on his death to his widow, Mme Germaine Wittowski-Printz. She sold it, together with a further small group of works kept by her husband, to a Swiss collector, George Encil. It was acquired for the present collection when Mr Encil offered his collection for sale at auction in Monte Carlo in 1990 (Sotheby’s, Monaco, Arts Décoratifs du XXe Siècle, 22 April 1990, lot 579).