Joaquim Tenreiro is seen as the founding father of the Brazilian modernist movement and a forerunner in the use of rediscovered raw materials.
Born in Portugal in 1906, Tenreiro came from a line of woodworkers and carpenters. In 1928 he moved to Brazil and started working as a furniture designer for traditional manufacturers that imitated conventional European furniture.
In response to the perceived provincialism of a colonized country, Tenreiro developed a contemporary idiom. Brazilian furniture, he believed, had to be ‘formally light … a lightness which has nothing to do with weight itself, but with graciousness and the functionality of spaces.’
In the early 1940s he founded his own workshop, Langenbach and Tenreiro Ltd. It is in the 1950s that his work started to gain recognitionand that he began to be acknowledged as a master furniture designer in Brazil. His design philosophy was embraced enthusiastically by architects who supported modernism.
Tenreiro began a steady collaboration with Oscar Niemeyer, designing linear and essential furniture for new contemporary homes. The first modern piece of furniture designed for Niemeyer dates from 1942 and was made for a home in Cataguazes, in the state of Minas Gerais. Throughout his career he continued designing mainly tailor-made furniture for important private homes, offices and official buildings.
Tenreiro’s idiom was suited to the Brazilian heat, since he used rattan and local hardwoods abundantly. His work demonstrates exquisite craftsmanship, a blend of tradition and modernity, permeated with Brazilian culture.
In 1967 Tenreiro decided to close his furniture studio and focus exclusively on fine art. Hedied in 1992, leaving behind an important legacy of elegance, personal style and innovation.