Saturday, May 22, 2010

Screen Fling!

Well I hope you don't think I am completely OCD posting about screens back-to-back. What can I say, I like a good screen and these inspirations tend to come in waves as it were... Anyhow, my email alerts have been blowing-up with auction offerings from the spring design sales. Christie's has the usual fairly encyclopedic assortment of goods coming in at 215 lots and Sotheby's opted to go with a rigidly curated boutique offering of a mere 115 lots. We shall see who wins the day as it always comes down to the sordid topic of coin. After a cursory inspection the single object that stood-out was a lush art deco screen by the rarefied designer Armand-Albert Rateau.

To some this may not look like much but you must understand that Rateau was beyond exclusive in his commissions and since he passed in 1938 a precious few top-notch examples exist outside of museum collections. Rateau's brand of art deco is imbued with playfulness and lush sculptural tendencies that separate him from the rigidity of his contemporaries, namely Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann. Rateau achieved super-stardom after decorating the Paris apartment of fashion designer Jeanne Lanvin in 1925. He became indispensable to Lanvin designing her other homes, boutiques, packaging and even headed her interior design division. Fortunately, an enfilade of rooms from her Paris apartment were given to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in 1965 (below):

The decoration of the screen offered at Sotheby's is most akin to another more extensive screen from Lavin's dining room and to the walls that were decorated for the over-the-top bathroom executed for the Duchess of Alba in Madrid.

Rateau Screen from the dining room of Jeanne Lanvin

Bathroom for the Duchess of Alba, Madrid (Truly a room to die in...)

As far as pricing goes $400,000-600,000 is a hefty sum for a piece of decorative art in this market. That said, Rateau's bronze tables, chairs and torcheres command prices in the low millions but provenance is critical. That is the only strike against the Sotheby's screen, its vague provenance as being from an "Important South American Collection". When the stakes are this high, this scant history could potentially sink the chances of the lot finding a buyer. I have yet to hear any buzz and am waiting with baited breath....details hopefully to follow.