Robert Mallet-Stevens (1886-1945)

 French Architect and Designer, Robert Mallet-Stevens was one of the founders of the Union des Artistes modernes (UAM), a movement firmly opposed to the Art Nouveau.

Portrait of Robert Mallet-Stevens, old picture

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About His Life

Robert Mallet-Stevens was born in Paris on March 24, 1886. He is Maurice Mallet’s son, an expert in paintings and art dealer, and Juliette Stevens, nephew of Alfred Stevens Belgian portraitist. He grew up in a bourgeois family who channeled him through a rational and precise mind. He began studying architecture at the École Spéciale d’Architecture from 1904 to 1909. He undertook aviation during the First World War and began his career as an architect in the 1920s. His style was purified as progress of construction techniques (cement and reinforced concrete), freeing the volumes and possibilities of self-supporting structures. Buildings, factory, shops, villas, public structures: the architect does many exercises that make him aware of the evident need to harmonize the content and the container.

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Photo of Robert Mallet-Stevens

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Influenced by the architecture of Josef Hoffman and the Viennese Secession, he was one the most influential character in the development of Art Deco. He found the Union des Artistes modernes (UAM) in 1929, together with Le Corbusier, Francis Jourdain, René Herbst and others. This organization was characterized by its strong opposition to the Art Nouveau, while it supported industrialization, modernism and the democratization of art. Despite his importance in the construction of modern architectural thought, his work gradually fell into oblivion after his death in 1945 due to his request to destroy all his archives.

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What Were his Major Works?

Among his major architectures there are:

  • Villa Cavrois (1929-1932)

Villa Cavrois is located near Lille and is one of  Stevens’ best creations which was designed for Paul Cavrois, a French textile industrialist who owns modern factories for spinning, weaving and dyeing cotton and wool. The elegant building was completed in 1932 and it was bought by the state in 1932. Mallet-Stevens was free to manage the entire work, down to the least details. Therefore, he also designed the park and the furniture.  The villa was inaugurated on 5 July 1932, for the wedding of Geneviève Cavrois, Paul Cavrois’ daughter. The design of the building had to follow this guideline: “air, light, work, sports, hygiene, comfort and efficiency”. In the interior, which was designed specifically for the home, only sustainable and luxurious materials such as marble, various exotic woods and polished aluminum were used. The latest techniques have been applied and this is mainly visible in the details. The light switches worked in polished metal plates and the bins that can be turned were not really common at the time.

Villa Cavrois (1929-1932) in Croix

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  • Villa Noailles (1923–1928)

Villa Noailles is an early modernist house built for art patrons Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles who wanted to build a summer villa in the hills above the city of Hyères, on the Côte d’Azur. It promotes a new art de vivre, which celebrates the body and nature. This residence has quickly become an icon of modern architecture and represents the beginning of love for the arts of the Noailles couple. It was designed as winter residence by architect Robert Mallet-Stevens in December 1923 and it is one of the first modern buildings built in France. The villa is a model of architecture composed by overlapping cubes covered with a thick gray plaster. With its absence of decorative elements and thanks to the strictly composed visual effects, this building imposes its particular form on the landscape. Mallet-Stevens designed the decoration included furnitures bought or made specially for the villa, which is composed by fifty rooms and it is surrounded by a large garden. With its homogeneous distribution of light, its functionality, its sunroofs, this villa expresses an exhaustive demonstration of the precepts of the rationalist movement.
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Villa Noailles (1923–1928), in Hyères
  • Villa Paul Poiret (1921–1923)

Villa Poiret is located in Mézy-sur-Seine (Yvelines), about forty kilometers from Paris and was built by architect Robert Mallet-Stevens, for the couturier Claude Poiret between 1921 and 1923. It is a Cubism-inspired and later Art Deco private house, commissioned by fashion designer Paul Poiret in 1921. This building was completed in 1925 but soon was sold to other people who changed the original design to the contemporary Art Deco style, converting windows to portholes, and rounding-off terrace corners. In 1984, it was classified as a historical monument and Mallet-Stevens defined its avant-garde work as follows: “Joint surfaces, sharp edges, sharp curves, polished materials, right angles, clarity, order, it is my logical and geometric house“. From the terrace in good weather, you can see the loops of the Seine, the column of Place Vendôme, the rooftops of Notre Dame.

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Villa Paul Poiret (1921–1923), in Mézy-sur-Seine

How can we Identify Stevens’ Style?

White dining chairs

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In the 1950s, Robert Mallet Stevens designed these stackable dining chairs which were produced in France and made of metal. The chairs are labeled on the bottom. Stevens was one of the founders of the Union des Artistes modernes (UAM), a movement that was in opposition to the Art Nouveau decorativism. For that reason, we can recognize his work by the fact that he proposed a purity of lines, functional forms and strong tones that merged into the modern international movement. Buildings, factory, shops, villas, public structures: the architect does many exercises that make him aware of the evident need to harmonize the content and the container. Mallet-Stevens, his name and his work remained essentially tied to bourgeois domestic architecture.

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Les jardins Mallet-Stevens et la villa Cavrois

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