Joaquim Tenreiro (Melo Guarda, Portugal 1906 - Itapira Sao Paulo 1992) was a, sculptor, painter, engraver and designer. Born into a family of joiners, at the age of two his family emigrated to Brazil, settling in Niterói, Rio de Janeiro. In 1914 he returned to Portugal, he helped his father with woodwork projects and began painting classes. He returned to live in Brazil between 1925 and 1927. In 1928, he moved to Rio de Janeiro permanently. He studied drawing at the Portuguese Literary Lyceum and enrolled in a course at the Liceu de Artes e Ofícios. In 1931, he joined the Bernardelli Nucleus, a group created in opposition to the academic teaching of the National School of Fine Arts - Enba.
After some years of dabbling in as a painter Joaquim traversed his talents and went back to wood, "I stuck with painting up to a point, but gave it up because I couldn't stay away from the wood-working shop...What kept me going was furniture" (Soraia Cals, Tenreiro, Rio de Janeiro, 1998, p. 190). He began to design for Laubish & Hirth, Leandro Martins and Francisco Gomes, specializing in French, Italian and Portuguese furniture. A decade later he founded, the company Langenbach & Tenreiro, which would become renowned for its modern furniture designs. Tenreiro's partner insisted on selling traditional furniture, while Tenreiro argued for a modern sensibility, in the early years Tenreiro designed both conservative and modern furniture for their inventory. However, by the late 1940s, the modern movement had taken hold in Brazil, and when only Tenreiro's original pieces sold, the shop dedicated itself solely to contemporary designs.
His success as a designer commenced in 1942 when he was commissioned to design and manufacture the furniture for the residence of Francisco Inácio Peixoto, in Cataguases, in the interior of Minas Gerais. The residence was designed by architect Oscar Niemeyer (1907 - 2012), to who’s work Joaquim identified beautifully, creating the commissioned pieces in assimilation with the purity of Niemeyer’s architectural forms. The furniture Tenreiro designed for this project, are the first pieces made by him in which it is possible to distinguish the sober beauty of form and the wise use of Brazilian wood so identifiable in his works throughout the next two decades.
The Light Armchair (ca.1942) made in ivory wood, with a darker version in imbuia, was upholstered in fabric stamped by Fayga Ostrower (1920 - 2001) and one of his most famous pieces. The chair was conceived according to his principle that Brazilian furniture should be light, in Tenreiro's words, lightness, has nothing to do with the weight itself, but with grace and functionality. Testimony to the ideological alignment of Brazilian modern furniture, Tenreiro's design is rooted in the principle of stripping back the unnecessary to demonstrate the true beauty of an object whilst maintaining the upmost function.
His acclaimed Three-legged Chair (ca.1947), associates’ geometry with colour through the very particular use of Brazilian woods. Composed by a combination of timbers (imbuia, roxinho, rosewood, ivory and cabreúva) all with varying shades, it is chromatically innovative. Tenreiro spoke of the technical difficulties in creating these chairs—of combining woods that retain different levels of humidity, dry at varying rates, and expand and shrink differently—but the success of the design speaks to his technical prowess as well as to his artistic vision. Like other Tenreiro furniture of this period, it has a light and luminous appearance, a contrast with the solid and sober furniture, he previously created for Laubisch & Hirth.
In some chairs and armchairs, Joaquim explored the weaving of natural materials such as straw that evoke indigenous braiding and basketry. The use of wood and natural fibers is generally associated with the need to adapt furniture to a tropical climate. Together with these organic compositions, other pieces of Tenreiro’s, such as the Structural Chair, present straight lines and geometric elements, creating structures from both wood (1957) and metal (1961). Tenreiro’s deep knowledge of wood is illustrated through the poetic features in his works.
At the end of the 1960s, for personal and also market reasons, he closed his stores and stopped manufacturing furniture. Instead he returned to the realms of painting and dedicated himself to sculpture. Techniques discovered during his design days can be seen in his sculptures. For example, the chromatic composition of woods he employed in the Three-Foot Chair are later resumed in some sculptural reliefs, in which the artist explores the differences in color, textures and the veins of wood, his work Circles (1979) demonstrated this.
Tenreiro's productions are renowned for their combination of modern characteristics that went on to define mid-century Brazilian furniture such as simplicity, the use of local materials, function and artistic beauty.
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