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Tribute to
Francis Jourdain

pionneer of modernity
from June 16 to July 28, 2023


Close to artistic circles, politically engaged, avant-garde, painter, writer, decorator, interior designer; there is no shortage of qualifiers to try to define Francis Jourdain. ‘Pioneer’ is perhaps the term most used to summarize the work and life of this multidisciplinary artist, constantly ahead of his time. But, Jourdain's avant-gardism must be considered in a complete way, "so much [the artist] dominates with his originality the most effective research undertaken in the field of interior architecture, furniture and objects of use , during years which were decisive for French art, both in terms of ideas and works", as Léon Moussinac recalls.


In his “unfurnished” interiors, made up of simple and functionalist furniture, Francis Jourdain still allowed fantasy and colors to express themselves, “once the functions have been fulfilled and the needs satisfied”. To do this, he designed various everyday objects, such as lighting, curtains, carpets, ceramics or wallpaper – all marked by their polychromy, their simple shape and their modularity – which he sold in his boutiques, and which populated his apartments. Jourdain was keen to create “reasonable objects”, which would not resemble unaffordable works of art. Later, this innovative idea would lead, within the framework of the Union of Modern Artists, to the exhibition “Formes Utiles” in 1949-1950 at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, in Paris



Among the everyday objects created by Francis Jourdain, ceramics occupy a predominant place. The pieces he creates are all glazed earths decorated with enamels in strong colors. Their simple shape is often accompanied by more complex decoration, characterized by geometric patterns. This reflects a certain influence of Cubism then prevalent in the pictorial art of the time. Other founding members of the Union of Modern Artists, René Herbst (1891-1982) and Robert Lallemant (1902-1954) also produced ceramics responding to these ornamental characteristics.



“What for a long time, at the time of dogmatism, put the work of Francis Jourdain in the closets of a turn of the century craftsmanship poorly freed from Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau influences, is this constant use of wood, of woods. Modernity could only be associated with its emblematic materials which are iron, glass, rubber, in a way with “technical” materials. But Francis Jourdain’s use of wood is not outdated. First he uses them all, the simplest as well as the most precious: fir, light oak, dark oak, ash, mahogany, zingana, maple, sycamore, Macassar ebony... They are sometimes painted in bold colors, blues, reds, oranges, or left in their fullness by playing on the alliances of veins producing a "decorative" effect ; some owing nothing to the ornament but revealing, on the contrary, the accuracy of the effect sought by the true use of real materials. The lessons of Loos have been learned and applied. It is indeed applied art; […]. »


Source: Arlette Barré-Despond in Francis Jourdain, A modern journey 1876-1958 – Catalog of the traveling exhibition, Éditions Somogy, Paris, 2000, p. 57.



From 1922-1923, Francis Jourdain's creations were marked by even more simplicity and his interiors were gradually “unfurnished”. Thus was born his concept of defurnishing, which would allow one to "very luxuriously furnish a room by unfurnishing it rather than by furnishing it" ; raising to the rank of promising decorator the "one who knows how to stick to the elements strictly required ". This seems to be the credo of the modern interiors that will follow, making Francis Jourdain a precursor of modernity. Less is more.

As an example, the layouts of the apartments of Robert Draeger and René Gas dating from this period both show pieces of furniture with simple lines, and arranged in “an atmosphere of order, space and light”.


Source: René Chavance and Denis Doria in Francis Jourdain, A modern journey 1876-1958 – Catalog of the traveling exhibition, Éditions Somogy, Paris, 2000, p. 86.


Francis Jourdain UAM Buffet à corps quadrangulaire en frêne et placage vers 1920-1923 emma

Collaborating regularly with Georges Besson (1882-1971), founder of the magazine 'Les Cahiers d'aujourd’hui' (1912-1924), Francis Jourdain was at the origin of the publication in this magazine, in June 1913, of an extract from 'Ornament and Crime' (1908), a founding text by Adolf Loos (1870-1933) recognized as an essential source of the ideas of the Modern Movement. It is therefore to Jourdain that goes the merit of having put forward the theories of the Viennese architect within French artistic circles. These theories were above all in line with his own ideas and led to the creation of his “interchangeable furniture” and his concept of “defurnishing”. Loos' essay, which firmly condemned ornament – for him synonymous with sacrilege – inspired Jourdain to create functionalist furniture, with simple and clean lines, which distinguished itself from the Art Nouveau aesthetic still in force at the time. In 1920, Le Corbusier (1887-1965) also took an interest in the Viennese’s writings, of which he also published extracts in the magazine 'L'Esprit Nouveau' (1920-1927), which he had founded with Amédée Ozenfant (1886-1966) and Paul Dermée (1886-1951). Loos' theories then served as support for the defense of modern architecture free from historical styles, which he helped to make famous.


Source: Arlette Barré-Despond – Jourdain – Éditions du Regard, Paris, 1988, p. 241-247.

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