The exhibition “Paris Match: Henri Samuel and The Artists He Commissioned, 1968-1977” at the Demisch Danant gallery has been hailed as a “must see” this season, but I am guessing that not all of you are familiar with Henri Samuel and his coterie of artists.
For those in the know, Henri Samuel is a legendary tastemaker and designer. While perhaps not a household name today in the US, he should be. It is illuminating that Samuel trained Jacques Grange, who attributes his time in Samuel’s office as “the place where I really learned what quality is.”
Samuel’s style is somewhat difficult to pin down. Long acknowledged as one of the first experts at mixing different design genres and periods, he is said to never have done anything twice. According to Mario Buatta, “Henri Samuel is a classicist.” Yet, you would never attach that label based on the avant-garde artists that Samuel collected in the late 1960’s and the 70’s.
Samuel’s background, however, certainly corresponds with Buatta’s description. He joined the acclaimed firm Jansen and worked with Stephane Boudin at the young age of 21. Shortly after he struck out on his own, he was engaged to restore the Empire rooms at Versailles. He remains well known for the classic and always elegant interiors he created for clients like Valentino, the Vanderbilts and the Rothschilds. Mary Rothschild is claimed to have quipped, “Where clothes are concerned, the only person I trust is Balenciaga. The same goes for Henri Samuel in the field of decoration.”
But something happened in the late 1960’s: Henri Samuel became seriously interested in Contemporary Art. Previously he dabbled with the art world trading sofas for paintings, but in the late 60’s, Samuel became one of the first designers to commission contemporary artists to make furnishings. His apartment in Paris is legendary for his juxtaposition of these commissioned pieces with exceptional antiques and bold color palettes.
So who and what did he collect? He chose pieces in smoked plexiglass, brass, bronze and other unique materials by artists such as Cesar, Guy de Rougement , Philippe Hiquily and Diego Giacometti. It was his patronage that elevated these pieces to the height of French style in the 1970s.
I can’t help but compare the importance of Henri Samuel to fine and decorative art in France during the 1970’s, to that of Siegfried Bing, a key tastemaker and patron of artists and artisans in France’s Art Nouveau period
The subject of the exhibition at Demisch Danant is furniture and objects by artists collected by Samuel.
I spoke with Ms. Danant who explained that while the pieces in the exhibition are not the exact pieces from Henri Samuel’s apartment (they have long since disappeared into private hands), they are objects “that could have been there.” She added that it took about a year to assemble the collection on view and that many of these pieces have never been seen together.
As an acknowledgement of the importance of Henri Samuel’s patronage, Demisch Danant made every effort to evoke Samuel’s famous French apartment in its gallery space. Similar beige carpeting was installed. Some of the pieces are displayed against a tomato red background like the wall color in Samuel’s apartment. There is even a black sofa.
While design buffs are urged to see the exhibition first hand,, not all of us can get to New York. I paid a visit to the gallery so I could bring some highlights from the exhibition to you. If Jacques Grange believes that Henri Samuel taught him all he knows about quality, we all could learn a thing or two by gazing at the work of artists that captivated Samuel’s eye.
Let’s take a look some images of Henri Samuel’s home and compare them to photos I captured at the exhibition.
Back in Samuel’s apartment we see his “Cloud” table by Guy de Rougemont on the opposite side of the living room.
The exhibiton also includes some pieces that simply have the “feel” of tastemaker Henri Samuel, even if he did not have them in his home.
Finally, I wish I could put the gueridon in plexiglass and brass, by Francois Arnal, originally commissioned by Samuel, in my own home.
There. You are all caught up, just as if you had visited Demisch Danant yourself. If you do make it to New York, the exhibition runs till January 31, 2015.
Henri Samuel and Samuel apartment provided by Demisch Danant.
Samuel in his apartment showing Giacometti table via Habitually Chic.
Samuel apartment showing Cesar console via South Shore Decorating.
Samuel apartment showing Cloud coffee table via the Peak of Chic.
Samuel apartment showing Hiquily chair via RDJour
Rendering from the Demisch Danant website.
Quotes: Mario Buatta quote from the Chicago Tribune.
Rothschild quote from Architectural Digest.
Grange quote from T magazine.
All exhibition photographs by Lynn Byrne.