Surprises in New York - the Normandie

PEA0488_2.jpgHunting through the long galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York a couple of months ago, looking for an exhibition on Calder jewellery, through the 20th century paintings, I found a room full of pieces from the French 1930s liner, the Normandie. Some of the exhibits were magnificant, such as the 20 foot high wall mural entitled 'The History of Navigation' by Jean Dupas, from one of the ships' first-class salons. Other things on display from the ship included silver soup bowls and tureens, embossed with the stylised CGT logo (standing for Compagnie Generale Transatlantique, the ship's owners).

The next day it was déjà-vu, because at the Museum of the City of New York, far uptown, there were more relics and an original model of the great liner on show in an exhibition called 'Paris/New York: Design Fashion Culture'. The French Line used the most fashionable designers of the day to create the splendid interiors of the Normandie. She was described as 'Paris afloat' and fitted out in the extreme of moderne luxury, the style we nowadays call Art Deco.


Double-page spread of the brochure 'Normandie: Compagnie générale transatlantique',1935 (PEA0488)

The Normandie was built at St Nazaire, and was the world's largest passenger liner. Launched in 1932, she didn't make her maiden voyage across the Atlantic until three years later, because of the Great Depression. At the time all the great nations competed for the coveted Blue Riband for the fastest transatlantic crossing - the Normandie won this prize in May 1935.

Great liners like the Normandie never made any profits but were powerfully symbolic of their home nation.  The Queen Mary was the prime British vessel at the time - she now rests in dry dock at Long Beach, LA, as a tourist attraction. The Normandie is sadly no more. Having been caught in harbour at New York in 1939 when the Second World War broke out, she was impounded by the US and was being converted to a troopship in 1942 when a fire broke out and she sank at berth. The interiors had been removed before work began on her conversion.

The Caird Library holds a number of books and ephemera relating to the Normandie, including this attractive brochure published in 1935 by CGT (PEA0488), describing the facilities on board, with many full colour illustrations of the decorative schemes.Eleanor (Head of Archive & Library)