Pierre-Émile Legrain (1889 -1929) French Furniture Designer

Pierre Legrain handkerchief box
Pierre Legrain handkerchief box

Pierre-Émile Legrain (1889 -1929) was a French Furniture bookbinding designer. He was born in Levallois-Perret and professionally active in Paris.

Education

From 1904, he studied sculpture, painting and theatre design at the École des Arts Appliqués Germain-Croix, Paris.

Biography

He submitted cartoons in 1908 for Paul Iribe’s satirical reviews Le Témoin, L’Assiette au beurre, Le Mot, and La Baionnette. Iribe invited Legrain to collaborate with him on projects including furniture and interior design, jewelry for Robert Linzeler, and dress designs for Paquin.

Bookbinder

A designer of geometric bookbindings for couturier Jacques Doucet from 1912, Legrain was put in charge of decoration and furniture for the couturier’s studio in the rue Saint- Jacques in Neuilly. He quickly became one of the most creative designers of bookbinding in the world. He used a number of professional binders to execute his designs, particularly René Kieffer for his commissions. For a period from 1919, he worked exclusively with Kieffer on bookbindings. Doucet commissioned Legrain to design the bindings for his recently acquired collection of books by contemporary authors, including André Gide, André Suarés, Paul Claudel, and Francis Jammes. Legrain worked on the binding designs in Doucet’s dining room, sometimes assisted by Doucet himself. The exhibition at the 1919 Salon proved a tremendous success, encouraging book collectors to embrace Modernism enthusiastically. His newly acquired clients included Louis Barthou, Baron R. Gourgaud, Georges and Auguste Blaizot, and Baron Robert de Rothschild in Paris and Florence Blumenthal and Daniel Sickles in the USA.

L'Ame et La Danse by Paul Valéry bookbinding by Pierre Legrain.
L’Ame et La Danse by Paul Valéry bookbinding by Pierre Legrain. The Met 32.133.2

He was invited in 1923 by decorators Briant et Robert to set up his workshop in their establishment at 7 rue d’Argenteuil. In c1925, Doucet commissioned him to decorate his Neuilly studio, whose architect was Paul Ruau. Alongside Kieffer, Legrain used binders Salvadore David, Georges Canape, George Huser, Georges Levitsky, Henri: Nouilhac, Germaine Schroeder, Stroobants, Jeanne, Collet, Desmoules, Aufschneider, Dress, Vincent, and Lordereau. His work’s success at the 1925 Paris Exposition encouraging him to set up his own bindery in 1926 in avenue Percier and soon after in rue Saint-Jacques. His bindings are known for their high level of craftsmanship, originality, and use of exotic materials.

Furniture Designer

Legrain understood Cubism and African art, and the furniture he designed for Doucet shows both influences. One of his best known pieces was the Pleyel piano in plate glass and copper, with its works visible, designed for house of Pierre Meyer in the avenue Montaigne in Paris. He designed for friends of Doucet, including two apartments for milliner Jeanne Tachard, a suite of rooms for Maurice Martin du Gard, a bedroom for the vicomte and vicomtesse de Noailles, a house in the rue Villejust in Paris and at La Celle-St.-Cloud, and commissions from Suzanne Talbot, and Mme. Louis Boulanger. He designed a leather camera case for Kodak, a desk set for the Palais de L’Elysée, and cigarette boxes for Lucky Strike and Camel.

Stool designed by Pierre Legrain
Stool designed by Pierre Legrain

He was a member of Groupe des Cinq with Pierre Chareau, Dominique, Jean Puiforcat, and Raymond Templier. In 1929, Legrain joined UAM (Union des Artistes Modernes); designing the logotype for the group.

Death

He died in 1929, shortly before its first exhibition, ‘Hommage 4a Pierre Legrain.’ In barely 12 years, he produced some 1,300 designs for book covers and revolutionised an ancient craft. 1931-32, Legrain’s widow produced certain of his bindings.

Exhibitions

Doucet exhibited 20 of Legrain’s binding designs at the 1919 Salon of the Société des Artistes francais. Legrain, Robert Mallet- Stevens, Chareau, Ruhlmann, and Paul Poiret collectively designed the pavilion ‘La réception et I’intimité d’un appartement moderne’ at the 1924 Salon d’Automne. He participated in the 1925 Paris ‘Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes’ and, from 1926, in the exhibitions of Groupe des Cing. The plate-glass piano was shown at the 1929 exhibition of Group des Cinq at the Galerie de la Renaissance in Paris.

Sources

Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing. https://amzn.to/3ElmSlL

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