On the Water

Painting from the Duck Suite, SS United States

This painting was part of the Duck Suite, the first-class luxury accommodations that included three upper-deck cabins aboard the ocean liner SS United States. The mural, which was designed by Constance Smith, decorated a wall of the suite’s sitting room. The scene of water birds is rendered in paint and gold leaf on aluminum panels and is the inspiration for the Duck Suite’s name. Renowned as the most luxurious of the 14 first-class suites on the ship, these rooms were typically chosen by the United States’ most well-to-do passengers, from movie stars to British royalty. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, regular passengers on the rival ship Queen Mary, switched their loyalties to the United States during the mid-1950s and booked the Duck Suite, which was their favorite lodging at sea for a time.

Like everything on this flagship of the United States Line, the mural had to be crafted out of flame-resistant metal. The ship was filled with aluminum, selected by the ship’s architect, William Francis Gibbs, who designed the vessel to be as fireproof as possible. And though the massive amounts of aluminum did make the United States one of the safest ships ever launched, the metallic, modern décor also gave it a special feel unlike any other ocean liner. Most liners were decorated with opulent wood carvings and even had working fireplaces to make passengers feel as if they were sitting in their own living room or library. However, Gibbs put aside this notion of Victorian comfort with his new interior decorating style. The United States was the epitome of 1950s and 60s design: sleek, modern, and practical.

ID Number:
Smith, Constance
aluminum, paint, wood, gold leaf
61 3/8 x 94 1/2 in.; 155.8925 x 240.03 cm
Transfer from US Department of Commerce, Maritime Administration (through R. J. Blackwell)