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Jean Royère’s Imaginative World of Furniture and Design

A show in London looks at the lasting influence of the French designer

"I’d always had a thing about interior design. So much so, that as a child, I didn’t want toys; I asked to be allowed to decorate a room in the attic of our country house." -- Jean Royère

A self-taught French craftsman, decorator and furniture maker, Jean Royère exhibited a theatrical flair throughout his influential career, creating a body of work caught between prewar elegance and post-war modernity. Or, perhaps a better way to define his work is design that bridged the gap between the two styles, exhibiting sleek silhouettes and forms while playing with more imaginative, fanciful themes.

Royère grew up without formal design education, starting out as in the import-export business as a young man. But in 1931, he made the decision to leave his job, follow his passion, and work in Paris for furniture maker Pierre Goufeé. That became his entree into the design world, where he quickly established himself in France and overseas, both designing his own playful furniture and lighting, and gaining numerous commissions for restaurants, hotels, and private residences, including the Carlton Bar on the Champs Elysees. He would become a member of the avant-garde in the ‘50s, drawing on his furniture-making and aesthetic skills to create a style referencing organic forms, bright colors, and a focus on high-end materials. It was a theatrical sense of space and design—this is the designer who called his bulbous, white armchairs and sofas "‘L’Ours Polaire’," or "polar bear."

Patrick Seguin, a gallerist who has been instrumental in helping many collectors rediscover French designers such as Jean Prouve, has been exhibiting Royère for years, and opens a show at his London gallery tomorrow showcasing his work. We spoke with Seguin about Royère’s legacy and the market for his original designs.

Why Royère now? What about his work makes it relevant to contemporary audiences, and is there any specific reason you're holding the exhibit now, in addition to showcasing the relatively new UK gallery?

"What immediately appealed to me about Jean Royère's work was the enormous freedom the pieces manifest. In terms of forms, materials, and techniques, this was clearly someone bent on pursuing an aesthetic quest to its logical conclusion. All his creations are timeless and unique in their genre. While it can be said of Jean Prouvé that his constructional principle imposed form as part of a rationalizing quest, Royère's stance was the direct opposite. They did have one thing in common, however: the undeviating exigency they brought to their work."

From a gallerists perspective, what pieces do you believe will be most in-demand? Has the price of Royere's work been trending in a particular direction over the last five years?

"This market expanded over the last 25 years, this is not a sudden speculation. Quite the opposite: it’s the result of a slow rediscovery of the most important French creators of the 20th Century. Since the early '90s, the evolution is constant and regular and, considering the rarity, the quality, and the importance of these creators to 20th century design. The prices will go up with this growing evolution. The market is very strong for Royère. Considering the progressing rarefaction of furniture pieces, especially for Prouvé and Royère, it’s normal that the prices are still growing."

His original work seems very much defined by his independence and self education. What are some of the early influences from his home, his family, and his surroundings that made him the designer that he was?

"Jean Royère’s characteristic was his curiosity, his travels in Italy and Scandinavia but also South America and the Middle East, which led to the discovery of contemporaries like designers such as Gio Ponti, and notably Josef Frank, with whom he engaged in mutual creative feedback. He pursued an aesthetic quest to its logical conclusion, with the honing process culminating in the perfect artifact."

You've been exhibiting Royere for years. How have you seen his reputation change since you began showing his work? Are there new projects/plans to celebrate his legacy, or reissue his work, that you're aware of?

"One may say there has been a worldwide recognition of mid twentieth century design: Le Corbusier, Jean Prouvé, Charlotte Perriand, Pierre Jeanneret and Jean Royère managed to set a unique vocabulary and are recognized and have their rightful place in the history of art. For more than 25 years, we have undertaken and completed a rigorous amount of work to promote their creations, and also to ensure that the largest international collectors and most prestigious museums include their pieces in their collections. At the same time, we developed an editorial line of publications, we published a two-volume boxed set about Jean Royère in 2012 with Galerie Jacques Lacoste, with more than 5000 original documents, archive images and blueprints."

Are there any highlights of this show, or new pieces, that haven't been seen before?

"The "Tour Eiffel" Table is a unique piece; the "Elephanteau" armchair, the "Persan 8 branched" wall-lamp, the "Hirondelle" standing lamp, the "Croisillon" armchair and the "Pekin" cabinet are highlights which have prime owner provenances and are very craved by collectors."