Charlotte Perriand at the Design Museum: photography to transform the world

“How will we live?” asks the Design Museum in Brussels in its new exhibition, dedicated to the passion for photography and photomontage by the famous French architect and designer, Charlotte Perriand.

In 1936, Charlotte Perriand (1903-1999) presented “The Great Misery of Paris”, his first monumental photomontagecompleted, she tells in her autobiography, “A Life of Creation” (1998), with a song: “Let’s go ahead of life”, very popular in the hostel movement. This is actually what it has not stopped doing, by creating one “art of living”. For her, photography was a tool for observing reality, but also for imagining a new world.

As she approaches photography as an amateur, this medium has become for the aesthetic and literary avant-garde a tool of modernity. In Germany, Oskar Barnack, a visionary engineer, invented as early as 1925 Leica I cropthe first 35 mm carried in the pocket, which freed the photographic action by making it mobile, followed in 1930 by Leica II with replaceable lens.

Meanwhile, in 1927, Perriand meets Le Corbusier and Salon d’Automne. He employed her in his studio in 1928, where she immediately created the recliner, the very famous LC4 chair long attributed to the inventor of collective housing, which was first recognized as her own work in 2010. Although very expensive, this resting instrument, instructed by a sensitive body intelligence, participates in same observational ability and desire to transform the world than his photographic action.

Detail from “La Grande Misery de Paris”, by Charlotte Perriand (1936).
© Archive Charlotte Perriand

Manifesting frescoes

Perriand uses photographic frescoes, “murals”applying modernity in its approach and his lightning militant character. Photography is used by him to condemn the evil of the times, especially urban health. It is therefore for her a tool for observing reality, but also an instrument for thinking about and inventing a new world.

For Charlotte Perriand, photography was a tool for observing reality, but also for imagining a new world.

From 1925 to 1934, his contacts with Soviet culture, his travels in the USSR made him discover the graphic innovation of this political imagination. She appears through photography at a time before the government of the Popular Front came to power in 1936 with Léon Blum at the helm. This government reformed education, access to culture and travel thanks to a remarkable political figure, Minister Jean Zay (assassinated by the French Vichy militia in 1944), which promotes aesthetic, intellectual and physical training as a tool for social liberation.

In 1937, the orders for the waiting room of the Minister of Agriculture or the pavilion of the Ministry of Agriculture at the International Exhibition of Art and Techniques for Modern Life in Paris, composed by Fernand Léger, represented its meaning of a picture message.

Charlotte Perriand on “her” Chaise à repos, the very famous LC4 armchair, mistakenly attributed to Le Corbusier.

“Silver gesture”

The Design Museum’s exhibition allows you to discover its collection of photographs (period prints, negatives, cut magazines, personal snapshots), as a counterpoint to his reconstituted monumental photo montages.

“Charlotte Perriand’s political commitment to the left encourages her to use photomontage.”

Damarice Amao


Only the original glass plates are not shown, for conservation reasons, replaced by prints on plexi that restore all “the silver gesture before the Photoshop era”, specifies the curator, Damarice Amao, who co-edited the book “Charlotte Perriand, Politique du photomontage. How do we want to live?” (Syd Acts), published in 2021 for the Rencontres d’Arles, where she presented this exhibition.

“Her political involvement in the left encourages her to use photomontage,” which, like the objects and habitats she worked on, “designed for the masses”which was in her “a way to find the best form of talking to others”.

“How do we want to live? Photomontage policy”

Note from L’Echo:

Charlotte Perriand’s New World | Filmed tour of the exhibition

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