Monday, May 27, 2013

Rateau's Commission For the Duchess de Alba to be Sold at Christie's Paris: Part III (Results)

Christie's Paris grand staircase with the Alba/Rateau banner    Image: Aestheticus Rex
Hello dear readers, I am still in Paris finishing-up taking in the design auctions but had to post on this long awaited topic.  For those who are not up to speed on the Armand Albert Rateau furniture that sold last week at Christie's Paris please see my posts here and here.  Christie's Paris office did an incomparable job displaying the group of works that were originally commissioned for the Duchess de Alba's bathroom in the Liria Palace, Madrid.  Jacques Grange designed the installation which was an inspired attempt to capture the spirit of this room known only from a few period images.
Jacques Grange installation of the Alba Rateau consignment at Christie's Paris    Image: Aestheticus Rex
Jacques Grange installation of the Alba Rateau consignment at Christie's Paris    Image: Aestheticus Rex
Jacques Grange installation of the Alba Rateau consignment at Christie's Paris    Image: Aestheticus Rex
Duchess de Alba's Bathroom, Liria Palace, Madrid circa 1922  Image via Musee Des Arts Decoratifs, Paris
I have taken a few days since the sale on May 23rd to digest what happened.  Once again I was ever the enthusiast in my posts and while six of the seven masterworks sold they did so at the low end of their estimates, seemingly at their reserves.  Here is the rundown:
Rateau Torcheres lots 119 & 120    Image via Christie's
The majestic torcheres each sold for a hammer price of €1.4 million (€1,665,000 with premium) against their estimates of €1,500,000-2,000,000 each.
Rateau Daybed lot 118     Image via Christie's
The daybed was the essence of chic in person and sold for a hammer price of €350,000 (€421,500 with premium) against an estimate of €400,000-600,000.  Evidently the bronze tassel mounts were recent replacements to the original specifications.
Rateau Dressing Table lot 123    Image via Christie's
The dressing table was one of my favorite pieces in person.  The proportions were sheer perfection.  It ultimately realized a hammer price of €550,000 (€661,500 with premium) on an estimate of €600,000-800,000.  As I discussed previously the mirror superstructure is now lacking, but the top appears to be original (a rather sparkly granite) as it still retains its drill holes for the mirror mount.
Detail of dressing table top, showing the mounting holes for the former mirror     Image: Aestheticus Rex
Rateau Low Table lot 122    Image via Christie's
What can I say, the low table "aux oiseau" is one of Rateau's most iconic designs and it was a visual feast to see it up-close and personal.  It achieved €1.4 million (€1,665,000 with premium) against its estimate of €1,500,000-2,000,000.  If I were in the running, this would have been where I spent my money.
Rateau Marble Sunken Bathtub lot 124    Image via Christie's
The bathtub while a consummate object was a big gamble.  As I stated previously it takes the right client with a vision to take on something that in itself becomes a huge project.  That said, it sold at a conservative €50,000 hammer price (€61,500 with premium) against a pre-sale estimate of €150,000-200,000.  This was a smart strategy because if this lot failed to sell it would have been pretty difficult to re-offer in a later sale stripped of the context and buzz of this exciting consignment.
Rateau Canape "Aux Cols de Cygnes" lot 121     Image via Christie's
The casualty of the evening was this graceful sofa with scrolled swan arms.  I knew from the period images that there was something slightly amiss with the seatrail as it originally had a central cartouche and a lattice pattern of stars/rosettes (which are seen in repeated motifs on all the other pieces).
Period detail image of the Canape "Aux Cols de Cygnes" in situ, lot 121  Image via Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris
The catalogue disclosed that the legs were replaced and the condition report disclosed that the rosettes to either end of the seatrail were also replaced to the original design as well.  I heard from a few people at the exhibition that the sofa had later been re-upholstered covering the seatrail entirely.  If you are lucky the upholsterer will just pad over any carvings and then place the fabric over.  In this case it seems that the carvings were scraped away when the canape was later updated.  With all of this in mind the canape ultimately failed to sell at its estimate of €200,000-300,000.  I am sure we will see this work again very soon.  

All of the lots sold were purchased in the room by Galerie Vallois with the venerable Cheska Vallois doing the bidding.  She famously purchased Eileen Gray's "Dragon" armchair from the Yves Saint Laurent sale for the stratospheric sum of $28,238,277.  She along with her husband Bob were critical in rediscovering the importance of art deco in the late 1960s and rightfully hold the keys to the Rateau and Eileen Gray markets.  I expect to see the Alba suite again, perhaps at the next Paris Biennale, that is of course unless Vallois was bidding on behalf of a private client, then dear readers....all bets are off.    As before, these works may not be seen for a few generations.  Until next time I leave you with a video of Cheska Vallois discussing her passion for art deco produced for the 2012 Biennale--AR


  1. Thanks for this fascinating series of posts. Do you believe the prices realized were appropriate? It appears that a number of the pieces were compromised, and perhaps the estimates might have been a bit over-ambitious. Nonethless, the Duchess realized a handsome amount of proceeds from the sale, so noone should be grief-stricken, I suspect. Reggie

    1. Oh yes Reggie, everything was as it should be. No reason for anyone to be upset. But one does hope to be present at those moments where 2-3 bidders duke it out and mythic prices become legend.

  2. The top of the dressing table, however, seems not to be the one seen in the in-situ 1920s photographs by M. Moreno, of the room when it was finally installed. That top had a rounded, pencil-like edge, rather than a sharply angled one, but I would be curious to know what damage the suite—and the Rateau furniture in the boudoir and bedroom, sustained, if any—during the bombing. Christie's was uncertain when questioned, and the Fitz Jameses aren't talking. Mitch Owens

    1. Hello Mitch, yes, there was talk at the exhibition that the top may indeed be a later top, but it had some chips and wear so who knows when it was chosen. I did note in a previous blog that the original edge did seem rounded...but you are right there are many things that we will likely never know.--AR

  3. I was thankful to see your photos which were much better than Christie's, not to mention the whole historic background being much better than Christie's as well. And it is always interesting to learn the identity of the bidder, whether or not it is the actual buyer; professionals tend to have a lower limit (that is, more control) than collectors. The whole series has been excellent.

    1. Many thanks....Rateau is a particular passion of mine.