Modernist 20th Century /06 June 2004

349

Harry Bertoia

important prototype lounge chair
USA, c. 1952
welded steel wire
58 w × 44 d × 35¾ h in (147 × 112 × 91 cm)

The lounge chair presented on the following pages is a prototype made by Harry Bertoia as part of his wire furniture developed for Knoll in the early 1950s. This chair is a unique example and was exhibited at Knoll Associates at 720 Park Avenue in New York City in 1953 during the launch of the Bertoia furniture line. This rare and extraordinary lounge chair is a masterpiece of experimental American chair design. In the 1940s, Bertoia was residing with his family in Venice, California and working at the office of Charles Eames on chair designs. Bertoia was utilized by the Eames office to engineer and troubleshoot the metal frames of the DCM and LCM, and is credited by some for developing the Eames wire chair forms. Harry Bertoia's design method for the wire furniture is summed up by the following, "how long are you going to sit in a chair? If it is only for an hour, you can have a small surface, possibly an erect posture . . . if you stay two hours, a larger surface because you must allow for movement." This method explains the shape of the wire chairs as they progress from the dining chairs into the small and large Diamond chairs, and to the Bird lounge chair. It is natural to see how the lounge chair offered here would be the final step in this progress. Harry's design process has been described by Val Bertoia as "intuitive engineering." The complex surface form of this chair is extraordinary for its refinement and complexity, decades before CAD programs simplified the process. Although loosely guided by principles in ergonomics he developed for the military during World War II, the prototype lounge was created simply from an inherent ability to visualize and produce functional and sculptural forms. The wire material perfectly suited Bertoia's skill as a metal smith and he found it intriguing that air and light surrounding the ethereal material actually completes the form. This concept was revolutionary at the time, and the materials used were a radical departure from heavy-handed furniture design at the beginning of the century. Ultimately, Knoll abandoned the idea of producing this chair design because of its complexity. The cost of producing such a design would have placed the chair beyond the reach of most consumers, which ran counter to the prevailing notion of design for the masses that was common in the 1950s. This Bertoia lounge chair prototype has remained in the possession of the Bertoia family since its creation. Brigitta used the chair in the yard of their Barto, Pennsylvania home. Harry and Brigitta Bertoia gave the chair to their daughter, Lesta, at the time of her wedding. Literature: World of Bertoia, Schiffer, ppg. 32-48, pg. 44 illustrated.

provenance: Harry Bertoia, Barto, Pennsylvania Lesta Bertoia, Pennsylvania Private Collection

estimate: $100,000–150,000
result: $118,000

Own a similar item?
FREE EVALUATION

Harry Bertoia 1915–1978

Harry Bertoia was a true Renaissance man well versed in the language of art and design. Born in San Lorenzo, Italy in 1915, Bertoia relocated to the United States at the age of fifteen and enrolled at Cass Technical High School in Detroit to study hand-made jewelry. In 1937, Bertoia was awarded a scholarship to attend the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan where he studied under the direction of Maija Grotell and Walter Gropius. Bertoia was drawn to the mostly empty metal shop, and after two years in the program, Bertoia was invited to head the department.

At Cranbrook, Bertoia was introduced to a number of designers whose names would become synonymous with mid-century modern design. Here he met Eero Saarinen, with whom he would collaborate on numerous architectural projects, and Charles and Ray Eames with whom, for a short period during the war, he would work for at the Molded Plywood Division of Evans Products in California. In 1950, Bertoia moved east to Pennsylvania to open his own studio and to work with Florence Knoll designing chairs. Bertoia designed five chairs out of wire that would become icons of the period, all of them popular and all still in production today.

Learn More

Upcoming Lots Harry Bertoia

Auction Results Harry Bertoia

Harry Bertoia

untitled (Multi-Plane Construction)
estimate: $500,000–700,000
result: $420,000

Harry Bertoia

untitled (Sonambient)
estimate: $200,000–300,000
result: $408,000

Harry Bertoia

untitled (Hanging Hemisphere)
estimate: $200,000–300,000
result: $384,000

Harry Bertoia

untitled (Dandelion)
estimate: $200,000–300,000
result: $348,000

Harry Bertoia

Untitled (Monumental Sonambient) from the Standard Oil Commission
estimate: $300,000–500,000
result: $341,000

Harry Bertoia

Untitled (Sonambient)
estimate: $200,000–300,000
result: $341,000

Harry Bertoia

untitled (Dandelion)
estimate: $150,000–200,000
result: $284,500

Harry Bertoia

untitled (Dandelion)
estimate: $100,000–150,000
result: $278,500

Harry Bertoia

untitled (Sonambient)
estimate: $300,000–400,000
result: $276,000

Harry Bertoia

Important and Monumental sculptures from Stemmons Towers, Dallas
estimate: $300,000–400,000
result: $263,000

Harry Bertoia

Untitled (Sonambient)
estimate: $100,000–150,000
result: $227,000

Harry Bertoia

untitled (monumental Sonambient)
estimate: $200,000–300,000
result: $221,000

Harry Bertoia

untitled (Tree Form)
estimate: $70,000–90,000
result: $192,000

Harry Bertoia

untitled (Dandelion)
estimate: $200,000–300,000
result: $192,000

Harry Bertoia

untitled (Sonambient)
estimate: $180,000–220,000
result: $180,000

Harry Bertoia

Untitled (Bush Form)
estimate: $50,000–70,000
result: $161,000

Harry Bertoia

untitled (Sonambient)
estimate: $100,000–150,000
result: $158,500

Harry Bertoia

untitled (Welded Form)
estimate: $150,000–200,000
result: $156,000

Harry Bertoia

Untitled (Sonambient)
estimate: $150,000–200,000
result: $149,000

Harry Bertoia

untitled (monumental Bush form)
estimate: $100,000–150,000
result: $146,500

Harry Bertoia

untitled (Sonambient)
estimate: $50,000–70,000
result: $138,000

Harry Bertoia

Important early teapot
estimate: $20,000–30,000
result: $136,900

Harry Bertoia

untitled (Sonambient)
estimate: $100,000–150,000
result: $132,000

Harry Bertoia

untitled (Tonal Sculpture)
estimate: $60,000–80,000
result: $132,000

Evaluation of Property

Use this form to submit images and details for items that you would like to consign to auction. Need helpful tips?

  • Please be as descriptive as possible including details about an items condition and history.
  • Where did you get the piece and does it have a special provenance?
  • Do you know any details regarding the edition, vintage, designer, or other particulars?
hide

Catalog Added to Cart

This catalog has been added to your cart. Please checkout or continue browsing.

Checkout