Each art or craft has its own High Priests and Priestess’ that are revered and recognised as the best in their respective fields. Haute Couture had Balenciaga and Vionnet and Interior Design and furniture has Emile Jacques Ruhlmann. These are the craftsmen and women by which all others are measured!
Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann basically alone is the man we have to thank for Art Deco as his designs and interiors epitomised for many the glamour the era. He was at the forefront of the transition from the fluidity of Art Nouveau to the geometric simplicity of Art Deco.
In 1919 Ruhlmann founded, the company Ruhlmann et Laurent, specializing in interior design and producing luxury home goods that included furniture, wallpaper and lighting. By this time, Ruhlmann was concentrating on individual pieces of furniture. His designs were executed by highly skilled craftsmen making formal elegant furniture using precious and exotic woods in combination with ivory fittings, giving them a classic, timeless appeal for the extremely wealthy.
Around this time, the French Société des Artistes Décorateurs, founded in 1900, was trying to encourage high standards of design and production in France through its annual exhibitions at the Salon d'Automne. The French government agreed to sponsor an international exhibition of decorative arts to be held in 1915 to further promote France's position in the field. Because of the First World War, this was postponed until 1925 and was called the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, the exhibition that gave Art Deco its name.
Ruhlmann had several pavilions at the exhibition in which he used exotic work from other artists and designers to provide beautiful and opulent settings as showcases for his own furniture. For example, in his Pavilion d'un Collectionneur, an oil painting by Jean Dupas, Les Perruches, of heroic proportions depicting female nudes with parakeets, hung above the fireplace. The pavilion's exterior featured metalwork by Edgar Brandt and a panel by sculptor Joseph Besnard. The centrepiece of the pavilion was a grand piano designed by Ruhlmann and made from such exotic materials as amboyna wood and Macassar ebony.
The thing is that Rhulmann's furniture does not carry the strong and angular geometric shapes that we consider to signify Art Deco. The streamline silhouette he favoured is simple and very elegant. Any decorative accents are meticulously crafted using luxurious and expensive materials, and are very restrained and stylised.
The interiors also display a purer form of Art Deco than what we are used to. Filled with rich colours, gently curved furniture and painted surfaces, these were the forerunners for the interiors which were to become mainstream Art Deco.
He believed that fashion started amongst the rich elite because they were the ones who could afford the costs of experimentation. He further believed that the whole purpose of fashion was for the display of wealth. In fact Ruhlmann claimed that, in spite of the high prices he charged, he lost money on each piece of furniture because of the expensive materials used and the amount of time and effort that went into each piece.
In 1933 Ruhlmann discovered that he was terminally ill. To protect the reputation he had built for his furniture he said in his will that the company was to finish any outstanding orders and then the company was to be dissolved.
Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann's reputation as the supreme furniture designer of the 20th century has survived intact. His furniture which is included in the collections of some of the world’s major museums is testament to this. Timeless in its appeal and the highest form of the craft these are items of furniture to be desired and coveted.