The purists Paul Follot and Maurice Dufrène

Dufrène was much less doctrinaire than Follot, and more democratic than his luxury-loving colleague. In his “purist” deco phase, Dufrène developed a gentle ornamental vocabulary based primarily on neoclassical French design—the most recognizable form being a reeded chair or table leg, often topped with scrollwork. Dufrène excelled with veneers and marquetry inlays. A 1924 cabinet in the Calderwood Gallery inventory is faced in small blocks of kingwood—a tree whose slender trunk renders only small swatches of veneer—creating a striking patchwork effect (see Figs. 2–2b). Dufrène’s cabinets are frequently adorned with intricate marquetry trimlines and floral medallions fashioned from exotic woods such as amaranth, purpleheart, and ebony, and materials such as ivory and lapis lazuli. Though he had a notable private clientele—including the banker Pierre David-Weill (1900–1975) and the novelist Pierre Benoit (1886–1962)—as chief of La Maîtrise, Dufrène also created furniture suites for people of somewhat more modest means. He was happy to use machinery rather than traditional hand-carving tools, which allowed him to produce cheaper lines such as the Niagara furniture suite, with its cascadelike armrests and detailing. After the 1925 exposition Dufrène produced pieces with simpler, modernist lines,10 and by the mid-1930s he was making furniture with ebullient metal bases and stone tops, such as a boudoir suite featuring tables with ribbonlike bases in stainless steel. That suite was presented at Paris’s 1937 Exposition internationale des Artes et Techniques dans la Vie moderne, which Dufrène helped direct. In his introduction to the exhibition catalogue, Dufrène wrote that the show “is but one more stop on the way to the Good and the Beautiful, a springboard that serves to revive artistic, industrial, economic, and social progress. [It is an event] where the nations of yesterday and tomorrow embark on their journey.”11 Three years later, the city was under occupation by the German army.

1 Alastair Duncan, introduction to Maurice Dufrène, Authentic Art Deco Interiors from the 1925 Paris Exhibition (Antique Collectors Club, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1989), p. 19. The book consolidates and reprints three volumes originally entitled Ensembles mobiliers published by the editor Charles Moreau, with commentary by the designer Maurice Dufrène, shortly after the close of the 1925 exposition.
2 Jean Paul Bouillon, Art Deco, 1903–1940 (Rizzoli, New York, 1989), p. 163.
3 Bevis Hillier’s Art Deco of the 20s and 30s (Studio Vista/Dutton, London, 1968) is believed by many to be the first book to employ the term.
4 Charlotte Benton, “The International Exhibition,” in Art Deco, 1910–1939, ed. Charlotte Benton, Tim Benton, and Ghislaine Wood (V and A Publications, London, 2003), p. 142.
5 Duncan, introduction to Authentic Art Deco, p. 15.
6 Ibid., p. 40.
7 Ibid., p. 88, and Bouillon, Art Deco, p. 167.
8 Quoted in Alastair Duncan, Art Deco Furniture (Thames and Hudson, London, 1984), p. 10.
9 Gabriel Mourey, “L’Harmonie dans nos intérieurs,” Art et Décoration, vol. 55 (May 1929), p. 133; translation here is by Geraldine de Puy.
10 See Duncan, Art Deco Furniture, Pls. 53–58.
11 Maurice Dufrène, introduction to Ensembles mobiliers: Exposition de 1937 (Charles Moreau, Paris, 1937), p. 3; translation by de Puy.

GREGORY CERIO is a regular contributor to Antiques.


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[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi

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