Chair no. 4, 1934
This model, chronologically the fourth produced by the Ateliers Jean Prouvé, was designed for the public sector market, offices in particular. In 1934, the principle of a shaped, bent steel rear frame, notched for attachment of the tube supporting the seat and forming the front legs, was included in an “office chair” project. This decision resulted in an office chair designed for the Compagnie Parisienne d’Electricité (CPDE), for which over a hundred were made, and a chair designed in parallel, whose distribution was postponed for several months for reasons of detailing and ordering. After various changes to the size of the metal parts, the chair no. 4 went on sale in the Ateliers Jean Prouvé prospectus for 1935. The solid wood seat and back of the prototypes were replaced with curved plywood supplied by Luterma, a pioneer in the field.1 While the back is visibly screwed to the rear uprights, the seat is held in place by welded plates and bolted to the bent steel front crosspiece. A sketch by Prouvé clearly outlines the making of the rear frame, shaped and cut before being bent so as to receive the rear crosspiece and the flattened tubing of the arc-welded front legs. Similarly all four legs have notches at the base, designed to lock wood or rubber protector tips into place. The chair no. 4 went on the market in 1935–1936, but its sales are not readily calculable. The Ateliers Jean Prouvé replied to a number of calls for tenders from government offices, hospitals and schools, some of which represented sales of several hundred items. However, orders seem to have been limited to series of a few dozen, notably for the lycée Fabert (High School) and the École Nationale Professionelle (Vocational training school) in Metz, in 1936. A knockdown metal version based on the same principle was designed during the War, but shortage of materials led to development of an all-wood model. A more comfortable version was also created, with a cushioned seat whose leatherette covered the front brace.
1. This company, whose French headquarters were at Clichy (and which had had a depot in Nancy since the 1920s), also had a factory in Estonia, which explains the “Luterma Estonie” stamp on the underside of some of the seats. Apart from an interruption due to the War, Luterma was the Ateliers Jean Prouvé sole supplier of plywood until the late 1950s.