The art of
recognition. Jean Prouvé (1901-1984), who was at the center
of the French Modernist aesthetic movement and little known
outside of France, has had a revival of sorts beginning in the
90s, a rediscovery by the high-design crowd, and originals sell
for extremely high prices. Many of his furniture pieces were
designed and mass-produced for the Cité Universitaire and
occasionally show up at thrift stores and flea markets, and the
New York Times says that Prouve pieces "...sell for anywhere from
$4,000 to $2 million; a documented piece in good condition sells
for about $20,000." Here’s what to look for—his trademark
style: fin shaped supports in metal, a certain sculptural
industrial-chic in the use of wood-and-metal, a rooted yet
aerodynamic sleekness of line as if he were building chairs that
were never meant to fly, but only alluded to movement as they
planted themselves firmly in the ground.
said that Prouvé combined “the soul of an engineer with that of an
architect,” but what he really trying to say, perhaps rather
unpoetically, was that Prouvé was an industrial designer.
Prouvé grew up immersed in design—his father had founded the École
de Nancy, an Art Nouveau movement, along with other designers.
By the time he was in his twenties, Prouvé was an accomplished
wrought-iron craftsman. He came to design from the
forge--blacksmithing, metal workshops—so that he understood metal
like few other designers. His fins were constructed to best
transfer force, and one sees the same shape even in the supports
he used architecturally.
certainly a Chair Man. Tintin in Tibet (1958)
features his low Visiteur chair. Prouvé did not particularly
like steel tubing; moving away from the prevailing Bauhaus
aesthetic and using sheet metal and aluminum instead, realizing
that a section of flattened tubular steel was far stronger than
round tubular steel. His iconic
(top) with its lovely curves of wood and oak veneer, uses both
round tubular and flattened steel. His
Cité lounge chair
(right), lacquered metal and fabric with leather arm
straps---still modern after all these years!
There is the
famous bookcase that he designed with Charlotte Perriand (a force
in her own right). They invited the painter Sonia Delaunay,
known for her use of color and geometry to create the palette.
Of lacquered steel and pine, there is also a variation that
combines the bookcase with a bench.
design a prefab house for use in the French colonies by the
government, Prouvé came up with the
of sheet aluminum, that could easily be shipped and assembled.
Only 3 were ever built. The house was naturally ventilated
through openings, insulated with double-skinned walls, had
sunshades that could be moved or adjusted, circular portholes with
a lovely blue glass. The same fin-shaped supports.
think, to recognize the Chair Man if one were to ever come across
him in a flea market!
Cité lounge chair, Vitra reproduction
Tropicale, the New York Times slideshow of the 2007 show of the
house in New York City