Daniel Lebard’s collection of 20th-century French furniture is unrivalled in its depth
Featuring masterworks by some of the most celebrated French architects and designers of the 20th century, including Jean Prouvé, Charlotte Perriand, Le Corbusier, Serge Mouille and Jean Royère, the collection of the businessman Daniel Lebard is the most comprehensive of its kind ever presented at auction.
Highlights of Collection Daniel Lebard, sous le prisme de la modernité (2-3 November) range from an illuminated library table created by Prouvé and Perriand in 1956 to a Pierre Chareau coat rack designed for the celebrated Maison de Verre (House of Glass) in Paris, a private residence he built in collaboration with the Dutch architect Bernard Bijvoet from 1928 to 1932.
Spanning the 1920s to the 1980s, it includes works by members of the Union des artistes modernes (UAM), which was active from 1929 to 1959, to later designers of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. ‘To create a collection like this today would be nearly impossible,’ says Christie’s specialist Flavien Gaillard.
Lebard began collecting 20th-century design in the 1980s, when many of the objects now considered classics were far from universally admired. ‘He was a supporter of the birth of this market,’ says Sonja Ganne, International Chairwoman, Design.
The gallerist Philippe Jousse, who advised Lebard when he began collecting, along with other dealers including Patrick Seguin and François Laffanour, agrees: ‘Daniel was one of the first to understand the importance of Jean Prouvé,’ he says.
Prouvé (1901-84) trained as a metalworker before opening his own studio in Nancy in 1923. He would later branch out into design and architecture and was pivotal to the formation of the UAM. A Prouvé Trapeze table included in the sale is, Ganne says, ‘so minimal that it’s almost like the idea of a table’.
Other works in Lebard’s collection include Prouvé’s embossed aluminium BA12 sideboard from 1951; a rare, 1948 Kangarou version of his Fauteuil Visiteur chair, and a 6m x 6m prefabricated shelter from 1944. ‘There is a humanity behind all these examples of radical, architectural furniture,’ says Gaillard. ‘Everything is linked to the machine, but modernity was not only about technical advances and production, it was also very much concerned with the human person.’
Gaillard also highlights a Charlotte Perriand dining table in solid wood from the mid-1950s. Its top is extremely thick but ‘when you pass your hand over the surface, you can feel the relief of the wood, you can feel the labour of people — the patina is really intense’.
The lots also include artworks by Jannis Kounellis, Takis, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Imi Knoebel and Thomas Ruff.
The collection contains an impressive number of rare pieces for each designer represented such as two by Mathieu Matégot (1910-2001), one of which Ganne had only ever seen in documentation. The winged back of the Papillon chair (1954) is made in Matégot’s patented sheet metal, Rigitulle, which is like lace in its delicacy, while his Santiago lampshade (also 1954) features larger polka-dot perforations.
Among the many Perriand lots is a very rare complete kitchen created with Le Corbusier for his Unité d’Habitation in Marseille in 1952, similar to the one in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. This was a cutting-edge modular design based on ergonomic principles. For collectors today, says Gaillard, ‘it’s not the kind of piece you are going to live with, it’s something you use as a way of thinking’.