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|The World of Royère
by Jennifer Olshin
|For Francophile design fiends who descended upon New York City in early June for auctions of 20th-century furniture, ceramics and lighting at Christie's, Sotheby's and Tepper Galleries, there remains a splendid opportunity to view a designer whose very name makes the legs of decorators go wobbly with desire -- Royère!
Those still in town after last week's auction frenzy, and still in the market for the perfect mid-century chaise, pouf or console, can genuflect before approximately 70 pieces by the Paris-based interior designer Jean Royère (1902-1982), on view at the Galerie de Beyrie at 393 West Broadway until June 16 (with an abbreviated version on view through the summer, weekdays, 1-6).
An interior designer whose purview stretched from Paris to Paraguay, from King Farouk to the Shah of Iran, Royère is known for a vision that is unencumbered by traditional forms and motifs. Rather than rely on conventions, the designer used precise cabinetry, fine materials and whimsical upholstery to produce unique objects and decorations. His name not only came to assume iconic status in France during the 1940s and '50s, but his creations have since influenced generations of furniture makers and interior designers around the world.
While items such as a 1957 mahogany sideboard and a set of white tufted armchairs (ca. 1950) may be vaguely reminiscent of the work of Art Nouveau cabinetmaker Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann, they represent a clear departure from this and other known sources. The imaginative, bat-wing-like mounts on the sideboard, for example, are a typical example of his personal flair and often humorous touches. The ensemble of couch, lamp and round "Tour Eiffel" table (ca. 1949), all pictured here, all attest to the startling originality and exuberance of his style.
Gazing at the de Beyrie collection, which has been dubbed "Jean Royère: Extraordinary Pieces," one is immediately struck by Royère's fantastical shapes, vibrant colors, quality of craftsmanship, and breadth of materials employed. Spheres, balls, diamonds, reserves cut out of wood and built-up moldings all create kinetic but balanced effects. In addition, Royère's positioning of the various elements provide the viewer with endless surprise and delight.
For the sculptural chairs, for example, the unusually high, ponyskin upholstered backs cant slightly backwards and taper in thickness from the base upwards, while the deep, curved seats taper in thickness from front to back. First presented at the Salon des Artistes décorateurs in 1955, this exact model was also realized for the Shah of Iran for his palace in Teheran. Complimenting and contrasting these rich materials are the thickly rounded seat posts and legs made of oak. Rounded oak legs are hallmarks of the Royère oeuvre, and can also be seen on the sculptural armchair (ca. 1945) and other examples in the current exhibition.
Like the sculptural chair series, the line of furniture and lighting known as the "Tour Eiffel" was produced over a long period of time and in multiple variations. Within overall conservative frameworks, these works have skeletons characterized by iron crosses, punctuated at the axis by brass balls. In the very rare, "mini" Tour Eiffel table (1947) and floor lamp (1950), one can see how Royère infused his pieces with both a tension to tempt the adventurous eye and the stability of a solid structure. Another Tour Eiffel piece, a marble-topped console, on view for the first time in this country, was previously only known through the Royère archives (currently housed at the Musée des Arts décoratifs, in Paris).
Other signature pieces by Royère -- many reflecting the designer's whimsy -- include the yellow "elephanteau" couch and attendant chairs, all with protruding upholstered "ears," and a number of "our polair" (polar bear) pieces -- large, stuffed, almost roly-poly forms, covered in bright velour, that sit on oak legs or directly on the floor.
Amidst all the floating shapes, fixed legs, undulating ironwork, tiny lampshades and giant lighting units, there are sleek designs, clearly commissioned by his glamorous clientele. These designs include the only known set of white lacquered copper diamond armchairs (1938), discovered by the de Beyries, and the elegant simplicity of the glass and gilt-metal tables gigogne, or nesting tables (1945).
"Royère hunters" for nearly two decades, Catherine and Stéphane de Beyrie have purchased each piece on view from a private residence, often from original owners and, therefore, from direct clients of Royère himself. The culmination of the de Beyrie's long research, in addition to this exhibition and one in Paris, will be their forthcoming book on Royère -- the first such publication in English.
As this legendary designer's reputation expands, and as the success of Royère offerings at recent auctions testify (a polar bear chair sold last year at Christie's London for over $100,000), design enthusiasts and collectors can be assured that many pieces will continue to surface. With dealers like Catherine and Stéphane de Beyrie, many will be placed in important private and museum collections. Either way, it will be some time before such a remarkable assemblage of work by this prescient mid-century designer will be seen in public again.
JENNIFER OLSHIN is a specialist in American decorative arts.