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Jean Prouvé’s Présidence desk endures as one of the definitive forms of the 1950s, with the designer himself utilizing an example in his Maxéville workshop. Originally designed in 1948, the kidney-shaped form did not acquire the title Présidence until 1953 – the same date around which this example was ordered from Steph Simon, prior to the opening of his influential gallery on Boulevard Saint-Germain in 1956. An example of this desk, without drawer cases, and with provenance to the S.C.A.L. (Société Centrale des Alliages Légers), is today retained in the collections of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris. While the model was conceived with a chest of drawers, both the present desk and the one from the S.C.A.L. do not have one. It is not known if these desks originally had this feature, which was later lost or if they were in fact ordered without it.
The present lot originally furnished the office of Alfred Mame, director of the printing studio MAME, in Tours. Founded by his great-grandfather towards the close of the eighteenth century, Mame’s workshop was twice destroyed during the war before being rebuilt 1950-1953 on a large site by the banks of the Loire. Sensitive towards the artistic and progressive post-war zeitgeist, Mame aimed to build his new factory as a model workshop. Consequently, a natural choice was the architect Bernard Zehrfuss, who during this period was also responsible for several influential public commissions, to include the C.N.I.T. (Centre des Nouvelles Industries et Technologies) at La Défense, and the Palais de l'Unesco, Paris. Both Mame and Zehrfuss drew aesthetic and intellectual stimulation from the Synthèse des Arts Plastiques, as originally published by Le Corbusier during the 1920s in the periodical L'Esprit Nouveau, and subsequently developed by André Bloc and the Groupe Espace in 1951. The painter Edgar Pillet, who was president of this latter group, was to also be directly involved with the conception of these new buildings.
Zehrfuss strove to unite architecture with the plastic arts, and envisaged the factory as a synthesised entity with zones defined by work-type and responsibility. This was assured by the careful juxtaposition of two structures, one more elevated containing the administrative offices, above the workshops. Needing to effectively regulate the daylight, Mame turned to Jean Prouvé, whose technical rigor he admired. Prouvé delivered an ingenious new roofing structure, assembled from prefabricated steel and aluminum elements, and perforated by windows. The roof-line offered a distinctive saw-tooth profile. This imaginative solution ensured optimum direct daylight, enhanced by the reflective properties of the aluminum. For the roof terrace of the administrative building, Prouvé created four prefabricated aluminum pavillions, amongst which one was the Director’s office, and another served as the meeting room for the administrative council. To decorate the interior spaces of the buildings, Edgar Pillet painted large abstract murals in a palette of yellow, blue, white, grey and black. He also designed a range of tubular metal office furniture that invoked the ‘L’-frame structure of the director’s Présidence desk, and the curved lines of his own murals.
The Présidence desk delivered to Alfred Mame for use in his office was originally supplied with a grey-painted metal frame, which was later painted black; both colors that invoked the palette selected by Pillet for the building. The desk’s surface was unusually applied with a richly-veined faux-wood Formica laminate. In contrast to the oak-veneered tops often encountered on other desks of this type, it is possible that the laminate selected in this example was chosen to offer a visual compliment to the wood of the meeting-room pavilion.
In 1954 Mame’s new factory was awarded Milan’s grand prize for industrial architecture, acknowledging the site’s mastery of modern industrial architecture. The enduring importance of this project was further recognized in March 2000 when Prouvé’s workshops and roof-terrace pavilions were listed as historic monuments. The original 1953 maquette for the factory is now preserved in the collections of the Musée d'art moderne - Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.