LAMA BLOG

What a Jean Prouvé School Desk Can Teach Us

April 10, 2015

Famed for his elegant yet muscular furniture and architecture, the French designer and engineer Jean Prouvé (1901–1984) is regarded as one of the great innovators of 20th-century design. He was also a remarkably moral person. From the start of his career in the 1920s, Prouvé helped guide French modernism toward a principled democratic approach to architecture and design. Most of Prouvé’s work focused on projects for public institutions such as hospitals and universities. After the Second World War (during which Prouvé was a member of the French Resistance), he focused on developing both strong and dependable prefab housing designs in an effort to help the millions left homeless by the war.

Lot 132, Jean Prouvé, School desk, designed c. 1930s–1940s

Lot 132, Jean Prouvé, School desk, designed c. 1930s–1940s
May 17, 2015 Modern Art & Design Auction

In 1935 he started producing furniture for French primary and secondary schools such as this lot: an oak school desk with two enamel painted steel chairs attached. The school desk features an economical use of materials along with other hallmarks of a Prouvé design: a robust folded metal frame and legs set, and a graceful, eye-catching form. An example of this desk is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. It was also showcased in the museum’s celebrated 2012 exhibition Century of the Child: Growing by Design, 1900–2000.

Lot 132, Jean Prouvé, School desk, designed c. 1930s–1940s

Lot 132, Jean Prouvé, School desk, designed c. 1930s–1940s
May 17, 2015 Modern Art & Design Auction

Maybe more important than the school desk’s stylish attributes is its inherent message. During the German occupation of France, schoolchildren were encouraged by Nazi authorities to inform on their neighbors; to report any activity that seemed unusual or strange; to betray their friends. The harmonious two-seat design of the Prouvé desk seems to declare in opposition: “We Stick Together.”

Lot 132
Jean Prouvé
School desk
Atelier, designed c. 1930s–1940s
32.25″ x 53.75″ x 36.75″
Literature: Geest, Jan Van. Jean Prouvé Furniture. Bonn: TASCHEN, 1991. 66.
Estimate: $5,000 – 7,000
May 17, 2015 Modern Art & Design Auction

For more information on this work or for bidding inquiries, please email a LAMA representative.

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