Monday, December 12, 2011

Prince of Wales Plume Brooch at Auction

Now I was on the fence about this post for the past few weeks for a multitude of reasons. The brooch comes from the collection of Elizabeth Taylor and is one the centerpieces of tomorrow's sale at Christie's. Primarily the exposure was giving me pause, but it was more the fact that I could not find a period image of the Duchess of Windsor wearing it that stopped me in my tracks...selfish? Perhaps, but it always adds to the mystique of an object and makes these posts so much fun to write, but I digress... For those who missed it, the brooch was created in 1935 and was a gift from Edward, Prince of Wales to his paramour Wallis Simpson making it one of those talismanic objects that in itself symbolizes one of the greatest romances of the 20th century.
The three joined plumes are a symbol of the Prince of Wales, the heir apparent, thus this gift in a sense demonstrated the Prince's intention to make the twice divorced Wallis Simpson his queen. It is the stuff of legend but it is a bit clouded as I have heard that it was given to Wallis in 1935 and conversely in 1955. Either way it is still a romantic notion. As the story goes, Elizabeth Taylor and the then Duke and Duchess of Windsor moved in the same circles and Elizabeth admired the brooch to the extent that Richard Burton asked the Duchess if he could copy it for Liz....the stylish Duchess agreed. However, a copy was never made.
After the Duchess died in 1986 her legendary jewelry collection was sold at Sotheby's Geneva the following year to benefit the Pasteur Institute. The legend goes that Prince Charles was part of the bidding war for the piece which was ultimately won by Taylor, bidding via telephone poolside from her home in Los Angeles...naturally. At the time she paid $449,625, so it seems a bargain at the present estimate of $400,000-600,000. I am guessing that it will break the million dollar mark given the success of the Duchess' other pieces that resurfaced last year. The piece now operates on many levels from Hollywood glamour to the centerpiece of legendary if not ill fated romances. I say that not to be melodramatic but I have always been haunted by this image of the bereft Wallis peering out of a window at Buckingham Palace after the Duke's funeral.
To add insult to injury the rest of the royal family decamped to Balmoral and left the Duchess to her own devices. The lost look in her eyes brings home her most famous quote "you have no idea how hard it is to live out a great romance..." Hopefully the brooch will find its way to the epicenter of another great romance... Until then we wait...AR

Well, the important jewels session one just concluded. It took four and a half hours to sell a mere 80 lots in an industry that usually sells between 80-100 lots in an hour. This is a testament to the interest in the sale. The Prince of Wales Brooch performed as I suspected breaking just over a million dollars achieving $1.3M with buyers premium. The press release has yet to be issued so there is no telling what disclosures can and will be made. But this I do know, the brooch sold via telephone with an Asian Christie's representative named "Mei-Mei". So the brooch may be heading East. Hopefully we will know more soon. --AR
Thanks to Interior Design Hound a period image has finally surfaced online...whew!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Templeton Crocker Redux

I must say, every auction season is always a gamble which adds the excitement and allure. One never knows what will surface and what prices will be achieved. In my previous post I highlighted the Jean Dunand panels at Christie's from the Templeton Crocker residence in San Francisco. Well, Phillips has a Jean-Michel Frank chair from the same commission.... this time from Mr. Crocker's personal study.
Image via Phillips
Image via Phillips
The chair itself, like the walls of the study, is embellished with straw marquetry, a particular Frank favorite. This marquetry has a shimmery effect not unlike satinwood, but is very delicate to say the least .
Image via Phillips
The marquetry here is regularly set in planks. I think it is best utilized at angles in sunburst effects as seen in a detail from the cover of Putnam's 1980 book on the artist.
The chair is priced at $90,000-110,000 which is a fairly odd increment and immediately makes me think that it is likely aggressive. That said, it is from a rare commission and according to the provenance it has not been on the market since Delorenzo Gallery sold it to a Connecticut collector in 1977. We will have to wait until December to see where it goes....AR.

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
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.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Rateau Deja Vu at Christie's

Well the important 20th century design sales at Sotheby's and Christie's have yet to be released but I caught wind of an old friend that will be back on the block. The tag line for this blog is not "the incestuous world of design" for nothing... but I digress. If you watch the market long enough you see things emerge, disappear and crop-up in the most unlikely of places. Anyway, the rather monumental Armand-Albert Rateau screen that I posted about in May of 2010 is back on the block in Christie's December design sale. As you may recall it passed at Sotheby's when offered in June of 2010 at the staggering estimate of $400,000-600,000 which I admittedly thought was a bit steep even for this coveted artist. The reality is that the screen is extremely site specific, rather narrow and soaring to over twelve feet. When I viewed it in person its seemed that it must have been designed to fit into a niche or block a window or doorway.
It has cooled its heels for the past 18 months and is out for another try, this time more realistically priced at $150,000-200,000. Like Sotheby's, Christie's was unable to determine its history which is always a sad situation with a piece of this quality, but at this revised price it will likely sell. Rumor also has it that Christie's also has Jean Dunand panelling from the breakfast room of the fabled Templeton Crocker penthouse in San Francisco... More to come I am sure--AR

Update: Well "love is lovelier the second time around" indeed. This time it sold, achieving $158,000. I am sure we will see this piece again...its awfully hard to miss.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Auction Accidents: The Herter Brothers Edition

Now dear readers, this one goes back nearly a decade but it was a rather exciting discovery at the time. May I present the "ormolu-mounted lapis lazuli-inset and etched onyx pedestals" offered in the Christie's 19th Century Sale on April 24, 2002.
Image via Christie's
They were offered with no provenance and very little information besides their general description and an estimate of $25,000-30,000. Understandably, Christie's was taken aback when the lot soared to $130,500 and sold to top Victorian furniture dealer Margot Johnson. It turns out that there was a great provenance involved...there always is in these cases. I present a period photograph of the drawing room from the William H. Vanderbilt residence at 640 Fifth Avenue ca. 1882.
Inspiring, no? The home was decorated by the notable firm of Herter Brothers and was beyond lavish...even by the standards of 5th Avenue at the time. Now it may be hard to see what I am getting at so here is a detail.
This is a detail of the doorway in the center of the image above, note the columns flanking it. Thankfully for us Mr. Vanderbilt had the entire home documented in Edward Strahan's Mr. Vanderbilt's Home and Collections of 1883. It has richly colored images that give a true sense of the decoration.
It seems that Margot Johnson had a very keen eye, but according to an article in the Maine Antiques Digest she did not act alone. She was seen at the exhibition for the sale viewing the columns with Metropolitan Museum of Art curator Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen. It seems that Margot Johnson was purchasing them for the museum with the aid of American Wing donors Barrie A. and Deedee Wigmore. Within six months of the sale they were restored to their original appearance and installed at the museum.
As you can see the lapis-lazuli stones were removed and replaced with red glass cabochons to restore the original look as seen in the illustrations below. The left is a detail from the period photo, the center are as they appeared at Christie's and the right are as they appear today.

The cataloging on the Met's website reveals that it is their opinion that the columns do not come from the doorways, but from matching floor lamps that were in the corners....see the period images below.

I am not sure how they came to this distinction but I defer to their judgement. The Met also notes that Christie's specialist Sebastian Davies informed them that the consignor of the columns was a South American dealer. Little is known about their journey. The house underwent a complete redecoration in 1915 and was sold by the Vanderbilt family in 1942 and subsequently demolished. While we don't know exactly where they were for nearly ninety years it is great that they surfaced in such a dramatic fashion.

A reader brought to my attention that Hirschl & Adler Galleries offered a console from the drawing room at the Winter Antiques Show in 2002. Very small world of goods indeed. According to Antiques and Fine Arts Magazine the console descended in the Vanderbilt family and then made it into the collection of Liberace...go figure.
Image via Hirschl & Adler Galleries

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween: Vampire Killing Kit

Just a quick post that I had to send your way as it is Halloween. I have a predilection for the macabre and I always enjoy when one of these gruesome souvenirs come up at auction. May I present a rather extensive "Vampire Killing Kit" currently on the block at Sotheby's.

Image via Sotheby's
No one to my knowledge has fully explained these rather fun oddities. However, it has been asserted that these "kits" were actually lavish souvenirs for those who travelled to eastern europe in the latter part of the 19th century which corresponds with the height of interest in the gothic novel... rather fitting no?
Image via Sotheby's
This kit contains, in part "a carved ivory and black forest lindenwood crucifix, vials with garlic, salt and "holy water," a bible, a gun with a leather powder flask and silver bullets, a dagger, four stakes and a mallet, a moulded glass cross-shaped candlestick, and an English map of Galizia, Eastern Hungary and Transylvania."
Image via Sotheby's
Sotheby's is expecting it to fetch a hefty $20,000-30,000 in their 19th century sale on November 16th. We will have to wait and see where it goes. Happy Haunting--AR

UPDATE:  The sale cam and went but I am happy to report that this lot made $25,000!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Silver "Dreamer" at Sotheby's

I promise I am not trying to be a marketing outpost for Sotheby's but a friend brought the catalogue for the sale of Carl De Santis to my attention and I was delighted to see lot 19. If you are a regular reader you are already aware of my obsession with places that no longer exist and the objects that were once contained therein. I present the Tiffany & Co. silver puzzle game from Thomas W. Lawson's yacht, "Dreamer".
Image via Sotheby's
Detail via Sotheby's
Some of you may recognize this as a "Tower of Hanoi" mathematical puzzle which was invented by French mathematician Edouard Lucas in 1893. It appears that Sotheby's has displayed it incorrectly. It should have all of the disks on one end in a graduated stack from largest to smallest. Basically the goal to to move the entire tower to the opposite tower one disk at a time, never stacking a larger on a smaller. It sounds mind numbing to an artistic soul like myself but you can see an animation of it here. The stand, complete with a compass, is surmounted by a rather jaunty bear in a sailor suit.
Detail of inscription via Sotheby's
For the life of me I could not find a single image of the "Dreamer" which was described by the New York Times on April 28, 1900 as being 175 feet long and equipped with his and hers suites for the Lawson's as well as five other staterooms and carrying six additional smaller boats all bearing "Mr. Lawson's private signal, a white bear on a blue block in the center of a white burgee." This would explain the bear motif. Lawson, the "Copper King", was a prominent Boston financier with a rather volatile career with fortunes won and lost several times over.
Having spent time as a child in Plymouth County, Massachusetts I was aware of this rather eccentric character. Around the turn of the century, Lawson's wife Jeannie was so taken with the coastal area just north of Scituate known as Egypt that he purchased large tracts of land for their country estate and farm "Dreamwold".
Lawson was obviously sticking with the "Dream" theme this time pairing it with "wold" meaning an elevated open plain. As you can see the estate was extensive and spawned a local landmark known as Lawson Tower. As legend would have it, in 1902 the town of Scituate was erecting a large water stand pipe infringing on the views from the back windows of "Dreamwold". Lawson saw fit to have the pipe clad as a German shingled tower complete with a clock and carillon bells.

Sadly, Jeannie Lawson died in 1906 and due to a significant reversal of fortune "Dreamwold" and its contents were auctioned in 1922 to settle $225,000 in back taxes and debts. The estate was significantly altered but the main house operated for years as a restaurant and event space later being converted into condominiums in the early 1980s. Thankfully the tower still looms in the distance as a fitting folly dedicated to happier times spent on this idyllic stretch of shoreline.
Present view of Lawson Tower (lower left) and the remnants of Dreamwold (upper right)
Lawson died a few years later in 1925 virtually penniless. As an aside, this little silver game was by no means the only unusual silver treasure Lawson owned, having acquired the solid silver dressing table and stool executed by Gorham for the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris.

Image via Dallas Museum of Art
The style is a blend of Chippendale meets art nouveau and fortunately for us it entered the collection of the Dallas Museum of Art in 2000. While the "Dreamer" is long since scrapped and "Dreamwold" is a distant memory this puzzle is a sentimental token of the gilded age and is priced to sell at $4000-6000(an example Sotheby's sold in 2001 achieved $9600). This puzzle was once thought to be unique, but others have appeared at auction at Christie's in 1992 and 1995, Bonham's in 1997, Northeast Auctions in 2000 and at Sotheby's in 2001. Granted the same example could have turned-up a few times, but it is highly unlikely that one unique piece could have appeared in all these sales. The "Dreamer" had five state rooms and numerous public spaces so it is very likely several puzzles were scattered about. We will wait and see where the gavel falls on November 4th.--AR

Well the sale came and went and the puzzle sold for $4,375 which is nearly half what the previous example sold for in 2001. Perhaps it is the economy or the fact that it is lacking an element (it likely had a thermometer in the empty hole opposite the compass). As an aside, in my research I discovered that when the game pieces are all stacked together properly the letters engraved on the sides spell out "Launched July, 1899, Designed by J F. Tams Builders, Crescent Shipyard, Built for T.W.Lawson, Boston, U. S.S.T.M. Yacht Dreamer".