PARIS - A black-and-white photograph taken by Cecil Beaton in 1938 shows the visionary arts patron Marie-Laure de Noailles posing in her boudoir, decorated by Nacenta, on Place des Etats-Unis. She is shown surrounded by works of art, bending over an ivy-covered prie-Dieu designed by Wolfgang Paalen. We can also see the outline of a modern – if not avant-garde – console-table in perforated steel with a glass top. The table both attracts and disconcerts, and curiously brings to mind the prow of a ship. It was designed by Pierre Legrain, and bears the unmistakable imprint of this unclassifiable designer: an aerodynamic structure of Cubist inspiration, and superbly made, with no trace of welding. It was kept by the Noailles for almost fifty years before being put into storage after Marie-Laure’s death in 1971.
Cecil Beaton, portrait of Marie-Laure de Noailles posing in her boudoir.
In 1980 the table resurfaced at auction. Although its prestigious provenance was mentioned, nothing was said of its designer. It was acquired by Félix Marcilhac, who detected a masterpiece in its design and production. He has twice lent the table for museum display in Paris – to the Musée Arts Décoratifs and Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.
Today it is majestically displayed with us at 76 rue du Faubourg-St-Honoré before bringing joy to a new connoisseur. No passionate expert or enthusiastic collector can fail to be enamoured of this exceptional piece of furniture, with a mythical provenance and signed by the great Pierre Legrain, who trained at Jacques Doucet and stood out in the creative landscape of the 1920s with his unusual career. In the 1970s such great collectors as Philip Johnson, Karl Lagerfeld, Yves Saint-Laurent and Andy Warhol fell in love with Legrain’s works and their abrupt departure from the traditions of his time.
Florent Jeanniard is Specialist, Department of 20th Century Decorative Arts & Design at Sotheby’s France