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.
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.
Exhibited at Design Miami/ 2023 Joaquim Tenreiro. Dining table. c. 1961. Ebonzied imbuia with black under-painted glass top.
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