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Chair Man of the Bored

 
 

Jean Prouvé

   

 

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.

 

Le Corbusier 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.

 

Prouvé was 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 Antony chair (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.

 

 

Asked to design a prefab house for use in the French colonies by the government, Prouvé came up with the Maison Tropicale 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. 

 

Enough, we think, to recognize the Chair Man if one were to ever come across him in a flea market!

 

Buy: Antony chair, Vitra reproduction

 

Buy: Cité lounge chair, Vitra reproduction

 

Visit: Maison Tropicale, the New York Times slideshow of the 2007 show of the house in New York City

 

Tags: design  architecture  france  paris 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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