was held in Paris from April to October 1925. It was designed by the French government to highlight the new style moderne of architecture, interior decoration, furniture, glass, jewelry and other decorative arts in Europe and throughout the world.
Germany was barred from participating because of its role in World War I, but Austria and Hungary were invited, as was the new Soviet Union, though it was not yet officially recognized by France. Many countries had exhibits of furniture and decoration within the Grand Palais, and also built pavilions to illustrate new ideas in architecture. Britain, Italy, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands all had substantial pavilions, as did the Scandinavian countries, Poland, and Czechoslovakia. Japan had an important pavilion, while China had only a modest representation. The United States, not entirely understanding the purpose of the exhibit, chose not to participate.
Austria was a major participant, thanks to the work of Josef Hoffmann, who designed the Austrian pavilion next to the Seine. The complex included a terrace by the Seine, a tower, a cubic glass and iron exhibit hall by Peter Behrens, and a brightly decorated cafe. The pavilion contained works of sculpture by the modernists Anton Hanak and Eugen Steinhof.
Although the exhibition promised to showcase the modern and industrial arts, it instead highlighted just how much the French still favoured opulence and decoration. lnstead, it was the Russians and a young, Swiss-born architect named Le Corbusier who showed the public the inspiring new designs the organizers had promised.
The Russian designer Konstantin Melnikov's Soviet Pavilion was a striking design in the Constructivist style, while Le Corbusier's Pavillon de l'Esprit Nouveauwas a stark exercise in rational geometry.
Perhaps most shocking to the public was the sparse interior of Le Corbusier's pavilion, which looked like a prison cell compared to the lavish pavilions designed by designers such as Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann. With his high-profile pavilion design, Le Corbusier laid down a challenge to the French, and slowly some designers started to respond.
By 1929, a group of French architects and designers had come together to fight the rising tide of Art Deco. Calling themselves the Union des Artistes Modemes (Union of Modem Anises, or UAM), they counted Eileen Gray, Charlotte Perriand, Jean Puiforcat, and Jan and Joel Martel among them. Their first president was Robert Mallet-Stevens an architect whose heavily geometric buildings led to the group's style being dubbed "the great nudity". Although the influence of the Bauhaus was clear, the UAM kept a careful distance from activities in Germany. In the wake of World War I there was bad blood between the neighbours, so no matter how much they admired the works -of Marcel Breuer, Walter Gropius, and Mies van der Rohe UAM members did not admit as much.
There were, at any rate, considerable discrepancies between the Modern styles in Germany and France. Although the French embraced materials such as tubular steel and plate glass, they used them with greater grace and elegance than the Germans, who preferred to keep their designs unerringly concise. The second UAM president, Rene Herbst, was among the first in France experiment with tubular steel. A keen advocate of low-cost mass production, which he said would "provide a healthy home for every family", he was also active at the affluent end of the market, designing, in 1930, a Paris apartment for the Prince Aga Khan.
A close friend of Herbst, and a member of UAM, was the architect and designer Pierre Chareau. lt was Chareau who designed an icon of the Modem era, the Maison de Verre. Built from glass bricks and exposed iron beams in 1928, the house caused a stir in Paris. lt was some time later that Chareau translated his bold approach into furniture design. After years of designing luxurious furniture, he eventually developed a leaner style. Chareau's desks of wood and bent-iron strips appeared almost mechanized.
This mechanical aesthetic, startling enough in the work of Chareau, was taken to even further extremes by Jean Prouve, who was younger than many UAM members. "In my opinion", Prouve once said, "furniture design requires the same procedure as any other building construction", which is perhaps why his designs appear so robust. Based in the small town of Nancy, the prolific Prouve took an energetic and fearless approach to furniture design. If French designers were accused of shying away from the raw vocabulary of industry in the early interwar years, Prouve's work was inarguable proof that their attitudes changed considerably.