Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Ruhlmann Redux

I was scrolling through the offerings in Bonham’s & Butterfield’s upcoming design auction on December 9th and came across an old friend. Lot 3404 is an attractive “Octagonal Bas” settee by Art Deco master Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann in a very memorable, if not tired, peach satin upholstery. This smart geometric settee was actually offered last December at Sotheby’s but went unsold at an estimate of $70,000-90,000. I looked up the records online and they both indeed have the same provenance listed: Tommy Perse, Los Angeles, 1982. There has been ever increasing demand for blue chip Art Deco objects since the groundbreaking results achieved at the Dray and YSL sales which make this little settee seem a bargain at its current estimate of $40,000-60,000. But there is another intriguing layer. Those in the know may remember that Sotheby’s had late-breaking additions to the provenance after the sale was published. Unfortunately, when the settee made its way to Bonham’s this additional information was omitted. This piece was actually sold by legendary dealer Lillian Nassau to restaurateur and Ruhlmann aficionado Jean Denoyer probably in the late 1960’s when these masterworks were still approachable to young collectors. Denoyer later sold the settee through Christie’s on December 4, 1980, lot 332 where it made its way to Tommy Perse. The reduced estimate and the additional first-rate provenance make this a piece to watch this season. I anticipate that this little sleeping giant will generate much activity among private buyers and the trade, pushing past the high estimate if all goes well for Bonham’s…we shall see.

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