This was the first Modernist tubular-steel chair. The year of its creation was momentous for its young designer. Marcel Breuer, formerly a Bauhaus student, had been appointed master of the Bauhaus cabinet-making workshop that year, just as the school was moving to its new quarters in Dessau designed by Walter Gropius. There must surely have been some link between the radicalism of the chair design (Breuer called it his ‘most extreme’) and the atmosphere around the construction of one of the largest and most innovative Modernist buildings yet conceived.
Although the appearance of the chair and its use of metal were innovative, to say the least, the Club Chair has its origins in a similar Breuer armchair of 1922. In its spatial complexity and emphasis on aesthetic qualities, it also harked back to Rietveld’s De Stijl furniture. Breuer’s metal chair was a construction of intersecting planes in space, which - in their lightness and visual transparency - subverted the traditionally bulky, space-encumbering form of the upholstered club armchair. It fulfilled, however, precisely the same function as the traditional chair, and a pair furnished the living room of the Gropius house near the Bauhaus.
While there can be little doubt that factory production would have been the ultimate dream for the making of steel chairs, as it would have been for all the geometric products of the Bauhaus, the early versions were painstakingly handmade. Inspired by the remarkable strength of his own bicycle, but rebuffed in his attempts to interest the Adler bicycle company and the Mannesmann steel company in the design, Breuer built his prototype with the help of a plumber. Between 1925 and 1927, he developed and refined both the design and the method of manufacture, first in his studio and then in the small workshop of the firm he co-founded, Standard-Möbel. The first model had four legs, but by the following year he had made a new version with runners, a decisive innovation that would become one of the most distinctive features of all subsequent tubular-steel furniture.
Marcel Breuer (1902-81)
Manufactured by Standard Möbel, Berlin
Nickel-plated tubular steel, canvas
72.5 x 76.5 x 69.5 cm
Museum no. W.2-2005
Purchased with the support of the Friends of the V&A
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