Mod­ernist Masters

In­ter­na­tional fas­ci­na­tion with the works of masters of French mid-cen­tury fur­ni­ture – ma­jor con­trib­u­tors to the his­tory of de­sign – is on the rise.

Robb Report (Malaysia) - - Ideal Homes & Art - By DIONNE BEL

On 29 Novem­ber 2016, Paris-based auc­tion house Artcu­rial ( www. artcu­rial.com) held a sale pre­sent­ing the col­lec­tion of an Amer­i­can col­lec­tor pas­sion­ate about French de­sign. It achieved € 4.5 mil­lion ( S$ 6.8 mil­lion), al­most dou­ble its pre-sale es­ti­mate and show­ing the buoy­ancy of the mar­ket. Among the high­lights were the big­gest names of 1950s French de­sign whose works sym­bol­ised the mod­ernist changes within so­ci­ety, in­clud­ing Jean Royere’s iconic Po­lar Bear sofa and pair of arm­chairs in red mo­hair vel­vet, horse­hair and solid oak that sold for €1.2 mil­lion, and Jean Prouve’s set of fur­ni­ture for Villa Saint- Clair which was bought for €477,800.

The mar­ket for French mid- cen­tury fur­ni­ture has been grow­ing steadily over the past decade, and even more so in the last five years, with in­tense work car­ried out to sup­port it by deal­ers, auc­tion houses, fairs and the pub­li­ca­tion of mono­graphs ded­i­cated to French 1950s de­sign­ers and dec­o­ra­tors.

Em­manuel Ber­ard, Artcu­rial’s de­sign depart­ment di­rec­tor, stated that its sales vol­ume in 2015 had pro­gressed by 22 per cent from 2014 to more than €11.5 mil­lion.

Thanks to the in­creas­ing in­ter­na­tional ap­peal of ex­cep­tional pieces by the French masters, four out of five of the high­est prices were achieved by Asian col­lec­tors in its March 2016 sale.

Ber­ard ex­plains its strong rep­u­ta­tion. “French mid-cen­tury de­sign is very at­trac­tive

Among the high­lights were the big­gest names of 1950s French de­sign.

for in­ter­na­tional col­lec­tors be­cause of its wide range of styles, types and authors. This pe­riod is the meet­ing point of many con­tem­po­rary con­cerns: post-war re­con­struc­tion, use of new ma­te­ri­als (like Prouve with metal) and a bet­ter-liv­ingth­rough- de­sign ide­ol­ogy that drove all these de­sign­ers. From the tra­di­tional Western clien­tele of col­lec­tors, we saw the birth three years ago of a new gen­er­a­tion of col­lec­tors from Asia (mainly China, South Korea and Ja­pan).

“This new com­pe­ti­tion has made prices rise by at least 30 per cent.”

Sales at De­sign Mi­ami last De­cem­ber were high and wide­spread, rang­ing from con­tem­po­rary fur­ni­ture by emerg­ing de­sign­ers to rare vin­tage works with il­lus­tri­ous prove­nance.

At the fair, Paris- based Laf­fanour/ga­lerie Down­town ( www.ga­leriedown­town.com) pre­sented a se­lec­tion cre­ated by Le Cor­bus­ier and Pierre Jean­neret for Chandi­garh in In­dia, the first time it de­voted an en­tire ex­hi­bi­tion to this fur­ni­ture in the US.

Gallery di­rec­tor, Helin Serre, com­ments: “The rise in pop­u­lar­ity of 1950s French de­sign comes from sev­eral fac­tors, start­ing with the fact that it is mar­keted and sup­ported by mer­chants and re­layed by col­lec­tors or in­sti­tu­tions that have turned it into iconic fur­ni­ture. Add to this the trans­for­ma­tion that has taken place these last 30 years in the fields of fash­ion, con­tem­po­rary art or in­te­rior dec­o­ra­tion, where it is pre­sented as icons of the 20th cen­tury. The ac­tions of these var­i­ous sec­tors al­lowed its de­vel­op­ment in a dif­fer­ent way: com­mer­cial, dec­o­ra­tive, in­tel­lec­tual.”

With its avant-garde spirit and aes­thetic based on func­tion­al­ity and

“This pe­riod is the meet­ing point of many con­tem­po­rary con­cerns.”

ra­tio­nal fab­ri­ca­tion fol­low­ing World War II, fur­ni­ture from this pe­riod rep­re­sented a break from tra­di­tion and con­trib­uted to re­sus­ci­tat­ing French in­dus­try. This gen­er­a­tion of de­sign­ers in­tro­duced a new con­cept to the art of fur­nish­ing, in­flu­enced by a need for free­dom and prac­ti­cal­ity. The re­sult­ing pieces re­vealed re­fined forms de­rived from qual­ity crafts­man­ship that em­pha­sised ma­te­ri­als and meth­ods of con­struc­tion.

French gal­lerist Pa­trick Seguin ( www.patrick­seguin.com) re­marks: “Jean Prouve, Char­lotte Per­riand, Pierre Jean­neret, Le Cor­bus­ier and Jean Royere were rev­o­lu­tion­ary de­sign­ers. Since I opened my gallery in 1989, de­mand for these five de­sign­ers has con­tin­ued to grow steadily. Prouve and Per­riand had a par­tic­u­lar aware­ness of the world around them, par­tic­u­larly the so­cial, en­vi­ron­men­tal and eco­nomic is­sues of their time. They were al­ways striv­ing to solve con­tem­po­rary prob­lems and push tech­nol­ogy to its lim­its, and this cre­ated the per­fect aes­thetic equa­tion in­volv­ing the bal­ance of form and func­tion.”

Seguin ob­serves how col­lec­tors to­day are par­tic­u­larly en­thu­si­as­tic

about the syn­ergy be­tween French mid­cen­tury de­sign and con­tem­po­rary art, as the bound­aries be­tween them be­come less de­fined. He reg­u­larly col­lab­o­rates with con­tem­po­rary art gal­leries, where they or­gan­ise ex­hi­bi­tions in each other’s spa­ces to stim­u­late de­mand and demon­strate how col­lec­tors can mix French mid- cen­tury de­sign and con­tem­po­rary art in their homes.

Serre says: “What con­tem­po­rary art col­lec­tors have mostly re­tained about 1950s de­sign is the sim­plic­ity of ma­te­ri­als, the min­i­mal­ism of forms and the aes­thetic ap­pear­ance within the space it is re- em­ployed. In nu­mer­ous col­lec­tions, it is of­ten shown be­side a Warhol, Basquiat, Richter or even a Thomas Struth, which quickly raised it to a level that we didn’t ex­pect 30 years ago!”

New York City-based 1950 Gallery ( www.g1950.com) met with strong re­sponse for works by Prouve, Per­riand and Jean­neret at De­sign Mi­ami 2016. Founder Al­berto Aquilino notes: “The French post-war de­sign mar­ket has ex­isted for more than 30 years. It was cre­ated in the early ’80s when a hand­ful of mer­chants, such as Fran­cois Laf­fanour and Philippe Jousse, be­gan to in­tro­duce pieces that had been un­til then rarely ex­hib­ited. They showed how this min­i­mal 1950s fur­ni­ture – linked for the most part to ar­chi­tec­ture – could be com­pared with con­tem­po­rary art. So they en­tered the do­main of ma­jor con­tem­po­rary art col­lec­tors of the ’80s and ’90s, which al­lowed its de­vel­op­ment. Ad­di­tion­ally, for more than 30 years, there has reg­u­larly been a new gen­er­a­tion of col­lec­tors.” At the Christie’s Paris ( www.christies.com) May 2016 sale, Royere’s rare straw mar­quetry side­board achieved € 373,500, while Per­riand’s colour­ful plat­form book­shelf spe­cially com­mis­sioned around 1954 by an ar­chi­tec­ture model maker known sim­ply as Harang, achieved €361,500. Pauline de Smedt, de­sign depart­ment di­rec­tor of Christie’s Paris, says: “The French ’50s have a

“The French post­war de­sign mar­ket has ex­isted for more than 30 years.”

strong his­tor­i­cal in­her­i­tance: there has al­ways been in France a long tra­di­tion with the dec­o­ra­tive arts, so­phis­ti­ca­tion and high­qual­ity crafts­man­ship, which goes back to the 18th cen­tury.”

What’s ex­cep­tional about this cat­e­gory of de­sign is that the works pro­mote aes­thetic val­ues that are still at the heart of con­tem­po­rary lifestyles.

De Smedt says: “French mid- cen­tury fur­ni­ture com­bines very well with con­tem­po­rary fur­ni­ture be­cause it has the same con­sid­er­a­tion for prac­ti­cal­ity and sober so­phis­ti­ca­tion in colour, form and ma­te­ri­als – plas­tic, resin, metal and wood – which per­fectly co­in­cide with to­day’s lifestyles and match the aes­thetic of con­tem­po­rary art­works and col­lec­tors.”

Ber­ard con­cludes: “Some ar­chi­tects are able to match per­fectly French mid­cen­tury de­sign with con­tem­po­rary in­te­ri­ors, for ex­am­ple Joseph Di­rand or Del­phine Krakoff. French mid­cen­tury de­sign pieces can be con­sid­ered the 20th cen­tury’s new classics and, as classics, they match very well with many things!” ≠

The works pro­mote aes­thetic val­ues that are at the heart of con­tem­po­rary lifestyles.

Green enam­elled steel and oak vari­ant of Jean Prouve’s 1952 Cite LC 22 dou­ble bed.

Pho­tos Artcu­rial, The LIFE Pic­ture Col­lec­tion/getty Imag es, James Burke/getty Imag es, Robert DOISNE AU, Ni co­las Berg erot, chri stie’s imag es

Le Cor­bus­ier (in­set) cre­ated this Les Mu­si­ci­ennes I ta­pes­try (top) in 1953.

These arm­chairs were de­signed by Pierre Jean­neret (in­set), with a teak struc­ture and leather seat, for the au­di­to­rium build­ings of Chandi­garh.

From above: chairs by Jean Prouve made of bent steel and moulded ply­wood, circa 1950; Char­lotte Per­riand.

Per­riand’s 1954 book­shelf was sold for €361,500, well over its es­ti­mate of €200,000 to €300,000, by Christie’s in May last year.

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