Rare Design from René-Jean Caillette, Postwar Master of Clean Lines and Modern Materials

“I consider design to be wanted, determined, thoughtful, and assertive” French designer René-Jean Caillette once said; this perspective drove a career of refined designs. Emerging in France during the nation’s recovery following World War II, Caillette created works that reflected and responded to contemporary ideals of utility and practicality, yet simultaneously achieved a singular sense of elegance. Avoiding decorative elements, Caillette employed clean lines and modern, affordable materials in order to develop high-quality designs that could be easily mass-produced. After being discovered by major French furniture maker George Charron in 1950, Caillette went on to produce numerous designs for the manufacturer, among others, and founded a collaborative design collective, Group 4—with Alain Richard, Genevieve Dangles, and Joseph André Motte—resulting in a prolific career through the 1970s.

For Design Miami/ Basel 2014, New York’s Demisch Danant presents a solo presentation of Caillette’s rare and historic works—the gallery’s newest installment in a series of in-depth exhibitions delving into the careers of French designers who saw their heydays in the 1950–70s. For Caillette, the gallery has assembled a three-part installation, representing three stages in his career, including several rare prototypes directly from the designer’s estate, which have never been exhibited before. If you were lucky enough to see Demisch Danant’s outstanding Maria Pergay exhibition at Design Miami/ 2013, you already know that this exhibition is not to be missed. We offer an overview of four iconic Caillette designs on view at this year’s Design Miami/ Basel booth.

Set of 6 Diamond Chairs, 1958

The centerpiece of Caillette’s career during 1956–58 was the Diamond Chair, a signature work and an emblem of its era. “It is the most pure and the most easy to fabricate of my models in molded plywood,” Caillette said of this piece. “I designed it with a piece of cardboard, telling myself that if the cardboard could fold, then so could wood.” This set, editioned by manufacturer Steiner, is a prime specimen and exemplifies Caillette’s ability to convey a refined feel through the simplest of forms.

Armchair Prototype, 1962

This rare rattan armchair is a prototype that was created for Charron in 1962; it sits within the booth’s bedroom installation, which is inspired by Caillette’s historical presentation at the Salon des Arts Ménager from that same year.With an emphasis on material and geometric forms, the work demonstrates the timeless quality of Caillette’s style.

Sofa, 1966

This molded plywood and leather sofa is unique, a rarity among the designer’s career, which was marked by works produced in series and editions. Located in the third section of the booth, this sofa is at the center of a living room that also recreates Caillette’s Salon des Arts Ménager, this one from 1964. The piece shows the designer’s ability to transform everyday material into polished designs with a purity of line and form.

Modular Bookcase Prototype, 1970

Also a prototype for Charron, this bookcase is an especially impressive and monumental piece, which combines lacquered wood, polyurethane, and plexiglass. The work’s simple rectangles and symmetrical composition are given an added layer of significance through use of modern features that were especially modern at the time, sliding panels that serve to contain each compartment within the unit. Maintaining his neutral palette, Caillette plays with principles of space and dimension to achieve a remarkably fresh, contemporary feel.

Visit Demisch Danant at Design Miami/ Basel 2014, Booth G23, June 17th–22nd, 2014.

Follow Demisch Danant on Artsy.