Design Moment: Proust Armchair, 1978
‘I made references to Proust’s descriptions of place and time on one hand, and the impressionist movement in painting on the other’
Proust Armchair, 1978, by Alessandro Mendini
Forty years after it was designed by Italian Alessandro Mendini (b 1931), the Proust Armchair endures as a key example of European post-modernism.
Mendini was a member of Studio Alchimia (founded 1976), a group of experimental Italian designers who rejected the spare lines of modernism in favour of ornament and visible craftsmanship, and this chair reflects much of his thinking about design at the time.
He took a rococo revival-shaped chair, a very traditional piece and the sort the Victorians loved for their deep comfort and sheer bulk – and had it painted in bright colours in a pattern inspired by pointillism, the technique made famous by 19th-century French painters Georges Seurat and Paul Signac.
The pattern doesn’t restrict itself to the upholstery but extends over the elaborately carved scrolled arms, curved legs and front piece.
To design the chair Mendini travelled to France to research Proust’s world. He said of his inspiration: “I made references to Proust’s descriptions of place and time on one hand, and the impressionist movement in painting on the other.”
The original pieces were made with plain wood and white canvas upholstery which was then handpainted.
It is not known how many chairs were made by Studio Alchimia, it’s thought between 15 and 20, some were signed by Mendini on a leg. The Proust Armchair is still made, by Capellini, although the fabric is printed not painted.