Jean Prouvé (1901-1984) started an apprenticeship as a wrought-iron metalworker at the age of 15 and opened his own workshop in 1923, producing furniture designs in sheet metal using electric welding – a new concept at this time.
In the late 1920s he worked for Le Corbusier and became a founding member of the Union des Artistes Modernes, whose members included Robert Mallet-Stevens and Rose Adler.
The 1930s saw the establishment of his workshop Les Ateliers Jean Prouvé and a surge of interest in his furniture designs, with large orders coming from government institutions.
After World War II, Prouvé pursued his interests in prefabricated housing and was commissioned by the then French reconstruction ministry to mass-produce frame houses for refugees.
The early ’50s saw numerous new Prouvé furniture designs, but in 1954 he resigned from his own company after a hostile takeover by the French national aluminium monopoly.
From this point he stopped designing furniture, concentrating on architecture instead. He worked with Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer on the Paris headquarters of the French communist party and in 1971, as committee chair of the design competition for the Centre Pompidou in Paris, he announced the winning design by architects Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers.
Prouvé designed and produced metal furniture in a modern industrial style. While he loved mass production, he wanted his designs to have a hand-crafted feel.
His house in Nancy, France, shared similarities with the Eameses’ home – it was made with industrial materials and little embellishment to the design.
Best known for
Prouvé’s utilitarian Standard chair from 1934 was still being used in Australian schools in the 1980s (albeit a local interpretation).
More exotic but still recognisable are the bookshelves and room dividers made for the Cité Universitaire in Paris (1952).
What they’re worth
Until the 1990s Prouvé was really only appreciated in France, but recently his designs have been fetching high prices.
In 2003 a Visiteur armchair sold for US$24,000 at auction in New York, while a bookcase from La Maison du Mexique sold for US$38,000 in 2004 at a Chicago auction.
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