French Court Backs Charlotte Perriand Over Jean Prouvé in Posthumous Battle of the Design Stars

French Court Backs Charlotte Perriand Over Jean Prouvé in Posthumous Battle of the Design Stars
Charlotte Perriand's stackable "Air France" table
(Courtesy estate of Charlotte Perriand)

Last week a Paris appeals court issued a decision in favor of the heir of Charlotte Perriand, who had accused Bergerot-Galerie Patrick Seguin and the Sonnabend Gallery of wrongly denying Perriand's exclusive authorship of three designs. The pieces involved are the Tunisia, Mexico, and Cloud bookcases; the Air France or Tokyo stackable table; and a table and stool with triangular and spindle-shaped legs. The two galleries must pay €50,000 ($66,000) in damages to Pernette Martin-Barsac for having claimed that Perriand's sometime collaborator Jean Prouvé contributed to designing the three items.

For seven years, Martin-Barsac, Perriand's daughter, contested the notion of Prouvé's shared responsibility for the designs. The story began when the Pompidou Center hosted a retrospective of Perriand's work in 2005. The bookshelves for the Tunisia House in the University of Paris's student residences were accompanied by the following description: "the estate of Jean Prouvé (1901-1984) claimed that Prouvé participated in the design of these bookshelves, which was contested by the estate of Charlotte Perriand." Since then, the same disclaimer has appeared on the three designs in question whenever they have appeared at auction. But now the court has recognized Perriand as the sole creator of the designs.

Perriand struggled with similar authorship issues during her lifetime, objecting when the Tunisia bookshelves were put on the market in 1950 with the label "Jean Prouvé Studios." She was first noticed in 1927, at the age of 24, when critics raved about her "bar under the roof" of chrome-plated steel and anodized aluminum. In 1929, she joined the Association of Revolutionary Writers and Artists, alongside designers such as Paul Vaillant-Couturier and writers including André Gide, Paul Eluard, and André Malraux. For the 1935 World's Fair, she collaborated with Le Corbusier, René Herbst, Louis Sognot, and Pierre Jeanneret to create the "Young Man's House," which was divided into two parts representing the mind and the body. Perriand went on to revolutionize furnishings in the 1950s, making a name for herself in a field dominated by men. Now, this legal decision has affirmed her sole authorship of these three seminal designs.