Jacques Adnet is a distinctive figure of French twentieth-century design. Spanning the Art Deco period while dipping his toe into Modernism, Adnet strove to create beautiful shapes which culminated in functional pieces for everyday life. With his intriguing use of unusual materials, Adnet transcended the Art Deco tradition which nurtured him. Today, he is remembered for his elegant shapes and luxurious materials.
Adnet was born in Châtillon-Coligny in the Loire Valley in 1900. He began his education with his twin brother, Jean, at the Municipal School of Design in Auxerre. In 1916, Adnet made the move to the capital to study at the École des Beaux-Arts. While there, he concentrated on architecture, honing his understanding of form under the venerable Charles Genuys.
After graduating, Adnet became acquainted with cabinetmaking by working under Tony Selmercheim. Afterward, he and his brother Jean both worked for La Maîtrise, the decorative arts arm of the famous Parisian department store Printemps. During this time, the two were active in exhibiting their work under the name J.-J. Adnet. In 1925, the pair showed a series of furniture at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes. Their success continued with a commission for Jacques to design a room for the luxurious ocean liner Île-de-France in 1926.
In 1928, the brothers parted ways professionally, with Jean remaining at La Maîtrise while Jacques became director of the Compagnie des Arts Français. In this unique leadership role, Adnet took the opportunity to emphasize his modernist streak. Believing that design should be functional rather than flowery, Adnet pursued clean, unencumbered forms which could fit any purpose or environment. The designer revolutionized the industry by being one of the first to integrate metal and glass together both as parts of the construction and decoration of pieces. Artists that worked under him at the Compagnie during this time include Charlotte Perriand and Georges Jouve.
While leading the Compagnie des Arts Français through the 1930s & 1940s, Adnet continued to have success. He was still a prolific exhibitor (serving as president of the Salon des Artistes Decorateurs from 1947 to 1949), but the commissions he received were truly impressive. He designed the private quarters for President Vincent Auriol at the Palais de l’Élysée and the meeting room at UNESCO’s international headquarters in Paris. In the late 1940s, Adnet began working for the legendary firm Hermès to create a line of his now iconic furniture upholstered in leather (including glass-topped tables—another revolutionary leap).
When the Compagnie des Arts Français shut its doors in 1959, Adnet moved on to become director of the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts (the successor institution to his alma mater). He passed away in 1984.
Today, Adnet’s legacy lives on in having eased the transition from the highly stylized French Art Deco to the more subdued tone of modern design. His use of materials in striking combinations such as exotic wood, smoked glass, parchment, metal, and of course, leather, give his pieces a distinct voice in today’s market, just as they did during Adnet’s life.