Take a Seat: Mid-Century Modern Chairs

NEW YORK, NY -- The June 7, 2017 Doyle+Design auction features a mix of mid-century modern seating consigned by The Watermill Center of Watermill, New York. This remarkable collection includes fine examples from a number of the era’s leading designers representing some of their most iconic designs.

Finn Juhl

An architect and draftsman by trade, Finn Juhl (1912-1989) is among a handful of designers credited with bringing Danish modernism to the United States in the 1940s and 1950s. Juhl believed that the interior of a home should be as equally unified as the exterior and preferred to furnish his architectural designs with his own furniture in order to achieve that desired cohesiveness. Juhl’s sleek furnishings are timeless and the Model NV45 (Lot 240) is an exquisite example of the Danish mid-century aesthetic with its thin legs and arms and light, airy, seemingly weightless frame.

Gio Ponti

Italian architect and designer Gio Ponti (1891-1979) had a successful career during which he drafted buildings, founded Domus and Stile magazines, lectured on architecture, art and design, and designed objects ranging from espresso machines to decorative ceramics. A true believer in industrial design, Ponti’s creations were generally functional first and the designer undoubtedly had an idiosyncratic way about him. The Superleggera Chair (Lot 223) was first designed by Ponti for Cassina in 1957. The “super light” chair, leggera meaning ‘light’ in Ponti’s native Italian, was marketed with a photograph of a young boy lifting the chair with a single finger.

Marcel Breuer

Bauhaus designer Marcel Breuer (1902-1981) produced furniture in four distinct materials phases, tubular steel likely best known today (the other phases being wood, aluminum and plywood). Breuer aimed to achieve a balance between comfort and aesthetics and he utilized canvas or wicker to soften the look of his otherwise industrial pieces. When designing his first tubular steel chair, the Wassily Chair (Lot 233), Breuer was purportedly inspired by bicycle handlebars. While his early forays into tubular steel were welded together with rough finishes, he eventually worked with single, continuous bent pieces of steel to streamline the pieces aesthetically.

Erich Dieckmann

Like Marcel Breuer, Erich Dieckmann (1986-1944) designed at the Bauhaus and experimented with different materials such as tubular steel and wood. However unlike Breuer, Dieckmann is probably best known for his wood furnishings. The majority of his chairs were standardized, mass-manufactured and thus affordable for the working-class consumer. The Typenarmlehnstuhl Chair (Lot 245) displays the Bauhaus designers’ affinities for, and the school’s call for, streamlined, modern, geometric designs. Dieckmann seating typically has armrests that continuously connect to the chair legs, a feature that can also be seen in Finn Juhl’s Model NV45.

Gerrit Rietveld

Gerrit Rietveld (1888-1964) was a Dutch architect, active in the De Stijl group during the 1920s, who continued to design with a De Stijl-aesthetic long after the group's dissolution. Educated from a young age in furniture making, Rietveld opened his own shop in 1917. In his role as designer and draughtsman he employed apprentices to physically construct his rectilinear furnishings. Red Blue Chair (Lot 282) is the epitome of the De Stijl aesthetic, characterized as reductivist and abstract, which reacted against the lavish Art Deco style popular at the time. De Stijl artists favored primary colors, geometric forms and linear, modern designs. Rietveld believed that color should emphasize form and used the yellow accents here to achieve that precise effect.

Alvar Aalto

Finnish architect and designer Alvar Aalto (1898-1976), much like Finn Juhl, began designing furniture for his architectural constructions in order to achieve complete harmony. Interestingly, this bench (Lot 261) comes from a commission Aalto and his wife and fellow architect Aino received to construct and furnish the Paimio Sanatorium in Paimio Finland. Constructed as a tuberculosis sanatorium, Aalto’s design won an award in 1929 and much of the furniture they designed for the space is still available through the company he founded, Artek. Artek provided Aalto the opportunity to produce his functional and practical designs in series, exposing consumers to mass-manufactured modern design.

-- Megan Marie Mastrobattista, Furniture & Decorative Arts Department

Vice President, Silver, Furniture & Decorations
Furniture & Decorative Arts
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