The Story behind Jean Prouvé: From blacksmith to modern architect

The Story behind Jean Prouvé: From blacksmith to modern architect

Jean ProuvéMany of his designs look low and awkward at first glance, as if they were just supporting functional wood panels with simple steel plates. The Standard chair, designed in 1934, looks as "standard" as its name. However, people familiar with the design of Jean Prouvé can easily find the mystery at a glance: because the back legs of the chair are the most stressed in the overall structure, the back legs are transformed into large-volume hollow pillars bent from steel plates, so that the chair can bear Many of the pressures have been transmitted to the ground.

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In this article, you will read:

01 "The Man Who Folds Iron Plates"

02 Modern Artists Alliance: "We like logic, balance, and purity"

03 Nomadic architecture and humanistic care

Jean Prouvé

 "The Man Who Folds Iron Plates"  Jean Prouvé

Jean Prouve was an apprentice in 1917. 

Jean Prouvé is often regarded as the heir to the early modern masters of Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius and Mies van de Rohe, but he has never studied architecture. Prouvé was born in Paris, France in 1901. In 1916, due to family financial difficulties, he was forced to give up his studies and worked as an apprentice under the blacksmith Émile Robert and Paul Szabo.

Jean ProuvéJean Prouvé's father, Víctor Prouvé, is a good friend of Émile Gallé. He is a glass master and the founder of Nancy College.

Jean ProuvéJean Probo started working at the age of 13, because his family was in financial trouble after the outbreak of the First World War. Therefore, he worked as a blacksmith in the workshop of his father's friend Émile Robert.

Jean Prouvé

The blacksmith Émile Robert made the "Iron Man Grille" and "Shooter's Grille" based on the model of Víctor Prouvé around 1902.

Compared to many architects, his early experience may seem more bumpy. This may be why he is more willing to call himself a "man who folds iron plates" than "architect" or "designer". However, his solid blacksmith skills enabled Jean Prouvé to completely change French design from the 1920s to the 1950s with light industrial furniture and easy-to-assemble and disassemble "nomadic buildings", and became a representative of the French high-tech school.

Jean ProuvéJean ProuvéJean ProuvéIn collaboration with the Patrick Seguin Gallery in Paris, the LUMA Foundation organized a building showcasing Jean Prouvé, aiming to relive its functional architecture.

One of the greatest achievements of the high-tech movement initiated by Prouvé is the Centre Pompidou in Paris. This flexible, industrialized prefab building was designed by architects Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers and Peter Rice. When the building was completed, Jean Prouvé had nothing but praise, because he believed that the building would have a huge impetus.

Jean ProuvéJean Prouvé

Jean ProuvéModern Artists Alliance: "We love logic, balance, and purity" 

Jean ProuvéAs the son of the Nancy school painter Victor Prouvé, he was immersed in the Art Nouveau style since childhood. Although the Nancy School also advocated the close integration and production of art and daily necessities, Prouvé largely rebelled against the Art Nouveau style, because he opposed the decorations formed by complicated curves and pursued pragmatism that was as precise as a function.

Jean ProuvéJean ProuvéThe colors commonly used by Prouvé include dark red, dark gray, classic blue, and gray green. They all seem to have a smell of rust. These colors inevitably remind people of Fernand Léger's paintings.

Jean ProuvéFernand Léger

Jean ProuvéWorks by Fernand Léger

Léger was also an artist who became famous in an era earlier than Prouvé. For example, in the painting "La femme et l'enfant" in 1922, the characters were replaced by the geometric shapes of industrial flowing water, and the home interior environment also showed Mechanical feelings. Léger seems to be telling us that France, which experienced World War I at the beginning of the 20th century, is rapidly transforming from Belle Époque to a large-scale industrial age.

Jean Prouvé"La femme et l'enfant" in 1922

Both Prouvé and Léger later became members of the Union des Artistes Modernes, and Prouvé was one of the founders. This art movement, founded in 1929, declared that it would defend the principles of modern aesthetics and bring together industrialists and artists to create "useful forms" together. In 1934, the alliance issued its own manifesto, which read: “Between the past and the future, we are working hard to implement a plan that we think fits all the conditions of the present.”

Jean ProuvéJean Prouvé

Jean ProuvéNomadic architecture and humanistic care 

Jean ProuvéJean Prouvé is more like a pioneer in thought. Many people regard Prouvé as the source of inspiration for their work, and the potential of his work is often realized only a few years later, especially in France at the time, and no one fully appreciates it. His high-tech architectural style. Even Victor Prouve is deeply influenced by Jean Prouvé. Although their styles are different (Victor-Art Nouveau & Jean-modern), they all maintain a desire to create originality.

Jean ProuvéJean ProuvéMaison de Peuple, Clichy, Jean Prouvé, 1935-1938

The "Maisons du the people" between the two world wars blended social, political and cultural projects and illustrated how architects handled the complex relationship between social vision, formal expression, technology, identity and power . Architects Eugene Beaudouin and Marcel Lods cleverly combined the space plan with a market, a multi-purpose hall and a union office. In the end, Jean Prouvé and engineer Vladimir Bodiansky turned the scheme into a working building. The flexible structure and variability echo its multi-purpose function.

Jean ProuvéLe Corbusier and Jean Prouvé

Prouvé was not influenced by history like his father, but looked forward, believing that modernist design was built on a non-existent basis. Le Corbusier also greatly influenced Prouvé. Both of them are more concerned about practical housing, because they have experienced two world wars, and the two world wars led to the housing crisis.

Jean ProuvéPréfabrication

Due to the concept of combining design with the times, it is not difficult to understand that portable houses have become one of Prouvé's most praised architectural achievements. Préfabrication was first put into production in the late 1930s for military construction and temporary shelter for refugees. The experience of resistance in the Second World War made Prouvé the mayor of Nancy after the war and built the "home of the victims" in Lorraine, for example. Lightweight folding metal furniture is also used here because of its low cost and high flexibility.

Jean ProuvéJean ProuvéPetrol Station (Jean Prouvé, 1953 / 2003) was originally built in other cities and moved to the Vitra Park. There were 3 of them, but only 1 of them currently exists.

This kind of humanism is reflected in almost all the furniture designs of Prouvé. Many of his classic styles are the result of social engineering. For example, the Cité armchair and Lampe de Bureau desk lamps are dormitory accessories in the University City of Nancy. The Antony chair is designed for the University City of Antony in the suburbs of Nancy, and the Solvay table is for Customized by a chemical company. Although the original context is very strong, the simple curved surfaces and pure shapes make these furniture have a surprisingly elegant beauty, and it can also be seen that Prouvé’s childhood was influenced by Art Nouveau.

Jean ProuvéJean ProuvéCité armchair

Jean ProuvéJean ProuvéLampe de Bureau table lamp

Jean ProuvéJean ProuvéAntony chair

Jean ProuvéJean ProuvéSolvay table

In 2019, the founder and helm of Off-White, Louis Vuitton's first black art director, Virgil Abloh, referred to Jean Prouvé's classic design of the Antony chair, giving it new colors, expressing tribute to the classics and exploring the vision of the future home.

Jean ProuvéJean ProuvéThe residents of Nancy looked down on the furniture designed by Prouvé in the past. Many people threw away the old tables and chairs they had. They only sighed when they saw the prices on the auction market today-no wonder, because Jean Prouvé’s design is the most extraordinary. It is surprisingly ordinary. And those iron plates that are made tortuous but rigorous and durable have become the epitome of his love of humanistic care and populism.

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