the best surprise during my recent visit to paris was an unexpected invitation from michael wagner, the president and owner of charles paris, a french lighting and furniture atelier that has been in business for over 100 years.
michael invited me to tour the charles paris workshop, located at the former christofle silver factory in saint-denis, a northern suburb of paris.
charles paris | vintage ‘corail’ table lamp | designed by jacques charles | circa 1960
price upon request | offered on 1stdibs.com by lebreton gallery | san francisco, CA
charles paris | ‘corail’ table lamp | designed by jacques charles | model 2107
michael’s invitation also included an introduction to dominique kerguenne, the daughter of french sculptor, felix agostini (1910-1980). and, a visit to abat-jour, her custom lampshade shop, located in the 16th arrondissement of paris, near the trocadero. during our visit, michael hoped that madame kerguenne would show a portion of the agostini archives.
felix agostini is one of my favorite french 20th century designers. agostini, who designed bronze lighting, furniture, and decorative objects during the 1950’s, 1960’s, and 1970’s, is renowned for his ‘walking man’ sculptures.
‘his feet glued to the floor by an openwork ring,
this man stands straight as a stork on his lean bronze legs.
his head is high as he strides forward,
a cylindrical shade on his head.’
-description of the ‘compas’ lamp from the felix agostini by charles paris catalog
felix agostini | vintage pair of ‘compas’ table lamps | circa 1970
sold for US$29,800 | christie’s new york | 26 march 2008 | sale 1979 | lot 299
felix agostini by charles paris | ‘compas’ table lamp | designed in 1969 | ref A-007
dominique kerguenne, in collaboration with charles paris, began re-releasing agostini lighting, furniture, and decorative objects in 2013, as a posthumous tribute to her father.
the felix agostini by charles paris collection is now represented by the donghia showrooms. merci beaucoup to christine at the donghia showroom in paris for asking michael to contact me! in america, the donghia showroom at the pacific design center in los angeles, CA will have the entire collection.
phase one of the felix agostini by charles paris collection includes nineteen designs, inspired by agostini’s love of art, architecture, literature, music, science… and, people.
felix agostini by charles paris | ‘erato’ wall sconce | designed in 1955 | ref A-015
a man, holding a lyre in his hands
felix agostini by charles paris | pair of ‘ariel’ wall sconces | designed in 1950 | ref A-014
angels, holding torches in their fingertips
felix agostini by charles paris | ‘sapajou’ table | designed in 1964 | ref A-003
a capuchin monkey
felix agostini by charles paris | ‘ispahan’ floor lamp | designed in 1976 | ref A-005
a standing horse
felix agostini by charles paris | ‘ispahan cheval’ sculpture | designed in 1960 | ref A-002
a persian horse
felix agostini by charles paris | ‘espadon’ wall sconce | designed in 1970 | ref A-018
felix agostini by charles paris | ‘amour tojours’ wall sconce | designed in 1957 | ref A-019
felix agostini by charles paris | ‘cocotte’ table lamp | designed in 1960 | ref A-008
felix agostini by charles paris | ‘tripode’ table lamp | designed in 1950 | ref A-010
a three-toed bird’s foot
felix agostini by charles paris | ‘oiseau piege’ wall sconce | designed in 1969 | ref A-012
a bird in flight
felix agostini by charles paris | ‘fusil’ floor lamp | designed in 1955 | ref A-006
felix agostini by charles paris | ‘chimene’ wall sconce | designed in 1961 | ref A-016
felix agostini by charles paris | ‘esmeralda’ table lamp | designed in 1969 | ref A-009
the gothic architecture of notre dame cathedral
felix agostini by charles paris | ‘quasar’ wall sconce | designed in 1970 | ref A-017
felix agostini by charles paris | ‘phoebe’ table | designed in 1966 | ref A-004
each piece is made to order, signed, stamped, numbered, and accompanied by a charles paris certificate of authenticity.
abat-jour is making all of the shades for the lighting in the felix agostini by charles paris collection. even the double shield lampshades, which felix agostini invented, can be customized.
felix agostini by charles paris | ‘socle’ table lamp with a double shield lampshade | designed in 1961 | ref A-011
felix agostini by charles paris | ‘socle’ lamp base with agostini signature, charles stamp, and number
many thanks to michael for sending a car to l’hotel to drive my husband, bob, and i to saint-denis.
michael started his career at hermes, where his appreciation of artistry, craftsmanship, and quality began. he acquired charles paris in 2001.
charles paris | 112, rue ambroise croizat | 93206 saint-denis, france
michael wagner | president and owner | charles paris
the artistry and expertise of charles paris’ master craftsmen is most impressive. they produce about 500 pieces per year, still using the tools and processes that charles paris has used since it was founded in 1908.
‘the company is renowned for the unparalleled quality of its bronzes.’
the archives contain rows of boxes filled with master templates from nearly 1500 designs. charles paris uses the master templates to produce their classic, mid-century, and contemporary lighting, furniture, and decorative objects. charles paris can also customize their designs, or produce bespoke furnishings.
rows of boxes filled with master templates
master templates for the ‘nil’ table lamp
charles paris | ‘nil’ table lamp | designed by chrystiane charles | model 9022
charles paris works with three foundries, who cast proofs from molds of the master templates using the sand casting or lost wax casting processes.
the workshop contains four production areas, where ten specialists re-work the proofs to re-capture the details that are lost during the casting process.
the setter (le monteur) builds and assembles pieces by hot or cold working the metal.
the setter (le monteur)
part of a ‘meter’ lamp swing arm
charles paris | ‘meter’ floor lamp | designed by philippe parent | model 2203
the ‘meter’ floor lamp, table lamp or wall sconce is a best selling design
the swing arm is engineered to eliminate deflection
the chaser (le ciseleur) trims, polishes, and bleaches the metal before engraving details into the surface with an awl, riffle, file, chisel, or another tool. he makes many of his tools himself. he is so artistic, that it seems like he is drawing on metal!
the chaser (le ciseleur)
before and after chasing
the workshop supervisor (le chef d’atelier), who is also the turner (le tourneur), was on holiday the day of our visit. the turner bleaches the metal before imprinting designs onto the surface with a cutting wheel. the combined rotation of the lathe and the cutting wheel imprints a continuous design onto the surface, without overlapping. amazing! the workshop supervisor has not only worked at charles paris since 1978, but has also designed several lamp models, including the ‘jaipur’ table lamp.
the workshop of the turner (le tourner)
a cutting wheel
before and after turning
charles paris | ‘jaipur’ table lamp | designed by jean manuel freitas | model 7215
the finishers de-cap the metal in acid before gilding, polishing, de-greasing, and matting the surface. then, they treat the finished surface with acid, and sometimes varnish it for protection.
the exceptional quality of the fabrication and the finishing are signatures of charles paris products.
felix agostini by charles paris | ‘cheval’ console table | designed in 1969 | ref A-001
after completing our tour, we drove back into paris with michael to meet dominique kerguenne at abat-jour. madame kerguenne is dedicated to maintaining the artistic heritage of her father. her expertise at authenticating vintage agostini pieces is highly valued by dealers, auctioneers, and collectors. she and michael talked for a year and a half before she agreed to re-release her father’s designs in collaboration with charles paris.
‘it took us nearly a year and a half to sign an agreement. the best relationships develop over time. it takes time to get to know and trust each other.’
michael’s relationship with madame kerguenne is not only based on friendship and trust, but also on their mutual respect and admiration of her father’s work. with michael translating, i expressed my admiration of felix agostini’s work, and asked madame kerguenne to sign the copy of the felix agostini by maison charles catalog that michael had given to me.
‘delighted to have you and flattered at the interest you have shown in the work of my father.’
D Kerguenne Ag | 25 september 2014
soon, the photo albums began to appear. albums, filled with documentary photographs of agostini sculptures, lighting, and furniture. some of the albums, michael had never seen before. then, madame kerguenne went to the safe, and began showing us some of the original plaster models of her father’s sculptures.
‘after the paper sketch and the wire framework, he would use a knife or a small spoon to sculpt in plaster, never making alterations. he was an instinctive genius…’
felix agostini | sketch for the ‘caryatide’ wall sconce with two arms | 1957
felix agostini | vintage ‘grande cariatide’ wall sconce with two arms | 1957
sold for US$17805 | christie’s paris | 17 may 2006 | sale 5321 | lot 59
felix agostini by charles paris | ‘caryatide’ wall sconce with three arms | designed in 1955 | ref A-013
it was fascinating to compare some of the original plaster models to the original bronze sculptures. surprisingly, the models are larger than the sculptures because bronze shrinks approximately 5% during the casting process. agostini instinctively compensated for the shrinkage by increasing the scale when carving the models. sadly, some models, or pieces of models, have been lost or broken. so, those designs can’t be re-released. but, there are complete models for about 80 designs. including, some designs that have never been produced.
i wonder which designs will appear in future phases of the felix agostini by charles paris collection?
michael wagner and dominique kerguenne with alexandre hallot of abat-jour
merci beaucoup to michael wagner and dominique kerguenne for an inspiring afternoon. it was a pleasure, and an honor, to meet you!