French metalworker, self-thought architect and furniture designer, Jean Prouvé was born in Nancy, a town with rooted tradition of decorative arts, to a family of artists. His father was Victor Prouvé, the artist who founded “L’École de Nancy”, which advocated the ideal of readily accessible art, the link between art, social responsility and industry. These values were to inevitably influence the career of Jean Prouvé. His chic style, skill and understanding of materials, combined with his principled social responsibility, brought in democratic ideals to French modernism.
Prouvé first apprenticed in metalworking and became an expert of wrought iron, as well as bent sheet steel, which allowed for exceptionally resistant yet elegant, hollow-like structures, as seen as his Reclining Chair from 1929. He opened his own workshop, “Atelier Prouvé” in 1931. One of his best examples utilizing folded metal was the Standard Chair (1934). During this period, he designed furniture for student housing, hospitals and schools.
Social responsibility is essential in Prouvé’s career. During the World War II, he personally joined the French resistance. After the war, he designed pre-fabricated houses for the ones who lost their homes in the conflict. In 1947 Prouvé built the Maxéville factory where he produced furniture and undertook extensive architectural research on the uses of aluminum. His studio produced whole industrial buildings in aluminum and sent hundreds of aluminum sheds to Africa. He also designed an aluminum-prefabricated house, the Maison Tropicale, for the use of Air France in the Congo, which was bought in 2008 by hotelier Andre Balazs for the hammer price just under $ 5 million.
His impressive designs managed to catch the attention of Le Corbusier and together with Pierre Jeannaret and Charlotte Perriand, they formed the “Union of Modern Artists”, with the motto "We like logic, balance and purity." He advocated that "in their construction there is no difference between a piece of furniture and a house". Thus Prouvé developed a "constructional philosophy" based on functionality and rational fabrication, which he shared with Le Corbusier and his studio. Although his business failed, this didn’t stop Prouvé’s innovative talent. He collaborated with Charlotte Perriand in creating the famous colourful segmented bookshelves in 1952. Meanwhile Le Corbusier was regularly consulting him on technical matters. Prouvé spent his later years as an academic, jury member and consultant and died in Nancy in 1984. His works have been appreciated in the auction, proven by the hammer prices. He is also in many notable public collections, such as including Centre Pompidou, Paris and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Some notable private collectors include actor Brad Pitt, the gallery owner Larry Gagosian, and the fashion designer Marc Jacobs. In her New York office, famous TV cook Martha Stewart uses shelves and stools Prouvé designed for the French postal service.