Monday, December 6, 2010

Auction Trophies: Jeanne Lanvin and Armand Rateau

I know I have waxed poetic in the past about the decadent interiors and designs by Armand Albert Rateau (if you missed out, read it here). In a previous post I covered the Eileen Gray chair that is currently on the block in the Christie's Delorenzo sale. Well Delorenzo had some Rateau masterworks up his sleeve including a rare "Fish" chair and a pair of sculptural torcheres which will definitely make millions. Well nestled in their main 20th Century Design Sale are two Rateau pieces that were owned by Lanvin herself. Enter the "Butterfly" sconce:

Photo: Christie's

This unusual wrought iron and rock crystal sconce takes the form of Lanvin's signature butterfly motif and seems a steal at $15,000-20,000. From the provenance it appears that the sconce was installed in Lanvin's country house outside Paris and comes directly from her descendants, very cool. There is also a typically Rateau carved wood mirror with a grape motif bearing the same provenance. For a serious Rateau collector these museum quality masterworks have the added bonus of being from his #1 client and never before being on the market. Perfection!

The charming butterfly blasted through its estimate achieving $92,500!

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Tale of Tiara's: What will the Queen bestow upon Kate Middleton?

Since the Royal engagement was announced a few weeks ago I, like many royal watchers, have wondered about the details of the forthcoming nuptials. More specifically, what diadem will the Queen select for our Miss Middleton? I have devoured my jewelry history books, consulted the royal forums and message boards and have come up with the following possibilities. The list is arranged in order of best to worst choice, in my own opinion naturally.

1. The Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara

Ok, this is by far the most fitting. Delicate and light, absolutely befitting a youthful bride. The tiara was originally given to the future Queen Mary (Queen Elizabeth's Grandmother) for her wedding in 1893. The tiara was purchased by a committee that raised money from the girls of Great Britain and Ireland, hence the name. It is one of Queen Elizabeth's favorites as it has high impact and is reportedly very lightweight and versatile. It is not likely that the Queen will part with it...sigh.

2. The Grand Duchess Vladimir Tiara

While this may be a slightly severe choice the loops and pearl drops of the neoclassical style stunner make it a contender in my book. Commissioned by the Grand Duchess Vladimir of Russia in 1890, the tiara consists of fifteen interlaced diamond circles each centered by a swinging teardrop pearl. After the Bolshevik Revolution the Grand Duchess and her jewels narrowly made it out of the country. When the Duchess died in 1920 the tiara passed to her daughter Helen who was by then Princess Nicholas of Greece. In 1921 Princess Nicholas sold the tiara to Queen Mary and it has been with the Windsors ever since, passing to Queen Elizabeth in 1953. It is a perennial favorite and the pearls can also be changed out with emerald drops (Queen Mary devised this with the remaining unmounted Cambridge emeralds). It is sometimes seen without any drops....what a versatile piece!

3. The Strathmore Rose Tiara

Now this is a more romantic choice and I must say it was off my radar as it has not been seen in some time. It was given to the late Queen Mother by her parents upon the occasion of her marriage to Prince Albert on April 26, 1923. While her father was a Peer, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon was legally a commoner. Wouldn't that be a touching twist of fate if this is the one that is selected especially since Kate and William have chosen April 29th as their own wedding day.

4. Fringe Tiara

Historically this would be a strong choice. It was created in 1919 using diamonds that had been part of a tiara/necklace given by Queen Victoria to Queen Mary on the occasion of her marriage in 1893. Queen Mary gave it to the Queen Mother when she ascended the throne in 1937. The Queen Mother lent it to both her daughter Princess Elizabeth and granddaughter Princess Anne on their respective wedding days. It may be a bit severe in design but it is definitely no stranger to a royal wedding.

5. The County of Surrey Tiara

This is another tiara that was definitely not in my sights since it hasn't been seen publicly in a century (since Queen Mary was the Princess Of Wales). Stylistically it falls between the sweetness of Girls of Great Britain and Ireland and the spiked severity of the Fringe. The tiara was a gift to Queen Mary from the people of the County of Surrey upon the occasion of her marriage in 1893.

6. The Queen Mother's Scroll Tiara.

What this tiara lacks in provenance it makes up for in style. The rolling cascade-like scrolls converge forming a delicate focal point surmounted by a large brilliant diamond. It was one of a handful of tiaras that the Queen Mother wore after she was married but before she ascended the throne in 1937. Over the years it was lent to both Princess Margaret and Princess Anne. There is a playful air of youth about it and its scale is far from overbearing.

7. Duchess of Teck Rose and Crescent Tiara

While this is not the most aesthetically pleasing or romantic choice it is steeped in history. This gem entered the Windsor hoard via Queen Mary's family. It belonged to Mary's mother, Princess Adelaide of Cambridge, Duchess of Teck. Princess Adelaide had a passion for jewelry and passed this gene onto Queen Mary (along with the Cambridge Emeralds and other treasures). This tiara has been modified to its present lower profile and doesn't appear publicly very often. There are a few images of the Queen Mother wearing it in the 1940s but nothing recently to my knowledge.

8. The Queen Alexandra Russian Kokoshnik Tiara

Oh the Kokoshnik, some may fault me for placing it so low on the list but it is only due to the severity of the form. Queen Alexandra was a Danish princess that became the Queen Consort to King Edward VII when he ascended the throne in 1901. The choice of a distinctly Russian form would seem odd for an English monarch, but Alexandra's sister married the Czar becoming Marie Feodorovna, Empress of Russia. Alexandra greatly admired her sister's Kokoshnik tiara (the form is based on a Russian peasant headdress) and was presented with this one on the occasion of her silver wedding anniversary in 1888. It is a royal favorite to this day and has never been out of circulation.

9. The Cambridge Lover's Knot Tiara

I know I am going to get a lot of flack for putting this highly recognizable tiara so low on the list but I have my reasons. I am sure you recognize this tiara as it was one of the two that are most associated with Diana, Princess of Wales (the other being her family's Spencer Tiara). It was commissioned in 1914 by Queen Mary who, in a nostalgic vein, wanted to recreate the lover's knot tiara that belonged to her grandmother, Princess Augusta of Hesse. Originally each knot was surmounted by an oval pearl to mirror each drop below but by 1935 it was simplified to its present form. Queen Mary passed it to her granddaughter Queen Elizabeth who in turn presented it to Diana upon the occasion of her marriage to Prince Charles. It is the association with Diana that gives me pause. Miss Middleton was already given Diana's stunning 18 carat sapphire engagement ring so to thrust this tiara on her would be overkill. One can imagine the juxtaposed tabloid images of Diana and Kate with "Who wore it best" emblazoned in a 24 point font. Naturally, Diana'a influence will loom over this couple but I am sure Miss Middleton does not want it looming right on top of her head. As a side note I have heard two conflicting stories about its current ownership. One is that it was returned to the Queen when Charles and Diana divorced and the other is that it was passed to William and Harry upon Diana's death. At the time of this post I am not sure, regardless it is a contender despite my reservations.

10. The Duchess of Teck Circlet

I apologize in advance as I was unable to find a better image of this beauty. This lovely diamond circlet bandeau has more commonly been worn as a necklace and descends from Queen Mary's mother, Princess Adelaide.

It is a lovely piece but it is not as significant as the other contenders. It has all the wonderful geometry of the Grand Duchess Vladimir Tiara but none the severity.

11. The Empress Marie Feodorovna Diamond and Sapphire Bandeau

I only included this selection (dead last) as some royal watchers feel that the central sapphire of this sleek art deco bandeau would be smashing with the sapphire engagement ring. While it has great pedigree (it made its way out of revolutionary Russia and again was an item purchased by Queen Mary from Princess Nicholas of Greece in 1921) In my opinion it is more of a fashion piece and lacks enough significance to be the centerpiece of a royal wedding.

There are a few pieces in the Queen's collection that are absolutely off limits because they have been lent on occasion to the Duchess of Cornwall. They are the Queen Mother's Boucheron Honeycomb Tiara and Queen Mary's Delhi Durbar Tiara. There are also Queen Victoria's Oriental Circlet Tiara and Queen Elizabeth's Burmese Tiara but they both recall that inappropriate exclamation....The bride wore RED! Naturally, incorporating blood red rubies on your wedding day would be a no-no. The Queen Mother's Papyrus Tiara is delicate and would fit the bill but was on loan to Princess Margaret for many years and may have become her personal property. Regardless, it was worn by Serena Stanhope when she married Margaret's son, Viscount David Linley, so it is off the table.

Perhaps the Middleton's will opt to purchase their own tiara for kate so that she brings something from her own family into the wedding (as Diana did wearing her family's Spencer tiara). This is not a new concept. The Poltimore Tiara was purchased for Princess Margaret's wedding and a tiara was also procured from Garrard when Fergie married Prince Andrew. Either way the queen would still bestow a tiara from her collection upon Kate as she will one day be queen and it is an overt sign of approval. We must now wait until April 29, 2011 to know for sure.

UPDATE: Ugh, the photoshopping has begun. Here is Kate in the Queen Mother's Scroll, the Cambridge Lover's Knot, the Oriental Circlet, the Fringe, the Grand Duchess Vladimir, and the Strathmore Rose.

UPDATE II: The Mirror is now reporting that Kate Middleton will be offered Princess Diana's Cambridge Lover's Knot Tiara to wear on her wedding day to Prince William. However, it cites no official announcement from Buckingham Palace or any corroborating details. Again we wait...

UPDATE III: A friend over at the Royal Forums brought this other delight to my attention and I must say if it does exist it would be my second choice after the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland...
Wild Card: The Rundell Diamond Tiara

Ok, mea culpa, I knew this beauty existed but was under the impression that it was broken up. It has not been seen in over a century (to my knowledge), but if it survives it is a great choice. The Danish Princess Alexandra was given this masterwork as part of a parure by her groom the future King Edward VII on the occasion of their marriage in 1863. It is wedding tested and beyond regal lets hope Her Majesty digs this deep into the archives...

UPDATE IV: Another Royal Forums revelation...
Wild Card II: The Ladies of England Tiara.

Like the Surrey, I was a bit in the dark about this tiara that appears to have been presented to Queen Mary by the Ladies of England. It too has not been seen publicly in a century therefore one fears it may have been broken up. There is no saying for sure. It recalls the Lover's Knot to some extent (pearls) but is more diminutive in stature.

UPDATE V: The Royal Forums strike again...
Wild Card III: The Nizam of Hyderabad Tiara

This is turning out to be a scholarly dilemma. This delicate rose tiara was crafted by Cartier and formed part of a parure that was given to Queen Elizabeth II on the occasion of her wedding in 1947 by the Nizam of Hyderabad. According to Leslie Feld's The Jewels of Queen Elizabeth II, 1992, this tiara was dismantled and the diamonds used for the creation of the Queen's Burmese Ruby tiara in 1973. However, the three large roses can be used as brooches and have been seen in recent years. Scholar Geoffrey Munn has noted the Hyderabad in his works but does not state that it was "broken-up". Evidently he had unprecedented access to the royal collection so therein lies the rub. If it exists in would be a suitably romantic choice in the same manner as the Strathmore Rose.

Jewels of the Duchess of Windsor Redux

The Duchess wearing her Flamingo pin in 1945. Photo: ©Topfoto via Sotheby's

This sale has been on my mind for weeks but I simply must do a short post since the sale is tomorrow!! The love story of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor is legendary... a king giving up his throne to be with the woman that he loved. Wallis and Edward showered each other with gifts and built an epic jewelry collection in the process. When the Duchess died in 1986 she ordered her jewels sold to benefit the Pasteur Institute in Paris which is exactly what took place on April 2, 1987 at Sotheby's Geneva. Well if you missed that sale (as I did) now is your chance. Twenty lots from that stellar auction have been reconsigned and will sell at Sotheby's London November 30, 2010. One of the key lots is this fanciful flamingo pin from Cartier. It is surprisingly large ( I was able to preview it in person).

Photo: Sotheby's

My sentimental nature would love to see the newly engaged Prince William purchase a token for his Kate, but that is highly unlikely as Edward's abdication was the first in a string of 20th century dilemmas to befall the house of Windsor. View the rest of the delicious offerings here.

UPDATE: The sale achieved an astounding $12.4 million. Get the full results here.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Object Lesson: Tiffany's Wisteria, The Bluer The Better

I know that I have rattled on in the past about the treasures produced by Tiffany Studios. In decorative arts circles people are sharply divided when it comes to these artful commodities. One camp appreciates their mastery as genius...the other camp sees them as gaudy, Victorian holdovers and would prefer that they were part of a man-made reef system for an eroding coastline. Harsh, but I have heard the arguments trust me on this. Among the various models the monumental Wisteria is about the most iconic and a serious Tiffany collector would be remiss not to have a "good" example in their collection. Now when it comes to what is considered "good", opinions vary, but financially there is a striking trend that shows where tastes lie...the bluer the better. Louis C. Tiffany prided himself on faithfully capturing the subtle tonalities of the Wisteria in bloom, a bloom that ranges in tones from soft blue, pink and peachy white. So it begs the question: how many saturated cobalt blue Wisteria have you seen in nature?

Christie's New York, December 15, 2010, lot 218 (est. $400,000-600,000) Sold: $842,500
This example currently on the block at Christie's is truly what collectors are seeking, a rich, deep and saturated much for nature. It is striking and pleasing to the eye for sure. Similar examples in recent years have reached over the $800,000 mark at auction so this estimate would seem conservative. One will have to wait for the exhibition to see if the image is more juicy than the reality and of course mull over the condition report. If it is as sexy as pictured expect to see a very high price.
Christie's New York, December 15, 2010, lot 241, (est. $350,000-550,000) Sold: $482,500
The next example as you slide down the desirability scale are what people in the "biz" call the "striped" variety. There is a bit more of an attempt to capture the variety of nature with its subtle parchment-pinks, greens, lilac-creams and STRIPES of saturated blue. These examples vary wildly and I have seen them striped in deep pink, mint green and even yellow tones...but again blue is the pinnacle.
Sotheby's New York, December 18, 2008, lot 182 ($182,500)
Now as we move further away from the "best" you will note an increasing adherence to the more subtle tones found in nature. This example while soft and muted was a stunner but from the sale price you can clearly see where it falls in the hierarchy.
Christie's New York, June 13, 2006, lot 34 ($156,000)
This final example while masterly crafted is beyond subtle with its mostly parchment hued tones. I have actually seen examples of this category in nearly pure white and while visually striking they transmit too much light and and must be dimmed to subdue a harsh glare akin to an exposed bulb. The model itself takes four bulbs so finding the balance is always tricky even in the "best" examples. I always tell clients to "buy what you like" as decorative arts are generally lived with and lets face it even a drab Tiffany lamp (in good condition) will at the very least hold its value and accrue over time. With Christie's offering two Wisteria this season we will have to wait a few more weeks to see what Sotheby's has in store. Hopefully the Wisteria market won't be too flooded which could split the pool of prospective bidders as I would love to see the saturated example at Christie's go the distance.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Of Serpents and Sirens: Rare Eileen Gray Chair on the Block at Christie's

Months ago I heard that famed art deco dealer Tony Delorenzo had agreed to a single owner sale at Christie's. I was left to venture a guess as to what treasures he had left in order to entice the venerable auction house into offering him a coveted evening sale. This is of course the Tony Delorenzo who privately sold Ruhlmann's fabled "Donkey Cabinet" which was the centerpiece of the grand salon of the Hôtel d'un Collectionneur at the 1925 Paris exposition. I was more than pleased to hear that it would feature the Sirène armchair by Eileen Gray. The catalogue has not yet gone to press and no image has been released thus far, but you my dear readers shall benefit from my research.
Photo: Sotheby's
The lot can be none other than the Sirène armchair which last appeared on the auction block in 1989 at Sotheby's when it was part of the now famous "Philip Johnson Townhouse" sale. The sale was in-fact the amazing art deco collection of troubled antiquities dealer Robin Symes. At the time the chair was thought to be unique and with its stellar provenance sold for a then staggering price of $209,000. Stylistically the piece relates to Gray's exotic period prior to the first World War, a period where she experimented heavily with lacquers and claimed couturier Jacques Doucet as a client. With its seahorse clutching mermaid the chair is vaguely Asian and western with a dash of Egyptomania. The chair was recorded as being sold from Gray's Paris gallery Jean Desert in 1923 to the singer Damia who was also romantically linked to the artist. Damia kept the piece all her life and it was sold from the auction of her estate in 1978. Considering the resounding success of Gray's Serpent/Dragon chair from the estate of Yves Saint Laurent the current lot seems set to fly at an estimate of $2-3 million.
Photo: Christie's
In fact, the four Eileen Gray lots in the Saint Laurent sale each performed in the low millions except for the Serpent/Dragon chair (above) which brought an insane $28.2 million. I have had to explain this result endlessly and will not engage in that tired tirade here. As pointed out above, the Sirène armchair was (until very recently) thought to be unique...until six others appeared on the market and were sold as successive lots at Camard in Paris, June 1, 2005.
Photo: Camard
The lots were believed to be a suite of dining chairs, again for the songstress Damia and collectively brought in a staggering €8.9 million establishing a record for the artist to be smashed later at the YSL sale. The French press noted at the time that four chairs were purchased by Galerie Vallois and the remaining two went to a private collector. Their exact link to Damia is lost having been rediscovered via inheritance in 1997 with no apparent provenance left behind (its a wild story, read it here). It has been asserted that the specialist for the sale, Jean-Marcel Camard, based the provenance solely on that of the known example currently on the block at Christie's. Nonetheless they are undoubtedly the same model, perhaps more tarted-up, but essentially the same. I prefer the sleek black example as it has an austerity and refinement that are almost haunting. Now to the sordid topic of coin...given how well exceedingly rare works have been performing this season, I feel that the chair will sail past its $2-3 million estimate with the hammer settling somewhere between $5-7 million. We will have to wait until the evening of December 14th for our answer.

I attended the Macallan Whiskey/ Lalique charity auction at Sotheby's this week and got some clarification from an industry insider. According to my source apparently the six chairs sold by Camard were later deemed to be fake. I have found nothing in the press to confirm this but it seems likely as they have never surfaced in the past five years and are not going to be listed in the forthcoming catalogue raisonne. The catalogue for the Delorenzo sale has come out and every indication is that this is the only example of the exciting!

I attended the evening sale session and sadly this Eileen Gray masterwork failed to sell. It was devastating to say the least. Art professionals in attendance were in general agreement that the sale was a bit aggressively priced and unfortunately this chair was the major casualty of the day.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Carnavalet + Vuitton = Perfection

I had a nightcap yesterday with a friend recently arrived from Paris who alerted me to this Louis Vuitton retrospective. If you have never been to the Musée Carnavalet it is a MUST. It is situated in the Marais and housed within a distinguished hôtel particulier. The museum documents the history of Paris and among its holdings are an exquisite array of decorative arts. This exhibit, which runs though February 27th combines two of my favorite things. The video above captures the scope of the retrospective which ranges from the staid to the avant-garde (think Damien Hirst medical cabinets). One of my favorite oddities is the now iconic trunk-bed (Malle-Lit). The form was designed as a special request in 1875 for the famed explorer Savorgnan de Brazza for his expedition to the Congo. No matter how far one travels the desire for a familiar place to rest one's head reigns supreme. This trunk takes that concept to a whole new level.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Symbolist Lighting: Gallé's Elusive Chauve-Souris Lamp

In honor of Halloween I thought I would write about a personal macabre favorite from decorative art history. Most people familiar with the 19th century French glass artist Emile Gallé know him primarily for his floral cameo glass vases which appear season after season at auction seemingly without end. Most are part of his more commercial production however there are a small group of the artist's works that reflect his deep interest in the natural world and ties to the Symbolist Art movement.
Portrait of Emile Gallé by Victor Prouvé ca. 1892

Enter the Lampe Chauve Souris or bat Lamp.
Gallé Bat Lamp: sold Sotheby's NY, 12/6/02 ($77,625)

The look is at once decadent, perhaps sinister but captures the artistic sensibilities of fin-de-siecle France. Gallé was captivated by the natural world and his attachment to Symbolist poets like the notoriously eccentric Count Robert de Montesquiou is clearly evoked in this lamp. The work itself is not really about function but more about creating a mood, cloaking the scientific austerity of modern technology in the rich orange-amber glow of a night sky with occult overtones.
Gallé Bat Lamp: sold Christie's London, 5/4/07 ($119,160)

Very few of these lamps were produced owing to their subject matter and thus a scant handful are known to us today. This rarity of course affects the price. The two versions above are fairly similar and were on the market in the past decade. I for one am eager to see the larger version of this model in the flesh as the last known example has not been seen since it was on the block at Sotheby's in 1978 (see below).

The base is highly realized Art Nouveau without being excessive and is not as rigid as the other examples. The theme is essentially the same but the base adds another layer with its eerily creeping poppy pod. Gallé is clearly referencing the opium poppy's ancient associations with sleep, intoxication and death. The lamp is the perfect manifestation of late 19th century decadence but done in an intelligently fluid manner. Some may find it dark and creepy but it is an unabashed personal favorite... Happy haunting.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

$3M Boldini Painting discovered in Parisian "Tomb"

I have neglected you dear readers for far too long but unfortunately life does tend to get in the way sometimes. This story was featured in the Telegraph earlier this month and was the subject of dinner party conversation the other night. Having been in the "biz" for some time I have had the privilege/ horror to enter this sort of crumbling domestic time capsule where a modern day Miss Havisham at one point opted to lock the door and stop time altogether. I love how they politely refer to the decedant as a "demimondaine" which is a rather 19th century way of saying mistress. It evokes the Moulin Rouge posters by Lautrec but one can venture that is was a far less romantic reality. Read the details here.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Auction Trophies: The Diana Vreeland Edition

I was away for a few weeks recharging and cannot believe the summer is rapidly drawing to a close. While on vacation I got the idea for this post over a dinner conversation about style icons and fabulous things...naturally. I recalled the extravagant former Harpers/Vogue editor Diana Vreeland. Now if for some reason this name escapes you please view this video and attempt to get up-to-speed. It was filmed on location in her Billy Baldwin decorated Manhattan apartment whose overriding red palette she insisted was based on a garden, "but a garden in hell." Like many women of high style she was not a natural beauty but through the subtle architecture of artifice, wit and social wisdom she became one of the preeminent arbiters of taste in the 20th century.

This imposing figure was the queen of the style one-liners such as "pink is the navy blue of India", "I loathe narcissism, but I approve of vanity", and "elegance is has nothing to do with being well dressed...elegance is refusal." After she passed in 1989 she had a small delicious Sotheby's sale crammed full of Beaton drawings, blackamoors and veritable bloodbath of red chintz furniture. If there was one offering in the catalogue that was too chic to pass up it had to be lots 62 & 63... her monogrammed Louis Vuitton luggage.

One imagines that fashionistas and editors out there would give their eye teeth to have one of these talismanic objects belonging to such an industry legend. The mind reels wondering where they are now, 21 years later...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Tole Vernie: Was not just for your grandmother's cache-pot!

This week I watched the final furniture auctions of the season wind down... One lot had me particularly fascinated as it was another of my "old friends". The piece in question is a particularly smart Louis XVI period tole vernie (varnished decorated tin) mounted bureau a cylindre.

This restrained yet infinitely fanciful chinoiserie desk first came to my attention when it was sold in Paris in 2001. I was captivated by the fact that a relatively inexpensive material (tole) was used to decorate a seemingly top-tier piece of French furniture. The maker, Saunier, was no BVRB or Weisweiler but he was no slouch either. Tole had been used well throughout the 18th century for trendy lighting, vessels and utilitarian items of every sort. It was a truly versatile medium that could be decorated in endless ways. The catalogue entry for this lot was particularly irksome as is once again fell back on the 19th century viewpoint of tole as a second-rate, second-tier imitation material. The fact of the matter is that in the period it was a technological advancement. Chinese and Japanese lacquer panels were in heavy demand throughout the 17th and 18th centuries but they were limited to their export forms. Lacquered boxes could be taken apart and remounted into furniture, but it was a dangerous process especially if the panel had to be reduced to a veneer and bent to accommodate a curved form. Tole was an obvious choice as it could be easily shaped and decorated to look like lacquer, porcelain, marble etc. If you scour museum collections and auctions you will find instances where tole and precious materials reside together on top-tier royal pieces.
This secretaire a abattant was purchased in 1782 in Paris by Russian Empress Maria Feoderovna. It has all the hallmarks of royal luxury production gorgeously chiseled gilt bronze mounts, rich wood veneers, and sumptious Sevres porcelain plaques. Well it also incorporates tole. Tole forms the dark blue background of the cornice and more importantly it is used to mimic porcelain on the curved side panels of the lower frieze. It was obviously a more realistic technical solution as a curved porcelain plaque was difficult and expensive to achieve.
Similarly the desk above from the Getty in Los Angeles incorporates tole in the same curved locations. It is by Martin Carlin (a top maker) and incorporated only the very best materials.
The examples go on and on and are found in other museums and top collections. To call tole used in this manner "second rate" is particularly short sighted and fails to examine why it was used...thats enough of this rant for now.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

NYC Design Sale Wrap-Up

I am not one to be smug, perish the thought, but I was pleasantly surprised to see my predictions realized. Unfortunately, both the Rateau screen and the Normandie panels crashed and burned when they hit the auction block last week. The Normandie panels were clearly too expensive and unrelated to make a cohesive offering, but the Rateau Screen was another story altogether... I previewed the sales and the screen left me dumbfounded. It was massive, definitely one of those cases where you need to focus in on the published dimensions as it was nearly 15 feet tall. The quality was unmatched for sure and it had sufficient age and patina making its authenticity above reproach. Too bad the deeper history was not known. If it could have been tied to a boldface name like Jeanne Lanvin it very likely would have sold. There is no doubt in my mind that it will sell discreetly via an after sale offer and it will likely turn up again restored to its former glory. The most expensive lot of the week was sold at Christie's. The lot in question was the exceptional Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann "Lasalle" commode that knocked-down for an astonishing $614,000 (with premium) against an estimate of $150,000-200,000. To blow through an estimate to this degree it definitely went to a private individual who was competing against other deep-pocketed collectors.
It is impressive for sure, but it was a bit more sun faded in person with a slightly greenish cast that is just faintly evident in the catalogue illustration. That however did not seem to matter, as I have said before, if the YSL and Dray sales taught us anything it is that rare top-tier art deco works are almost infallible at auction these days. The travesty of the week was the Lalanne zoomorphic bar that tanked at Christie's. Like the Rateau screen the catalogue did not convey the sheer monumentality of the work. With the explosive Lalanne results achieved this past December I thought for sure this devilishly clever bar would find a home, alas no...

Perhaps at $500,000-700,000 the price was just too steep. I for one thought it would fly at that price, pun intended...

Friday, June 11, 2010

Normandie Hodgepodge

I am getting geared-up for the design sales in New York this week and had to make a quick note about a rather puzzling lot at Christie's. Available for your bidding are 13 reverse glass decorated panels from the Grand Salon of the art deco luxury liner the S.S. Normandie. It would sound pretty alluring to modernist aficionados....until you see what they are actually offering.

Fairly puzzling, no? For $300,000-500,000 I would personally want something more recognizable than some scattered clumps of unrelated foliage, banners, waves, a buoy and a partial edifice....but I digress. For those not in the know, the Normandie was a floating palace of an ocean liner ensconced from stem-to-stern with top-notch art deco decor. The centerpiece of the ship was the "grand salon" which could seat 700 people comfortably. The room was furnished with Jean Rothschild and Jean Dunand furniture, Lalique fixtures and its walls were clad with glass panels designed by Jean Dupas depicting continuous scenes of the history of navigation. The Normandie was launched in 1935 and was unfortunately converted into a troop transport ship in 1942. However, during its conversion for wartime use an acetylene torch set life vests ablaze consuming the ship and it languished capsized in the Hudson river for 18 months. Fortunately, most of the furnishings and decor had been removed prior to the conflagration only to be scattered for eternity by subsequent public auctions.

These period images of the Grand Salon are a bit hard to decipher but thankfully the Met recently installed their 58 continuous panels that were donated in 1976.

As you see the panels puzzled together form vast sweeping scenes where mythical figures and creatures commingle with various eras of maritime vessels. These panels were fairly common at auction in the 1980s when art deco was enjoying a wide renaissance amongst collectors, but by the mid-1990s they tended to trade hands privately or through dealers. Obviously what you truly want as a collector is an interesting continuous scene, or if you settle on one or two panels they should command visual impact. There have been some recent successes following this tactic...

This depiction of sails comprising 10 panels from the "Birth of Aphrodite" section of the mural ranks high in desirability and thus commanded $512,500 (with premium) against and estimate of $200,000 to 300,000 at Sotheby's this past December.

This single panel pops with the geometry of lines and rays all focused on the sun at the horizon. Sotheby's managed to sell this gem for $46,875 (with premium) against a sensible estimate of $30,000-50,000 in June of 2009.

These two vertical panels dramatically depict the stern of a ship from the "Chariot of Thetis" section and were successfully sold by Maison Gerard at the Winter Antiques Show this past January. While the sale was private they were widely thought to have traded in the low six figures.

So we are left to muse as to why Christie's would be motivated to sell such a large random assortment of panels in an unforgiving market that only rewards the "best of the best." With a little research I think I found the answer. It appears that 12 of the 13 panels were actually sold by Christie's on 23 June 2005 as consecutive lots 292-294 (totalling $282,000 with premium). It is likely that the current consignor purchased all three lots in 2005 and has decided to re-sell them in light of the recent successes at Sotheby's. Still, it would have been more realistic to break them up into smaller groupings as the current offering is rather hard to digest especially for a collector who may only need a few of the panels to complete a set in their existing collection. It is a gamble on Christie's part for sure and I hope they prove me wrong, but in my opinion the odd mass grouping is going to be a tough sell.