“In the 1930s, the work of Herbst, along with Louis Sognot, exemplified the purest expression of a more French version of the Bauhaus. He took the materials and ideas of the Bauhaus – in particular tubular metal, and the idea of a peoples’ furniture – and made them elegant, rather than simply utilitarian as most of the Bauhaus’ work was. I am equally drawn to his production work for Stablet as I am to his custom commissions.”
Born in Paris and trained as an architect, René Herbst did much to promote the Modernist design cause. He is perhaps best known as a designer of Art Deco furniture and design, and debuted at the 1921 Salon d’Automne in Paris with furnishings for a rest area (coin de repos) at the Musée de Crillon. But it was Herbst’s wide participation in the 1925 Paris Exposition—both as an exhibitor and jury member—that established him as the quintessential designer of this movement. In 1929, Herbst joined other leading designers of the period in founding the Union des Artistes Modernes. This collaboration led to his characterization as a designer of the avant-garde, based on ideas of good-quality and widely accessible furniture that was simple in design. On top of their clean lines, simple volumes, clear angles, Herbst’s designs exhibited the refined finishes and plush materials typical of Art Deco. Stemming from the prevalent definition of metal as a democratic material, Herbst introduced tubular nickeled steel into his design repertoire, producing innovative furniture in his famous metal-wood combination, a beautiful modern marriage. He went on to dominate an important place in the metal market in the 1930s. In his goal to modernize interiors, Herbst applied his vision to hotels, private residences and boutiques: he notably replaced traditional wax mannequins with wood and glass silhouettes and introduced new forms of subtle shop illumination. Indeed, lighting played an important role in the modernist Herbst interior and he preferred either indirect sources or fixtures in translucent or opaque glass plaque that, for the first time, did not attempt to imitate gas lighting. These innovations earned him much renown and from the 1930s he won important commissions such as the decoration of the Maharajah of Indore’s India palace. Throughout his career, Herbst worked arduously for the design cause, notably in the organization of shows, such as the 1953 Exposition Française in Rome.
Pierre Kjellberg, Le Mobilier du XXe Siècle. Dictionnaire des Créateurs (Paris: Amateur, 2000) 304-8.
Solange Goguel, René Herbst (Paris: Regard, 1990).
Alastair Duncan, Art Deco Furniture (London: Thames and Hudson, 1984), 100.