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Furniture sets - Expo Paris 1925

Furniture sets at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1925

This class occupies four galleries on the Esplanade des Invalides, which are located between the two towers of Charles Plumet, to which they are attached, with, in return, the gallery of Perret, which leads perpendicularly to the entrance of the rue Saint-Dominique.

The total surface area of the site is three thousand square metres.

The architects appointed to design and decorate the galleries and the group were
Invalides: gallery A: Pierre Chareau; gallery B: Pierre Selmersheim; gallery C: Hiriart, Tribout and Beau; gallery D: Maurice Dufrène.
Pont Alexandre: group F: Maurice Dufrène.

The exhibitors in this class number eighty-three, some of whom present several sets; this shows the importance and interest of this part of the exhibition, where the visitor will have before his eyes: models, graphic and photographic representations, living quarters for all uses, telephone booths, factory and workshop installations, shops, canteens, dining rooms, offices, lounges, kitchens, libraries, workers' housing, wagon and boat installations, classrooms, etc.

Science et la Vie - 1925

New times call for new classifications. This is the first time that a class at a major international exhibition has been entitled "Furniture Sets". This title is characteristic of the state of decorative art, which is currently being splendidly reborn in the most worthy cradle of art in the world: Paris.

At previous official events, even in 1900, the works were separated into categories according to material, technique and sometimes use. There were classes for fabrics, stone, and means of transport, but the main class, which, in short, sums them all up and controls them, did not exist. The class of "Furniture Sets" is the "mother" class, one might say, since it contains all objects and decorations, uses all materials and techniques. To clarify the meaning of this new classification, it suffices to compare class VIII to class VII: in class VIII, the detail, in class VII, the whole. Here, an isolated piece of furniture is judged, created for its own sake, presented outside of any grouping; here, an architectural ensemble and a decorative atmosphere sought by the reasoned juxtaposition of all the elements, invented with a view to their union. Each element plays a role and takes on its value only because of the value it gives to the roles that accompany it.

Thus, class VII sums up more than any other the tendencies of the Exhibition, better still it explains and motivates it, since it is the spirit and the goal.

The "Furniture Sets" are not, in fact, a novelty. If the term is new, the thing is not; it has been around for all time and in all styles. Today, furniture ensembles seem to be reborn only because they have been neglected for the past century and have disappeared from the theatre of our decorative representations. By ignorance, by lassitude, our close ancestors have lived on the riches of the past. Thus, the decorator-inventor disappeared, replaced by the "antique dealer", that scourge of progress, and by the upholsterer who, without an inventive spirit and without personality, could not be artists, since art is only made up of freedom, novelty, creative power and the fervent gift of self.

For a reaction to be attempted, science had to impose new means and uses. Electricity, telephones, heating and transport systems, and a broader understanding of hygiene required new forms and decorations. Finally, a need arose for objects and furniture that were better suited to our needs. It was then that a host of artists took it upon themselves to satisfy new needs with new formulas. They took over the tradition, in its spirit and in its reason.

And here are the decorative artists.

One of the men who best served modern art, Mr. Paul Léon, director of the Beaux-Arts, with his clear judgement and his deep knowledge of facts and men, said over and over again: "The renaissance of decorative art in France and the revival of our art industries are due to the same twenty artists for twenty years. "

Let's be fair. The game is won for everyone, but let's do justice to those who fought and won for the community. The winners are the artists. The industry, fearful yesterday, now converted, wanted, without compromising itself, to "let it happen" as we say in slang. It let it happen, it saw..., it comes.

There is a rather pretty fable where a certain Bertrand and a man called Raton... but...
... But let's not quibble any more.

This little retrospective is not useless. It situates the responsibilities and allows us to analyse the results.

Class VII is instructive from the point of view of the mode of presentation, from the economic point of view, from the technical point of view, from the artistic point of view.

New work means new presentation. The Class VII architects, with the help of the office, have devised a programme that can be summed up in four words: creating life. Whether it was Pierre Selmersheim, Pierre Chareau or Hiriart, each of them, while retaining their own personality, was able to vary their approach and reconcile the exhibitors.

Eight entrances give access to the four galleries of F Exposition which cover more than 4,000 metres on the Esplanade des Invalides. As soon as you cross the threshold, you have the impression that you are not in an exhibition, but in someone's home, someone good, dare we say it. During the visit, one passes from one room to another without losing interest, held back by an imposing architecture, amused here by a witty detail, captivated by the thousand things and ideas that contribute to the joy of life.

The economic task of the exhibitors is considerable. The conditions of the exhibition forced a class budget, albeit a small one, in relation to its advantages, since from 400 francs per surface metre participation in class VII entailed serious costs for location, installation and, above all, for execution. By averaging the pieces presented, we can estimate their cost price at 25,000 to 100,000 francs. If we consider that class VII comprises 100 sets, and if we add to the initial costs of these sets the value of the accessory works that complete them, we reach a total of about 5 to 6 million.
Let us acknowledge these striking facts that industrialists and publishers, usually very well-informed and prudent people, have entered into the struggle without skimping on the means. This is a striking proof of confidence of which the "rightful" can be proud. The publishers, the industrialists, the big traders have done well to do well. One can only bow to their diligence and to efforts that have never been surpassed in previous exhibitions.

The techniques and materials used for the realization of the various rooms of class VII, wood, fabrics, carpets, lighting, etc., do not cause any surprise. We were warned by long experience that we would find material perfection. Unquestionably, everything is there, of superior quality. If any critic can find cause for reservations, rare in fact, of aesthetics, he cannot oppose a single one to the execution. No one has sought the harmful and useless tour de force which paralyses conception and kills taste. Each one has had the respect and love of his material and, in doing so, has "worked as a master", according to the loyal tradition of the old guilds to whom we owe the supremacy of French industrial art in the world. A piece of furniture counts by its architectural virtues, by the value and balance of its volumes, by the interplay of its plans; it requires qualities of creation and science, - of conscience too.

Let us judge the aesthetics.

In class VII, we are in France. How good it is to find furniture, carpets and fabrics that are made in France, according to us and for us! To be modern and remain national, to keep the qualities and tastes of one's race and to transpose them into a new style without deflowering them is not a common work.

For those who know how to see and analyse, rising above materialities, for those who have the wisdom not to limit their judgement to their preferences, class VII is a profound education because of the diversity of aesthetic tendencies which manifest themselves there, going so far as to oppose each other without, however, ceasing to constitute a homogeneous school. A studio like that of Mrs. Klotzd, with its sober lines and refined neutrality, and an elegantly dressed hall like that of Mrs. Renaudot, are works of great importance on simple grounds. The same is true, in a less subtle order, less elevated perhaps, but more comfortable in the habitat sense, of that which Bouchet composed for the house of the Comfortable. More amiable accessories arrest the attention, but the spirit of unity is found. The art of a Bernaux obeys other principles. All ornate volumes, all worked massiveness, Bernaux's dining room resembles the sumptuousness of the Renaissance: full mahogany woods, abundant sculptures rich in size, broad craftsmanship, the decorator continues the sculptor; for here, in Bernaux, is the type of the fervent craftsman resurrected, the noble type of the artist who conceives and who himself realises.

The dining room presented by Mercier frères, the work of the decorator Guevel, an artist from Rouen, belongs to the great school. In an original setting of material and colour, walls of grey stone cast in mauve, painted panels of a very special workmanship, where browns, purples and greens play. The massive furniture is imposing through the absolute balance of the large surfaces which highlight the polished rosewood, treated as it should be. This atmosphere of haughty serenity, deliberately a little cold, exudes a rare perfume of race.

Mercier's dining room is classical and rectangular in shape; the Bûcheron's, designed by Messrs Jomyr and Leverrier, is a rotunda lit by a high bay, dominated by a vast dome, and seems to be made entirely, from floor to ceiling, for the logical symbol of a dining room: the table.

Round, of red mahogany, almost disproportionate, but well balanced on its central leg, it is enthroned, confident, splendid. A high and long chandelier dominates it with its measured brilliance. More daring in design and decoration is the resting place, full of grace in its audacity. A style of great allure is found in the shipments from the Thiébaux Sormani house, both created by Raoul Lux: a vast, intimate living room onto which opens a dining room. Despite the size, there is a feeling of happy peace here, a sense of letting go in good company. In this private room, of a muted mauve colour, with its copious macassar furniture, enhanced with ivory, it would be so good to sit and chat as in the past, seated in these rosewood, ebony or gilded wood seats! The light is restful, the carpets sumptuous, the atmosphere good.

Edgar Brandt and his collaborator Favier, an architect, present a gallery hall whose design brilliantly fights against the principles of the nudes desired in architecture. The walls, lacquered and impeccably ordered right up to the ceiling, are entirely covered with ornaments in light relief, golden patinas, an ornamental theme dear to the Orient, from which our Renaissance and even our eighteenth century were sometimes inspired. A chandelier, a credenza, screens, access grilles, all made of worked iron, reveal a skilful understanding of modern processes. Here is Rapin, more classical, who worked for Evrard, publisher, a dining room united to a lounge. The atmosphere is intimate and friendly. The tone is blond and russet, with red and brown accents; the furniture is delicate, well-ordered, with a straightforward technique. Jacob-Delafon asked Barberis to create a bathroom with a rest room. Under an original ceiling that seems to be a draped fabric, here are the sofa and the seats, all in white; here are the coffee tables for the comforting port wine, the consoles for the small beauty utensils. A limpid atmosphere, with a hint of voluptuousness. Skilful arrangement, great practicality, amused by beautiful carpets and cushions with witty water features.

Ah, how sad to be unable, today, to linger in front of the majestic hall that Montagnac composed for Sangouard; to pass by, without analysing at leisure the works of André Fréchet, the group of Touraine, the artist's studio of the pupils of the Maîtrise des Galeries Lafayette, René Gabriel's kitchen, so dashing, the hall of the Bayonne artists, the dining room of Belligant and Fesneau, the rooms so new, created by Messrs. Chauchet, Guillère, Bureau, Burkalter and Mme Souchez, Diméa's room, the two rooms of Lahalle and Levard, Majorelle's majestic office and so many others.

We will come back to this.

We are attracted to other attempts, of a less exceptional order, but of a conception more likely to serve, by a practical, commercial realization, the cause that everyone defends here. The artists demonstrate great ideas and great talents; the big industrialists collaborate widely and have the honour of doing a great deal. Alongside these heights, equally tangible results are achieved. A group of industrialists, intelligent manufacturers and publishers are exhibiting current items of destination, realisation and consequently sale, close to the truth and close to the public that has yet to be conquered. Does this mean that the same qualities praised above are not to be found here? Not at all, they are there, more discreet, just as sure. The aim is to replace horror and banality with practical, everyday beauty, to replace furniture that has no style in any language, and at the same price, with healthy, new, pleasant, and good furniture.

For being of average layout, composed of average furniture, is not the dining room of Guérin frères pleasant and convenient. The ash woods are beautiful, their workmanship perfect, the resting place is infinitely sympathetic in its soft tones, the red hanging is happy. Mantelet's dining room, darkened with wood and decorated with marquetry, is more serious and offers infinite guarantees of execution and maintenance. Good shipment. Further on, another dining room composed by Fabre for the Decaux et Maous company. Sober harmony, new, intelligent lighting by a moulded glass banister. Great sense of comfort and practicality in the buffet and table. Rambaudi-D'Antoine presents a room, today classic. Here we are far from the tall, narrow and stuffy wardrobes. Well-established bodies, research into the use of wood, the dressing table and the seats are rational complements. The accessories would have benefited from being richer in tone because of the beauty of the woods. In collaboration with Thomas, Pimpaneau dares, with happiness for many rooms, to furnish a living room where welcoming furniture, perhaps a little numerous, is arranged in pleasant groups. A sofa, tables for games, lunch, tea, shelves, a display case. All this lives, shimmers under a bright and cheerful light in a lemon, purple and grey harmony.

Soft stands constitute the important consignment of the Société de l'Art du Bois: a studio dining room, a girl's room. The studio dining room fits in well with a modern programme, being neither very dining room nor very studio, but constituting that necessary room where, always, with one's family, one can work, talk and finally live. This is the typical, charming room. The bedroom has a very special grace.

We find Bouchet decorator at Epeaux, with a dining room that is pleasant in its sobriety. The furniture is good, but the decor does not quite highlight it. For Soubrier, Bouchet has composed a room that is close to perfection. The bed and the wardrobe are excellent examples of contemporary art.

Is this to say that everything here in Class VII is worthy of being a model? Not at all, but everything is subject to analysis and study. The great lesson with which this whole chapter can be concluded is that the elements of a French art, owing nothing to anyone, are born. The new generation of artists and industrialists can be well armed, no longer for the struggle, but for the work.

The art of the furniture ensemble is an art of high social significance. It creates, from scratch, homes. The home is man's reward, the centre of his affections and his life. What a great role and what a noble duty to help him make it beautiful and good. For such a task, one should not work as an amateur.

An inventive mind can always compose a whole, a corner before which one can exclaim: "Ah! how amusing! ah! how pretty to paint! "

Decorators, industrialists, our role is greater: what we must create is neither the fun corner nor the corner to be painted, it is the corner, the good corner to live in, and that is not quite the same thing. The reward of Class VII, its pretty reward, the discreet one that goes to the heart of all its collaborators, is when it can hear a man, whom it knows to be cultured and tasteful, say in front of one of its achievements: "I would like to live there. "

©L'Illustration - 1925