Armand-Albert Rateau trained as a sculptor at the Ecole Boulle from 1894 to 1898 then worked as a draughtsman for Georges Hoentschel, designer of the Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs pavilion at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900. Aged 24, he was appointed artistic director of Lucien Alavoine & Cie, specialised in furnishing fabrics and decoration. Until his mobilisation in 1915, he supervised prestigious decoration and furnishing projects such as the Paris shop of the jeweller Tiffany, learning to adapt to all styles.
When he started his own business in 1919 this marked the beginning of a series of major commissions from 1920 until he died in 1938. In 1920 the American patrons and collectors Florence and George Blumenthal, former clients of Alavoine & Cie, commissioned him to decorate and furnish the ballroom and indoor swimming pool of their mansion in New York, for which Rateau created his first bronze furniture, inspired by the ancient Roman furniture he had seen in Naples in 1914. Other major commissions ensued, including the decoration in 1921 of the Duchess of Alba’s private apartment in the Palacio de Liria in Madrid, whose bathroom was recreated for an exhibition at Arnold Seligmann’s gallery in place Vendôme in Paris in 1925.
The early 1920s were marked by his close collaboration with Jeanne Lanvin - they were probably introduced to one another by Paul Poiret. Together, in 1921, they created the firm Lanvin Décoration, which furnished the Théâtre Daunou and the Lanvin boutiques. The couturière also entrusted him with the interior decoration and furnishing of her mansion at 16 rue Barbet-de-Jouy in Paris (1921-1925) and her houses at Le Vésinet, La Chêneraie and La Buisserie (1922). They continued to work together until the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in 1925. Rateau designed the interior of the Classe 20 (Clothing) section, chaired by Jeanne Lanvin, and the Pavillon de l’Elégance and Actress’s Dressing Room. He worked with Jean Lanvin for the last time in 1927, designing the Arpège perfume bottle.
The 1925 exhibition consolidated Rateau’s reputation in France and abroad. In 1926, he was made a Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur and the Mobilier National commissioned him to design an ottoman, six armchairs and a screen. Rateau also showed creations in the Modern Decorative Art Loan Exhibition, which showed a selection of works from the 1925 exhibition in eight American museums - the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York acquired two pieces. Major private commissions continued until the international stock market crash in 1929: the Blumenthals’ château at Malbosc, Lady and Sir Pomeroy-Burton’s property at La Croë, Baron and Baronness de Klitzind-Baud’s villa at La Tour-de-Peilz (Switzerland), Mrs Wilson-Filmer’s gothic castle at Leeds (United Kingdom), and Mr Bliss’s apartment in Washington DC.
The 1929 stock market crash gravely affected Rateau’s activity from 1931 onwards. His turnover plummeted as he was refurbishing the mansion he had just acquired at 17 quai de Conti in Paris to house his offices, design studios and own apartment. By 1933 his staff at his workshops at Neuilly-Levallois had shrunk to 26 artisans (212 were employed there in 1929), despite their transformation into a limited company to attract a clientele of architects and interior designers. 1937 was the last year he showed at major exhibitions before he died suddenly in February 1938. At the Exposition internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne in Paris, he decorated and furnished the drawing room in the Comité français des Expositions pavilion. He also showed eight creations at Le Décor de la vie de 1900 à 1925 exhibition organised the same year by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in the Pavillon de Marsan, two of which were donated to the museum.