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20th Century Design

André Dubreuil and the Art of Furniture

Following a brief career as an antique dealer and decorative painter, André Dubreuil, who features in the Paris Design sale on 17 May, became a driving force of the new British furniture scene of the Eighties, alongside Mark Brazier Jones and Tom Dixon.

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PORTRAIT OF ANDRÉ DUBREUIL

After returning to France and settling in the Dordogne, he began his first improvisations with steel reinforcing bars, measuring his talent against traditional furniture types and breathing new life into them.

What matters chiefly to him is invention. His work has never bowed to a particular historical style and he has never known where his art will lead him tomorrow. His mastery of materials enables him to create forms serendipitously, while working on a piece – this is the essence of his art.

Dubreuil still recalls the first piece of furniture he made in this new spirit, a cabinet he has kept for himself, the first of a series that was to take on increasing importance in his output. "I remember it being a real struggle. I wrestled with it. I was brazing the copper with a blowtorch, using a brass rod, and the copper wouldn’t cool at the same rate as the steel structure. So there were distortions which I had to take account of…"

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ANDRÉ DUBREUIL, UNIQUE CABINET ORIENTAL, CIRCA 1990. ESTIMATE €40,000–60,000

Dubreuil might well have penned his own version of Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows. The classical sources of light have been rethought, fitted out with electric candles and fitted out with the latest technical innovations.

To create his “beautiful shadows”, Dubreuil uses two materials: glass, in the shape of marble, lenses and glass balls, and pieces of cut-out or extruded sheet metal. Both the transparent effects of the first and the sharp outlines of the second create interesting shadows.

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ANDRÉ DUBREUIL, UNIQUE LANTERNE ORIENTALE, CIRCA 1990. ESTIMATE €15,000-25,000

"Today everyone knows the time. This allows me to do things as I please, and the fact that it’s a clock frees me to decorate it as I fancy. The clock is a pretext for making small symbolic compositions," said Dubreuil. Clocks are Dubreuil’s field for experimenting. He blithely does away with the vitally important dial or inserts it in a composition where it is virtually indistinguishable.

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ANDRÉ DUBREUIL, UNIQUE CLOCK, CIRCA 1990. ESTIMATE €25,000-35,000

In any event, to buy a Dubreuil today is to accept to play the artist’s game, to savour his allusions, irony, borrowings and beguiling nonsense. While his objects and furniture have lost none of their customary elegance and tact, they now sing with a louder accent. Their poetry is more pronounced in spite of the fact that, thanks to the poet’s Oriental subtlety, it remains discrete, allusive and fluid.

Text from André Dubreuil Poet of Iron by Jean-Louis Gaillemin. Norma éditions Paris 2006

The Design sale is in Paris on 17 May

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