French design from the 1950s to the 1970s

French design in the 1950s and 1960s was marked by a very strong creative and inventive bubbling. It reflected a changing society: from the urgency of reconstruction to the advent of mass consumption, which Raymond Loewy, undoubtedly the greatest French designer of the 20th century, had understood perfectly. In this period when everything was accelerating, the major figures in architecture and design were the pioneers of the inter-war period, such as Jean Prouvé (1901-1984) and Le Corbusier (1887-1965), who “invented” the profession of designer, anxious to keep up with technical progress and to produce pieces in series. These tutelary figures were succeeded by a talented generation of young people, most of whom were born between 1925 and 1930 and came from the decorative arts.

To Jean Prouvé and Le Corbusier should be added Charlotte Perriand (1903-1999) and Marcel Gascoin (1907-1986). All of them already had a career behind them and a solidly established know-how. This is why political decision-makers called on them to rebuild the country after the Second World War.

Le Corbusier, whose real name was Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris, born in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, was commissioned to rebuild urban spaces. In Marseille, for example, he was commissioned by the state to build a housing unit. From 1946 to 1952, the architect and urban planner designed and built the Cité Radieuse, a major innovation in the way residential buildings were conceived.

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Aerial view of the Le Corbusier housing unit, known as the Cité Radieuse (1946-1952). The building is 56 metres high and 130 metres long, with 17 levels.

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Interior of the Cité Radieuse, listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site, Marseille 8ème. Very innovative for its time, the building includes offices and shops (grocery shops, bakery, café, hotel/restaurant, bookstore, etc.) at mid-height and even a roof terrace occupied by public spaces.

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Cité Radieuse, Marseille, view of a façade.

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View of the roof of the Cité Radieuse, now rehabilitated as a Centre for Contemporary Art (MAMO).

Another charismatic figure in post-war design was Jean Prouvé from Nancy. An architect and designer, he too put his skills at the service of reconstruction. In 1954, together with Charlotte Perriand, he was awarded the furniture for the Jean Zay university residence in Antony. He installed the famous desks and compass tables, as well as the Antony bookcases, beds, chairs and armchairs: pieces that are now highly prized by collectors.

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Compass desk with its famous asymmetrical delta base. On the side, a grey lacquered metal suspended pedestal opening with 3 drawers on the front. The desk is accompanied by the Métropole chair n°365 called “Standard” chair. Published by Ateliers Jean Prouvé around 1953.

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Antony bookcase, Jean Prouvé

design, 1954. The piece is made of folded steel sheet and wood.
Charlotte Perriand was Le Corbusier’s travelling companion for ten years, for whom she designed the interior furnishings for many of his architectural projects. She is a singular figure in French design. She was the first woman to impose her signature on a male universe. In the 1950s, Charlotte Perriand was deeply influenced by a trip to Japan and, with the help of Jean Prouvé, she designed numerous combinatory systems in wood (bookcases). Her sense of purity combined with a search for functional design is a marvel.

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Charlotte Perriand, Bibliothèque Tunisie, made by Ateliers Jean Prouvé and André Chetaille, 1952. Most of Charlotte Perriand’s furniture from this period has been reissued by Cassina, in the I MAESTRI collection.

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In 1955, Charlotte Perriand presents in Tokyo the exhibition “Proposition d’une synthèse des arts” (Proposal of a synthesis of the arts). View of the exhibition: Tokyo benches, removable cushions, square coffee tables, lacquered tube legs, laminated wood tops covered with black or white melamine, Berger low stools.

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Charlotte Perriand, Ombre chair, 1955. An oriental-inspired piece much sought after by collectors and created for Perriand’s Japanese exhibition, the seat is made of curved and stained plywood. Photo credit: © Bertrand Prévost – Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI /Dist. RMN-GP © Adagp, Paris

From the same generation, the decorator Jean Royère (1902-1981) is a standout. With an innate sense of decoration, he imposed a style made of colour, humour and lightness, and possessed an instinctive sense of form. A sought-after signature of the 1950s, Royère became the official decorator of the Middle Eastern sovereigns

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Jean Royère, Pair of Serpentin sconces, circa 1950. 3 brass light arms. Jean Royère donated his entire archive to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.

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Jean Royère, Pair of egg-shaped armchairs, circa 1952. The armchairs are covered with a yellow and white mohair velvet tapestry.

Marcel Gascoin, trained at the École nationale supérieure des arts décoratifs (ENSAD, Paris), has the particularity of being a carpenter and cabinetmaker. A pronounced taste for woodwork that makes him love fine craftsmanship and naturally leads him to be inspired by Scandinavian designers who conceive ergonomic and functional furniture. In 1950, he designed the famous Model C chair, which he published under the A.R.H.E.C. (Aménagement Rationnel de l’Habitation Et des Collectivités) brand that he had created

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Marcel Gascoin chair model C published by ARHEC, 1950. The structure is in solid oak, reupholstered in beige fabric from the Bergamo range by the Lyon-based publisher Bisson Bruneel. Marcel Gascoin wanted to produce wooden furniture of good quality and accessible to the general public

Although Marcel Gascoin designs, manufactures and publishes his own furniture, he also wishes to pass on his knowledge to the younger generation. This is why he trains talented young people from the major design schools at the A.R.H.E.C agency. In his workshops, a new generation of designers is ready to take over. Among them, the most talented are Joseph-André Motte (1925-2013), Michel Mortier (1925-2015), Pierre Guariche (1926-1995) and even Pierre Paulin (1927-2009) for a short time.

The first three mentioned, who worked for the master of wood, collaborated under the name A.R.P. (Atelier de recherches plastiques) from 1954 to 1957. Their desire was to promote contemporary furniture accessible to all, in line with the evolution of lifestyle. Their seats were published by Steiner and Airborne, the furniture by Minvielle and Cabanne and the lighting by Disderot

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A.R.P. (Motte, Mortier, Guariche) modular furniture, Minvielle editions, 1955. A great success for A.R.P.: the modular furniture elements.

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A.R.P (Motte, Mortier, Guariche) modular furniture, Minvielle Editions, 1955. Another view of the set.

Motte, Mortier and Guariche continued their careers individually, with notable successes. Joseph-André Motte was awarded the René Gabriel prize at the Salon des Arts Ménagers for the Fauteuil 740 in 1957, the “vintage” seat par excellence. Michel Mortier set up the interior design agency Habitation esthétique industrielle mobilier. His furniture is elegant and subtle. In 1959, Steiner published his Triennale recliner

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Joseph-André Motte, Fauteuil 740, 1957. Initially presented at the 1957 Salon des arts ménagers by Steiner, this model was reissued for the first time in 2012.

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Michel Mortier on his Triennale recliner, published in 1959 by Steiner. The model offers 6 formulas with poufs, the shapes are interchangeable, moulded with foam covered with fabric, while the legs are in nickel-plated steel and the crossbar in solid cherry wood.

Pierre Paulin is the best known of this generation. His talent exploded through his collaboration with the Dutch furniture publisher Artifort, which brought him international fame in the 1960s. Monocoque structures, tubular steel, formica and laminate legs gave way to curved lines, honeycomb foam, latex, elastic jersey and the bright colours characteristic of these years. Pierre Paulin embraced these developments and created models with supple and daring shapes. His seats are padded with foam and above all dressed with jersey, a new elastic fabric

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Orange Slice chair, design Pierre Paulin, 1960 for Artifort.

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Tongue chair

, design by Pierre Paulin, 1967 for Artifort.
Following Pierre Paulin is Olivier Mourgue (1939), who designed the Djinn chaise longue, a symbol of modernity in the 1960s that became so iconic that it featured in Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

Finally, this panorama would be incomplete without mentioning the immense talent of Roger Tallon (1929-2011), considered the father of French industrial design. A long and rich career that began in the 1950s and ended in the last years of his life, marked by his collaboration with the SNCF (TGV Atlantique and Eurostar projects).

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Olivier Mourgue, Djinn chaise longue, 1964-1965, published by Airborne.

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Portavia 111 television set, design by Roger Tallon, 1963. Marketed in 1966, this television set with its curved shape, made up of two white moulded ABS shells, contrasts sharply with the parallelepiped-shaped sets of the time. A stylistic and technical success, it was a resounding commercial success.

François Boutard