Artist to Know: Charlotte Perriand & Pierre Jeanneret

Liz Catalano
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Furniture Piece by the Two French Modernists Available in Wright Auction

At the age of 24, Charlotte Perriand walked into the studio of legendary furniture designer Le Corbusier and asked for a job. She was told, “We don’t embroider cushions here,” and sent away. Despite this rocky start, Perriand would eventually combine forces with Le Corbusier and his cousin, Pierre Jeanneret, to define avant-garde Modernism in furniture. Perriand and Jeanneret have since been recognized in both furniture history and at auction as leading French innovators.

A piece designed by Perriand and Jeanneret will lead Wright’s upcoming sale of the Mark Isaacson and Greg Nacozy Collection. Learn more about these Modernists before the auction begins.

Charlotte Perriand posing on a chaise lounge in 1929. Image from Dwell.
Charlotte Perriand posing on a chaise lounge in 1929. Image from Dwell.

Born in 1903 to a Parisian tailor and a seamstress, Perriand spent her college years finding inspiration in a rapidly mechanized city. Surrounded by motorcars and bicycles, she began developing an interest in Modern furniture design and architecture. After Le Corbusier visited her renovated apartment on Place Saint-Sulpice in Paris (she turned it into a metal and glass bar), he hired her.

Perriand joined Jeanneret in the furniture workshop. He started his career with a country villa design before entering a formal partnership with Le Corbusier. Jeanneret and Perriand began collaborating on several now-famous furniture designs, including a curved chaise lounge known as the LC4 and many experimental furniture pieces made with aluminum and wood. The Paris designers departed from the more rigid forms of Modernism seen in the Bauhaus movement. Rather, their tubular steel chairs and other works were designed to be functional and comfortable, almost an extension of the body itself. In Perriand’s words, “One does not invent, one only discovers.”

During World War II, Jeanneret and Perriand joined the French Resistance while Le Corbusier supported the Vichy government. This effectively ended their collaborative efforts for several years, with the exception of making prefabricated aluminum buildings with Jean Prouvé and Georges Blanchon. Perriand eventually moved to Japan and then Vietnam, while Jeanneret reunited with his cousin in the 1950s to begin an urban planning project in Chandigarh, India.

Pierre Jeanneret with plans for the city of Chandigarh, India. Image from GIR.
Pierre Jeanneret with plans for the city of Chandigarh, India. Image from GIR.

Though both designers were largely overshadowed by Le Corbusier during the 20th century, they have since gained attention for their respective contributions to Modernism. Jeanneret devoted the rest of his working years to the Chandigarh project, described today as “a masterpiece of modern vision.”

Several decades after the project’s completion, many of Jeanneret’s works fell into disrepair. Original, unrestored chairs and other Chandigarh furniture items now draw attention when they reach the market. For example, a pair of teak and cane armchairs from Panjab University sold for USD 27,400 at Christie’s in 2008, well above the high estimate of $12,000. More recently, sets of Jeanneret’s leather lounge chairs have sold for $145,000 at Wright after many competitive bids. 

A storage cabinet created during Perriand and Jeanneret’s collaborative years comes to auction in the upcoming Wright event. Two sliding aluminum doors hide shelving and storage, fitted in an ash and pine frame. Executed between 1945 and 1948, this piece was gifted to Mark Isaacson of the Fifty/50 Gallery in New York City. Isaacson was influential in bringing French Modernist furniture to the United States, especially the work of Perriand. Fifty/50 Gallery operated from 1983 until Isaacson’s death from AIDS ten years later. His influence and collection have been maintained by his partner, Greg Nacozy, helping to revive the popularity of Modernism in the United States.

Charlotte Perriand and Pierre Jeanneret. Bahut No. 2. Image from Wright.
Charlotte Perriand and Pierre Jeanneret. Bahut No. 2. Image from Wright.

Buoyed by the gallery’s early promotion of her work, Perriand’s furniture has experienced success in the years since her death in 1999. Her wall-mounted bookcases regularly fetch six-figure prices at Phillips, including a 1954 piece with a hammer price of $310,000. In a 2017 Artcurial retrospective of her work, 20 pieces were sold to achieve a sale total of EUR 3,058,300 (USD 3,358,400). A major exhibition of Perriand’s work was recently held in Paris by the Louis Vuitton Foundation, influencing the sale of her African walnut sideboard for EUR 443,000 (USD 486,500) in late 2019.

“The most important thing to realize is that what drives the modern movement is a spirit of enquiry, it’s a process of analysis and not a style,” Perrriand stated near the end of her life. “We worked with ideals.”

The upcoming sale also offers design pieces from Isamu Noguchi, Gerrit Rietveld, and Charles and Ray Eames. Fifty/50’s association with Italian glassware and ethnographic antiques is also visible. Bidding will begin at 12:00 PM CT on June 4th, 2020. Visit Wright for more information and to place a bid.

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