1946 Students' Desk by Jean Prouvé

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Designed by Jean Prouvé in 1946, and made by his atelier for a few years thereafter, this futuristic-yet-ancient-looking desk for two is in completely original condition, with a gorgeous patina produced by seven decades of French schoolchildren pretending to study Victor Hugo while furtively sneaking peeks at the latest Astérix comic. On the surfaces which got the most wear, the gorgeous silver (with a hint of green) paint yields to the burnished bare steel of the desk's structure. The original wood desktop -- which is both the softest part, and that which got the hardest, most continuous use -- exhibits the most wear, making the 70-year-old slab of oak appear to be several hundred years older than it is. This desk is thus an aesthetic feast for anyone who savors the way some objects can express the passage of the years they have silently witnessed, and the many generations they have served.

Prouvé's "pupitre scolaire" for two is ideal as a homework station for elementary-school-age children, while its sculptural qualities will make it welcome as an object of unusual architectural beauty and great historical significance in any room of the home. It is similar to another Prouvé students' desk we sold a few years ago, but this example is a rare variation: the seats and backs are made of molded plywood, with beautifully figured veneers and affixed with Prouvé's signature spanner screws. In contrast, most of Prouvé's school desks -- including our last one -- were constructed entirely of steel (except for their wooden desktops).

Literature: Peter Sulzer, Jean Prouvé: Oeuvre Complète / Complete Works. Volume 3: 1944-1954 (Basel: Birkhäuser Verlag, 2005), p.69.


  • Condition
    Good. A very good example, in original condition. Well used, but with exactly the sort of patina one wants in a piece of Jean Prouvé furniture..
  • Wear
    Wear consistent with age and use
  • Dimensions
    28 in. H x 45.3 in. W x 34.8 in. D
    71 cm H x 115 cm W x 88 cm D
  • Seller Location
    Los Angeles, CA
  • Number of Items
  • Reference Number

About Jean Prouvé (Designer)

Engineer and metalsmith, self-taught designer and architect, manufacturer and teacher, Jean Prouvé was a key force in the evolution of 20th-century French design, introducing a style that combined economy of means and stylistic chic. Along with his frequent client and collaborator Le Corbusier and others, Prouvé, using his practical skills and his understanding of industrial materials, steered French modernism onto a path that fostered principled, democratic approaches to architecture and design.

     Prouvé was born in Nancy, a city with a deep association with the decorative arts. (It is home, for example, to the famed Daum crystal manufactory.) His father, Victor Prouvé, was a ceramist and a friend and co-worker of such stars of the Art Nouveau era as glass artist Émile Gallé and furniture maker Louis Majorelle. Jean Prouvé apprenticed to a blacksmith, studied engineering, and produced ironwork for such greats of French modernism as the architect Robert Mallet-Stevens. In 1931, he opened the firm Atelier Prouvé. There, he perfected techniques in folded metal that resulted in his “Standard” chair (1934) and other designs aimed at institutions such as schools and hospitals.

     During World War II, Prouvé was a member of the French Resistance, and his first post-war efforts were devoted to designing metal pre-fab housing for those left homeless by the conflict. In the 1950s, Prouvé would unite with Charlotte Perriand and Pierre Jeanneret (Le Corbusier’s cousin) on numerous design projects. In 1952, he and Perriand and artist Sonia Delaunay created pieces for the Cité Internationale Universitaire foundation in Paris, which included the colorful, segmented bookshelves that are likely Prouvé’s and Perriand’s best-known designs. The pair also collaborated on 1954’s “Antony” line of furniture, which again, like the works on these pages, demonstrated a facility for combining material strength with lightness of form.

     Prouvé spent his latter decades mostly as a teacher. His work has recently won new appreciation: in 2008 the hotelier Andre Balazs purchased at auction (hammer price: just under $5 million) the Maison Tropicale, a 1951 architectural prototype house that could be shipped flat-packed, and was meant for use by Air France employees in the Congo. Other current Prouvé collectors include Brad Pitt, Larry Gagosian, Martha Stewart, and the fashion designer Marc Jacobs. The rediscovery of Jean Prouvé — given not only the aesthetic and practical power of his designs, but also the social conscience his work represents — marks one of the signal “good” aspects of collecting vintage 20th century design. An appreciation of Jean Prouvé is an appreciation of human decency.

About the Seller

1stdibs seller since 2005

Typical response time: 3 hours

Located in Los Angeles, CA

  • 20th Century Specialists

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