The living room of a Manhattan pied-à-terre belonging to the collectors of the pieces in Christie’s Paris in New York A Private Collection of Royère, Vautrin, Jouve auction

‘Collecting Jean Royère has become a cultural phenomenon’

Specialist Michael Jefferson on the French designer's timeless appeal, as a rare mid-century collection comes to Christie’s this May

While mid-century modern has been dominating contemporary interior design trends for the last decade, a specific sector of the genre offers collectors a more nuanced, artistic twist on the style. Celebrated for his bold colours, geometric shapes, and luxurious materials, Jean Royère is amongst the French visionaries whose decorative yet functional furnishings present an inspiring alternative to the rigorous, architectural designs of Jean Prouvé and his peers.

In the mid-to-late 1990s, Royère’s designs were amongst those experiencing a resurgence, but few collectors had the foresight to purchase — and hold onto — a vast array of his most legendary pieces. Christie’s Paris in New York: A Private Collection of Royère, Vautrin, Jouve, on 26 May 2021, is an especially rare opportunity to acquire 56 mid-century lots that have been displayed in the same Manhattan apartment for nearly three decades.

‘It’s almost impossible to make a collection as compact and rare as this one,’ says Michael Jefferson, International Senior Specialist, Senior Vice President of Christie’s Design department.

Jean Royère (1902-1981), pair of ‘Sculpture’ armchairs, c. 1955. 28½ x 31½ x 32 in (72.5 x 80 x 81.3 cm) each. Estimate $200,000-300,000. Offered in Paris in New York A Private Collection of Royère, Vautrin, Jouve on 26 May 2021 at Christie’s in New York
Jean Royère (1902-1981), pair of ‘Sculpture’ armchairs, c. 1955. 28½ x 31½ x 32 in (72.5 x 80 x 81.3 cm) each. Estimate: $200,000-300,000. Offered in Paris in New York: A Private Collection of Royère, Vautrin, Jouve on 26 May 2021 at Christie’s in New York

Designers such as Royère and his contemporaries were often commissioned in the 1950s and 1960s to make bespoke pieces that, over time, got dispersed into other collections.

‘These American collectors were at the vanguard of a rekindled interest in this little pocket of French mid-century design,’ says Jefferson of the family who assembled this tightly curated collection for their pied-à-terre overlooking Central Park. ‘Now 30 years later, we’re in a moment where Royère is as popular as ever.’

In June 2020 Christie’s achieved both the world auction record for Royère with his ‘Liane’ six-light sconce, as well as the model record for the designer’s ‘Ours Polaire’ (Polar Bear) sofa, of which another example is offered in the Paris in New York sale.

Jean Royère (1902-1981), rare ‘Étoile’ sideboard, c. 1955. 33¾ x 80½ x 14¼ in (85.7 x 204.5 x 36.2 cm). Estimate $200,000-300,000. Offered in Paris in New York A Private Collection of Royère, Vautrin, Jouve on 26 May 2021 at Christie’s in New York
Jean Royère (1902-1981), rare ‘Étoile’ sideboard, c. 1955. 33¾ x 80½ x 14¼ in (85.7 x 204.5 x 36.2 cm). Estimate: $200,000-300,000. Offered in Paris in New York: A Private Collection of Royère, Vautrin, Jouve on 26 May 2021 at Christie’s in New York

‘Collecting Royère has become a cultural phenomenon,’ says Jefferson on the designer’s enduring appeal. ‘There’s a rich minimalism to Royère’s works that pairs very well with art. The furnishings are rich in their execution and quality, but they don’t overwhelm a space or diminish the art. If you’re a great art collector, Royère is one of the top choices to create a proper aesthetic and environment for the seamless connectivity of design and art in an interior.’

Royère’s creations themselves exude artistry. His navy-blue velvet ‘Sculpture’ armchairs ‘channel the kind of aesthetic and silhouettes of Alexander Calder, or the minimal forms that we see in abstract paintings,’ says Jefferson.

Jean Royère (1902-1981), ‘Ours Polaire’ sofa, c. 1950. 28¾ x 93 x 54 in (73 x 236.2 x 137.1 cm). Estimate $400,000-600,000. Offered in Paris in New York A Private Collection of Royère, Vautrin, Jouve on 26 May 2021 at Christie’s in New York
Jean Royère (1902-1981), ‘Ours Polaire’ sofa, c. 1950. 28¾ x 93 x 54 in (73 x 236.2 x 137.1 cm). Estimate: $400,000-600,000. Offered in Paris in New York: A Private Collection of Royère, Vautrin, Jouve on 26 May 2021 at Christie’s in New York
Jean Royère (1902-1981), ‘Flaque’ low table, c. 1959. 11¾ x 49¾ x 25⅝ in (29.8 x 126.3 x 65 cm). Estimate $200,000-300,000. Offered in Paris in New York A Private Collection of Royère, Vautrin, Jouve on 26 May 2021 at Christie’s in New York
Jean Royère (1902-1981), ‘Flaque’ low table, c. 1959. 11¾ x 49¾ x 25⅝ in (29.8 x 126.3 x 65 cm). Estimate: $200,000-300,000. Offered in Paris in New York: A Private Collection of Royère, Vautrin, Jouve on 26 May 2021 at Christie’s in New York

Other offerings by the designer range from a rare, coloured-straw marquetry, ash, iron and brass ‘Étoile’ sideboard to a ‘Tour Eiffel’ floor lamp whose lattice-like base echoes the Parisian landmark.

Jean Royère (1902-1981), ‘Tour Eiffel’ floor lamp, c. 1947, painted iron, gilt bronze, paper shade 62½ in (161.5 cm) high including shade; 18½ in (46.5 cm) diameter. Estimate $100,000-150,000. Offered in Paris in New York A Private Collection of Royère, Vautrin, Jouve on 26 May 2021 at Christie’s in New York
Jean Royère (1902-1981), ‘Tour Eiffel’ floor lamp, c. 1947, painted iron, gilt bronze, paper shade 62½ in (161.5 cm) high including shade; 18½ in (46.5 cm) diameter. Estimate: $100,000-150,000. Offered in Paris in New York: A Private Collection of Royère, Vautrin, Jouve on 26 May 2021 at Christie’s in New York

Despite the prestige that Royère’s creations have attained, they're not meant to be overly precious. ‘They’re really pleasing to look at and comfortable to live with,’ says Jefferson, adding that the last year of pandemic-caused lockdowns makes Royère’s pieces feel all the more resonant. ‘Pedigree, style, functionality and comfort come together with Royère. That’s what makes him so imminently popular.’

Collections of Line Vautrin and Georges Jouve

The auction also features several of Royère’s contemporaries, most notably, beloved artist Line Vautrin and ceramicist Georges Jouve. According to Jefferson, what makes this collection’s grouping of Vautrin’s resin-and-glass sunburst mirrors particularly unique is the sheer quantity and variety of them. Colours range from gold to muted gray and fiery red.

An array of Line Vautrin mirrors offered in Paris in New York A Private Collection of Royère, Vautrin, Jouve on 26 May 2021 at Christie’s in New York
An array of Line Vautrin mirrors offered in Paris in New York: A Private Collection of Royère, Vautrin, Jouve on 26 May 2021 at Christie’s in New York

‘The collectors’ concept of a constellation of many mirrors of varying sizes together on a wall was certainly ahead of its time,’ says Jefferson. The next owners can create their own cluster or combine the mirrors with those by other designers.

As for the prolific ceramicist Georges Jouve, the sale’s grouping presents the opportunity to possess an ‘instant collection’. Whether a cup, cannister or vase, all of the auction’s pieces feature minimalistic forms in a black glaze, which Jefferson believes is striking from both a curatorial and stylistic standpoint.

A selection of black Georges Jouve ceramics offered in Paris in New York A Private Collection of Royère, Vautrin, Jouve on 26 May 2021 at Christie’s in New York
A selection of black Georges Jouve ceramics offered in Paris in New York: A Private Collection of Royère, Vautrin, Jouve on 26 May 2021 at Christie’s in New York

A Paris-in-New York state of mind

Jefferson attributes much of the collectors’ distinct, forward-thinking vision to their geographic makeup: ‘While it’s commonplace now to look far and wide and bring various styles into the home, it was rare to put together a collection like this in the 1990s. 

Relative to France, Italy, and other countries with histories going back through millennia, America is a young nation, and so Americans approached the world in a very different way. It would have been rarer to find an Italian collector collecting French design, or a French collector collecting things from Vienna. But in America, everything was fertile ground for drawing from.’

Jean Royère (1902-1981), Daybed, c.1950. 29½ x 80½ x 57⅝ in (74.9 x 204.4 x 146.8 cm). Estimate $30,000-50,000. Offered in Paris in New York A Private Collection of Royère, Vautrin, Jouve on 26 May 2021 at Christie’s in New York
Jean Royère (1902-1981), Daybed, c.1950. 29½ x 80½ x 57⅝ in (74.9 x 204.4 x 146.8 cm). Estimate: $30,000-50,000. Offered in Paris in New York: A Private Collection of Royère, Vautrin, Jouve on 26 May 2021 at Christie’s in New York

The pied-à-terre also consciously incorporated various eras of French design. A contemporary designer worked with the collectors to create interiors inspired by Jean-Michel Frank, a preeminent French designer of the 1930s and 1940s. Combined with Royère’s 1950s and 1960s furnishings, the resulting interior is at once retro and timeless.

‘In the 21st century, we have moved beyond regional approaches to design and siloed approaches to collecting,’ says Jefferson. ‘Finding the connectivity between disparate moments of design and art history is what makes the creative process of collecting a pleasure.’