MANIFESTO

#63

CHANGE OF SPACE

A Belmond Train

2024.04.18

Text by Francesca Fontanesi

The legendary Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, A Belmond Train, rewrites history with L’Observatoire. Designed by JR, it will be presented at the Venice Biennale.

The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express presents L’Observatoire, an exclusive sleeper car with interiors designed by the French street artist JR. This private carriage, the first to be designed by an artist, will join the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express in 2025 and will also be the most spacious available on board the train. JR’s passion for railways dates back to his childhood and has also been the greatest source of inspiration for the creation of L’Observatoire. The artist was also influenced by the design of his personal studio in Paris, the charm of ancient crafts, astronomical observatories, and the chambers of wonders, the Wunderkammer, of Renaissance Europe.

JR approached this project aboard the legendary Venice Simplon-Orient-Express drawn by his passion for trains and century-old works. A passion born during his childhood and evident throughout JR’s career, starting from his seminal work Women Are Heroes (2007), where he glued his own eyes, immediately recognizable, on the roofs and sides of trains passing through the slum of Kibera in Nairobi, to Mind the Gap (2017), a gigantic installation composed of 700 miniature trains representing faces reproduced in a loop in an endless circle. The interiors of the carriage reveal various environments that he himself has enriched with an unprecedented wealth of details: guests can find a room with a double bed, a private bathroom, a wardrobe, a reclining sofa bed, a lounge area, a small library with a selection of books from the French publisher Gallimard, and a secret tea room complete with a fireplace. Traveling in this carriage means exploring worlds made of incredible details, while the rounded windows and the round skylight facing the sky allow you to admire the wonderful European landscapes that the train passes through. Each space, designed with the utmost respect for timeless arts, conceals hidden details curated by JR to stimulate curiosity and imagination, from hidden compartments to secret messages concealed in sophisticated inlays. Guests will be able to discover the wonders of L’Observatoire as they traverse the continent aboard the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.

“L’Observatoire allows you to enter my fantastical world. I began envisioning the carriage starting from the shapes, with curved corners and rounded windows, to provide guests with a private space where they can daydream with their eyes wide open”.

– JR

The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is composed of 17 carriages, built in the 1920s and 1930s. During that time, they were adorned by the most famous designers and representatives of the Art Deco movement, such as René Prou and René Lalique, who created the iconic tulip lamp and the glass panels of the Côte d’Azur restaurant carriage. Almost a century later, the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express enlisted a renowned artist like JR to breathe new life into one of its original carriages, the Sleeping Car 3553, through a meticulous interior restoration project. It was the perfect task for a true visionary like JR, who employed centuries-old craftsmanship techniques to preserve the look and charm of the train. Simultaneously, he managed to create something powerful and immersive, a moving work of art that invites guests to fully embrace observation, listening, adventure, and curiosity – all key foundations of the artist’s universe.

 

 

 

 

I would have never imagined receiving this collaboration proposal because the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is truly a historic train. Working with artisans and discovering motifs that respect the period [in which the train carriages were built] was not a limitation, because I wanted to create a timeless work of art, as if I were an artist from the 1920s of the last century. True art is timeless.

“As a child, I would sit by the window and watch the world pass by in front of me. Watching the landscape change from your own personal bubble is like traveling through different worlds”.

– JR

From April 17th to April 19th, L’Observatoire will be exhibited at Fondamenta San Giovanni and open from 2PM to 5PM.
From April 20th to April 22nd at Riva Dei Sette Martiri and will be open to the public from 11AM to 6PM.

 

 

For more information, visit belmond.com.

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