The second edition of Hidden Treasures introduces three works, to explain why we acquired them and bring their narratives and distinctive characteristics to the foreground.
We have discovered and acquired many extraordinary pieces over the last 20 years. Sometimes a work is only shown once in an exhibition or at an art fair, and if not sold, goes on to live in storage and on our website; and if you are not familiar with the piece or its designer, the work’s story fades and becomes lost. Other times, a work has been shown repeatedly, but occasionally its unique significance goes unnoticed among the other objects in those presentations.
We acquired our first pair of Pierre Paulin Élysée Chairs (edited by Alpha International) in 2004, decidedly ahead of the curve for this famous Élysée series now widely known. It was a small production. Since then, we’ve had fifteen pairs. In 2005, we acquired the three-seater Sofa. Subsequently, we discovered four more, including this one highlighted here in original brown leather. These original works are still rare and difficult to find.
In 1970, Paulin was commissioned by the Mobilier National to design George Pompidou's private Presidential living quarters in the Palais de l’Élysée—one of the most significant design assignments of the decade. Paulin created a series of objects—seating, tables and lighting—for the residence.
In 1964, the Atelier de Recherche et Creation (ARC) was created under the Mobilier National to promote a uniquely French contemporary style by engaging and supporting the work of French designers and artists, including Pierre Paulin, Olivier Mourgue and others. The ARC, under the direction of Jean Coural, built upon the dual mission of the postwar reconstruction effort to produce furniture in series and create an international market for French design.
The ARC provided a platform for artistic ideas. The ARC-sponsored prototypes gave way to editions through commercial entities (like Alpha International), allowing the vision and talent of French designers to emanate beyond the nation’s borders, influencing design internationally: these curved and softened objects heralded the beginning of a broader cultural design shift away from the more functional, hard-edged and streamlined Modernist aesthetic of the early 1960s, and toward an organicism still powerful today.
Some of the works of Paulin’s iconic Élysée series are now reproduced by Paulin’s estate, including the chairs and sofas, thus making the design more accessible. We believe, however, the original pieces represent the historical narrative greater than reproductions and present much differently because of the authentic materials inside, which, because of replaced and/or revised technologies and materials, cannot be duplicated today. Paulin’s designs exhibit soft, organic, curved forms that mask the inner supports that define the true functionality of its design.
In addition to its historical significance, the sofa represents rapid technological advancement between 1965 and 1975, that shaped a distinctive new aesthetic in French public and domestic life. The introduction of polyurethane foam and synthetic resins in the 1960s allowed designers to abandon orthogonal rigidity and create anthropomorphic forms that corresponded with the period’s broader social liberation.
Pierre Paulin revolutionized the look of seats by completely upholstering the structure with a single piece of fabric and hiding the base. He sought to create a spatial expression of translation: a simple domestic object, a seat, is related to the space it inhabits, conveying that the chairs' and the rooms' architectural volumes are spaces experienced both from inside and outside, creating an enveloping structure for the body.
This pair of hanging nightstands, with integrated lighting, was conceived by Pierre Guariche as part of a private commission for a children’s bedroom, for which he designed all furnishings including bunk beds.
The innovation here is pure functionality and simplicity of design – the same modernist vision introduced in the 1950s, but using new production techniques of the 1960s. Guariche’s approach to both contemporary furniture and architecture was characterized by an emphasis on form and volume. Overall, his designs reflect a commitment to simplicity and to creating furniture in series that could be industrially produced.
These unique nightstands represent the style of the period and embody Guariche’s famed commitment to elegance at modest prices. Guariche noted “Produced in series, this is furniture of good taste at the price of furniture of bad taste.”
During the 1970s, César spent most of the year in his house in the south of France and almost every day went to Nice to work in a small studio made available to him to work on small scale objects, drawings, collages and “bricolages.” The “burnt matches” works were made during this period and were actively collected by his friend photographer and collector Jean Ferrero who opened a gallery to exhibit his Nice school artist friends like César, Arman, Ben Vautier and Guili.
The “burnt matches” series in César work is typical of a Nouveau Réaliste and École de Nice gesture—the use of fire as an artistic medium, initiated by Yves Klein and his burnt paintings as well as Arman with his carbonized musical instruments and furniture of the early 60s.
César experimented by lighting matches against a cardboard or paper background in order to capture the track of the smoke and by keeping the burnt matches glued together and consolidated with resin.
Being somewhat fragile, the works were usually framed directly by Cesar and boxed in plexiglass for protection. This one is the only one we found not boxed. It is more sensitive and delicate than others from this series, because you can see the smoke resulting from the burn and feel the texture of the matches without looking through a plexiglass.