The Furniture of Pierre Jeanneret. An exceptional 21-lot collection
Extremely Rare and Important Bamboo Armchair (Model: PJ-SI-01-A) Estimate: 25,000 – 35,000 Euro
An exceptional 21-lot collection of Pierre Jeanneret furniture will be presented at the Design auction on December 18 at Hessink’s in Zwolle (The Netherlands). The lots originate from Chandigarh, a city in North India, and represent a landmark in urban planning and architectural history for India.
Between the many highlights in this collection Pierre Jeanneret Furniture we want to mention an two extremely rare and important bamboo armchairs, circa 1953-1954 (estimate between 25,000 and 40,000 euro each), a rare X-Leg upholstered lounge suite, circa 1960 (estimate 40,000-60,000 euro), a rare and important teak wood boomerang table, circa 1963 (estimate 60,000-80,000 euro), a rare set of four teak wood camel back teak wood armchairs, circa 1960 (estimate 22,000-28,000 euro), rare ‘Z’-shape teak wood lounge chairs, circa 1953 (estimate 14,000-18,000 euro each), two rare demountable armchairs, circa 1953-1954 (estimate 10,000-15,000 euro each). All these items were an integral part of the city, especially the public institutions and municipal buildings in Chandigarh.
Auction preview hours (open to the public): from Saturday 11 December 2021 to Friday 17 December 2021 from 11.00 a.m. to 16.00 p.m. CET; and Saturday 18 December 2021 from 9.00 a.m. to 11.00 CET.
Auction starts on Saturday 18 December 2021 at 14.00 p.m. precisely.
Pierre Jeanneret’s furniture for the planned city of Chandigarh in India continues to intrigue today
Though overshadowed by his cousin Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret was a visionary of modernist architecture and design. Together, the pair pioneered a new aesthetic vocabulary that placed function and order over embellishment—Jeanneret’s work imbuing the strict geometry of modernism with energetic diagonals and lighter materials like cane, wood and bamboo. A consistent innovator, he collaborated with Charlotte Perriand on experiments in aluminum and wood, and developed prefabricated housing with Jean Prouvé. In the early 1950s Jeanneret joined his cousin in Chandigarh, India, where they embarked on a massive urban-planning project, laying out the city and designing low-cost buildings and furniture. Though Corbusier abandoned the project halfway through, Jeanneret remained for 15 years as the project’s chief architect. The city remains a masterpiece of the modern vision.
It’s incredible to consider today, but there was a time – not so long ago – when you could pick up a 1950s Jeanneret chair for next to nothing. To say they were undervalued is an extreme understatement. They were piled high, abandoned and rotting in Chandigarh, the purpose-built capital of Punjab and Haryana that had been constructed in the middle of the last century according to a masterplan by Le Corbusier on land at the foothills of the Shivalik hill ranges in northern India. They had been an integral detail of the concept, but they wouldn’t be appreciated properly until the next century. Today, individual pieces changes hands for upwards from €5,000 to €150,000 at auction.
The story of Chandigarh is well-documented, including Corbusier’s troubled relationship with Indian bureaucrats during the project, and the subsequent decline of the city. One of the most interesting aspects of its history is the involvement of Le Corbusier’s cousin, Pierre Jeanneret, who worked closely on the execution of plans after Le Corbusier detached himself from the project, and who also designed most of the furniture that would fill the key institutions of the Capital Complex. The teak and upholstered armchairs that Jeanneret created are visually striking – particularly the V-shaped legs that meet with a cross-bar style arm at the top (a motif first explored in Jeanneret’s Scissor chair design for Knoll) – but these are functional modernist classics rather than rarefied pieces of design.
They were relatively simple to create, using native humidity and insect-resistant wood, and were created in their thousands by local carpenters to seat employees at the various institutions of Sector 1. They are handsome and sturdy, shaped in an appealing, muscular vernacular, finished in either leather or with cane panels. 70 years later, they are a favorite furnishing flourish for Joseph Dirand, appearing in Architectural Digest in Kourtney Kardashian’s home in California and are omnipresent at the most honourable and famous Design Galleries and on International Fine Art Fairs like TEFAF Maastricht.
Few of the employers of Sector 1 had any idea what they were sitting on. As the chairs became weathered from use, they joined growing scrapheaps and were either destroyed or ended up in in junkyards. Much of it was used for firewood. But it was when it was discarded that it enjoyed a second act. In 2002, you could buy a Pierre Jeanneret-designed wooden drawing table for just over 20 cents at auction in India. In 2008, an illuminated library table sold for $301,000 through a London auction house. Treasures from Chandigarh continue to create auction fever whenever they come up for sale.
If you run an image search in your web browser for Pierre Jeanneret Chandigarh furniture, image upon image appears of piles of junked chairs, split and rotting in fields. It was only when European dealers heard about the abandoned treasure at the start of the 21st century, and realized they could take advantage of Indian export laws that classify only objects over 100 years old as ‘antique’, that they started to make their way to Europe and the U.S., to be restored and recontextualised. They are now as much of a modernist status symbol as early Prouvé or a vintage Gio Ponti Superleggera. It is poignant that they weren’t appreciated for what they were in Chandigarh, but their story back home hasn’t quite finished. Over the last decade, the local authorities have held on to the remaining furniture, and set prisoners in the local jails the task of restoring it. Finally, Jeanneret’s work is being appreciated by the people it was intended to benefit most.