Peter’s Auction Pick of the Day: The Poetry of French Postwar Design

October 8, 2015

From Peter Loughrey, Director of Modern Design & Fine Art:

In Toward an Architecture, his classic modernist manifesto of 1923, Le Corbusier famously said, “a house is a machine for living in.” But he also wrote these lesser known, yet I think, more telling remarks: “You employ stone, wood and concrete, and with these materials you build houses and palaces. That is construction. Ingenuity is at work . . . But suddenly you touch my heart, you do me good, I am happy and I say: ‘This is beautiful.’ That is Architecture. Art enters in.”


Lot 16, Jean Prouvé, Dactylo desk, Designed c. 1950
October 11, 2015 Modern Art & Design Auction

A group of French postwar design objects in LAMA’s upcoming auction put me in mind of Le Corbusier’s observations. In the years following the war few French designers were able to work with the rich stuff seen in the thirties, such as lacquer, shagreen, exotic hardwoods, and kid leather. Instead they made do with humble and industrial materials: painted or enameled sheet metal, stainless steel, pine, oak, or plywood. And yet they created some of the most beautiful and inventive designs of the 20th century.

Lot 15 Le Corbusier Kitchen cabinet from Unité d'Habitation, Marseille Designed c. 1952

Lot 15, Le Corbusier, Kitchen cabinet from Unité d’Habitation, Marseille, Designed c. 1952
October 11, 2015 Modern Art & Design Auction

Jean Prouvé developed a technique for folding metal that gives designs like the Dactylo desk warmth and substance. Charlotte Perriand devised elegant cabinets for the kitchens of Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation (an apartment tower), employing painted and stained wood panels and framing, with simple, carved cupboard handles.


Lot 19 Mathieu Mategot Wall shelves (2)

Lot 19, Mathieu Matégot, Wall shelves (2)
October 11, 2015 Modern Art & Design Auction

Mathieu Matégot created a new vocabulary of objects using perforated metal. Finally, my favorite is Jean Rispal’s c. 1950 floor lamp. It has that swooping, J-shaped support and that crazy offset shade, but the genius is in Rispal’s use of the electric cord—the bane of every lighting designer. Here, Rispal made the cord an integral virtue, weaving it through the wooden support, so that you can almost see the electricity pulsing through the length of the lamp.

Lot 18 Jean Rispal Floor lamp Designed c. 1950

Lot 18, Jean Rispal, Floor lamp, Designed c. 1950
October 11, 2015 Modern Art & Design Auction

It doesn’t matter that these objects are made of common materials. Their beauty and vitality are derived from the inventiveness, wit, and unique sensibilities of the designers. That is where, as Le Corbusier wrote, “art enters in.”

Lot Information:

Lot 16
Jean Prouvé
Dactylo desk
Designed c. 1950
Model no. BD 41
Ateliers Jean Prouvé
27″ x 41.5″ x 24.5″
Literature: Jean Prouvé: Complete Works, Volume 3: 1944-1954. P. Sulzer. 2005. 178, fig. 1159.1; Jean Prouvé. Galerie Patrick Seguin and Sonnabend Gallery exh. cat. 2007. 330, 336-337.
Estimate: $20,000 – $30,000

Lot 15
Le Corbusier & Charlotte Perriand
Kitchen cabinet from Unité d’Habitation, Marseille
Designed c. 1952
45.5″ x 91.75″ x 17″
Another example of this design was exhibited at “Designing Modern Women, 1890—1990,” Museum of Modern Art, New York, October 5, 2013—October 19, 2014.
Literature: Le Corbusier: Unité d’Habitation in Marseille and the Four Other Unite Blocks in Rezé-les-Nantes. J. Sbriglio. 2004. 79-80.
Estimate: $20,000 – $30,000

Lot 19
Mathieu Matégot
Wall shelves (2)
Designed 1956
Ateliers Matégot
Each: 19.75″ x 35.25″ x 7.5″
Estimate: $2,000 – $3,000

Lot 20
Mathieu Matégot
Plant stand
Designed c. 1956
Ateliers Matégot
38.5″ x 18″ x 12″
Estimate: $2,000 – $3,000

Lot 18
Jean Rispal
Floor lamp
Designed c. 1950
68.25″ x 20″ x 10.5″
Literature: 1000 Lights (1878-1959). Vol. 1. C. Fiell and P. Fiell. 2005. 418.
Estimate: $6,000 – $9,000

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