This tall slender backed chair is by Hector Guimard and dates back to 1908, the height of the Art Nouveau movement. It is from a suite of dining room furniture originally used in the Paris home Hector Guimard designed in 1909 to share with his new wife, Adeline Oppenheim. Throughout his career Guimard was interested in creating “Gesamtkunstwerks” or total works of art where a building’s exterior, interior details, furnishings and décor all melded into a quiet harmony; this house is considered one of his most comprehensive expressions of Art Nouveau style. The form of the chair is representative of Art Nouveau with piercing at the sides of the crest rail where handle-like openings are formed, and at the sides of the seat back. The chair rests on four slender, tapered legs with a slight knee, but without the cyma curve that forms the cabriolet leg commonly seen on earlier furniture like the Queen Anne chair. The back splat and seat are covered in tan leather upholstery secured at the edges with circular and lozenge-shaped brass nails.
At the turn of the twentieth century Hector Guimard was a leader of the French Art Nouveau movement designing houses, hotels, furniture and most famously the entrance gates of the Paris Metropolitain (subway). The free form curvilinear style, complete with sweeping whiplash curves, is indicative of his style. Guimard also incorporated floral and foliate elements of Art Nouveau design, as well as elements from the zoological world like insects and batwings. On this chair decorative elements including lilies carved on the crest rail and on the side rails, and batwings carvedon the top of the back splat, under the crest rail, and adjacent to the piercings. Guimard’s earlier preference for mahogany and other dark woods evolved into one for lighter fruit woods like the pearwood used here.
In creating a world of quiet harmony, Guimard can be compared to American architect and designer Frank Lloyd Wright, who worked at the same time, and who also imposed control of the built environment by creating all of the elements of the design. While Wright chose his own mix of sources in a style more generally associated with the arts and crafts movement, Guimard’s organic Art Nouveau fluidity shows him to be at the forefront of French design thinking in the early 1900s.
Susan Teichman is a design historian who specializes in the architectural history of Moorish Revival synagogues and jewelry.