A conversation with Meaghan Roddy on Jean Royère

 "A lot of his lighting designs take on plant-like or animal-like characteristics. His lights have names like ‘Bouquet’ or ‘Serpentin’ and in a way it’s almost calling back to Art Nouveau, but he’s so modern that it seems wrong to make that connection." - Meaghan Roddy of Phillips 

Recently I've found myself returning to a Royère rabbit hole of sorts.  Perhaps because he worked as an interior designer, his work appears so tailored to a sense of place or emotion, and less about the physical design of a product & limitations of material.  His sculptural forms at times feel exaggerated and playful, as if they belong on the set of Pee Wee's Playhouse, the highest compliment indeed. Their elegant and lavish lines continue to speak of modernity and elegance, feeling effortless sixty years later.  Galerie Jacques Lacoste and Galerie Patrick Seguin recently released the two-volume boxed monograph "Jean Royère" which is set to be released March 31 in the U.S.  Thank you to Meaghan Roddy of Phillips for the images, and for this conversation on truly one of the great masters of design. - David John

Meaghan Roddy is Head of Sale for the New York Design Department at Phillips. She has worked previously at David Rago Auctions in Lambertville, New Jersey and has been consulted for print and television features on 20th century design including Architectural Digest, Art + Auction, The Art Newspaper, and Wall Street Journal Weekend, as well as the publication Temperature 2012 produced by the Museum of Arts and Design in New York and Volume Gallery in Chicago regarding the current state of American design. Meaghan received a BA in Art History from Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and currently resides in Brooklyn, New York.

 Rare chair, for a private commission, Paris, ca. 1955 

 "This chair was sold in our June 2012 auction in New York. It’s a rare chair which had been for private commission in Paris and it came with great provenance. I think most of Royère’s furniture shows a lot of playfulness but this chair in its shape and color exemplifies this. "

A conversation with Meaghan Roddy on Jean Royère

Has the Royère market gained momentum over the past decade?   

Meaghan Roddy: The more private commissions that surface, the more interesting the works are that enter the market, which can generate excitement and interest. He’s certainly a designer we’ve seen strong results for over the past several auction seasons.

 How important is original upholstery to a sale of Royère's works? 

Meaghan Roddy: What’s more important to our clients is that the furniture is usable. If the sofa or chairs have ripped or stained upholstery or hardened foam underneath, it’s not appealing to them. In the case of the ‘Ambassador’ sofa and chairs we sold last fall in London, they were re-upholstered in his famous ‘Royère green’ color and in keeping with the original materials that would’ve been used. We are committed to presenting his pieces in as historically accurate a manner as possible to honor what the designer would have intended.

Are there specific colors that Royère worked with for his works?

What we can tell from his drawings and photos of interiors is that he was not afraid to use color, or patterns or mix textures. There is a lot of red, green, muted blue, yellow throughout all of his work.

I've read that many of Royère's pieces were made for private clients. Is this true?  Were his works sold through a gallery or dealer at that time, or made specifically for clients?

In the earlier part of his career, he produced work through the firm Gouffé in Paris, though in 1943 he opened his own design firm. He designed quite a lot for private commissions, mostly in France and the Middle East. He was an interior designer, not just a furniture designer, so he designed full interiors down to the andirons. The furniture was often just part of his overall vision for a space.

How many works is estimated that he created?

As with a lot of 20th century designers, there is no clear record how many interiors he designed or how many of a specific design he created for each, so we don’t have exact numbers. 

Has there ever been a museum show of Royère's work that you are aware of?

The Musée des Arts décoratifs in Paris had a show of Jean Royère’s work October 8, 1999 – January 30, 2000 and published an accompanying book Jean Royère, décorateur à Paris. More recently there have been shows organized by various design galleries to showcase his work.

Upcoming design auctions at Phillips, and any notable selections from them that you are personally excited about?

We have a great group of Jean Royère pieces coming up in our April 25th Design auction in London as well as our June 11th Design auction in New York, including an ‘Oeuf’ chair and stool, a unique ‘Ruban’ sofa, a ‘Croisillon’ sofa, a fantastic ‘Bouquet’ ceiling light, among others.

3 designers that personally capture your heart and mind? 

Not including Royère? Olga de Amaral, Josef Hoffmann, and Superstudio (for now – this is always changing!).

Pair of rare ‘Ambassador’ chairs, circa 1955, estimate £40,000 - 60,000. sold for £133,250 

"The green sofa and chairs were sold in our September 2012 auction in London. These were great because they were a set coming together from a private commission in Algeria and the consignor had taken some pains to have them reupholstered in this ‘Royère green’ fabric which is what they would’ve looked liked originally.  "

Sphere’ coffee table, circa 1939 Gilt wrought iron, lacquered slate.
estimate £120,000 - 180,000 sold for £217,250

"The ‘Sphere’ table was in our April 2012 auction in London, it was our cover lot and was a very strong result. This is a well-documented design by Royère that is still playful - even with wrought iron and slate it looks light. Instead of table legs he used spheres – still structurally stable but sort of defying logic. What a way to keep furniture from being boring."

Serpentin' wall light, circa 1940

"We had this in our April 2012 London sale as well. A lot of his lighting designs take on plant-like or animal-like characteristics. His lights have names like ‘Bouquet’ or ‘Serpentin’ and in a way it’s almost calling back to Art Nouveau but he’s so modern that it seems wrong to make that connection. 

His lighting has a real sense of humor about it."