Reclining chair, folding chair, 1929-30
Produced in very small numbers, these two “mechanical” chairs represent Jean Prouvé’s first ventures into seating. Like the armchairs designed during the same period, they indicate his resolve to provide strength and comfort via mechanical adjustments and the use of shaped and welded sheet metal. Doubtless made at the same time, these two models comprise pressed steel sheet, flattened tubing and welded, round tubing. Tilting and folding of the seat are regulated by a pivot mechanism. The chairs were made entirely by hand by Pierre Missey at the Rue Général Custine workshop. The first series was designed and made specially for the Vosges industrialist Louis Wittmann1: they comprise four tilting chairs whose nickel-plated metal parts support a stretched leather seat and back. The seat’s structures pivot on the frame. Jean Prouvé made two similar pieces for his personal use, with a frame of black lacquered sheet metal and stretched red sailcloth trim; one of them is now part of the permanent collection at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. The model with the folding seat is designed with a view to “horizontal stacking” and a consequent saving of storage space. This functional feature was emphasized at the first UAM exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, in 1930, when the chairs—two folding and one tilting—were presented folded and stacked. The frame extends to form the sides of the back, and houses a pivot tube that enables folding of the seat. The back and seat are of stretched, laced sailcloth. A variant—with a minor difference in the assembly of the frame—was made by Jean Prouvé for use by his family: he presented six of these chairs to his older sister Marianne when she married André Georges in 1930. This series has red sailcloth trim, with a back made of two horizontal strips of fabric.
1. Louis Wittmann was a close friend of Prouvé’s both by virtue of being in the same artistic milieu as Prouvé (his father and brother were acquaintances of Victor Prouvé’s) and through his activities as young director of his company (he had recently become head of his family’s textile company). As a wedding present for his marriage to a young Parisian, Wittmann commissioned Prouvé to fit out the dining room and one of the bathrooms of his Chateau, Rupt-sur-Moselle (Vosges département). The circumstances of this commission are unknown in their entirety, but it seems as though a relationship of absolute trust was established between Wittman and Prouvé, who at that time had no reference in the field. This was the context in which Prouvé created his first furniture “Grand Repos armchair”.