RuhlmannÉmile-Jacques

Biography

Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann, born in 1879 to Alsatian parents, is a definitive figure of the Art Deco movement. In 1907, he inherited his father's decorating firm, and in 1910 first exhibited a collection of furniture. In 1919 he partnered with Pierre Laurent to found the interior design firm Ruhlmann et Laurent, which produced everything from wallpaper to rugs, light fixtures and furniture. His influences have included the Art Nouveau movement as well as Viennese furniture designed around the first World War. Ruhlmann's elite philosophy saw him distance himself from the weight of his pieces that belied an Arts and Crafts element. He was convinced that the utmost quality should be sought at the expense of any kind of affordability, and that fashions could only be born out of a wealth that made original and lavish production possible. He himself would often claim losing hundreds of thousands of francs a year on furniture that cost insurmountable sums to buy, and apparently much more to make.

Ruhlmann had a penchant for the most exotic materials, favouring: Macassar ebony, Brazilian rosewood, amboyna burl, and ivory inlay. These luxury materials would adorn forms which were relatively simple, Ruhlmann was careful not to let material interrupt form. To execute a design, Ruhlmann would stop at nothing, including exorbitant expense. He is said to have had his designers work endlessly to execute any design he had dreamt up until he deigned it finished, when he would exclaim, 'Don't touch a thing, it's perfect!' The consistent mixture of formal skill and exotic materials resulted in pieces that are thought of as the pinnacle of Art Deco. In 1933, Ruhlmann was diagnosed terminally ill. Fearing any transformation of his company outside his control, he ordered the company to complete the the orders already in house, and then to dissolve.

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