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Artist Profiles

Form meets function: The zoomorphic furniture of Gerard Rigot

Gerard Rigot, Dressing table made of two pelicans holding fish in their beaks. Credit: Bukowskis

Several years ago, I saw an Indonesian carved cat table in my local antique shop in Yorkshire and became obsessed, so much so that I had my dad make me a similar one. I then painted it in the style of the Indonesian ones, which often rely on bold colours and patterns. Ever since then, I’ve had something of a penchant for carved animal tables, which are usually made from carved wood and papier mache, and can take the form of many different animals, although cats and tigers are among the most popular! The tables merge form and function in a way that is witty and playful – cats have perfectly flat backs, or tables grow tiger heads and paws.

Pair of Indian carved wooden papier mache and painted chairs. Credit - Sworders

Recently, I discovered the art of Gerard Rigot, which adds a whole new dimension to carved animal furniture. French artist Rigot began sculpting furniture in oak and pine that used the forms of animals in playful ways, inspired, initially, by his cat.

Gerard Rigot. Credit: Miss Moss
Cat chair in progress. Credit: Miss Moss
Cat chair finished. Credit: Bukowskis

Chairs that used the curved arch of a cat’s back to create the shape of the arms, and dressing tables with long-necked pelicans holding each side of a fish flanked mirror in their beaks. While cats continue to feature heavily in his more recent designs, he does also branch out to flamingos, antelopes and bears in his furniture designs. A particular highlight is a crowing rooster whose tail lends itself perfectly to a table lamp, the feathers masking a lightbulb. His furniture does not exclusively feature animals, however. In one chair, two mermaids’ bodies form the arms and front legs of the chair, while their flowing hair connects to form the back.

Gerard Rigot, An antelope armchair, dating from 1992. Credit: Bukowskis Auctions

Gerard Rigot, Chair made of two mermaids. Credit - Bukowskis Auctions

Like the Indonesian furniture, Rigot’s creations tread the fine line between form and function, finding the parallels between animals and furniture, and then manipulating those similarities to create thoroughly unique objects that are as useful as they are playful.

A crowing rooster becomes a table lamp. Credit: The Sale Room

Born in 1929, Rigot had already been successful as a more commercial artist, working predominantly in bronze and making figurative sculptures. It was when he bought a farmhouse at the age of 49, and trading his urban hometown of Paris for the more rural Toulouse, that he began sculpting furniture. Initially, the sculptures were for his own home, but have, more recently, also found commercial success, fetching thousands of pounds at auction.

Gerard Rigot Polychromed Carved Wood Chair. Credit: Invaluable

Now, aged 94, Rigot is still making furniture with the help of his assistants! In his studio, an assistant cuts the wood into rough shapes, and then Rigot uses hand tools to refine them, before joining them together with dowels. As for the colours, he takes liberties – giving many of his animals unnaturalistically bright hues.

Images of Gerard Rigot home, from House and Garden, May 1988, taken by Jacque Dirand

Rigot’s furniture perfectly illustrates how simple, everyday objects can be transformed into something altogether more beautiful with a little imagination, something we are firm believers in at The Fabled Thread!

P.S. Gerard Rigot's house was featured in House and Garden UK in May 1988 with photos by Jacque Dirard. Those images above are all I can find of the article, so if anyone is miraculously able to get their hands on a copy, please let me know! I would love more than anything to see the full article!

Gerard Rigot, Cat and grapes chair. Credit: Bukowskis Auctions

Gerard Rigot, Duck foot stool. Credit: Auktions Verket