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Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann Photo

Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann

French Furniture and Interior Designer

Born: August 28, 1879 - Paris, France
Died: November 15, 1933 - Paris, France
Movements and Styles:
Art Deco
"To create something that lasts, the first thing is to want to create something that lasts forever."
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Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann
"Fashions don't start among the common people. Along with satisfying a desire for change, fashion's real purpose is to display wealth."
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Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann
"If only the very richest can afford to pay the price of innovation, they are also the only ones with the power to sponsor it"
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Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann
"A clientele of artists, intellectuals and connoisseurs of modest means is very congenial, but they are not in a position to pay for all the research, the experimentation, the testing that is needed to develop a new design"
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Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann
"The rich client wants to possess only furniture that is impossible for the less rich to acquire. This furniture must therefore be costly, being difficult to execute and using precious materials that no knock-off can simulate"
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Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann

Summary of Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann

A century before today's big box stores like IKEA offered affordable, mass-market furnishings to the masses, and knock-offs of famous, classical designs became popular for the everyman, French designer Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann revolutionized our consideration of exquisitely crafted fine furniture as an art form in and of itself. His work, merging luxury with functionality, drew upon historical French designs updated with modernist flourishes that were being seen in popular aesthetical trends of the time such as in the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau arenas. Never one to compromise, his pieces were known for their expensive price tags, exotic materials, long lasting value, and refusal to conform to criticism by those who considered his work elitist. This insistence on quality and integrity, as well as his participation in the blooming field of interior design, which emphasized living amongst beautiful objects, would position him as a leading contributor to the Art Deco movement.

Accomplishments

  • Unlike other designers, Ruhlmann defied being pigeonholed or directly connected to any particular movement. His lifelong immersion into fine furniture garnered him a wide swath of inspiration from the bygone eras of classic French monarchies to the progressive fads of his time. This was evident through consistent flourishes that would come to cement his reputation as a brilliantly individual artist such as his signature combinations of slender Louis XVI Neoclassical legs combined with Art Nouveau's floral motifs.
  • Ruhlmann was a key contributor to the world of interior design. As one of the first artists to showcase his work in exhibitions alongside other craftsman and designers, specifically curated to complement one another, his constructed pavilions allowed potential buyers to visualize an overall environment rather than just view a singular, staid object.
  • While the modern decorative arts scene in France exploded with Art Nouveau's recreation of nature designs, and the Arts and Crafts' use of shapes, symbols, and geometric designs, Ruhlmann used these techniques modestly. He much preferred to introduce exotic materials in which the natural patterns, grain, and inherent properties would inform the final visual appeal.

Biography of Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann

An Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann designed daybed, crafted for seamless integration into its surrounding interiors.

Émile-Jacques was born in 1879 in Paris to François and Valentine Ruhlmann, who had recently moved to the city from Alsace. He was the couples' second child, his sister Nathalie having been born the year before. The children grew up in a comfortable household as François ran a successful construction, painting, and wallpapering business called Société Ruhlmann, which is where his son's initial interest in design originated. Ruhlmann's interest in furniture in particular was further stoked by his visits to the shops of prestigious Parisian cabinetmakers such as Gevens, Stauffacher, and Laberthe.

Important Art by Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann

Bergère dite à "Oreille cassée" (1913)

This early example of Ruhlmann's work already forebodes signature hallmarks, which would inform his Art Deco pieces of the 1920s that made him famous. The chair features four golden ball feet and a high back with oreille cassée, or, "broken ears," made to envelop the sitter in privacy. A matching gold-colored cushion folds over the top. A pattern of floral-shaped swirls covers the exterior of the chair, outlined in bright, light green trim. It was debuted at the 1913 Salon d'Automne at the Grand Palais in Paris.

This piece is indicative of Ruhlmann's style before World War I, when he was more inspired by the Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts movements. For example, the print on the material is much busier than this later, sleeker fabric works. However, his use of expensive materials is already apparent. This piece contains the characteristics of the style philosophy that Ruhlmann maintained throughout his life: to provide luxury combined with comfort.

Meuble au char (1921)

Meuble au char (1921)

This monolithic console table looks heavy and sturdy yet seems to balance perfectly on four stiletto legs. Designed to be positioned against a wall, the console is beautiful yet understated and able to provide a backdrop to other stand out pieces of furniture in a room. The piece is intelligently functional: access to the console's cupboards is almost undetectable due to Ruhlmann's use of minimal keyholes.

The sleek design is enhanced by the expensive use of materials, namely Macassar ebony, an inlaid ivory chariot motif, and marble top. Macassar ebony was one of Ruhlmann's favorite materials due to its inherently striking and unique visual appeal. However, in this instance the designer used the nature of the wood subtly enough not to detract from the form of the cabinet.

This unique piece signifies the beginnings of Ruhlmann's experimentation with unusual materials and his move away from the styles other designers were producing in Paris at this time. He was starting to set himself apart from his Art Nouveau contemporaries with more simplified forms, which didn't imitate nature, but rather accentuated the intrinsic beauty of the materials themselves.

"Tibattant" desk (c.1923)

"Tibattant" desk (c.1923)

This compact bureau combines Ruhlmann's signature ethos of marrying beauty and functionality in design. A fold-down front reveals the practical and organized interior, with shelves and compartments for the owner's paperwork and documents. This pragmatism is merged with opulence: the interior is lined in cherry-red leather and features delicate ivory handles hung elegantly with tactile silk tassels. The fold-down front also doubles up as a writing surface, before neatly closing to hide its function. A larger drawer underneath the fold-down front provides more storage space. Completing the piece are four slender tapered legs - another hallmark of Ruhlmann's work.

The desk's title alone demonstrates the influence of other cultures on Ruhlmann's increasingly luxurious designs. Translated as the "Tibetan" desk, it reflects the trend of foreign inspiration that was celebrated by the burgeoning Art Deco movement, in both its decorative trimmings and in its use of materials. For example, the tropical Macassar ebony wood, sourced from Cuba, was selected for its aesthetic effect as well as its practicality. This exploration of the exotic could be seen as a turning away from traditional French modes of design, and the popular Art Nouveau style, which sought inspiration from nature. As well as looking further afield in terms of materials, this bureau was a rethinking of classical design motifs seen in eighteenth-century furniture design, such as the delicate cabinets of the era of Louis XV. This combination of influences, which had never before been seen together, carved out Ruhlmann's distinctive reputation in the furniture market of France during the early 1920s.

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann
Influenced by Artist
Artists
  • Koloman Moser
    Koloman Moser
  • Josef Hoffmann
    Josef Hoffmann
  • Adolf Loos
    Adolf Loos
  • No image available
    Jean Henri Riesener
  • No image available
    Adam Weisweiler
Friends & Personal Connections
  • No image available
    François Ruhlmann
  • No image available
    Pierre Laurent
  • No image available
    André Fréchet
Artists
  • No image available
    Alfred Porteneuve
  • No image available
    Pierre Patout
  • No image available
    Jean Dupas
  • No image available
    Edgar Brandt
  • No image available
    Claudius Linossier
Friends & Personal Connections
  • Rene Lalique
    Rene Lalique
  • No image available
    André Groult
Movements & Ideas
Open Influences
Close Influences

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Content compiled and written by Alexandra Banister

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Kimberly Cooper

"Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Alexandra Banister
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Kimberly Cooper
Available from:
First published on 17 Jan 2021. Updated and modified regularly
[Accessed ]