October 7, 2012


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Lot 263: Serge Mouille

Lot 263: Serge Mouille

Trépied table lamp

Designed 1953, this example executed before 1964
Enameled aluminum, steel rod, brass collar
Ateliers Serge Mouille
Literature: Counord, Christine. Serge Mouille Luminaires 1953-1962. Paris: Gallerie 1950, 1983. p 37.
Estimate: $10,000 - $15,000
Price Realized: $12,500
Inventory Id: 3629

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The lamps of Serge Mouille (1922-1988) - unlike many lighting designs of the 1950s that displayed increasingly morecomplicated forms and eye-catching bright colors embody simplicity of form and silhouette, monochromatic elegance, and exquisite proportion that entice and enthrall the viewer. With tactile qualities of sensuous curves that invite touch and anthropomorphic forms that fire the imagination, these sculptural masterpieces of lighting design reflect the passion and virtuosity of the designer who created them almost 60 years ago.

Serge Mouille’s precocious talent began at the tender age of fifteen in 1937, when he began the study of silversmithing and metallurgy under renowned Parisian silversmith, Gabriel Lacroix. Within four years Mouille had graduated from his studies and set up his own workshop with the intention of producing household silver utensils. Mouille grew increasingly restless with this narrow focus and set about the development and construction of an experimental stainless steel car body which he titled the Zebra. Whilst the car never went into production, the experience acted as a catalyst, inspiring him to the wondrous possibilities inherent in metal.

While teaching at the silversmith department in 1952 at the l’Ecole des Arts Appliquè in Paris, his work came to the attention of internationally renowned French designer Jacques Adnet, who saw the potential in Mouille’s experiments and discoveries with metal. Adnet subsequently commissioned the young designer to conceive and develop a system of lighting, to counter what he saw as the ever-complicated excesses of Italian lighting design predominant in France at the time. The resulting designs were bold in their simplicity and unlike many competitors, were highly focused on functionality and versatility. One of the typically ingenious aspects can be found in the characteristic nipple form at the top of the shade on many designs, which as well as functioning as a way to hide the jumble of wires behind the bulb socket and concentrate light within the shade, also embodies a sculptural quality, which is in itself integral to the aesthetic beauty of the design.

Mouille’s other great obsession was the versatility of his designs. He understood that a lamp has the power to bring a room to life and intended for his designs to be used in as many different ways as possible within an interior. For example, the Cocotte lamp (1957) was designed to be used either as a table lamp or attached to the wall as an appliquè. To this end the shades were attached to their frames by brass ball joints to enable the shade reflectors to be moved into as many positions as possible. Mouille avoided designing fixed ceiling center lights and only eventually created them due to pressure from his clients. The range found immediate popularity with Paris’ avant garde elite and his popularity grew as the range became featured in 1956 at the legendary and influential Parisian design retailer Galerie Steph Simon, who also showcased the designs of Charlotte Perriand, Jean Prouvè, Isamu Noguchi, and Jean Luce.

Whilst bringing public validation for his genius, this newfound commercial popularity also became a source of great pressure for Mouille. He was still a silversmith at heart. Each lamp was fashioned entirely by hand, with the shades being painstakingly cut and pressed into form without the use of machinery. In order to meet demand, he was forced to introduce mechanization to the production process; however, this was completely at odds with his craftsman sensibilities. In 1964, he finally decided to cease all production of the range and concentrate on teaching full time at the l’Ecole des Arts Appliquè, where he remained until his death in 1988. Although he may have abandoned the commercial lighting range, he still continued to produce small numbers of custom light sculptures for his regular clientele. Due to his exacting standards and arts and crafts sensibilities, the world is left with only a finite number of original works by Serge Mouille.

Pralus, Emile-Pierre, Serge Mouille: Un Classique Francais 1922-1988. Paris: Mont Thou Editions, 2006.Serge Mouille Luminaires 1953-1962. Paris: Galerie 1950, 1983.