The most renowned of all French designers from the first half of the 20th Century, Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann was born, lived and worked his entire life in Paris. The son and grandson of industrialists, commercial building painters, he was prepared for the management of the family business and at 17 entered it as a decorative painter. Following his military service in 1900, where he met architects whose friendship had an influence on his development, he began to draw his own furniture. In 1907, at the death of his father, he took over direction of the family firm and emphasizes its aim toward decorative research.
The contacts he had made while working for his father, including architect Charles Plumet, couturier Jacques Doucet, Frantz Jourdain, and Tony Selmersheim encouraged the young man’s interests and in 1911 he showed his work for the first time. In 1913 he showed at Le Salon de Automne and became recognized as France’s leading proponent of luxurious furniture. By 1919 he had founded, with Pierre Laurent, a separate full-service interior design studio.
Ruhlmann was the equal of the greatest ebenistes of the 18th Century. He knew how to find and creae a new curve and when he used a curved profile or sinuous lines their rhythms are thoughtful and reasoned. He combined a taste for rare materials: violet wood, amaranth, ebony macassar, amboyna, rosewood, inserts of tortoise, shagreen, gilt bronze, silver and ivoire, all with a sense of purity. Luxurious furniture with an aristocratic elegance, the works of Ruhlmann present the characteristics of an authentic personal and complete style.
Ruhlmann’s Hotel du Collectionneur at the pivotal L'Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs et industriels modernes in Paris blended traditional classical luxury with Parisian Modernism. He designed the tearoom of the 1926 luxury oceanliner Ile-de-France, French government commissions including interiors for the Palais de l’Elysee (the French White House), numerous private residences, including the palace of the Maharaja of Indore.
Ruhlmann was not a woodworker himself. His furniture was fabricated by other cabinet shops until 1923 when he created his own cabinetmaking atelier. By 1927 he employed 27 master cabinetmakers (ebenistes), four finishers, 12 upholsterers, many apprentices and 25 draftsmen.Though his career was fairly brief – he died at the age of 54 – he restored to furniture the essential virtues of the masterpiece – purity of lines, harmony of volume, liberated from any overly-decorative excess. He claimed never to have made a profit on his finely executed furniture, using the family’s traditional business to underwite the losses. Upon his death in 1933, as per his previous instructions, in-house orders were completed and the firm was then dissolved.