René Herbst - Design London Wednesday, June 30, 2021 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Christie's, London, 'The Light', 10 May 2000, lot 70
    Private collection, Gourdon
    Christie’s, Paris, ‘Les Collections du Château de Gourdon: Chefs-d’œuvre du XXème siècle', 29 March 2011, lot 844
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Literature

    La Maison de René Herbst: prototypes and rare pieces by René Herbst from 1925 to 1949, exh. cat., Galerie de Beyrie, New York, 1999, p. 21

  • Catalogue Essay

    Comprising a nickel-plated tubular steel frame with three affixed discs and central exposed bulb, the present ceiling light by the French architect and designer René Herbst demonstrated a new visual language made possible through modern materials. A pioneering figure within the modern movement, Herbst was among the first designers in France to use tubular steel in his furniture designs, which he sought to adapt to serial production in order to improve standards of living. Herbst proposed two principles for serial production: the technical, in which the machine offered the designer the economic and perfect realisation of each element of the utilitarian object; and the aesthetic, explaining that when each element and the resulting form are produced with flawless technique to correspond exactly to their functions, the object will be pure and beautiful. Herbst opposed the idea that serial production would lead to furniture of inferior quality, instead advocating for the use of high quality materials to create objects that would last. Further humanising technological innovation, Herbst made reference to how series of forms were commonplace in nature, and that the machine was the creation of the human brain and hands.

    Having become interested in the possibilities of technology early in his career, Herbst soon began working with industry. At the 1926 Salon d’Automne, in collaboration with the company Électro-Câble, Herbst presented an engineering office with sheet and tubular metal furniture with leather upholstery. In response to the need for soundproofing in buildings constructed from reinforced concrete, Herbst used vulcanised rubber to cover the office floors and walls, while designing the ceiling with integrated lighting and ventilation. In 1928, Herbst exhibited prototypes for industry, including furniture for a dining room in nickel-plated steel and leather, in addition to presenting together with Charlotte Perriand and Djo-Bourgeois a model apartment dedicated to industry at the Salon des Artistes Décorateurs. Largely praised by critics, the four-room installation, which featured designs in glass and nickel-plated steel, was less well received by the Société des Artistes Décorateurs. In response to the prevailing conservatism, led by Robert Mallet-Stevens, Herbst and other progessive architects and designers including Perriand, Jean Prouvé and Eileen Gray founded the Union des Artistes Modernes (UAM) in 1929. Through exhibitions and manifestos, the UAM advocated for a democratic design through the synthesis of fine and applied arts, and technology. Its members adopted new materials, namely cement, glass and metal, and manufacturing processes to create a new vision for design united by simplicity and functionalism.

    In addition to industrially produced materials, electricity was transforming everyday life and light became integral to the visual language of modernism. In 1929 the Salon d’Automne presented a section dedicated to lighting, followed in 1933 by the first Salon de la Lumière. Among the proponents of the medium, Herbst designed a series of lights using new technologies that diverged entirely from existing forms. The present ceiling light, designed by Herbst during this period, is constructed from a tubular nickel-plated steel frame from which descend three nickel-plated discs and a central light bulb. The architectural structure of the ceiling light illustrates Herbst’s use of refined materials and execution, creating a simplicity of forms and lines. Herbst’s use of tubular metal for the design’s structure allowed for variations in construction, demonstrating the aesthetic and functional possibilities of metal to unite form and function. The visible construction of the ceiling light, however, also reveals a poetic approach to modernism as Herbst balances mass and negative space through simple volumes. Although conceived for large scale production, many of Herbst’s designs and those of his contemporaries at the UAM were ultimately only realised in small series. The prototype of the present design, one of three variations of nickel-plated ceiling lights, was used by Herbst at his residence at 4 rue Chateaubriand, Paris.

Property from an Important European Collection


Rare ceiling light

circa 1929
Nickel-plated steel.
69 cm (27 1/8 in.) drop, 35 cm (13 3/4 in.) diameter

£25,000 - 35,000 Ω

Contact Specialist

Antonia King

Head of Sale, Design



London Auction 30 June 2021