In 1949, Marc du Plantier (1901-1975) returned to Paris after nearly 10 years of effective exile in Madrid.
At the Salon des Artistes Décorateurs that same year, he chose to mark the occasion by exhibiting an imposing dining table with a looping rope motif across its wrought-iron base and a granite top inlaid with yellow Sienna marble — the same combination of geometric forms, luxurious materials and ornamentation that had brought him fame in the 1930s and 1940s.
As Christie’s design specialist Agathe de Bazin points out, only three such tables are known to exist.
‘It’s one of du Plantier’s best works,’ says de Bazin. ‘It’s of exceptional scale and quality, with a decorative element — the bull’s horn — that recalls his long stay in Madrid.’
The table (below) is offered in the Design sale on 2 December at Christie’s in Paris, alongside four other signature pieces by the designer.
Marc du Plantier, set decorator and fashion designer
The breadth of du Plantier’s interests and talents was evident from an early age. Born in Madagascar in 1901 to a decorated colonial military doctor and his wife, he was expected to pursue a career in the diplomatic service, banking or the army.
The young Marc, however, was more interested in drawing. After a false start in mathematics, he switched to studying both architecture (at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts under the classical French architect Gabriel Héraud) and painting (with Paul Albert Laurens at the Académie Julian).
He went on to work as a set decorator in film and theatre, then as a designer for the French fashion houses Doucet-Doeuillet and Jenny, where he met his future wife Anne (née Germaine Knabel).
Marc du Plantier, interior designer
Du Plantier continued to paint and work for the theatre, later creating sets and costumes for the Comédie Française, but from 1928 his energies were largely focused on furniture and interiors.
With the support of the multitalented Christian Bérard (1902-1949), and the auctioneer and novelist Maurice Rheims (1901-2003), he was soon working for the elite, with Henri de Rothschild among his clients.
The sumptuous interiors he created for his own apartment in the affluent Paris suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt attracted more clients, as did the magnificent dinners he and Anne hosted there. Poets and artists — including Max Jacob (1876-1944) and Ossip Zadkine (1890-1967) — could often be found seated around a vast white marble table against a backdrop of murals painted by du Plantier himself.
His apartment on Paris’s Boulevard Suchet, furnished with Greco-Roman sculptures and du Plantier’s coveted Egyptian claw-footed armchairs, was equally splendid.
‘Its interior design was influenced by the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922 by Howard Carter,’ says de Bazin, ‘and it was so well-known it was used for fashion shoots — for Maggy Rouff designs and Mauboussin jewellery among others.’
Marc du Plantier, neoclassical modernist
Pared-back geometric forms and subtle references to antiquity were typical of du Plantier’s designs of this period: other motifs borrowed from ancient Greece and Egypt included the lyre and the lotus flower.
Two floor lamps in the upcoming sale similarly express what de Bazin calls his ‘elegant, geometric and minimalist style’.
Showing slight differences in patina and construction, both were previously owned by the French fashion designer Jacques Heim (1899-1967), who commissioned du Plantier to design his Paris showroom on Avenue Matignon.
Marc du Plantier’s ‘Spanish period’
Du Plantier’s work also took him outside France — to colonial Algiers, for instance, and to Madrid. In 1939, he was invited to decorate the residence of the Count and Countess of Elda, which is how he found himself in Spain on the eve of the Second World War.
Over the nine years that followed, he became a favourite designer of the Madrid aristocracy, with clients including the Marquis and Marchioness of Casa Valdés as well as the Marquise de Morbecq and Juan March; a project for the latter included murals by the Catalan painter Jose Maria Sert (1874-1975).
The birth of a new style: iron and stone
After his return to France in 1949, du Plantier began to move in a new direction, eschewing classical references for a purer, rawer look and feel. This is exemplified by his green-patinated steel armchairs of the mid-1950s, and indeed by the patinated wrought-iron console below.
Later, he began to incorporate crystalline minerals such as quartz, amethyst and fluorite into his designs. He would continue to receive prestigious commissions — for the new French Embassy in Ottawa in 1956-57, for instance — and to show an interest in fashionable materials.
Following stints in both Mexico City and Los Angeles, he was invited to participate in the 1966 exhibition L’Objet 2: pour un mobilier contemporain at Paris’s Galerie Lacloche — an exploration of new materials that featured iconic designs such as the M400 Adjustable Helicoid Spiral Staircase by Roger Tallon and the Elephant chair by Bernard Rancillac.
Du Plantier produced a series of furniture in acrylic glass for the occasion, which in turn led to his 1967 series of Cosmic furniture for Lacloche and thence to a commission for Maurice Rheims. It was one of the last before his death in 1975.
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The market for Marc du Plantier
Marc du Plantier has been described as the ‘great unknown’ decorator, sitting somewhere between Jean-Michel Frank and Jean Royère. But since his revival by the Parisian gallerist Yves Gastou in the 1980s, and the magisterial monograph on his work by Yves Badetz published in 2010, the market for his work has been very strong, says de Bazin.
‘It’s rare for works by du Plantier to come to auction, and those that do perform very well,’ she adds. ‘His singular style is very much in fashion, and demand for top-quality pieces is high.’