News from Venice Biennale: Belmond Announces L'Observatoire, A New Train Carriage Designed by Artist JR

From a media release

News from Venice Biennale:
Belmond Announces L'Observatoire
A New Train Carriage Designed by Artist JR

Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, A Belmond Train, Europe presents L'Observatoire, a new carriage designed by artist JR

APRIL 2024 | The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, A Belmond Train, Europe is proud to present L’Observatoire, an exclusive sleeper carriage with interiors conceptualized and designed by world-acclaimed artist JR. 

Artist JR in L'Observatoire, Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, A Belmond Train, Europe; credit - JR
L'Observatoire, Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, A Belmond Train, Europe; credit - JR

Joining the rake in 2025, L’Observatoire is the first carriage to be designed by an artist on board the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and will become the most spacious accommodation type onboard the train. The private carriage will feature a bedroom with double bed, an ensuite bathroom, wardrobe, reclining day bed, lounge area, library with book selection by French publisher Gallimard, and secret tearoom with a fireplace.

Art In Motion

JR's passion for the rails, sparked off as a child, largely informs the inspiration behind the creation of L’Observatoire. The artist was also influenced by the design of his personal art studio in Paris, the charm of century old crafts, astronomical observatories and the cabinets of curiosity of Renaissance Europe. 

The carriage interiors unfold through the different environments from the bedroom to the lounge area to the hidden tearoom, and guests will be encouraged to explore these worlds of incredible detail while the rounded windows and oculus skylight on the ceiling will allow them to engage with the exterior landscapes of Europe. 

Each of the spaces, designed with the utmost respect for timeless crafts, feature hidden details that JR curated to drive curiosity and instill a sense of imagination. From hidden compartments to secret messages layered in the intricate marquetry, guests can uncover the wonders of L’Observatoire as they crisscross the continent on board the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. 

“With L’Observatoire, people can enter my imaginary world. I envisioned the carriage primarily through shapes, with curved corners and round windows, so guests have little places to daydream. Guests can now stay in an artist’s private space while being in the most iconic train in the world – experiencing this creative crossroads for the duration of a journey is very special and hasn’t been seen in this way before,” comments JR, February 2024.

He adds, “I wanted to create so many hidden details and layers that can help inspire that sense of wonder,​your inner child – whether that’s hidden compartments or secret messages that some guests will notice, and others will miss. There’s so much in this carriage that will be impossible to explore in a single trip.” February 2024.

Artist JR in L'Observatoire, Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, A Belmond Train, Europe; credit - JR
JR in L'Observatoire, Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, A Belmond Train, Europe; credit - JR

For the Love of Trains

A passion for trains and century-old crafts attracted JR to this project onboard the legendary Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. Sparked off during his childhood, the interest in trains is evident in JR’s career from his seminal work ‘Women Are Heroes’ (2007) - which involved the installation of his instantly-recognizable pasting of eyes on the roofs and sides of trains as they travelled through the Kibera slum in Nairobi - to ‘Mind the Gap’ (2017) which saw a giant installation of 700 miniature trains depicting faces, looping in an endless circle. 

JR comments, “I have a very long story with trains – they’ve always been a canvas for me. When I was a kid, I would sit by the window and just watch the world go by. There is something about viewing the changing landscape from a bubble, as if you are travelling through different worlds. Then when I started creating art, I realised that trains were a way to make my work travel, so I started replacing Metro maps with my photography. It allows me to send my work into the unknown like a message in a bottle.” February 2024.

Custodians Of Craftsmanship

The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is formed by 17 carriages, built in the 1920s and 1930s. At that time, the most acclaimed designers and exponents of the Art Deco movement, like René Prou and René Lalique (who created the train’s iconic ‘tulip lamp’ and the glass panelling of the Côte d’Azur restaurant car), were commissioned to decorate these historic carriages. Almost a century later, the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express chooses leading artist JR to infuse new life into one of its original carriages, Sleeping Car 3553, through a meticulous restoration of the interiors. 

JR in L'Observatoire, Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, A Belmond Train, Europe; credit - JR
L'Observatoire, Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, A Belmond Train, Europe; credit - JR

A task for a true visionary, JR used artisanal century-old techniques to preserve the train’s look and feel. At the same time, he was able to create something powerfully immersive, an artwork in motion that invites guests to embrace observation, curiosity, adventure and listening - all core tenets of the artist’s universe. 

“I would never have dared to imagine this collaboration, because the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is such a historic train. Working with artisans and discovering motifs that respect the era [in which the train carriages were built] was not a constraint, because I was interested in making this a timeless artwork – as if I was an artist from the 1920s. The fundamental craft is timeless,” comments JR, February 2024.

Gary Franklin, Vice Presidents Trains & Cruises at Belmond also says, “The team and I are thrilled to be working with JR, who shares with us a real passion for the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. L’Observatoire is a testament to our company’s prominent role in reinventing the railway experience as we perpetuate the art of slow luxury across our growing portfolio.”

In celebration of Biennale Arte, Belmond will give the public the unique opportunity to peek inside this historic carriage in Venice between April 17-22, 2024. L’Observatoire will be on display in Venice where guests can peer through several viewpoints located on the carriage windows in order to discover JR's design as it unfolds through the different environments.From April 20-22, it will be on display at Riva Dei Sette Martiri and open from 10:00AM-6:00PM.

  • L’Observatoire will join the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express in 2025. To register interest in experiencing a journey onboard this new carriage, please click here.