Verre Lumiere: A Short but Bright History

Feb 2, 2016 6:41PM

At the 2015 edition of Design Miami/, New York design gallery Demisch Danant unleashed an entire booth dedicated to the stainless steel furniture of the 1960s and ’70s. While all of the polished offerings shone brightly, it was the table lined with lamps from Verre Lumiere—a veritable time capsule of an exuberant era—that stole the spotlight. Simple yet curious, the brilliant creche held its own even amongst the contemporary offerings on view at the fair.

Parisian lighting firm Verre Lumiere opened in 1968 during the heyday of iconic French and Italian designers like Maria Pergay, Gio Ponti, and Michel Boyer. Founded by master glass worker Max Ingrand, the dedicated lamp manufacturer evolved out of a merger between glass company Saint Gobain and lighting firm Mazda. A convergence of craftsmanship and artistry, Verre Lumiere had greatness in its DNA.

In addition to heavy hitters like Ponti and Boyer, their cutting-edge technology and production expertise attracted designers like Kim Moltzer and Jean Paul Barray, Ben Swildens, and Étienne Fermigier to work with them. In their short history, which lasted from the 1960s to the ’80s, Verre Lumiere mass-produced tabletop objects and floor lighting as well as site-specific commissions including Georges Pompidou’s private salon at the Palais de l’Élysée in Paris, a project which was directed by French design icon Pierre Paulin

A bellwether for modernism, Verre Lumiere gave designers the freedom to create lamps that went beyond the confines of functionality. Graphically shaped work like Sabine Charoy’s slingshot-shaped Floor Lamp (1969) calls to mind a kinetic sculpture, as does Jean Pierre Vitrac’s Flower Lamp (1970). Only possible through Verre Lumiere’s 40-artisan-strong factory in Puteaux, just west of Paris, these moving metalworks showcase the level of skill that went into bringing these mainly stainless steel and chrome creations to life.

Known for their prototyping efficiency, Verre Lumiere jumped on progressive materials: They were one of the first companies to use halogen bulbs. Their forward-thinking mentality is ultimately what enabled the company to align itself with innovators to produce some of the generation's most iconic lamps—including Boyer’s Brasilia Lamps (1974), which he created for the Embassy of the Republic of France in Brazil’s Oscar Niemeyer-designed capital.

In each of these durable, playful objects, Verre Lumiere’s legacy is preserved.

—Kat Herriman

Follow Demisch Danant on Artsy.