Largely recognized worldwide as a pioneer and the master of the modern Brazilian furniture design, Tenreiro’s creations are known for its light, elegant and minimalistic approach. With an emphasis on textures and harmonic volumes, his production are also recognizable due to its flawless craftsmanship and meticulous production. Son and grand son of carpenters, Tenreiro recognized and explored the designs of the wood veins and color variations, creating beautiful patterns where each part of the piece relates to one another achieving great visual impact. He also combined the wood to an array of different materials, like painted glass and decorated ceramic panels; and fabrics and lights, all especially created for each project. Tenreiro had a global vision of the space, and his interior decoration projects show attention to every detail of modern living. To better translate his elegant, light designs, Tenreiro purposefully used as little wood as possible to structure a piece, mastering the art of perfectly assembling the elements without screws or bolts, and applying meticulous finishings throughout the entire construction. Indeniable precursor of modern Brazilian furniture design, Tenreiro works showcase his profound connection to the wood and its uses in design, architecture, and art. The use of new technologies allied to the rescue of traditional materials natural canning and leather, allowed the designer great liberty in the use of colors, textures and volumes, incorporating to his designs a new geometric dimension that extrapolates the construction itself, with enormous visual impact, enhancing and expanding the way we perceive an specific space. Photos Casa & Jardim magazine, Oct, 1956; March, 1956; April, 1956.
Joaquim Tenreiro was born in a small village in Portugal in 1906. He moves to Rio de Janeiro at the age of 22, immediately enrolling at the Portuguese Literary High School as a geometric drawing student, and workis in several small wood shops in Rio in his younger years. Joaquin Tenreiro’s work compasses different areas, from painting to furniture and interior design, to sculpture. During the 1930s, as a painter, he joins the group of modernist painter Nucleo Bernadelli. Created in 1931 in Rio with certain influence by by Cezanner’s Constructivism, the Cubism and Impressionism, they search for an alternative to the precepts of the National Academy of Fine Arts. The collective didn’t exactly pursue to establish a new language, rather emphasizing freedom of artistic creation. Amongst others, painters Lasar Seagall, Jose Pancetti e Milton Dacosta were also members of this collective, and some of their works from this period are part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Art of Rio (MAR).
The 1940s were particularly prolific period. In 1942 Tenreiro designs the “Leve” armchair. A new approach on design, this chairs marks for many the debut of the Brazilan Modern furniture. In the words of Tenreiro himself, this piece accordance with “the principle that I believed should be followed by modern Brazilian furniture: lightness. Lightness not related to the weight itself, but in reference to its functionality and graciousness in a room”. As the name itself states, the Leve (light) armchair embodies the concepts of minimalism and structural sobriety, allied to the impeccable execution that marks Tenreiro work.
One of the most recognizable designs by Tenreiro, the Three Legs Chairs was created in 1947 and exhibited at the Rio de Janeiro Modern Art Salon, with enormous impact. Journalist and art critic Mario Pedrosa publishes an article where he highlights composition and formal aspects of the piece in his article for Journal do Brasil: “… there is the spectacular chair by Tenreiro, work of perfect craftsmanship, beautiful shape, that doesn’t compel one to sit on it, but just admire the chair itself.” In his project, Tenreiro combines to the design itself a new plastic dimension, incorporating color to the structure of the piece itself. The chair dialogs with many expressions of popular arts and crafts, with emphasis on the geometric chromatic composition, in a clear reference to the traditional indigenous weaving and basketry. Later on, this facet will be further explored by Tenreiro on his sculptural work, in which he is also free from the constraints deriving from function of an object. Photos: Tripe chair in 2 woods, Legado Arte. Mr Guper's House, by Rino Levi: Casa & Jardim magazine Juin, 1964.
Strengthened by the success of his creations, Tenreiro sets up in a small factory at Rua da Conceição, downtown Rio de Janeiro. It was the debut of Lagenbach & Tenreiro, where Tenreiro and his associate design and manufacture furniture especially conceived for several modernist projects in Cataguases and Juiz the Fora, working with architectes like Oscar Niemeyer, Alder Toledo, Francisco Bologna e Arthur Arcuri, as well as landscape artist Roberto Burle Marx. From this period, Francisco Ignacio Peixoto’s residence, projected by Oscar Niemeyer, with gardens by Burle Marx, deserve further attention. For this project, Tenreiro designed and manufactured all furniture and, being entirely in charge of the interior decoration, stretched the boundaries of modern furniture design, experimenting with different shapes, materials and technologies. He creates then a unique collection with slender forms, structured in plywood molded into slim, sinuous frames; and seats shaped by strips of painted leather weaved together; complimented by warm, light but yet cozy upholstered pieces. The ensemble achieves enormous visual impact thought its chromatic effect, giving us the perception of an expanded space promoted by the lightness of the design and elegance of the decor. It is a blatant manifest of Tenreiro’s creative power and evidence of the perennial quality of his design, which would later greatly influence his successors.
In 1947, Tenreiro presents his Rocking Chair, entirely structured in massive rosewood, seat and back in natural canning and beautifully curved solid rosewood feet. The use of natural canning, reinterpreting a traditional colonial material which had been neglect for some decades, further enhanced the importance of the use negative space - transparent, empty areas - in Tenreiro creations. The Rocking Chair is an exemple of Tenreiro’s creative dynamics, where the search for a new, modern design must consider both traditional materials and practices, as well as new technologies and uses, from which will emerge the true modern Brazilian design. In his words “I went back to using the tradition colonial canning…For many years Brail has used canning (in furniture production). It is adapted to our natural conditions, especially the heat in Rio de Janeiro or even Sao Paulo. The canning was a necessary aspect to the modern furniture (design).”
After opening his store, Lagenbach & Tenreiro, in Rio de Janeiro in 1947, followed by a second store in Sao Paulo in 1953, the 50s bring an important increase in the designers activities. Even with a considerable increment regarding production and design of new pieces, the process of manufacture remained the same: formal sobriety and refinement; allied to the exquisite assembly and finishing details that are characteristic of his work. Both stores proposed not only his furniture, but offered a complete interior design scope, from furniture to the design of architectural elements like stairs, cabinets, doors and screens; custom made ceramics, fabrics and lighting; decorative objects, sculptures and paintings from renowned artists; all the aspects of modern Brazilian living. Parallel to his work with wood, Tenreiro also experimented with the use of metal in his designs. He takes full advantage of the possibilities this material presents, using metal in a very similar way he used wood, putting forward the straightness, geometric regularity this material allows. Not rarely Tenreiro mixed metal and wood in the same design, including yet another formal dynamic with docent colors and textures, constantly evolving and experimenting. The dialog between these two materials, metal and wood, associated to upholstered elements, showcases the designers creative elegance that allows us to consider Tenreiro as the master of modern Brazilian furniture design and craftsmanship, creator of some of the most important pieces of modern classics.
The 1950s mark the boom of design and production of Brazilian modernist pieces: Zanine Caldas with Móveis Z; Geraldo de Barros and Unilabor; Hauner & Eisler at Forma; culminating with Sergio Rodrigues/OCA and Jorge Zalszupin/L’Atelier at the end of the decade.The competition accentuates both qualities and faults in Tenreiro creations: the complexity of the designs and the artisanal productional method bring prices too high to compete with the growing concurrence. With consistently less orders and profit margins eaten by raging inflation, the company shrinks slowly during the 1960s. The gallery in Sao Paulo closes in 1961, and the furniture factory is relocated to a smaller space in Avenida Guilherme Maxell. In 1968, due to new regulations regarding credit for small businesses, Tenreiro Móveis disapears along with several other renowned furniture factories in Brasil in 1968. In 1968, Joaquin Tnreiro closes his comercial activities and dedicates himself exclusively to sculpture, creating a series of intricate wooden reliefs, his Esculpinturas, definitely merging artist and designer.