Curator’s Eye: Three-Panel Screen by Donald Deskey

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DONALD DESKEY (1894–1989)
Made by Deskey-Vollmer, Inc.
Oil on canvas, metal leaf, and wood
c. 1928

IN THE 1920S DONALD DESKEY WAS part of a group of American designers influenced by European art deco. He designed several important interiors, including those in New York City’s landmark Radio City Music Hall. Besides public buildings, Deskey’s commissions included interior decoration for numerous private houses. One, on the East Coast, owned by Glendon Allvine, was promoted in the press as “America’s First Modernistic Home.”

Allvine was a well-known Hollywood executive and the publicity director for Fox Films Corporation. His residence was the first beach house of contemporary design in Long Beach, a community on Long Island’s southern shore. Allvine, who highly valued the modern movement, decorated the house with furnishings by some of the leading designers of the period, including Ruth Reeves, Paul Frankl, and Walter von Nessen, as well as Deskey. The three-panel screen follows the color scheme of the dining room.

Emblematic of Deskey’s well-known modernist style, it relates to other iconic French art deco pieces by such artists as Eileen Gray and Jean Dunand. Along with Deskey’s distinguished streamline furniture, it reflects the dynamic spirit of the late 1920s and early 1930s in the United States.

Barry Shifman

Sydney and Frances Lewis Family Curator of Decorative Arts, 1890 to the Present

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond