René Herbst


René Herbst, along with Chareau, Jourdain and Mallet-Stevens, belonged to the small circle of pioneers of Cubism in the field of applied arts. He was originally an interior designer and became artistic director of the Siégel company in the mid-twenties. When the Société des Artistes Décorateurs did not allow an artist group led by him and Charlotte Perriand for its 1929 salon, Herbst founded the Union de Artistes Modernes (U.A.M.) as its own group.

Versatile, Herbst was the first to work with nickel-plated tubular steel, primarily creating tubular steel chairs that were covered with leather or equipped with fabric cushions by Hélène Henry. He designed ensembles for the Aga Khan, the Isabey perfumery, for Robj, for the 1925 exhibition for Siégel, for the couturier Lina Mouton and for his own stand at the Pont Alexandre. His theories about light were disseminated primarily by the magazine Lux, which published no fewer than four articles by or about Herbst between 1929 and 1932. He was fundamentally of the opinion – and agreed with Mallet-Stevens – that the designer absolutely had to work with a lighting engineer because he was the only one who could precisely calculate the curvatures of a metal reflector. In a study on shop window lighting, he thought about special lighting effects that could attract the public and remove the unpleasant mirror effect from the shop window that shows more of the passers-by and the houses opposite than of the goods on display. He also advised against lighting that was too bright inside the store because customers were >>neither butterflies nor moths<<.

In collaboration with the lighting engineer André Salomon, who was an employee of the consulting firm Perfecla, Herbst developed numerous “visible” and “invisible” lights that were exhibited with his furniture in the Herbstsalon or by the Société des Artistes Décorateurs.

However, René Herbst seemed to have been more successful in theory than in practice. His floor lamp designed in 1928 for a smoking room with a rotating reflecting disc for indirect and direct light is conceptually excellent, but too scaffold-like in execution. It has bones but not flesh like another floor lamp where the light has been diffused through an opaline glass panel to create a direct and indirect effect at the same time. The ceiling lamp with matching silver and gilt bronze appliques that was on display at the 1925 exhibition appears cheap despite the material, as does its chandelier, which was exhibited at the second Salon du Luminaire in 1934.

Source: Alastair Duncan, Lampen Lüster Leuchter, Jugendstil Art Déco, Prestel-Verlag, München 1979, p.172-173.

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