The Value of Historical Significance

Only on rare occasions does the historical significance of an item outweigh the value of the item itself.  Recently Enservio Select received a request to appraise a glass panel from the infamous S.S. Normandie, a French luxury liner ship which capsized during WWII.  The piece was an Art Deco verre églomisé (glass gilded) reverse painted panel from the 1930s, painted by Jean Dupas (French, 1882-1964), and was created as part of a larger glass mural for the SS Normandie’s Grand Salon.  The panel was unfortunately broken during transport and we, not only, had the task of putting a monetary value to the piece, but a salvage value as well.

Jean Dupas SS Normandie Panel

Subject panel as it was displayed in the Grand Salon of the SS Normandie in the late 1930s

More valuable than the panel alone was the history and provenance which accompanied it.  In the 1930s, French Art Deco artist Jean Dupas was asked by the French Line Compagnie Générale Transatlantique for a composition extolling the delights of Normandy for SS Normandie, an ocean liner built in Saint-Nazaire, France.  Rather than painting canvas, Dupas chose to apply paint to the reverse of glass in a series of four thematic murals for the Grand Salon in the SS Normandie:  “The Birth of Aphrodite,” “The Chariot of Poseidon,” “The Chariot of Thetis,” and the “Rape of Europa.” Dupas was assisted by églomisé specialist Charles Champigneulle who enriched the artist’s outlines with layers of black, gold and platinum washes.  The four glass murals were displayed in the ship’s Grand Salon, which comfortably seated 700 people, was furnished with Jean Rothschild and Jean Dunand Furniture, and adorned Lalique fixtures.  The Normandie became known as a floating palace of an ocean liner ensconced from stem-to-stern with top-notch Art Deco décor.

Each of the four murals was essentially a mosaic, assembled from dozens of glass panels, anchored by bronze brackets at the corners.  During World War II in 1942, when the Nazis invaded France, the Normandie was seized by US authorities in the New York Harbor and renamed USS Lafayette to be retro-fitted for war.  Many of the art items, including the Dupas glass mural panels, we taken off before the retrofitting, and sold at a series of auctions. The largest collection of Dupas panels extant was donated to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, preserving for posterity an entire corner of Normandie’s Grand Salon.  During the conversion for wartime use, the ship caught fire and capsized in the Hudson River.  Fortunately, most of the furnishings and décor had been removed prior to the fire and have been sold throughout the years at auctions.

Photograph of a full mural in the Metropolitan Museum of Art “History of Navigation”

S.S. Normandie, capsized in the Hudson River, 1942

The glass panel we were asked to appraise is an example of one of the panels which made up the large murals in the SS Normandie.  It is a 32” x 48” piece of the “Chariot of Thetis” mural.  Though it is only a fragment of a larger mural, it still holds significant value.  Groups of Jean Dupas panels from the SS Normamdie have sold at Christie’s and Sotheby’s for $105,000.00- $192,000.00 since before 2005; however, they have seen a significant increase of value as of late, when Sotheby’s sold 10 panels for $512,500.00 and Christie’s sold a similar group for $578,500.00.  The most comparable and recent sale was Sotheby’s March of 2013 sale of a single panel from Dupas’ “Birth of Aphrodite” mural.  The singular panel sold for approximately $90,000.00, almost the same amount that groups of six Dupas murals were selling for in previous years.  The upsurge in value is an indication of the heightened public interest and rarity of the panel; as they are being sold into personal collections, the availability in the market is scarce.  Through much research and investigation, Enservio provided an appraised value of $90,000.00 for the subject panel.

Subject glass panel current condition

The condition of the subject glass panel, at claim intake, was very poor.  It had been shattered and was considered a total loss by the owner/policy holder and the insurance company.  The policy holder received the full replacement value for the panel, though we felt we could help the insurance company obtain a salvage value for the piece.  We selected a specific conservator whose general expertise is Tiffany glass, and who has worked on a shattered Normandie panel in the past, to inspect and conserve the work.  While it will be months until we see the end product, we are still confident that the piece will have a significant salvage value post-restoration and that the insurance company can retrieve a large portion of the loss payout.

In this rare instance, a seemingly total loss item was saved by its history.  In most cases, broken glass is considered a total loss, as glass is not a forgiving medium in the aftermarket for resale.  However, in this case, the provenance and historical significance of the object, as well as the rarity, was important enough to consider options.