The France has a special status in this legendary port of ocean liners, this city which was its home port and which for 12 years lived at the rhythm of its departures and its arrivals. The arrival in 1961 marked the city’s rebirth following the reconstruction and inauguration of the Maison de la Culture by André Malraux. In 1962, for its first departure to New York, all eyes –and cameras- were set on Le Havre and the liner became the monument of the city, a reason of pride in the eyes of the nation and of the world.
The pride of a nation
The chimney and luminous letters of the France (French Lines Collection)
The exhibition at the MuMa - Musée d'art moderne André Malraux, located in the fore-port of Le Havre, includes various works never seen to date, a special scenography with the reconstitution of the bridge integrating the monumental, luminous original letters. An exhibition on the Normandie liner puts the France in perspective as well as its prestigious predecessor from the 30s. France –the country- was just picking itself up after World War II, and the liner, built on the shipyards of Penhoët in 1957, was to reflect the know-how and the country’s innovating capacities. It is characterized by massive use of aluminum, of stabilizers, elevators that can be programmed, funnels elegantly designed that spread the smoke along the sides and would become the liner’s emblem. The France became a national creation that integrated elements built throughout the country and assembled in Saint-Nazaire. When the liner was launched on 11 May 1960 General De Gaulle was more than proud to list the missions carried out by this ambassador of the seas.
A summary of the art of that time
The focus was on the inhabited machine, since the France reflected its era. The core of the exhibition is an immersion in the settings that represent for us the archetype of the beginning of the 60s with its turquoise blues, oranges, the formica, golden and engraved aluminums, as well as the furniture of the decorators associated with special state commissions. The works of André Arbus, Dominique, Jean Leleu, Maxime Old, Jacques Dumond or Marc Simon (armchairs, tables, chests of drawers…) are all put in their settings. The works of art that decorated the walls, some of which we may see in this exhibition, also reflect the spirit of the France. In the midst of the quarrels between abstract and figurative artists, the artistic council chose an eclecticism that was meant to reflect the diversity of French creativity with the collaborations of René Fumeron, Jean René Bazaine, Jean Carzou, Othon Friesz, Mario Prassinos… The list is too long but reminds us that the France’s ambition was to be a floating museum as can be seen in the catalogue of works made available to the passengers.
The luxury of life on board
The First Class Dining Room of the France, 1961 (French Lines Collection).
France would be a true creative challenge with its 8 hectares of deck to be arranged. The result in the end was one of the best examples of official art, close as a matter of fact to the decoration of the airport of Orly inaugurated that same year. A “Été passionnément France” is accompanied by two other exhibitions. The Espace André Graillot presents an immersion into the luxury of the giants of the sea: the decoration of the dining rooms and the art of tableware contributed to the renown of French ocean liners – the wine cellar of the France had 76 000 bottles… It was the first time such an important number of silver flatware from liners is brought together (mostly thanks to the collections of Association French Lines). Along the beach, an exhibition presented by the Office de tourisme brings together photographs that trace the life on board, the every day occupations of the celebrities and the staff of this famous “French style service” that foreign passengers were so eager to enjoy.
• Catalogue (80 pages, €20) on sale at the Office de tourisme and at the boutique in the Museum.
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