Jewelry Box
France, c. 1928
Robert Mallet-Stevens

La Maison Desny
Nickel-plated brass
4¾ × 6¼ × 2½”

Robert Mallet-Stevens was born in Paris in 1886. He studied at the École Spéciale d’Architecture in Paris and was heavily inspired by the Cubist movement. His most famous architectural works include the Villa Paul Poiret, the Villa Cavrois, the Villa Daniel Dreyfuss and the Villa Noailles which would feature prominently in Man Ray’s film Les Mystères du Château du Dé, (The Mysteries of the Chateau of Dice). Mallet-Stevens was also active in the film industry, designing twenty film sets and working with Fernand Léger, Pierre Chareau, and Rene Lalique on the film L’Inhumaine. He utilized the same heavy linearity employed in his architecture in the decorative works that he created for Maison Desny.

Mallet-Stevens was also a prolific furniture designer, creating many custom pieces for his buildings and interiors. His approach in this field was more modernist, asserting that furniture should be "functional in terms of contemporary living, simple and suitable for mass production.” His most enduring design is a tubular, stacking metal chair, created in 1931 for the Paris Colonial Exposition. Influenced by the famous Thonet café chairs, they were celebrated for their elegance, durability, and, compared to his architectural work, an unexpected lack of decorative pretense. Mallet-Stevens passed away in Paris in 1945, before the widespread adoption of mass production design techniques. At the behest of his wishes, much of Mallet-Stevens’ archives and personal documents were destroyed after his death; this, along with his eclectic body of work, has caused this singular and expressive designer to receive less consideration than his more oft-celebrated contemporaries. —Wright

(Photo: Wright)