‘Coque’ armchair’, 1975
THE THIRTY-SECOND edition of La Biennale (26th November – 5th December) has assembled 63 dealers in the Grand Palais Éphémère on the Champ-de-Mars, near the Eiffel Tower, in Paris. In the temporary structure designed by Jean-Michel Wilmotte, a chic mix of antiques, fine art, jewellery and design fill the stands. Founded in 1962 by France’s national syndicate of antique dealers (the Syndicat National des Antiquaires), the upmarket event is known for its high quality and wide variety of styles.
On the stand of Parisian dealer Galerie Yves Gastou is an eye-catching gem: the ‘Coque’ armchair by the French designer Philippe Hiquily (1925–2013). Made from a single piece of hammered aluminium, its graceful form was inspired by a shell. While the upper part, making the backrest, is in the shape of a semi-circle, the lower part was bent to create the two armrests and seat. It is held up by four sweeping pieces of steel that intersect at the base. The piece looks almost elliptical and exemplifies Hiquily’s wider artistic interests.
Hiquily is known not only for his furniture but also for his sculpture. After studying at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, he began making works from metal, copper and iron. Like his contemporary Jean Tinguely, Hiquily experimented with motorised, moving sculptures. One such piece, ‘Le Bicycliste’ (before 1956), of a cyclist on an abstract contraption, was acquired by the Musée National d’Art Moderne and is in the collection of the Centre Pompidou.
Other sculptures, such as the large-scale ‘Marathonienne’ (1981) – representing a modern sportswoman made from black-painted steel – are composed of rigorous geometry and circles divided by angles. Some works drew on primitive art and were infused with insect-like figures, humour and sensuality. Indeed, Hiquily was also inspired by Surrealism and mingled with artists such as Germaine Richier, César, Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp and Robert Rauschenberg.
Hiquily moved effortlessly between different disciplines. His design output ranged from chandeliers made from superposed pieces of metal – to ashtrays and coffee tables with sculptural bases. He also created jewellery.
Produced in an edition of 40, the ‘Coque’ armchair was sold on the opening day of La Biennale by Victor Gastou, who has taken over his late father’s Left Bank gallery. Gastou declined to disclose the price. However, one piece from the edition went under the hammer at Phillips in London in 2014 for £18,750 against an estimate of £4,000-£6,000.