The style of this screen is that of a modern painting. It depicts a winter landscape in the Argonne hills, near the forest of La Grurie in the Ardennes region of France. The terraced hillside village, the circular arrangement of the low houses with their dark, gently sloping roofs, the bare trees and the black, white and beige colors give this northern French landscape an elegant touch of Japanese inspiration. The year 1912 marked a turning point in the career of the artist Jean Dunand, as he began to study lacquer techniques with Seizo Sugawara, a Japanese laquer master who had previously worked with Eileen Gray. The partnership between Dunand and Suagawara was beneficial to both, as Dunand taught the Japanese artist how to inlay precious metals – a technique similar to copper work. From 1921 onward, lacquer became Dunand’s favorite material and he used it on both metal and wood. He approached furniture making through his work with lacquer, which he applied to simple forms with large, flat surfaces – such as screens. His lacquer pieces gained popularity through exhibitions at the Galerie Georges-Petit which also represented Dunand’s circle of friends: Jean Goulden, Paul Jouve and François Louis Schmied. The Cagnas screen – one of Dunand’s first creations and a personal work produced by the artist alone – was presented in the gallery’s large exhibition room in December 1922. Dunand created many panels for furniture pieces made by other decorators (such as Legrain, Printz and Ruhlmann); he also worked from cartoons by Jean Lambert-Rucki or Georges Jouve (for the Leopard and Cobra two-leaf screen, for example, presented next to the Cagnas screen in the Galerie Georges-Petit). In the eighteenth century, the screen was initially a bedroom accessory before being used to protect against drafts. In the twentieth century, its purpose was more decorative than practical, though some designer-architects, including Eileen Gray and Jean Dunand, used it to restructure the layout of modern apartments. Pierre Chareau took this even further, using screens that could slide on rails to reorganize a space. Initially made by carpenters and upholsterers, screens became a means of individual expression for artist-interior designers.
Jean Dunand. Jean Goulden, exhibition catalogue, Paris, Galerie du Luxembourg, 1973.
Félix Marcilhac, Jean Dunand, vie et œuvre, Paris, Éditions de l’Amateur, 1991.