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Jorge Zalszupin

The Polish architect who found his spiritual home in Brazilian design.

By Paul Clemence / 19th August 2020
Jorge Zalszupin PHOTOGRAPH: Gui Gai

Jorge Zalszupin
PHOTOGRAPH: Gui Gai

JORGE ZALSZUPIN, THE Polish-born Brazilian designer considered one of the leading talents of Brazil’s Modern Movement, has passed away. He was 98 years old. Originally an architect, Zalszupin moved to Brazil in 1949, inspired by the architecture of Oscar Niemeyer, which was then beginning to be featured in European publications. In Brazil he found fertile ground in which to develop his design sensibility and aesthetic, working there at a time when other European ex-pats like Lina Bo Bardi and Joaquim Tenreiro were also beginning to develop a unique version of Modern design. 

Jorge Zalszupin, 'Tea Trolley JZ', 1959, reissue by Etel 2006 COURTESY: Etel / PHOTOGRAPH: Fernando Laszlo

Jorge Zalszupin, ‘Tea Trolley JZ’, 1959, reissue by Etel 2006
COURTESY: Etel / PHOTOGRAPH: Fernando Laszlo

Initially, his furniture designs were meant to furnish his architectural projects, but slowly that developed into a practice of its own, culminating in the launch of L’Atelier, his design and manufacturing firm.  “L’Atelier is an important reference, a milestone for Brazilian design in many ways,” says design curator and entrepreneur Lissa Carmona from Etel Design, the bespoke manufacturer responsible for executing Zalszupin’s production. “Beyond his designs, he was a skilled impresario, always working with very innovative technology. Even today as we work on his pieces, we are still amazed at how sophisticated their production is and how he was able to execute them that way even in the 1960s.” Passionate about Brazilian woods, he would adapt techniques that were originally developed for Scandinavian woods to the ones found in Brazil. “He brought a certain elegance to our tropical woods,” comments Carmona.

Jorge Zalszupin, 'Danish Armchair', 1959, reissue by Etel 2006 COURTESY: Etel / PHOTOGRAPH: Ruy Teixeira

Jorge Zalszupin, ‘Danish Armchair’, 1959, reissue by Etel 2006
COURTESY: Etel / PHOTOGRAPH: Ruy Teixeira

Coming full circle from his initial inspiration, he went on to work with Oscar Niemeyer on pieces for some of Niemeyer’s iconic Brasília projects, further establishing his reputation as a Modern designer. His fluid lines, blending of basic geometries with a marked architectural character and flawless execution perfectly matched Niemeyer’s visionary designs.

Twenty years ago, Zalszupin approached Etel Design to become the official manufacturer of his designs, for both re-editions and new designs. That was the start of a fruitful relationship that most certainly will ensure Zalszupin’s legacy. Carmona, a passionate ambassador for Brazilian design, went on to edit and produce both Zalszupin’s monograph and autobiography – in the process developing a close relationship with the designer. “I had always loved his work, his aesthetic,  but as I got to know him better, I began to also appreciate his personal side, from his fascinating life and career path to his sophisticated sense of humour”, says Carmona. “Without a doubt, he will be remembered as one of the most important and influential furniture designers and personalities of the 20th century.”

Jorge Zalszupin, 'Pétalas Central Table' 1959, reissue by Etel 2006 COURTESY: Etel / PHOTOGRAPH: Fernando Laszlo

Jorge Zalszupin, ‘Pétalas Central Table’ 1959, reissue by Etel 2006
COURTESY: Etel / PHOTOGRAPH: Fernando Laszlo

 Etel DesignBrazilian mid-century, modern and contemporary design and gallery.

Article By

Paul Clemence
Paul Clemence is a writer and photographer covering the cross sections of design, art and architecture.