Above is part of an exhibit of important 20th century design established at the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris in 1993.  These pieces of furniture were all designed by Pierre Chareau, born 1883, died 1950.  In between, he rose to the top of his profession in France, and then, after being forced to leave his country, he found himself in America, in New York, unknown and mostly unsuccessful in finding opportunities to deploy his remarkable talent. Image above found here.

Today, his furniture pieces sell for $50,000 and more, sometimes much more (above from Christies, here), and a house he designed in Paris, La Maison de Verre, is among the most highly regarded examples of residential design in the 20th century.

Designed for a physician and his wife and completed in 1932, La Maison de Verre is a mind spinning display of creative talent–miles ahead of its time, completely unprecedented, and still capable of causing jaws to drop in 2011.  Everything in the house was designed by M Chareau, everything (including the piano, we think).  It was purchased in 2006 and has been very respectfully restored.  Great story and slide show in the New York Times here.  Beautiful photos by Mark Lyon above and below.

Another recent view of La Maison de Verre.

Pierre Chareau began his professional life as a cabinet maker, and he has left us with a wonderful (and much prized) collection of small household objects like tables, chairs, stools, mirrors, and cupboards.

Pierre Chareau Stool in mahogany and patinated wrought iron ca. 1927 from Artnet

Umbrella stand at La Maison de Verre (Wikipedia!).

This wall mirror above sold recently at Christie’s for €91,000 or about $130,00 seen here.

Cupboard–how cute is that–seen here

There are, nowadays, companies reproducing his designs, so people can own something approximating a brand new Pierre Chareau, such as this lamp:

Based on the original below.

Despite the chilly reception he received in America, Pierre Chareau did receive one commission of significance–a studio house for the artist Robert Motherwell in the Hamptons, outside New York.  Once again he produced something joyously original: a low-cost structure employing materials and ideas based on military Quonset huts.

Wonderful photograph of Motherwell in his little Chareau house by the wonderful Hans Namuth in 1944, gratefully found here. The house was demolished in 1985.

Above interior of the Motherwell house from here

The story of Pierre is both inspiring and demoralizing.  His was a talent that seemed to know no boundaries, one of the great design talents of the last 100 years, and yet it was a talent that was allowed to go largely unused and even unnoticed in a place that prides itself, above all, on its ability to know the real thing when it sees it.  The lesson is, apparently, that talent is no guarantee to success, not then, not now.

Many books have been produced about Pierre Chareau and his work.  Here is one:

If you you find that true and deep inspiration is sometimes hard to find these days in the wonderful world of design, give yourself over to a feast of Pierre Chareau.  You won’t go away hungry.

About these ads