The present piano is a very close variant of the piece showcased by Ruhlmann in the Paris Exposition of 1925. Of comparable form, similarly raised on four legs of voluptuous silhouette, and with an elegant bronze bow cradling the foot peddles, the present example employs a quite different wood. As opposed to the ebene de macassar trimmed with silvered bronze used in his exhibition piece, in this case Ruhlmann has used a fine, patterned walnut, offset by the warm glow of gilt bronze.
Close consideration of this piano reveals characteristic aspects of Ruhlmann's style and approach. Ambitious in scale and concept, the piece balances a traditional form with more personalized details such as the serpentine bronze trims that silhouette the outer edge of each leg, terminating in discreet scrolls at the top and in tapered sabots at the base. A high-quality veneer of exotic wood creates a seductive shell, sleek in its richness and high finish, over the typically robust carcass. Ruhlmann is revealed as the master designer and artisan serving and reflecting the confident self-image of the haute bourgeoisie of Paris and France in the 1920s.
The centerpiece of Ruhlmann 's contribution to the historic Paris exposition of 1925 was the grandiose salon in his HÔTEL DU COLLECTIONNEUR. This magnificent room was conceived on the theme of music. The theme was reflected in the decorated cupola ceiling, painted by artist Rigal in homage to the symphonies of Beethoven. And amidst the harmonious opulence of luxurious textures, patterns and forms that constituted the scheme, a principal focus was a magnificent grand piano. Sumptuous in form and in finish, and with its reference to the classical traditions of music, this design served as an apt metaphor for the pursuit of refinement that was the essence of Ruhlmann 's enterprise.
According to Ruhlmann 's records, six pianos were designed in his atelier. However, because of the current unknown whereabouts of several pianos, together with conflicting descriptions in the primary and secondary texts about their forms, woods and original provenances, several unanswered questions linger when confirming the total number of pianos as stated in the inventory.
1. The most famous example, mentioned above, was in ebene de macassar, burled amboyna, ivory, and silvered bronze, the works by Gaveau. It was designed for the Grand Salon of the HÔTEL DU COLLECTIONNEUR at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes, 1925. It was later sold at Sotheby's New York, December 7, 1985, lot 238; exhibited at Maximillian's Pianos, New York; and sold in Christie's New York, November 29, 1999, lot 102. It is illustrated in Maurice Dufrêne, ENSEMBLES MOBILIERS: EXPOSITION INTERNATIONALE, 1925, Paris, 1925, pl. 26; Florence Camard, RUHLMANN, Paris, 1983, p. 92; and numerous other texts.
2. The present example, Lot 27, is the closest stylistically to the Exposition Internationale example, and dates to the same period. This highly elegant edition in loupe de noyer, sycamore and bronze, the works by Gaveau, is catalogued and discussed on the following two pages.
3. Another piano in ebene de macassar, amboyna and bronze, the works by Gaveau, is being offered this season at Christie's New York, December 10, 2002. It shares the same lyre-shaped pedal suspension as the first two examples, but has been dated to 1930-1931, and with its exaggerated case and squared-off legs, exhibits stylistic qualities not ordinarily seen in the Ruhlmann oeuvre. It was first illustrated and exhibited in the CENTENARY EXHIBITION: EMILE-JACQUES RUHLMANN, 1879-1933, THE FOULK LEWIS COLLECTION, 1979.
4. In addition to the three pianos with works by Gaveau, there were also models produced in collaboration with other piano firms. A piano in blondewood with ivory inlay, the works by Erard, has resided for years in a school in the South of France. It is illustrated in Florence Camard, Ruhlmann, Paris, 1983, p. 262.
5. Another piano in black lacquer and chromed silver, the works by Pleyel, was exhibited at the Salon des Artistes Decorateurs, 1929, as part of the Study Room for a Crown Prince, the Viceroy of India, alongside the famous Tardieu desk. It was later sold at Sotheby's Monaco, April 23, 1989, lot 658, and is illustrated in Camard, Ruhlmann, Paris, 1983, p. 263.
6. Ruhlmann's pianos were believed to have been employed on the two greatest ocean liners of the era, but their current locations and definitive attributions remain elusive. The first one, of unknown wood, the works also by Pleyel, dates to ca. 1926, and was commissioned by the liner Ile-de-France. A grainy illustration of this model appears in Henri Clouzot, "Le Paquebot Ile-de-France," LA RENAISSANCE DE L'ART FRANÇAIS ET DES INDUSTRIES DE LUXE, February 1928, p. 101. There appeared in 1935 several pianos with works by Gaveau on the Normandie, in the liner's Petit Salon and Trouville Suite. These pianos were sold at one of the ship's auctions during the Second World War. One of them, attributed to Ruhlmann, is illustrated in Charles Offrey, et al., NORMANDIE, QUEEN OF THE SEAS, New York, 1985, p. 74. The furniture in the Normandie was, in fact, ordered in 1932, just prior to Ruhlmann's death.
Piano works by Gaveau
burled walnut, sycamore, gilt bronze
with inlaid signature, numbered, and marked "GAVEAU/PARIS"
42 3/8 x 60 1/4 x 59 in.
(102.5 x 153 x 150 cm)
March 11, 1984, lot 216
Pierre Kjellberg, ART DECO: LES MAÎTRES DU MOBILIER, Paris, 1981, p. 161
Raymond Foulk, EMILE-JACQUES RUHLMANN: CENTENARY EXHIBITION 1879-1933, London, 1979, p.62 for Ruhlmann's drawing of the piano, 1924 (Fig. 1)