Not currently on display at the V&A

Womb chair

Chair
ca. 1948 (designed), ca. 1960 (manufactured)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Eero Saarinen's 'Womb' chair is a benchmark design in terms of both form and technology. It originated in two designs for plywood armchairs designed by Saarinen with Charles Eames for the Museum of Modern Art's 1940 competition, 'Organic Design in Home Furnishings'. The pair won the competition, but the outbreak of war prevented manufacture. After the war, Saarinen's friend Florence Knoll of Knoll Associates suggested that Saarinen develop further the large, lounge chair. The design was achieved by 1946 but it was apparently not before at least 1948 that the chair was manufactured by Knoll as model 70, the 'Womb' chair. In explaining this name, Saarinen said the chair was 'designed on the theory that a great number of people have never really felt comfortable and secure since they left the womb'.

This example, together with the ottoman en suite (W.36-2008), belonged to the American artist and designer Claire Falkenstein (1908-1997).


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Steel, wool-upholstered fibreglass, plastic and wood particle
Brief Description
Womb Chair, Eero Saarinen, USA, 1948
Physical Description
Armchair with steel legs and frame supporting single-piece seat and back made of wool-upholstered fibreglass, plastic and wood particle.
Dimensions
  • Height: 92.3cm
  • Width: 102.6cm
  • Depth: 91cm
measured by Exhibition manager for 'Cold War Modern' (2008)
Style
Production typeMass produced
Gallery Label
Womb chair Eero Saarinen (1910-61) USA, designed 1946 The 'womb chair' was the first plastic seat to be made in large quantities. Finnish architect Eero Saarinen had collaborated with Charles Eames on developing new furniture forms and processes during the war years. The womb-like form was a response to client Florence Knoll's request for a chair 'to curl up in' and was achieved by using a fibreglass shell covered with latex foam padding. Upholstered latex foam rubber on fibreglass-reinforced plastic shell and chrome-plated steel rod base Manufactured by Knoll Associates Inc., New York, this example probably 1963 V&A: W.35-2008(September 2008)
Object history
Saarinen's chair had its origins in two designs for compound-moulded plywood armchairs designed by Saarinen with Charles Eames for the Museum of Modern Art's 1940 competition, 'Organic Design in Home Furnishings'. The pair won the competition but the outbreak of war prevented manufacture. Eames and Saarinen left the Cranbook Academy of Art in Michigan, where they both taught, to work on war-related projects; Saarinen joined the US Government intelligence service, the OSS (Office of Strategic Services). While working for the OSS Saarinen is said to have continued designing furniture. By 1946 Knoll Associates Inc., a New York firm founded by Hans and Florence Knoll, produced a Saarinen design, model 61W, which became known as the 'Grasshopper' chair, made from plywood and surplus parachute webbing. Florence Knoll had been a student and friend of Saarinen's at Cranbrook and it was she who suggested that Saarinen develop further a large, lounge chair which existed in model form by 1945. The design was achieved by 1946 though it was apparently not before at least 1948 that the chair was manufactured by Knoll as model 70, the 'Womb' chair. Saarinen gave it this name, he said, 'because it was designed on the theory that a great number of people have never really felt comfortable and secure since they left the womb' [Brian Lutz chapter in Eero Saarinen, Shaping the Future, np].

This example of the chair belonged to the American artist and designer Claire Falkenstein (1908-1997) and was purchased privately from an auction house which sold many of her possessions. Although the auction house claimed the chair was manufactured during the 1950s which is plausible for the chair's evident age, Falkenstein lived in Paris and in Venice before moving back to Venice, California in 1960. It would seem logical that the chair was purchased then, although further research is required.



Historical significance: Eero Saarinen's 'Womb' chair is an example of the post-War interest in organic and specifically womb-like design. It is an object frequently shown in touring exhibitions organized by the U.S. government during the 1950s. These exhibitions were part of the American government's attempt to fight the Cold War by portraying the U.S. as 'a highly seductive model of a modern consumer society' (Cold War Modern, p. 82).
Summary
Eero Saarinen's 'Womb' chair is a benchmark design in terms of both form and technology. It originated in two designs for plywood armchairs designed by Saarinen with Charles Eames for the Museum of Modern Art's 1940 competition, 'Organic Design in Home Furnishings'. The pair won the competition, but the outbreak of war prevented manufacture. After the war, Saarinen's friend Florence Knoll of Knoll Associates suggested that Saarinen develop further the large, lounge chair. The design was achieved by 1946 but it was apparently not before at least 1948 that the chair was manufactured by Knoll as model 70, the 'Womb' chair. In explaining this name, Saarinen said the chair was 'designed on the theory that a great number of people have never really felt comfortable and secure since they left the womb'.



This example, together with the ottoman en suite (W.36-2008), belonged to the American artist and designer Claire Falkenstein (1908-1997).
Associated Object
W.36-2008 (Ensemble)
Bibliographic Reference
Brian Lutz, 'Furniture, form and innovation'. In: Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen and Donald Albrecht (ed), Eero Saarinen. Shaping the Future, New Haven, London: Yale University Press, 2006, p. 252-257
Collection
Accession Number
W.35-2008

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record createdOctober 1, 2008
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