- Museum number
- Object: The Normandie Pitcher
Pitcher; chromium-plated brass, of tear-drop section, the body formed of a single sheet of metal bent to shape, with a tear-shaped piece for the base, the join concealed beneath a strip which runs round the base, along the edge and round the rim; the handle is formed of a flat strip of metal expanding at the top to blend in with the line of the rim.
- Production date
- 1935 (designed)
Height: 30.50 centimetres
Width: 24 centimetres (max)
- Curator's comments
- Text from J. Rudoe, 'Decorative Arts 1850-1950. A catalogue of the British Museum collection'. 2nd ed.1994, no.214.
Peter Müller-Munk studied at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Berlin under the silversmith Waldemar Ramisch and emigrated to America in 1926. He designed briefly for Tiffany & Co. before setting up his own studio for handmade silver. In his article in The Studio 98, London October 1929 (the same article appeared in the American magazine Creative Art 5, October 1929) Müller-Munk called for greater harmony of design and technique, criticising contemporary manufacturers in the silver and associated metal industries for striving to imitate handmade pieces with mass-production methods instead of adapting their merchandise to their machines; he despised the application of handmade ornament to a spun or stamped object and the 'artful practice' of cutting a hammered surface into the die. He claimed that the machine would not put the silversmith out of business: 'I still have the outmodish confidence that there will always remain a sufficient number of people who want the pleasure of owning a centre piece without being forced to share their joy of ownership with a few thousand other beings.' To illustrate his argument he included machine-made metalwork designed by Professor F. A. Breuhaus for WMF and his own handmade silver. He was soon to be proved wrong; the demand for silver was hit by the Depression and in the early 1930s he turned to industrial design. From 1935 to 1945 he taught at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, where he helped to organise the first college course in Industrial Design and Production Methods (Design 47, 9).
This pitcher was known as the 'Normandie' pitcher because its shape was blatantly derived from the smokestacks of the celebrated French ocean liner launched in 1935. The Normandie was a noted example of French modernist design and the image of the ship became familiar through Cassandre's popular poster. The 'Normandie' pitcher has been described as 'streamlining at its most elegant and practical, a perfect harmony of efficiency, material and the machine process' (Brooklyn 1986, The Brooklyn Museum, 'The Machine Age in America', 307); the spout pours perfectly. Another recent discussion notes the use of the tear-drop form with reference to Norman Bel Geddes's view that a drop of water was the perfect streamlined form. Streamlining thus suggests the flowing surface of water, thereby blurring the distinction between mechanistic and organic design - the pitcher could be grouped with either (New York, 1985, Whitney Museum of American Art, 'High Styles: Twentieth Century American Design', fig. 3.35, p. 120).
For examples of Müller-Munk's silver, see Newhaven 1983, Yale University Art Gallery, 'At home in Manhattan. Modern Decorative Arts, 1925 to the Depression', K. Davies. cat. nos 9, 18, 68. Müller-Munk also participated in the Third International Exposition of Contemporary Industrial Art held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in 1930-31, nos 396-7, with illustration. For an account of an exhibition of Müller-Munk's industrial design at the Philadelphia Art Alliance in 1946, see Design 47, May 1946, 8-9; the works exhibited ranged from electrical household goods and sewing machines to industrial canteens.
See also J. Rudoe, 'An historical continuum: collecting 20th century applied art from Europe and America at the British Museum' from 'The International Art & Design Fair 1900-2002' pp. 15-28, fig. 12.
Information supplementary to Rudoe 1994:
For a geometric silver tea-set by Muller-Munk of 1928-9, see Sotheby's New York, Important Design, 13 December 2013, lot 71.
- Not on display
- Acquisition date
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number