Saturday, November 19, 2011

Templeton Crocker Breakfast Room at Christie's

Detail via Christie's
Well, the Christie's 20th Century Design sale catalogue is out and I heard correctly, it features the Jean Dunand lacquered paneling from the Breakfast Room of the Templeton Crocker penthouse in San Francisco. Templeton Crocker was the millionaire heir of the Union Pacific Railroad fortune and in 1928 he traveled to Paris to have none other than Jean-Michel Frank, Pierre Legrain, Jean Dunand and Madame Lipska execute the decor for his modernist apartment in the Russian Hill section of San Francisco. French Art Deco at this level was rare in the United States at the time and rarer still in the hills of San Francisco. It took these master craftsman a year before the interiors and design elements were shipped and installed. Below is a period image of the Breakfast Room.
Image via Christie's
Long time readers know my passion for places that no longer exist and the survival of this paneling is rare considering the fragility of the medium and the difficulty in re-using something that is so intrinsically site specific. According to a New York Times article, the apartment was dismantled in 1959 and its contents placed in storage until the collection was purchased by New York publishers Peter M. and Sandra Brant and over the years various bits and pieces have emerged at auction and in museum collections. The Breakfast Room paneling is a rich lustrous black lacquer decorated with cubist fish, bubbles and streaks of light rendered in eggshell.
Image via Christie's
Image via Christie's
You will notice the small vertical and horizontal slits and divisions as the panelling was set with discreet cupboards and fall fronts for storage. This could make the already site specific paneling a bit hard to swallow especially at an estimate of $250,000-350,000. One would think that if they could have been crafted into a screen it would have been done by now. I will view them in person and provide a follow-up on that front.
Detail via Christie's
Detail via Christie's
I was really taken by the cubist lacquer table and the similar treatment of the ceiling. One wonders where the table is now...perhaps still with the Brant's... I have not seen it at auction.

Detail via Christie's
Fortunately, the Brants donated the Dunand master bedroom furniture from the Templeton Crocker commission to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but it is presently in storage. Thankfully a period image of that room survives as well.
Image T. Bonney
While the furniture seems subdued in black and white the panelling betrays the vibrant truth. Thankfully the Metropolitan Museum is in possession of a maquette of the wall treatment.
Image via Metmuseum.org
The Met describes the bedroom suite as being executed in "lacque arraché, a technique Dunand favored, wherein a final coat of lacquer is applied over a roughened layer-in this case, metallic gray over black." Christie's offered a folding games table from the room in June of 2002 on an estimate of $30,000-50,000 but it was unsold. It picks-up on the cubist motifs of the walls.
Image via Artfact
It really gives you an impression of the art deco sleekness of the space. It was, however, Jean-Michel Frank's Sun Room decor that is in my estimation the best of the Crocker penthouse.
Image via Christie's
The sharp lines and the soaring windows revealing the cityscape beyond... one would think it was the height of Art Deco in New York. Pieces from this room have emerged but not in great quantity... at least not publicly. We will have to wait until the sale next month to see if the panelling will fly, until then we wait--AR.

2 comments:

  1. Fascinating... I love this paneling, and I agree that center table is amazing.

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