Left image André Dubreuil, Weekly, 1991. Patinated and burnt steel, enamelled copper, coloured glass, marble and painted steel. Measurements 65 x 37 x 21 5⁄8 in (165 x 94 x 55 cm). Estimate

Enticing the eye

Works by André Dubreuil are a highlight of the Design show at Christie’s Paris on 1 December

If there is one idea most at odds with the aesthetic of the designer André Dubreuil it is that of ‘beautiful utility’. Conceived by 19th-century industrialists to help market their products, it was taken up by theorists who believed that, rather than beautiful objects being the preserve of museums, as many people as possible should be given access to beautiful objects. This led to the notion of ‘decorative arts’, which came to be seen as ‘minor’ in comparison to the fine arts.

André Dubreuil, Cabinet ‘Branch of Oak’, single piece, 1993. Patinated steel and copper, painted metal, enamelled metal, coloured glass, chrysocolle and campan marble. Measurements 46 1⁄2 x 28 1⁄2 x 13 3⁄4 in (118 x 72.5 x 35 cm). Estimate €30,000-50,000. Offered in Design on 1 December 2021 at Christie’s in Paris
André Dubreuil, Cabinet ‘Branch of Oak’, single piece, 1993. Patinated steel and copper, painted metal, enamelled metal, coloured glass, chrysocolle and campan marble. Measurements: 46 1⁄2 x 28 1⁄2 x 13 3⁄4 in (118 x 72.5 x 35 cm). Estimate: €30,000-50,000. Offered in Design on 1 December 2021 at Christie’s in Paris

To reject functionalism is to embrace something else, and in Dubreuil’s eyes mystery and enigma are more rewarding. Dubreuil’s use of ornament is inventive and suggests the influence of the British Victorian art critic and polymath John Ruskin in celebrating the marks left by his processes: ‘I think one leaves a bit of oneself in the work,’ he says. ‘Some pieces turn out better than others — the hand is not perfect. Furniture is for people and people are not perfect. The perfection of machines is sinister.’

André Dubreuil, Cabinet, single piece, 1992. Patinated steel, partly enamelled and patinated copper, marble, rock crystal, convex mirror, painted metal and fabric. Measurements 88⅝ x 52⅜ x 23⅝  in (225 x 133 x 60 cm). Estimate €70,000-90,000. Offered in Design on 1 December 2021 at Christie’s in Paris
André Dubreuil, Cabinet, single piece, 1992. Patinated steel, partly enamelled and patinated copper, marble, rock crystal, convex mirror, painted metal and fabric. Measurements: 88⅝ x 52⅜ x 23⅝ in (225 x 133 x 60 cm). Estimate: €70,000-90,000. Offered in Design on 1 December 2021 at Christie’s in Paris

Dubreuil, who was born in 1951 in Lyon, rejects distinctions between furniture and sculpture, or craftsman and artist. He bristles at the label ‘designer’ and the famous axiom ‘form follows function’, which was coined by Louis Sullivan, the architect of the first skyscrapers and a mentor to Frank Lloyd Wright. ‘Function will never create my furniture, which asserts its uselessness, which demands decoration,’ says Dubreuil. ‘The eye should be attracted, caught, and linger on the surface of things, it should explore… if we were merely functionalists we would still be sitting on rocks.’

Dubreuil creates all the decorative elements of his furniture himself, and aims to bring materials to life rather than hide or mask them. Intricate engraved guilloches, spirals and interlacing patterns, lattices, meshes that conjure algae or branches — his organic and geometric patterns seek to enhance the materials he uses.

André Dubreuil, ‘Spine’ armchair, the model created in 1986, this one made c. 1988. Measurements 33½ x 26¼ x 35¼ in (85.5 x 66.5 x 89.5 cm). Estimate €2,500-3,500. Offered in Design on 1 December 2021 at Christie’s in Paris
André Dubreuil, ‘Spine’ armchair, the model created in 1986, this one made c. 1988. Measurements: 33½ x 26¼ x 35¼ in (85.5 x 66.5 x 89.5 cm). Estimate: €2,500-3,500. Offered in Design on 1 December 2021 at Christie’s in Paris

He places a great deal of importance on his choice of markings and glazes. ‘The materials should live, be transformed, move, express themselves,’ says Dubreuil. ‘I would never paint metal, for example. Something must catch your eye. I like to linger, and I think my collectors’ eyes like to wander and to explore.’

Dubreuil’s materials are sometimes rough, contradictory and irregular — they lend themselves to patina and wrinkles. His work occupies the opposite extreme to the aesthetics of smoothness.