Friday, April 18, 2008

Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann

Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann was unboubtedly the star of the Exposition Internationale Des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Moderns, held in Paris in 1925, and from which the term Art Deco was born.

Which, as history marched on and Art Deco became more renowned as being the mother of the Modernist movement, is somewhat ironic. Ruhlmann had his roots in Art Nouveau, and was profoundly dedicated to quality, craftsmanship and the exclusivity of his so-called precious pieces. Modernism, influenced by the sometimes ambiguous principles of the Bauhaus movement, ultimately became dominated by a breed of designer dedicated to the production of mass produced, machine made items.

Ruhlmann, in an interview in 1920, stated: 'Only the very rich can pay for what is new and they alone can make it fashionable. Fashions don't start among the common people. Along with satisfying a desire for change, fashion's real purpose is to display wealth.'

Consequently, Ruhlmann created outstanding pieces of furniture with spectacular attention to detail, partucularly in his use of unusual woods. His favourite woods were Macassar ebony, Brazilian rosewood, and amboyna burl. He used the grain of the wood to echo and support the gentle lines of the furniture design. He liked to contrast the wood grain with small, delicate detail. For example, an ivory drawer pull or metal banding.

Ruhlmann made his money by running his deceased father's painting and contracting business, and lost his money by selling his exquisite furniture at a price lower than the cost to him to produce it.

There is an oriental influence in some of his designs; note the circular plate in the buffet below, a recurring theme in his work.

His interior schemes - he started an interiors business in 1919 with colleauge Pierre Laurent -are elegant, pared down, masculine spaces punctuated by sinuous, restrained curves. He specified gracious lighting, powerful prints and decorative mirrors.

Following his 1919 launch as an interior designer and fine furniture designer, Ruhlmann quickly became fashionable: architects, couturiers, manufacturers, parfumeurs...they all clamoured for an exclusive Ruhlmann piece.

Unfortunately, Ruhlmann's reign last only until his death in 1933. After he learned of his fatal illness, he planned for the finishing of the remaining commissions in his workshops and arranged for the dissolution of the company when all remaining work had been completed.

Contemporary American furniture manufacturer Pollaro is reproducing Ruhlmann designs for purchase today.
These exquisite pieces are faithful copies of the originals. Their website is fascinating and I have taken all these images from it.

Absolutely sublime dressing table. I would be happy to see myself growing old in that mirror!

Exquisite cabinets. Note the metal cross-banding and tassel handles.

These armchairs are a perflect blend of comfort and elegance.

This inlaid side table with drawers speaks of Ruhlmann's obsession with eighteenth century furniture design and craftsmanship.

Whilst it is necessary to distinguish between the kind of snobbery that seeks to exclude and control, we must never allow egalitarian principles to outlaw excellence. Society needs many kinds of tall poppies in order to show the majority ways in which to strive for higher objectives.

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