Mid-century 20th Century & Contemporary Furniture London

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Memories of a Mogens Hansen Mid Century sofa

This month's featured item

An original vintage LC4 Chaise Longue manufactured by Cassina using a tubular chrome frame and black metal base with cream leather upholstery and headrest. 
 

The LC4 Chaise Longue is undoubtedly one of the most iconic examples of 20th century modernism and even today, almost 100 years after its first presentation, still stands out as an exemplar of design. Produced in various upholstery formats from cow and pony hide to fabric and canvas, this particular example is outfitted in a soft, cream leather which works as a perfect accompaniment to the chrome and steel frame and base. Manufactured by Cassina, it remains in very good vintage condition with some creases and folds and a few minor marks in the leather as expected, and only light marks to the frame commensurate with age and use. Both the chrome frame and base benefit from having the impressed manufacturer’s marks and designer’s signatures as shown in the accompanying photographs. 

LC4 history
Designed for the Villa Church private residence in Ville-d’Avray in 1928 the LC4 was first exhibited at the Salon d'Automne in Paris in 1929 and was based on the designs and prototypes created by Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand and Le Corbusier’s cousin, Pierre Jeanneret. Whilst the concept of the chaise is most often associated with Le Corbusier the design is more accurately attributed to Charlotte Perriand. She was the driving force behind the initial design and hired Labadie, who built the first prototype in her atelier in Saint-Sulpice and later invited Corbusier and Jeanneret to view it. But much is lost to history and it seems both Le Corbusier’s status plus his later involvement in the reintroduction of the design in the 1950’s took precedent when it came to attribution. But in any event their collaboration created a perfect marriage of ideas based on both an architectural and aesthetic ethos that combined function and form; and the LC4 is the purest manifestation of that ideal.  

The chaise owes much of its design characteristics to a number of predecessors which include the 1852 R.W Winfield steel campaign chair (which was also a cited inspiration for Marcel Breuer) and the steel and leather reclining arm chair called the ‘Surrepos’ designed by Docteur Pascaud. However, the main inspiration, mentioned by both Le Corbusier and Perriand, was Thonet’s No.7500 armchair that was first produced in 1876. This chair was essentially a rocking chaise on curved bentwood supports with a reclining back and sweeping foot rest. Later models also had arm rests and in looking at the design it’s easy to see where the inspiration for the LC4 came – although that was not its first name.

Thonet, the World’s largest producer of bentwood furniture, had also started producing curved, cantilevered and bent metal framed furniture for a number of designer’s from the mid 1920’s. These designs incorporated both flat bar and tubular metal production techniques and as such they were a natural choice to produce Le Corbusier’s and Perriand’s designs. Production for the chaise was however, not undertaken in Thonet’s main manufacturing facility but instead in France by Thonet Frères, the French branch of the Austrian factory; and here it was named the B306. 

The design consists of two main parts: a lower, stationary base made from welded steel panels, and a separate upper frame supported on a semi-circular cradle. This was the simple inventive step over Thonet’s 7500 as the clever combination of the base and the adjustable top frame allows the user to freely adjust the chair’s inclination angle from upright to full recline; and any point inbetween. The adjustable frame is made of bent, chrome-coated steel pipes interlaced with elastic straps that span between the pipes to provide support for the long, thin cushion and bolster headrest that are both buckled to the frame.

It’s a supremely functional and stylish design but also exhibits an extravagance that hints at its manufacturing cost – it stood out as the most expensive design ever commissioned by Thonet at that time and this was very much part of the perceived exclusivity of such an extraordinary design concept. This is well documented in Perriand’s memoir where she wrote: "While our chair designs were directly related to the position of the human body… they were also determined by the requirements of architecture, setting, and prestige”. That ‘prestige’ however, was part of the problem along with the fact it was considered to be ahead of its time, even with the advent of Bauhaus. On this basis the chaise was not a commercial success as it was not only very expensive to produce but also didn’t sell well outside of France. To therefore increase demand both Corbusier and Thonet licensed the design to other manufacturers: Le Corbusier to the Swiss company Embru-Werke AG who produced its own version of the chair in Rüti near Zurich in 1934, and Thonet to Embru, Basler Eisenmobelfabrik Breunlin and Bigla; but to no avail. By the time production ceased in 1937 only 172 of the original Thonet examples were made and the B306 was consigned to history. And there it would have stayed had Charlotte Perriand not carefully managed a relaunch of the design in 1964. 

After production ceased Le Corbusier, Perriand and Thonet each held legal rights to the design that over subsequent years manifested in different ways. Le Corbusier, who had become disillusioned with the failure of the design in the retail market instead spent the 1940s concentrating on writing and architecture; most notably with projects in Marseille, Loire-Atlantique and Chandigarh. During the late 1950’s there was a ground swell of interest in his achievements and a renewed interest in both his architectural work and furniture design. Buoyed by this, and encouraged by the research he was conducting on a new book that he later published in 1960 (L'Atelier de la recherché patiente - The workshop of patient research), he created a short production run of the chaise for his own use and bearing solely his own signature. This did not go unnoticed and as such it set in place a series of events that saw Perriand finally emerge from Le Corbusier’s shadow.  

 

Although Le Corbusier had resurrected the B306’s design in 1959 its original form the fact is that Perriand was the first to adapt the design, and as early as 1938. During her stay in Japan she created a beautiful wooden version of the chaise called the Tokyo Chaise Longue. This was made in bentwood (bamboo, teak or beech) not only to lower production costs but also to explore the design from an alternate perspective. Most notably these designs were produced in the early 1940s by specialist Italian Design manufacturers, Cassina who, along with Perriand, were later to become instrumental in the B306’s future.

By a twist of fate during the same period the Thonet trademark was assigned to the Thonet family heirs and after the war ended the rights to the B306 was assigned to a Swiss company - and at a later stage to an Italian manufacturer. The manufacturer was Cassina who it is believed acquired the licence because of their previous association with Perriand – and so the circle was now complete. Under Perriand’s guidance the Chaise was reissued under its new name the LC4 Chaise Longue and has ever since been one of the best selling items in the Cassina catalogue. Reissued in 1964 the chaise was originally just identified with a serial number but shortly after Le Corbusier’s death in 1965 was amended to include his impressed signature. However, over the years as Perriand’s origination of the design became more apparent Cassina decided that she should also be acknowledged - and it’s a testament to Perriand that she insisted that all 3 people who formed part of the design team at that time should be credited. As such, and even to this day, every LC4 bears the signatures of Le Corbusier, Jeanneret and Perriand.


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