The son of a furniture maker, Joaquim Tenreiro learned traditional wood crafting and joinery techniques in his father’s workshop but became known for breaking with tradition by developing a contemporary formal Brazilian language of design that utilized native materials.
Tenreiro was born in Portugal but made Brazil his home. In 1928, he married and settled in Rio de Janeiro, where he began making furniture in traditional styles for firms such as Laubisch-Hirth. Tenreiro was also one of the founding members of the Bernardelli Group, formed in 1931 at the Escola Nacional de Belas Artes. The Bernadelli Group wanted to raise the status of art as a profession. They broke with entrenched academic conservatism and championed a modernism that combined international art movements, such as cubism and expressionism, with Brazilian social issues and imagery derived from the Brazilian landscape and indigenous peoples.
By the late 1920s and early 1930s, a greater interest in modern design and interiors was also developing in Brazil, partly due to exhibitions such as a show of works by artists of the École de Paris that took place in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo—the first time the Brazilian public saw first-hand a collection of work by some of the great European modern artists. Influential images and books showing the work of architects and designers such as Le Corbusier gained wider circulation. Sociopolitical events, such as the revolution of 1930, led to greater state support of the arts.
The late 1930s and early 1940s were seminal years for Tenreiro. During that time, he designed furniture for not only Laubisch-Hirth, but for Leandro Martins and Francisco Gomes as well. In 1941, he received a commission to create furniture for a home designed by Oscar Niemeyer for the writer Francisco Inácio Peixoto, one of many collaborations with the Brazilian architect.
In 1942, Tenreiro broke completely with tradition and created his first chair in the modern style, advocating an idea that Brazilian furniture should express a contemporary formal language. It should be free of excessive ornamentation and designed with the Brazilian climate and way of living in mind, using native hard woods and other materials, such as wicker. Tenreiro’s pieces were constructed by Brazilian woodworkers familiar with native woods and traditional working techniques. During this period, he and a business partner opened their own furniture business, Langenbach and Tenreiro Ltda., in Rio, expanding to a second location in São Paulo to meet the demand for his designs. He continued designing furniture until the late 1960s, when he closed the business to devote himself to painting and sculpture.
This stool (ca. 1955–60) rests on a on a four-legged iron base. The seat is constructed of solid strips of different woods tightly fixed together. This technique was first seen in a Tenreiro’s tripod chair (1947), considered by some to be his signature work. Here, three different kinds of wood with differing characteristics and differing expansion and contraction rates must be cured and joined so they will not split; this involves a technically-demanding process. The simplicity of the squared form is accentuated by the opening defining the seat and low back support, as well as the linear strips in varied shades of warm brown.
There is a growing awareness that Brazilian modern design has been overlooked and is due for recognition.
Maria Cecilia Loschiavo dos Santos, Móvel Moderno no Brasil (Editoria do Universidade de São Paulo: São Paulo, 1995), 82–91.
“Joaquim Tenreiro, April 4–July 12, 1998,” Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Niterói, Brazil, http://macniteroi.com/expoanteriores/joaquimtenreiro/joaquimtenreiro.htm [English translation]
“Joaquim Tenreiro,” The Embassy of Brazil in London, http://www.brazil.org.uk/page.php?cid=994
It is credited
Gift of Evan Snyderman and Zesty Meyers of R 20th Century and museum purchase from General Acquisitions Endowment.
Its dimensions are
H x W x D: 48.3 x 53.8 x 48.7 cm (19 in. x 21 3/16 in. x 19 3/16 in.)
Cite this object as
Stool (Brazil); laminated amendoim and imbuia, tubular metal; H x W x D: 48.3 x 53.8 x 48.7 cm (19 in. x 21 3/16 in. x 19 3/16 in.); Gift of Evan Snyderman and Zesty Meyers of R 20th Century and museum purchase from General Acquisitions Endowment; 2004-17-1
This object was previously on display as a part of the exhibition Looking Forward/ Looking Back: Recent Acquisitions in 20th- and 21st-Century Design.