chapter  4
Floating art deco showcases
Pages 30

Many of the key ocean liner interiors of the inter-war years were examples of the

national showcase, framing what was considered the best design style and the best

designers by the line owners. Some designers would be commissioned to design one

particular space on the ship, or execute elaborate fittings or objects in their specialist

field, for example, decorative painting, glass or metalwork. The French Normandie and British Empress of Britain were significant examples of this type. Following the First World War, the competition between vying national identities escalated, with

America and Italy joining the fray and using indigenous designers to express a more

contemporary style in the service of national identity. P&O still used professional

decorating firms, but in 1929 the lavish interiors of the Viceroy of India were designed by the Hon. Elsie Mackay, one of the first examples of a woman working on ship

interiors. Largely unacknowledged at the time, and subsequently derided in the

professional press, this was a key example of a British ship designed in period style,

with touches of international art deco. Contemporary reviews expressed anxiety about

the ‘. . . distinctive modern note . . .’ of some of the décor (The Shipbuilder 1929: 263). Although by ‘modern’ the critic was referring to what would be termed art

deco now, it revealed a British resistance to using contemporary, international design

styles for the interiors of ocean liners. This seemed to be an inappropriate design style

for British vessels.