Pierre Chareau, volumes 1 and 2
by Marc Bédarida and Francis Lamond
Norma Editions, 368 p. and €75 per volume
The repair of an injustice. The monumental two-volume monograph devoted to Pierre Chareau (1883-1950) is first and foremost that. Illustrated with unpublished documents and written with a beautiful pen that avoids all jargon, this work brings the architect and decorator out of the shadows where he is still confined. Because Pierre Chareau is less known than his contemporaries, Charlotte Perriand, Le Corbusier or Robert Mallet-Stevens, but just as brilliant.
“Some saw in him a Rimbaud whose work and life had not met with deserved glory”, write Marc Bédarida and Francis Lamond, about the artist whose existence was cut short. Pierre Chareau died at the age of 67 of a cerebral hemorrhage, in New York where he had fled during the war, as a Jew through his mother.
His most famous creations, the Glass House, in Paris (1932), and the Religious Lamp (whose alabaster headdress resembles a cornette) (1923) illustrate the covers of the two volumes with their graphic elegance. But they are the tree that hides the forest of abundant and ingenious work, especially in terms of furniture.
“Furniture should be discreet servants”
Like Frank Lloyd Wright, Chareau learned his trade on the job, without a diploma, free from any academicism. Attracted by architecture, he turns to furniture and decoration. He began in the Parisian subsidiary of an English firm registered in the British Arts & Crafts movement advocating the return of the handmade, the simplicity of the lines, the precision of the proportions and the economy of ornaments. “Furniture should not be cumbersome, talkative visitors, but discreet servants, knowing not to bother us with their attire,” says Chareau.
Seeking to declutter the interiors, he created for example for the Maison de Verre a battery of full-height cupboards serving as a partition, in order to separate the bedrooms from the passageway overlooking the living room. In this architectural masterpiece, he uses metal in an innovative way, put forward when once considered an accessory, and glass brick, diverted from its utilitarian use, mostly horizontal, to be displayed on the front.
Unlike Le Corbusier, Chareau does not seek to question the conventional organization of bourgeois housing, but proposes a contemporary art of living. The great Franco-Swiss architect even said to him: “The difference between us is that you pay attention to your users, and I don’t care. »