Art Deco furniture in France, 1910-1940

For lovers of precious wood furniture and and other lovers of marquetry, Art Deco furniture, produced mainly from the from the 1910s, shortly before the First World War, until the 1940s, when it began to 1940s, when it began to decline, is a must.

This period marks the predominance of Art Deco in France, born in reaction to the aesthetics the aesthetics advocated by Art Nouveau, which was very much in vogue at the end of the 21st century and early 20th century. The promoters of Art Deco wanted to to put an end to the aesthetics of curved lines and organic forms of Art Nouveau. The lines were to be more geometric, less round and and purer, without abandoning interior decoration that used “rich” materials using so-called “rich” materials.

commode art deco

Art Deco was gradually overtaken by its art Deco was gradually overtaken by its avant-garde, designers who were less attached to the decorative value of the object but more interested in the decorative value of the object but more to its function, and wishing to democratize a furniture reserved for the wealthy elite

The central figure of Art Deco is the decorator (also known as the interior architect), a status he shares with the architect (all status he shares with the architect (tout court). The latter designed the buildings but entrusts the decorator with the task of creating, of course, the furniture, but also to design each room in detail to create a particular atmosphere. It is not by chance that the interior designer Pierre Chareau (1883-1950) was spotted by the architect Robert Mallet-Stevens (1886-1945) to design furniture for the famous Villa de Noailles (1923-1925).

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Villa Cavrois, parents’ bedroom, period photo.
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The Villa Cavrois today, the parents’ bedroom has been reconstructed with the period furniture. The room is a good example of Art Deco. Sober lines with the use of precious woods, here furniture veneered with palm and walls painted in beige, in search of a certain elegance..
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The Fumoir of the Villa Cavrois, a room once again very typical of the Art Deco style in vogue in the 1920s: the floor, walls and ceiling are made of natural waxed Cuban mahogany. The restoration was carried out with mahogany from Honduras. Oval coffee table.

Pierre Chareau impressed in 1925, at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Industrial Exhibition in Paris, an event that marked the apogee of the Art Deco style style, with the very famous library-desk of the French Embassy Pavilion the French Embassy Pavilion, now reconstructed in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. What is more, Chareau was a more, Chareau was an inventive designer who liked to think about the function of furniture, which is why he made many pieces of wooden furniture with mechanisms and and mobile elements.

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Bureau-bibliothèque de l’Ambassade française, conception and design: Pierre Chareau, 1925. Beech wood frame, palm wood veneer.
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Fan” side table, Model MB106, design by Pierre Chareau, circa 1924. Made of mahogany, it is composed of 4 nesting tables with triangular tops that fan out around a common base.

But the real “star” of the show of the show was the decorator Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann (1879-1933) who triumphed with the with the creation of the Pavillon du Collectionneur, a building that he entrusted to he entrusted the construction of this building to his great architect friend, Pierre Patout (1879-1965). Self-taught, Ruhlmann established himself as the master of Art Deco. One of his first one of the first creations that made him famous was La Desserte, known as Meuble au char, designed in 1922.

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Meuble au char, 1922, designed by Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann. Perhaps the designer’s masterpiece. Made from amaranth wood, Indonesian ebony and ivory marquetry, with spindle-shaped legs, this piece of furniture imposes its extraordinary dimensions: 2.25 m long and 1.09 m high.

Why is the “Ruhlmann” style so representative of Art Deco? A love of marquetry and precious woodwork and the use of precious wood, of course: rare from rare species such as Indian and Brazilian rosewood to Guiana amaranth and mahogany To amaranth from Guyana or mahogany from Cuba and ebony from Macassar (Indonesia), Ruhlmann likes to work with exotic woods with a very strong “personality” “personality”. He is an aesthete who is particularly fond of and elegant lines that contrast with the Art Nouveau style: it was he who brought the spindle leg into fashion the spindle leg.

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The Chiffonnier Cabanel, furniture made by Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann (1922-1923). The Ruhlmann style: a mixture of woods (oak, ebony and ivory tips) for a piece with a refined look.
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Macassar ebony and ivory marquetry (1921-1922). Design: Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann

In his career, Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann was not content with designing furniture. Between 1925 and 1930, he produced a series of vases with very pure forms for the Manufacture de Sèvres and a cup and saucer. The collaboration between the And the champion of Art Deco elegance resulted in refined and timeless pieces refined and timeless pieces. A sought-after decorator, he was called upon to decorator, he was called upon to decorate the Elysée Palace, the Presidency of the National Assembly and even ministries.

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Ruhlmann vase n°3, 1926. The combination of porcelain and gilt bronze, the purity of the lines. Sèvres – Cité de la Céramique
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Ruhlmann cup and saucer, circa 1930. White and gold decoration, circa 2000, Cité de la Céramique, Sèvres.

Apart from Ruhlmann, other designers would give French Art Deco furniture its letters of nobility. For example, Eileen Gray (1878-1976), to whom the Centre Pompidou devoted a centre Pompidou devoted a very fine retrospective to in 2013, André Mare (1885-1932), Jules Leleu (1883-1961), Eugène Printz (1889-1948), Paul Follot (1877-1941) and Pierre Legrain (1889-1929. In addition, many of Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann were recruited from the Ecole Boulle

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Jules Leleu, inlaid sideboard, 1930.
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Wardrobe by Jules Leleu, 1937, in macassar ebony, eglomerate glass, chromed metal base made by the ironworker Raymond Subes.
Rectangular chest of drawers in veined marble, Paul Follot, circa 1925. The chest of drawers rests on a burl veneered oak pedestal opening on the front with 3 drawers and 2 doors.

Art Deco decorators also often called on craftsmen on their sites. Among the best-known craftsmen of the period were the cabinetmakers Adolphe Chanaux (1965) and Jules Deroubaix (1904-1979), the ironworker Raymond Subes (1891-1970), and the glassmakers René Lalique (1860-1945), who founded the famous house of the same name, Maurice Marinot (1882-1960), Louis Barillet (1880-1948), François Décorchemont (1880-1971) and the lacquer specialists Jean Dunand (1877-1942) and Gaston Suisse (1896-1988).

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Gaston Suisse, “New York” screen, 1925, in black Chinese lacquer, enriched with graphite and silver leaf

In the 1920s and 1930s, the art Deco decorators and craftsmen were able to showcase their skills by and craftsmen were able to showcase their know-how by designing the interior and decoration of ships, particularly those of “transatlantic” ships. Embarking on a fairly wealthy clientele the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique (known as the “Transat”) did not hesitate to hire to hire the best craftsmen of the genre to modernise the interior of its its liners. In 1935, the Normandie came out, for some “a veritable cathedral on the sea of the a veritable Art Deco cathedral on the sea”!

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Interior of the liner Normandie, Grand Salon, photo: Hamon.
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Interior of the liner Normandie, 1st class smoking room, photo: Hamon.
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One of the motifs on the door of the smoking room. Photo Hamon.

If the most famous representatives of Art Deco earned a good living, it must be recognised that they addressed a very well-to-do clientele (the choice of luxurious materials was expensive) with rather conformist tastes. This is why Art Deco will progressively disappear in favour of designers who want to democratise furniture and ensure that it is accessible to the greatest number of people

The latter also rejected the “ostentatious” side of Art Deco and, from the end of the 1920s, a new generation of decorators, architects and designers challenged the influence of the great decorators of the time. A large number of them founded the Union des Artistes Modernes (UAM ) in 1929; their names were Robert Mallet-Stevens (already well established in the profession), Charlotte Perriand, René Herbst, Jean Prouvé, Georges Bourgeois, known as Djo-Bourgeois, and Hélène Henry… A new history began..

François Boutard