Ile de France

Scott Houston McBee (born 1962)

Gouache and India ink on paper



Height: 36 ¾ inches (93.98 cm.)

Width: 93 ⅜ inches (236.22 cm.)



Built by Chantiers de l’Atlantique, St. Nazaire, France

Active from 1927 to 1958 (Troopship from 1939 to 1946)

791 feet long; 91 feet wide

Service speed 23.5 knots

64,000 horsepower

1,786 passengers

Built for Le Havre-New York service; in winter was sometimes used for trips to the Caribbean.


The Ile de France was of unprecedented refinement, with furnishings and decorations executed by the greatest names of the period. The ship’s degree of modernity was also unlike anything seen before. The design of the liner drew its inspiration from the art deco style, which emerged during the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes held in Paris. As the passenger liner connoisseur C.M. Squarely wrote, “Here is a romantic ship, a very romantic ship…This ship is so utterly and superbly French that one scarcely dares to talk, or write, about her in other than the French language.”[1]

The Ile de France possessed a three-deck-high main foyer with a grand staircase, dining room, chapel, shooting gallery, gymnasium, and merry-go-round for the young passengers. First class passengers enjoyed a towering dining room that spanned the height of three decks. Every cabin had beds and not bunks. Its passengers included the international who’s who of politics, aristocracy, business and arts, including Rita Hayworth, Cary Grant and Maurice Chevalier.

From 1939 to 1946, the ship was used as a troopship, and in 1946, it was awarded the Croix de Gurerre. The retrofitting took two years. Among other changes, the original three funnels were removed and replaced by two modern ones. The Ile de France made her post-war debut in the summer of 1949 in France, and a few days later, she was welcomed back to New York, and docked in her old berth, Pier 88 at West 48th street.

In creating each work, Scott McBee enlarges the original builder’s plan onto a piece of graphite paper. The outline of ship is thereafter transferred onto the work. He then completes the outline in India ink, which is both waterproof and fade-proof. McBee then applies three coats of gouache. In the same process as shipbuilding, he begins by painting the hull and working from the keel up. The ship’s name marks the end of the painting process. Each work takes approximately three weeks to complete.


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