Armand-Albert Rateau - Modern Masters London Tuesday, April 25, 2017 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Dr. Marcel Thalheimer, 24 avenue du Recteur-Poincaré, Paris, circa 1931
    Thence by descent to the present owners

  • Literature

    'Une formule nouvelle réalisée par les Ateliers de Neuilly-Levallois', Art et Industrie, October 1934, p. 21 for an image of the commission
    Marcel Zahar, 'Les Ateliers de Neuilly-Levallois', L'Art Vivant, September 1935, p. 185 for images of the commission
    Alastair Duncan, A.A. Rateau, exh. cat., DeLorenzo Gallery, New York, 1990, p. 84 for the chairs
    Franck Olivier-Vial and François Rateau, Armand Albert Rateau: un baroque chez les modernes, Paris, 1992, pp. 172-76, 236 for a discussion and images of the commission
    Hélène Guéné, Décoration et Haute Couture: Armand Albert Rateau pour Jeanne Lanvin, un autre Art déco, Paris, 2006, pp. 68-69 for the chairs

  • Catalogue Essay

    Beyond Art Deco: The Hôtel Particulier Thalheimer in Context

    After studies at the École Boulle (applied arts) Armand-Albert Rateau served from 1906 to 1915 as the director of decorative work for the large Parisian firm Maison Alavoine & Cie. In this luxurious and cultured setting, which had an international clientele, the styles of the past were favoured, from French classicism to the Italian Renaissance and all the different ‘Louis’ styles. The decorator offered fully furnished rooms, embellished with all sorts of furniture and art objects which his Ateliers de Neuilly-Levallois knew how to restore, copy, or manufacture thanks to the work of fifteen highly specialized craftsmen.

    However, ‘pastiche’ was not the only rule: imitation and invention coexisted in interwar Paris. Rateau had the savoir faire to be able to renew his design language and soon he was alternating between projets de style and projets modernes. Thus a document from Rateau’s archives specifies the list of “interiors executed in the modern taste”, such as the hôtel particulier of the couturier Jeanne Lanvin, rue Barbet-de-Jouy (from 1920) or the music room created for the American composer Cole Porter in his apartment on rue Monsieur (1927-1928). The hôtel particulier commissioned by “Docteur Thalheimer et Melle Stern”, 24 avenue du Recteur-Poincaré, Passy, appeared on the same list – an “installation designed entirely as an example”, he emphasised elsewhere.

    These “works executed en moderne (Aff. N°7000) - 1929-1930)” encompassed a broad range of materials, thus described: “Stucco. Decoration. Tiles. Staircase. Wrought iron. Furnishings. Tapestry. Curtains”. Rateau worked closely with the architects René Bétourné and Léon Fagnen. Collaborators, then successors of René Sergent (1865-1927) they were internationally renowned. Like Rateau, they knew how to reinterpret old styles in a refined manner that was dominated by a very French form of classical rationalism associated with the highest level of ‘confort moderne’—central heat, hot water, telephones, elevator, etc. In the Thalheimer residence, which was more of a bourgeois building (without a garden) than an aristocratic dwelling, the decorative language was simplified drastically in favour of function and use, and not without relation to the professional activities of the owner. The key words here are efficiency and convenience: for the surgeon, Rateau designed a desk with extremely sophisticated mechanics; in the spirit of Pierre Chareau, furniture “studied to render easy and practical all the essential gestures” (L’Architecture d’aujourd’hui, December 1932).

    “The essential goal was to achieve a simplified ensemble of easy and perfect upkeep. Unnecessary ornaments and mouldings have been mercilessly suppressed. We have used exclusively materials of the first order”, insisted the architects. This was the prevailing fashion, Adolf Loos having paved the way at the turn of the twentieth century. The quality, the beauty, and the colour of materials took precedence over the design of cornices, mouldings, and panelling (even in light grey cerused oak, as in Jeanne Lanvin’s residence, rue Barbet de Jouy). The coherence of the overall ensemble prevailed over the variety of the components. Colour unified the entire house, and not just one room: like a leitmotif, the spectrum of colours (“ivory and yellow flooring, grey oak woodwork, fine black baseboards and pedestals, metal parts in gilt bronze”) reverberated throughout the house. Everything breathed calm and tranquillity: the unified walls complementing the furniture and works of art, the indirect lighting, the built-in cupboards, the hand-woven curtains, which matched the woodwork in Madame’s bedroom.

    The contrast is evident with that which Rateau had produced ten years earlier, such as the lacquered canapés and armchairs, carved with vegetal motifs and stylised animals, which he had shown at the 1925 Exposition des Arts Décoratifs. Far from renouncing this production, however, Rateau (unless it was at the express wish of his client) played with coexistence in his modern interiors, intermingling his recent, more radical designs with older models. On the present armchairs, similar to those he had created for Lanvin’s boutique on rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré around 1920-1922, there remains a trace of this spontaneous, primordial taste for ornamental sculpture tied to nature: a symbol of hospitality, the simplified and cropped pattern of a pineapple fruit adorns the front legs. There is a reference to historic style here (clearly Empire), however their ‘chic’ modernity is revealed by the play of proportions, the stylized forms, and the enhancement of certain elements, such as the refined feet. The fact is that they do not at all detract from Doctor Thalheimer’s interior.

    In contrast with avant-garde purists such as Le Corbusier or André Lurçat, Rateau advocated for an artistic practice where dogma did not sabotage inventiveness. His works from the end of the 1920s and beginning of the 1930s (in Paris, the apartments of Cole Porter, rue Monsieur, and Duplan, avenue Foch; the private mansion of the comtesse de Beaurepaire, rue du Maréchal-Maunoury; the building, for himself, at 17 quai de Conti) show that he had prevailed over times of changing taste. With the modernist movement advocating the rejection of all forms of ornamentation, he exploited the restraint and simplicity already present in his earlier works, seamlessly joining austerity with stylisation. He put forth a cool elegance that masked his use of extremely sophisticated materials (lacquer, mirror, leather, silk). This characteristically French form of luxury belonged to a phalanx of artists, not least: Louis Süe, Pierre Patout, Jean-Michel Frank and Jules Leleu. Among them, Rateau occupied a prominent position: there is no doubt that the interiors of the hôtel Thalheimer were conceived as a true demonstration, rediscovered today.

    Pr. Hélène Guéné (Lyon II)
    Author of Décoration et haute couture: Armand Albert Rateau pour Jeanne Lanvin, un autre art déco, Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, 2006

    Une Maison Moderne

    In the heart of the 16th arrondissement in Paris, just a brief walk from Robert Mallet Stevens’s eponymous street of modernist buildings and Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret’s Villa Jeanneret, in 1931 the distinguished surgeon Marcel Thalheimer (1893-1972) and his wife Marguerite Stern (1898-1984), who had married in 1924 and had their first son in 1925, commissioned a new residence from the architects Léon Fagnen and Réné Bétourné. This modernist building still stands, like the prow of an ocean liner, at the corner of Avenue du Recteur-Poincaré and Avenue Milleret de Brou, just meters from the Place Rodin. In keeping with the progressive tenets of international style Modernism, the house features clean sweeping lines devoid of ornament and an expansive roof terrace reminiscent of a ship’s deck (though an additional floor was added later at the terrace level).

    However the interior furnishings and decoration, conceived in their entirety by Armand-Albert Rateau, were what truly set this home apart. A curving stone staircase led to the first floor, where the present dining table and ten chairs occupied the understated yet sumptuous dining room. The table top was constructed from a single, solid, and beautifully-figured plank of Japanese ash—a massive size for this tree species—and rested on two austere pillars of Giallo d’Istria marble. The armchairs, though an earlier design for Rateau, effortlessly adapted to their new modernist habitat, echoing the arched recesses in the walls. Built-in vitrines and cabinets contributed to the quiet, serene, tone of the room.

    From the dining room, a massive pair of doors led to the salon, a slightly cozier space which featured ebony parquet flooring, carpets, and the family piano. A dome-shaped plaster ceiling light echoed the building’s curved façade. The doctor’s offices also occupied the first floor. Rateau designed his desk, described in a 1935 L’Art Vivant article under the heading Une Maison Moderne as “a real piece of mechanics,” to contain patients’ records and documents, with each drawer created for a specific function. The doctor’s library, devoted solely to scientific tomes, covered the walls.

    Throughout the first floor, a sophisticated palette of yellow, black, and beige predominated, from the black-lacquered chaise longue and armchairs in the doctor’s offices, both upholstered in yellow leather, to the flooring in beige stone and yellow marble—most likely the very same marble variety used for the dining table’s base, as well as for the wall-mounted sideboard in the dining room. Though decidedly modern, and therefore devoid of ornamentation, Rateau did permit a few small touches of embellishment, such as the custom gilt bronze door pulls that appeared throughout the house, the carved dining room chairs, and an extraordinary gold lacquered sliding screen in the dining room, designed to cover the window in the evening. For Madame’s bedroom on the second floor Rateau introduced more bold colors, such as marine blue satin for the upholstery of an easy chair as well as for the window treatments.

    Every element of these sumptuous yet modernist furnishings, from the textiles to the door pulls and keys, furniture, custom cast iron fire backs and plaster ceiling lights, would have been produced in Rateau’s atelier, Neuilly-Levallois. In 1929 this workshop comprised eight draughtsmen, eighteen sculptors, thirty carpenter-cabinetmakers, five chair makers, four decorative painters, ten gilders, five house painters, and five weavers. The residence also incorporated all the latest technologies of a modern home, such as an elevator and a clean and hygienic kitchen, located on the ground floor and fitted out with tubular steel furniture (as well as a dumb waiter which serviced the dining room above). Though serene by design, this was nevertheless a busy household, with around ten servants, including cooks, valets, and nurses for the children.

    The hôtel particulier Thalheimer was in sum a progressive yet supremely sophisticated home that took into careful consideration the needs and tastes of the client, from the tranquil dining room, salon, and offices on the first floor, which must have offered respite from the chaotic city, through to the chic bedrooms above and the terrace which served as a play area for the children. This was a luxury residence for an elite clientele, yet a thoroughly forward-looking one, designed for the modern era.

Property from a Private European Collection


Unique and important dining table and set of ten chairs from the hôtel particulier Thalheimer, Paris

circa 1931
Table: Japanese ash, Giallo d’Istria marble.
Chairs: cherry wood, leather, brass nailheads.

Table: 72.4 x 249.3 x 93.9 cm (28 1/2 x 98 1/8 x 36 7/8 in.)
Each chair: 68.5 x 59 x 53.5 cm (26 7/8 x 23 1/4 x 21 1/8 in.)

Executed by Les Ateliers de Neuilly-Levallois, France. Underside of each chair impressed A.A.RATEAU and numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 12 respectively.

£1,000,000 - 1,500,000 

Contact Specialist
Madalena Horta e Costa
Head of Sale
+44 20 7318 4019

Modern Masters

London Auction 26 April 2017