November 20, 2009

A pack of cigarettes as an Art Deco jewel

by Jeanne Calmont

S.V.V. Camard et Associés, Stéphane Briolant photographe, Paris.

Smoking went from being generally “tolerated” to being completely prohibited in any public place. How then does one justify the purchase of a pack of cigarettes signed Gérard Sandoz (1902-1995), estimated 10-12,000 Euros and sold for 12,500 Euros this past 13 November at Camard et Associés (Paris)? By challenge? Nostalgia for the roaring twenties? Aesthetic pleasure? It is for those who know to judge the taste for anarchy/ madness/ beauty.

Measuring 8.2 x 6 cm, this pack of cigarettes having a gilded metal interior, is ornamented on the opposite side with a scene design of a Parisian street in red and black lacquer and encrusted with eggshells on a silver background. If the destination of the object is itself characteristic of a period, that between the two wars, are not any less iconographical and the employed materials.

Being modern is the key phrase of the International Exposition of Decorative and Industrial modern arts of 1925. If the designer-decorator of exception, Ruhlmann, cultivates luxury and French tradition in the hotel of the Collector, Le Corbusier puts into practice rationalist and industrial theories of the Deutscher Werkbund and of the Bauhaus in the pavilion of the New Mind. Exposed in a pavilion built by Bagge, the avant-garde jewelry to which are attached Sandoz's pack of cigarettes, bear the same style, simple geometric forms and exploit the aesthetic of the machine. In 1929, the tenants of being modern found l'Union des Artistes Modernes (UAM) presided by Mallet-Stevens. With Le Corbusier, Herbst, Perriand, Prouvé..., they have such names as Puiforcat, Després, Dunand, Templier, Fouquet , Sandoz..., experts and jewelers.

Creators of useful shapes and pioneers in what would soon be called design, they elaborate on a elementary iconographic directory breaking with the durability inherited from the past. Modern life is celebrated and, through it, the machine, urban, speed, movement and American music on which lanky masculine silhouettes sway: jazz. This in vogue theme find itself on a pack of cigarettes by Sandoz sold at Artcurial (Paris) June 2, 2009. Of similar workmanship, the pack of cigarettes sold at Camard this past November 13, takes on another contemporary theme : that of the city. Taken back to its primordial constituent elements (rental apartments, chimney, window, public road, lamp), the city bends its geometric shadows to hold within the fickle layout of the cover. Painter by training, Sandoz shows a great originality and control in composition where he selectively reintegrated the picturesque. Like Delaunay and the cubists of the Gold section founded by Villon, the brother of Marcel Duchamp, the radicalization and the destruction of shapes does not go to static. To the contrary. The city is in a state of trance: it is rhythm.

The rhythm of the pattern is upheld by color distribution of ofthe materials used: the perfectly polished red and black lacquers, the iridescent sparkling of the crushed eggshell mosaic on a gray silver steel background. But if the UAM members advocate the use of simple, economic, functional and innovative materials, it must be recognized that certain artisan and/or elitist tendencies persist, including amongst the moderns. The unique pieces and the limited editions, the refinement and exoticism of certain materials attests to a problem of perfection of which participates the pack of cigarettes created by Sandoz during the middle of the 1930's.

N.B.: hammer price.

Bibliography : Bijoux Art Déco et Avant-Garde, catalogue d'exposition, under the direction of Laurence Mouillefarine and d'Evelyne Possémé, Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, 2009.

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