Pierre Chareau

The Architecture of Design

Pierre Chareau (1883-1950) is best known for the Maison de Verre, a daring steel-framed construction with a facade of glass block that served as a doctor's office and family home. Concealed from the street within the courtyard of an 18th century Parisian mansion, it has inspired successive generations of architects. Le Corbusier cribbed ideas, and Richard Rogers recreated it in his London home. It's the product of a collaboration—with the Dutch architect Bernard Bijvoet and master metalsmith Louis Dalbet—and a total work of art, for the client trusted Chareau to design all the fittings and furnishings. 

View of the façade of the Maison de Verre under construction, circa 1931. Photographer:
Jean Collas (1900-1986), Fonds photographique Pierre Chareau. Musée des Arts Décoratifs,
Paris. No. d’inv:29916.3.2.9

The Chareau vision and design universe permeates the present lot; just as Maison de Verre can be thought of as scaled-up cabinetry, the desk can be seen as scaled-down architecture.

Architecture critic Kenneth Frampton likened Maison de Verre to a piece of furniture: a mobile, lightweight composition of interconnected parts. Doors slide, windows pivot, and screens swing open; it is, to a greater degree than any of Le Corbusier's houses, a machine for living. Chareau conceived this house in the late 1920s, even as he was beginning to experiment with lightweight tables that fan out (like the present lot), fragmented steel and alabaster lamps, and desks that rotate to accommodate the user and the space. What makes these pieces so fascinating to the collector is the artistry of the finishes and details—so different from the frugality of contemporary experiments at the Bauhaus. The sumptuous glow of the time-honored original black lacquer and blackened hand–forged iron structural elements, affords an insight into the luxe restraint that was characteristic of Parisian late twenties decorative arts. 

Architecture is a social art. The architect can only create if he listens and understands the voices of millions of men, if he suffers as they do, if he struggles along with them to save them. He employs iron that they have forged, he guides them towards the future because he knows what belongs to the past.

Pierre Chareau

Pierre Chareau 1883–1950

Pierre Chareau was a prolific architect and designer with a trademark vision who created functional spaces for modern living. Born in Bordeaux, France in 1883, he began his formal training at the Ècole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, later establishing his atelier, La Boutique, located on rue du Cherche-Midi in 1919. Chareau gained recognition in 1925 after his office-library design for the French Embassy was included in the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris.

His collaboration on the architectural masterpiece Maison de Verre, built exclusively of steel and glass, is widely considered the pinnacle of his career. Completed in 1932, the “House of Glass” became a prime example of modern architecture, emphasizing volume over mass, integrity of materials, and use of transparent design elements. While his furniture and architectural designs were rare and few examples exist today, his pioneering approach combined both rich and industrial materials with clean, modern lines.

In 1940, Chareau immigrated to the United States to live in New York, where he worked for a cultural attaché. He was asked to design the workshop of painter Robert Motherwell, later also designing the artist’s home in Long Island. Pierre Chareau died in 1950, leaving behind a legacy of modernist interiors, buildings, and designs. In 2016, he was honored by the Jewish Museum in New York with a retrospective of his work.

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