Chris Yeo, Curator of the Ken Stradling Collection, shares the remarkable story of a desk set and chair designed by Marcel Breuer for the furniture manufacturer and retailer Crofton Gane.
Marcel Breuer desk and P.E. Gane
This desk is one of ten pieces of furniture held in the Collection designed by Marcel Breuer for the Bristol home of furniture retailer Crofton Gane and made by his company P.E. Gane & Co. in 1935.
Made from white sycamore veneered plywood, it’s an important and unique example of early British Modernist design by one of the most celebrated architects of the 20th century. After the Bauhaus closed, Marcel Breuer lived in London for two years before settling in the United States.
This desk reveals the little known but fascinating story about an unlikely friendship. During Breuer’s stay here he became involved with the Design and Industry Association, an influential body of architects, designers and retailers where he met Crofton Gane, a Bristol furniture manufacturer and retailer and a passionate advocate of the Modern Movement. He befriended Marcel Breuer and employed him as consultant designer. This desk comes from Crofton’s home for which Breuer remodelled the interior and designed furniture. In 1936, Breuer also designed a sales pavilion for Gane’s at that year’s Royal Agricultural Show near Bristol, which the architect considered one of the most important works of his entire career.
Marcel Breuer desk: a design trailblazer
This was a trailblazer piece of design when it was originally made and marks a pivotal moment in the evolution of modern design in the UK – it was the Adam and Eve of every mass-produced student desk you’ve ever seen. It was heavily promoted by the company and Breuer’s work for Gane was praised by the Architectural Review. However, it was all a bit too progressive for Bristolians and it wasn’t a commercial success!
Marcel Breuer desk and the Ken Stradling collection
The Ken Stradling collection has been put together over the last 70 years. It’s a very personal collection and now comprises over 1,500 items covering furniture, pottery, glass, metalware, craft and industrial design from the 20th and 21st century. Ken is still adding to it, and we only acquired this table in 2011. We already had a number of pieces from the Gane House, which Ken bought in the 1970s from the Gane family. We didn’t know what had happened to the desk but it was the one piece that we really wanted because it had featured so heavily in the company’s promotional materials at the time. In 2011 we were contacted by an auction house that were selling a number of pieces by Marcel Breuer from the Gane house, including the desk, and we knew we had to have it!
There’s another link to the object in that Ken knew Crofton Gane and was for several years the chairman of the Gane Trust, the charity set up after Crofton’s death.
Seeing the Marcel Breuer desk
The Collection is open every Wednesday and at other times by appointment. The desk set will also be one of the designs featured in ‘Modern Design in Britain: An Exhibition Curated by Margaret Howell from the Ken Stradling Collection’ at Margaret Howell’s London store (15 October to 15 November 2015).
Find out more about the Ken Stradling collection
Discover more about the links between Marcel Breuer and Bristol here
Read our interview with Ken Stradling in MidCentury 03