There is no precise record of the number of ‘Religieuses’ executed in metal. Two are listed in the Louis
Dalbet archives for the years 1923-1924.
One of these was made in 1923 for the apartment of Jean and Annie Dalsace in Boulevard Saint-Germain.
This is likely the lamp shown in a photograph held in the Maison de Verre archives that illustrates it
in isolation beside a skirted bergère. Pierre Chareau presented a metal ‘Religieuse’ at the 1924 Salon
d’Automne. The design also appears in the sets of Marcel L’Herbier’s film, L’Inhumaine, of that same year.
The cinema became a showcase for furniture and the decorative arts, L’Inhumaine specially anticipating
the 1925 International Exhibition. . Film sets at that time played an important role in the drama, all the more
crucially before the advent of sound. A study of these photographs suggests they show the one floor lamp,
belonging to the Dr and Mme Dalsace. Loans of work were then commonplace between artists, friends
and commissioning clients depending on the circumstances and needs.
A 1927 list references 5 ‘Religieuses’ with 2 alabaster sheets and 5 ‘Religieuses’ with 4 alabaster sheets,
probably, in view of the date, a commission for the Hôtel de Tours. But there are no details of the number
and sizes of wood or metal examples. The decor of the Hôtel de Tours included floor lamps and table
lamps of the model in wood. We are again reminded of the extreme rarity of the metal versions of
Chareau’s masterful ‘Religieues’.
An art lover, collector as well as art dealer, Pierre Chareau lived surrounded by artists and their
works, regularly combining them with his own creations and exhibitions.
A famous photo by André Kertesz shows him at home in his apartment at 54 rue Nollet, in about 1927,
posing in front of a piano, surrounded by various artists’ drawings and a still life by Lipchitz, pinned to
the wall in the background.
Initially sensitive to Impressionist art, Pierre Chareau and his wife Dollie – too often left in the shadows,
although she played an important role with her husband, sharing his taste for modern art – started to
purchase Cubist pictures from 1913-1914. They continued to add to their collection after the war on
Chareau’s return to civilian life in 1919. Alongside the works of Picasso they acquired paintings and
drawings by Gris, Braque, La Fresnaye, Miro, Masson, Pascin, Ernst, Max Jacob, Arp, Chagall, Veira
da Silva, Torres-Garcia and Mondrian, embracing Cubism, International Constructivist Art, and postwar
Abstract Art, with the acquisition of works by Nicolas de Staël and Robert Motherwell, for whom
Chareau would build the combined home and studio in the Hamptons after moving to live in the United
States from 1940. Equally fond of sculpture, the couple owned works by Lipchitz to whom they were
close. Indeed, it was Lipchitz who advised them in 1919 to buy a caryatid by Modigliani – a work now
in the MoMA, New York.
Meeting Jeanne Bucher in 1925, who would later become one of Paris’s most influential modern art
dealers, was certainly not without impact on their choice of works and in building up their collection.
It was in an annex of ‘La Boutique’, an exhibition and sales space in the Rue du Cherche Midi opened
by Chareau in 1924, that she would open her first gallery.
The floor lamp ‘Religieuse’, put into this context, where the artistic avant-garde holds an essential
place, is clearly as much a sculpture as a floor lamp. Chareau here offers one of the orthogonal figures
characteristic of his very architectural stylistic vocabulary, the cone. It remains a unique work even
today, the only one of its kind in both his body of work and in the history of furniture. It was also
subsequently produced in wood. The metal version seems to be rarer because it is technically more
complex and its production was limited to the years 1923-1924.
Its execution was a real technical achievement, for which Chareau’s collaboration with the blacksmith
Louis Dalbet would once again be vital. There are variations in the drawing of the unfolded
metal sheet, resulting not only from initial formal intentions but also from technical constraints.
André Dalbet, Louis’s son, explains: “Some pieces that Pierre Chareau asked for required cunning
and inventive tricks for it to be possible to make them. This was the case for the ‘Religieuse’ floor
lamp (in metal), whose conical base is made from a curved rolled steel sheet. In order to find the
cutting line to ensure the vertical stability of the cone, (Louis Dalbet) thought of suspending the
base in a tank of water, in such a way that the water level would be at the desired height for the
lamp. So the cutting line for the base was provided by the water line on the cone” (Centre Georges
Pompidou exhibition catalogue, Pierre Chareau architecte – un art intérieur, Nov.1993-Jan. 1994).
Made in three different sizes, a night-light, a table lamp and a floor lamp, the ‘Religieuse’ in metal
exists only in this last size. Here Chareau uses the contrasting materials he
liked so much. The base is topped by 4 triangular sheets of white alabaster that give of a very soft
light, contrasting with the black patinated metal base. He varied these alabaster sheets cut into
rectangles, triangles or quarter circles in a number of his lights, very mindful of the quality of the light
Chareau was not a theoretician, of either architecture or furniture design. He left few
written explanations of his work, and nothing in writing to tell the story of this design. The
‘Religieuse’ in metal gives us a dynamic sculptural form to admire, in movement, fluid, associated
with a given function, efectively combining the architect, the furniture designer and the artist,
who is Chareau. The wooden ‘Religieuses’ are sometimes crowned by a fabric or parchment
shade likewise evoking a nun’s wimple. The name ‘Religieuse’ arises naturally from the overall form,
but we will never know whether the shape of nuns’ habits and headdresses, and the way they move,
were the original source of inspiration.
It remains no less true that the strong visual impact of this very structured monochromatic clothing
is still a source of inspiration today in the fields of both design and fashion. In 1988, the Paris-based
designers’ collective Raison Pure created a lamp called Sainte Thérèse-d ’Avila’ – a direct quotation
from Pierre Chareau – which offers us a new interpretation of it: the conical form, the contrast
of black and white, together with the movement here translated through the use of draped fabric
enveloping a cone-shaped metal support. The recently opened exhibition, Heavenly Bodies: Fashion
and the Catholic Imagination, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, (10 May-8 October 2018),
highlights the formal structure of the garment – made to follow the movements of the body – but
whose structure also has a defined symbolic value. This exhibition reminds us of one of Chareau’s
fundamental design principles – that he should respond as much to man’s material needs as to his