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  • Place of origin:

    Paris (made)

  • Date:

    1939 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Berman, Eugène, born 1899 - died 1972 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Painted canvas on pine carcase

  • Museum number:

    W.27:1 to 7-1987

  • Gallery location:

    Furniture, Room 133, The Dr Susan Weber Gallery, case BY10, shelf EXP []

This wardrobe was shown at an exhibition of Surrealist art at the new Galerie Drouin in Paris in 1939. It was probably made for the exhibition. Although simple in form, it is monumental in scale. Its impact is heightened by the illusionism of the painting. The fantastical scene has a surreal and ominous nature and reflects Berman's interest in architecture as well as decay and destruction. Eugène Berman (1899-1972) worked principally as a painter, printmaker and stage designer, especially for ballet and opera. Furniture was not a major part of his work, and he did not attempt to engage with the functional complexities of furniture design itself. Instead, it was a means through which he could extend the illusionism of his painting into three dimensions.

Physical description

Berman’s simple wooden wardrobe is rectangular in shape with a peaked roof or pediment at the top. The roof overhangs the wardrobe slightly. The wardrobe is painted in oils on canvas to look like a stone archway. The painting wraps around the wardrobe forming a continuous image; the side panels, the front, and the roof are all painted. The back of the wardrobe is not painted. There are two identical circular metal door knocker style handles, one on each door. Two-thirds of the wardrobe opens, excluding the roof part. The two hinged doors are not identical but follow the motifs of the painting, and open outwards to reveal two cupboards. On one side there is a tiered-system of shelves and on the other a rail to hand larger garments. Above is a moon shaped (tympanum-like) shelf which can also be used for storage. The inside of the doors are painted blue; the inside of the cupboard is painted black. The wardrobe is simple in craftsmanship and design and although functional it is clear that the painting was meant to be the focus of the wardrobe.

Place of Origin

Paris (made)


1939 (made)


Berman, Eugène, born 1899 - died 1972 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

Painted canvas on pine carcase

Marks and inscriptions

EB / 1939
Signed on canvas in keystone on front of wardrobe (similar to signature on Berman paintings and drawings)

Object history note

Berman was born in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1889. He received training with an architect who worked in the Palladian tradition before going to study in Paris. “From the 1920s he was closely identified with a group of Parisian artists, mainly former fellow students, dubbed the ‘Neo-Romantic’ painters.” (Wilk, p. 230)
“The architectural form and and subject matter of this cabinet relates directly to Berman’s training as well as to his intense study of buildings through travel and drawing, and his collecting of architectural books and prints. Berman clearly designed this cabinet specially for its decoration. Berman’s imagery suggests decay, destruction and the passing of time and may well have been related to when it was painted – on the eve of World War II. (Wilk, p. 230.)
Calloway describes how Berman became fascinated with the forms of “decayed statuary” and goes on to suggest that the cabinet is “one of the greatest achievments of the Neo-Romantic impulse”. (Calloway, p. 115.)
The wardrobe was most likely created for the exhibition at Galerie Drouin in 1939. “The gallery was the first commercial venture of a giant of the post-war American art world, Leo Castelli, and his partner, the designer Rene Drouin.” (Wood, p. 41)
“However, the exhibition was soon overshadowed by the war and quickly forgotten. The Galerie Drouin exhibition marked the height of a symbiotic relationship between fashion and surrealism. The event revealed a little-studied world of Surrealist artists designing objects, and emphasised the importance that personal relationships played in the creation of a wider surrealist aesthetic. The social scene of Paris itself promoted the swift transmission of ideas.” (Wood, p. 42)
“Tromp l’oeil in particular occupied an increasingly important role in Berman’s ouvre” (Callowayp. 116.)

Descriptive line

Unique handpainted wardrobe by Eugene Berman, painted in trompe l'oeuil effect, 1939

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Calloway, Stephen, The culture of excess: Baroque (London: Phiadon, 1994), pp. 114 – 116.
Wilk, Christopher, ed., Western Furniture 1350 to the Present Day. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1996. 230p., ill. ISBN 085667463X.
Wood, Ghislaine, ‘From Dream to Reality’ in V and A Magazine (Spring 2007), 40 - 45.
Annie Cohen-Solal and Mark Polizzotti, Leo and His Circle: The Life of Leo Castelli (Knopf Publishing Group, 2010), p. 134.

Labels and date

Painted by Eugène Berman (Russian, 1899-1972)
Painted canvas on pine carcase

Included in an exhibition of fantastic furniture at the Galerie René Drouin, Paris, 1939.

W.27-1987 [1989-2006]
Painted and probably designed by Eugène Berman (1899–1972)

France (Paris)
Pine, covered in canvas, painted and varnished
Handles: metal

This strange wardrobe was born out of an art movement rather than an interest in the complexities of furniture design.

Berman was a Russian painter and stage designer who associated with the Surrealists. He exhibited the wardrobe at an exhibition of Surrealist art at the Galerie Drouin in Paris on the eve of the Second World War. Its simple architectural form provides a neutral surface for an unsettling exploration of three-dimensional space.

Museum no. W.27-1987 [01/12/2012]

Production Note

Reason For Production: Exhibition


Pine; Canvas; Oil paint





Production Type



Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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