A Reawakening in Contemporary French Design

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Hubert le Gall (b. 1961), A Marguerite 18 fleurs low table, 2002. Estimate: £8,000-12,000. Offered in Design on 16 October at Christie’s in London
Hubert le Gall (b. 1961), A Marguerite 18 fleurs low table, 2002. Estimate: £8,000-12,000. Offered in Design on 16 October at Christie’s in London

Outstanding pieces by leading French designers — offered from a Parisian collection on 16 October

Assembled over a 20-year period for the home of a Parisian collector, the selection of pieces by contemporary French designers offered in the Design sale in London on 16 October reflects a reawakening of the themes that guided Art Nouveau more than a century ago.

Investigating nature, fantasy and legend, this new generation of designers variously invokes the imagination of Jules Verne, the botanic textures of Emile Gallé, and the muscularity of Hector Guimard’s designs for the Paris Métro.

Nature, though, is not the only theme that binds these visionary talents. In the 1930s, the Surrealists’ take on ancient mythology inspired designer-decorators such as Jean-Michel FrankEugène Printz and Marc Du Plantier — and their influence can be seen in Hubert le Gall’s Cabinet Taureau, in Hervé van der Straeten’s Epines, as well as in other pieces in the sale.

‘This new sensibility in contemporary French design is one that’s defined by poetic sensibilities, a sense for permanence, and a conceptual eloquence,’ says Simon Andrews, International Senior Specialist in Design.

Other designers to feature in the collection include André Dubreuil, Laurence Montano, Franck Evennou, Jacques Jarrige and Hélène de Saint Lager. Crucially, many of the works offered in London are unique or bespoke commissions, or are from short, limited and sold-out editions, having been acquired early on and directly from the designers. ‘This collection is both pioneering in its curation and panoramic in scope,’ says Andrews, ‘and could never again be replicated.’ Read on for selected highlights.

Hubert le Gall

Created in 2002, Cabinet Taureau demonstrates why Hubert le Gall is regarded as one of the most imaginative designers of his generation. Monumental in scale, its deep-black patinated bronze case reveals a golden interior within which red-lacquered drawers are concealed. The overall effect is like opening the cloak of a toreador.

The Cabinet Taureau references ancient myth and legend, with a nod to Minotaure, the Surrealist review. It is no surprise to learn that among his influences le Gall lists Salvador DalíJean Cocteau and Max Ernst.

‘Sometimes I just do something not knowing what the functionality will be at the end,’ the designer admitted to The New York Times earlier this year. ‘And sometimes I just have a vision. My bull came to me in the bath.’

Le Gall’s meticulously crafted, gently playful pieces blur the lines between sculpture and furniture. Animals and flowers are recurring motifs in creations that appear to have been formed as surreal snapshots from his imagination.

‘Flowers run over all four sides to better conceal the function,’ the designer says ofAnthémis Rouge et Or (above), a chest of drawers that he states is intended as a piece of sculpture. ‘The bronze flowers are treated like a black and white silkscreen,’ he continues. ‘They’re supposed to be paintings. The chest of drawers is playing hide and seek.’

Le Gall’s celebration of nature has seen him described as the heir to a design lineage that includes Jean Royère and Diego Giacometti. ‘I am more an artist than a designer,’ he has said. ‘That’s why I’m more interested in the world of art than the world of decoration.’

Le Gall began making furniture at an early age. When he moved to Paris, he says he began making things for his apartment because he wanted to create his ‘own world’. In 1991 he bought a studio in Montmartre where BonnardMiró and Arp once worked, and began producing elaborate bronze pieces in limited editions.

Hubert le Gall (b. 1961), An Odilon 01 standard lamp, 2017. Estimate: £10,000-15,000. Offered in Design on 16 October at Christie’s in London
Hubert le Gall (b. 1961), An Odilon 01 standard lamp, 2017. Estimate: £10,000-15,000. Offered in Design on 16 October at Christie’s in London

Now a star on the international design scene who exhibits and sells his work globally, Le Gall’s atelier has at different times been home to rabbit-ear armchairs and lamps, dog lights, sheep dressing tables, and raindrop mirrors. ’Pleasure,’ he insists, ‘is at the centre of my work.’

Hervé van der Straeten

A graduate of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Hervé van der Straeten practised originally as a jewellery designer before turning to furniture and lighting. ‘The thread that linked them all was movement,’ he has said. ‘Everything I design is dynamic, graphic and with a sense of movement.’

The designer, who grew up and is based in the French capital, has built his reputation by producing pieces in a dizzying array of materials, and characterised by their dynamism, graphic simplicity and superlative craftsmanship.

Hervé van der Straeten (b. 1965), Epines, a unique cabinet, 2002. Estimate: £30,000-50,000. Offered in Design on 16 October at Christie’s in London
Hervé van der Straeten (b. 1965), Epines, a unique cabinet, 2002. Estimate:£30,000-50,000. Offered in Design on 16 October at Christie’s in London

In Epines (above), Van der Straeten acknowledges both Surrealism and nature through the insertion of bronze thorns to the surface of the cabinet. Supported on heavy bronze platforms, this unique piece is one of the most intriguing in the designer’s portfolio. Etoile, meanwhile, sees root-like tendrils probing outwards from a convex mirror (below).

Hervé van Der Straeten (b. 1965), Etoile, a unique large mirror, 2003. Estimate: £30,000-50,000. Offered in Design on 16 October at Christie’s in London
Hervé van Der Straeten (b. 1965), Etoile, a unique large mirror, 2003. Estimate:£30,000-50,000. Offered in Design on 16 October at Christie’s in London

Van der Straeten’s international clients have included Dior, for whom he created the iconic 1999 J’adore perfume bottle, and Guerlain, a collaboration that resulted in the cube-on-cube case for the brand’s Kisskiss lipstick. In 2012 the designer created Miroir, a limited-edition champagne ice-bucket and coaster set for Ruinart.

His works have been purchased by Mobilier National and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. In 2007 Van der Straeten’s workshop was identified as a Living Heritage Business by France’s Ministry of Culture, and in 2008 he was named as Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

Hélène de Saint Lager

A history of art graduate of the Ecole du Louvre in Paris, Hélène de Saint Lager’s career has incorporated painting restoration, millinery, sculpture, casting and metalwork. For the past 15 years, however, she has been creating endlessly compelling works in her home-studio-laboratory on the outskirts of Paris.

Using familiar materials in unexpected ways, de Saint Lager’s singular aesthetic explores how light can be caught and redirected. Her celebrated metalwork table, chair and lighting designs come in a variety of experimental and intriguing organic forms.

The designer has produced bespoke commissions for private clients and collaborated with Peter Marino on his Dior boutiques in Seoul and Hong Kong, while her resin furniture so impressed interior designer Jacques Garcia that he commissioned pieces for his Schiaparelli boutique in Paris, including an over-sized flower-shaped table and swarms of butterflies frozen in flight.

‘For me, materials and sediment are veritable obsessions,’ De Saint Lager explains of these pieces. ‘I spread layer after layer of resin and toss lightweight materials on top. Time stops. I capture and freeze it in a limpid glaze.’

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