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“Never design anything that cannot be made.” - Prouve
Jean Prouvé – one of the greatest French designers of the 20th century – was a man who believed in design as a means of forging a better world. Over a career that spanned some sixty years, Prouvé worked not solely as a designer, but defined himself also as craftsman, architect, teacher, engineer, manufacturer and for a brief time, politician. The morality of his design and his socialist principles saw Prouvé make great inroads in the world of mass manufacturing of furniture. He avoided the domestic market and never designed for form alone, choosing instead to focus on practical designs for the public sector – with hospitals, schools and government offices all benefited from his work. He strove constantly to make his designs the most efficient designs possible, driven by the constant quest for innovation in process and use of materials.
Born in 1901, Prouvé was the product of an artistic family, his father a ceramicist who collaborated with the great Art Noveau artists Emile Galle and Louis Majorelle. He began his career as an artisan blacksmith working in his hometown of Nancy in Northern France. Some fifteen years later, he founded Atelier Jean Prouvé and taken by the work of avant-garde architects such as Le Corbusier and Robert Mallet-Stevens, Prouvé began to make metal furniture and developing a taste for design.
Prouvé’s personal history is rich and reveals a strong sense of social justice and morality that underpinned everything he did. He was an active member of the French Résistance and after the liberation of France he was briefly appointed Mayor of Nancy. He ran his factory at Maxéville on socialist principles – a man completely ahead of his time, he provided employees with insurance and paid holidays and encouraged an atmosphere of community where workers contributed eagerly to design and production research and innovation.
Later in his career, Prouvé moved away from manufacturing and entered a more creative stage. This stage allowed him to realise some of his most technically ambitious projects – from building himself a pre-fabricated house using recycled factory elements, to a pavilion on the banks of the Seine to commemorate the centenary of aluminum and an innovative spa building at Evian. It was during this time he famously collaborated with designer Charlotte Perriand to create the furniture for the student rooms at the Maison de la Tunisie and Maison du Mexique at the Cité Universitaire – some of his most famous work.
His work is highly sought after and he bore an enourmous influence upon early modern design. One of the simplest, yet finest examples of Prouvé’s aesthetic is the Antony chair – it’s construction is entirely unconventional and yet the chair is undeniably practical, sturdy and ergonomically sound.