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".

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Photo of the Day

For lovers of 20th century design this is often referred to as Mecca...

Ok many of you knew this. It is what I like to call "design mountain" at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris. This tasteful tiered ziggurat is an embodiment of the Fiell's 1000 Chairs. It is amazing to have the best chairs of the 20th century all in one spot. It is a must see...

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Safra Sensation at Sotheby's

Photo via Sotheby'sFor those who are following the Fall auction season last week was the second in the series of sales that Sotheby's has hosted from the collection of Edmond and Lily Safra. The event consists of six catalogues spread over four days of sales. The collections are exhaustive and completely top-notch. I have opted to cover one lot that really got me excited. May I present the late Louis XVI Secretaireand Commode formerly in the Hamilton Palace Collection...

Photo via Sotheby's

What can I say....these are completely tour-de-force examples from the period that hit all the high points: sumptuous ormolu mounts, top level Japanese lacquer panels and an amazing pedigree.

Photo via Sotheby's

Photo via Sotheby's

The overall style and in particular the use of this caryatid mount led scholars to assert that the pieces were made by Adam Weisweiller.

Photo via Sotheby's

The choice of satinwood for these interiors is always a welcome surprise. It is light and clean....starkly organized in juxtaposition with the complex ornament of the exterior

Photo via Sotheby's
I know I have mentioned in the past that Japanese lacquers were repurposed from their export forms to be used as sumptuous panels in other luxury pieces. These panels are spectacular utilizing most of the Japanese techniques. My favorite accent being kirigane, the pattern of square metallic pavers inserted in the edge of the hillside. In examples that are untarnished they catch the light as you pass by.

Photo via Sotheby's

Photo via Sotheby's

It wasn't too much of a shock that these pieces sold for $6.9 million. They are museum worthy and on par with another set in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Photo via

Photo via

This similar secretaire and commode were executed in 1783 by Jean-Henri Riesener form the private use of Marie Antoinette at the chateau of Saint-Cloud. After the revolution they too ended up in the collection of the Duke's of Hamilton. One wonders if both sets were displayed together. All told the Week of Safra sales made $45.9 million and you can review the results here. I was shocked and amazed at the results of the Russian porcelain section. Until next time-- AR

Monday, October 17, 2011

Photo of the Day

I am not preparing for Halloween early...I promise. Any guesses?

Well my commenter got it right it is indeed a stylized satyr capping the herm supports of this unusual Louis XVI rogue marble and ormolu tazza. They are on a stair landing at the Wallace Collection and really make you stop and take notice. I love works like this that really take a rather common form and nuance it with amazing details.
As if the satyrs were not enough there is the inconspicuous snake swirling around the central support.
The ormolu is top notch which would explain why the Wallace curators believe it was executed by master bronzier Pierre-Philippe Thomire.
They are great from every angle...a consummate object indeed. Until net time --AR

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Auction Accidents

I am a little late to the party on this one, but this is a subject that is always exciting and generates much ink in the art world. I like to call them auction accidents...when items are mis-catalogued and achieve stunning results to surprised onlookers. May I present the Chippendale "style" mahogany dining chairs that were offered by Pook & Pook of Downington, PA in June of 2009.
Image via Pook & Pook
They came from the collection of El Roy and Helene Master which was known in Americana circles as a multi-generational collection spanning the last 100 years. For more about the collection see the review in the Maine Antiques Digest. The chairs were believed to be copies of 18th century Boston chairs after the designs of Robert Manwaring and were offered at a mere $1500-2500.
Parlour Chair: Plate 9 of The Cabinet and Chair-Maker's Real Friend and Companion, 1765, by Robert Manwaring via
The chair design on the left is clearly the inspiration for these chic chairs. While they are Rococo holdovers I love the little flicker of gothic seen in the ogee at the bottom of the splat.
Detail of a Master collection chair
Detail of Manwaring design via
It turns out that the chairs were indeed period and nearly identical to a rare 18th century pair of Boston chairs that were given to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1939.
Image via
Image via
Luckily the sale at Pook & Pook was well advertised and well attended. The mis-catalogued chairs made an astounding $163,800 even in the down economy and at a small regional venue....that is no small feat and speaks volumes about their rarity and quality. Until next time. --AR

Photo of the Day

Love the play of pattern in the fine details...

Well our commenter was correct it is of Egyptian inspiration but filtered through the lens of the English arts and crafts movement. I present Liberty and Co.'s fabled "Thebes" stool.
Clearly Liberty is summoning a true understanding of ancient Egyptian forms which was a refreshing change amidst the veritable ocean of sham revival styles in the 19th century. This particular example dates to 1880 and is formed out of very nicely figured walnut.
The dished yet squared top is hauntingly modern, which is only enhanced by the rigid geometry of the woven seat.
This example is presently on sale in the vintage section of Liberty in London for the princely sum of £2,850. But not to worry they do come up at auction for those who are not in need of the full retail experience. Christie's South Kensington outpost is offering a lovely example in beechwood next month for a mere whisper of the Liberty price at an estimate of £700-900. We shall have to wait and see where it goes... --AR

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Photo of the Day, Part II

The last post left everyone stumped....this may help.... Does it?

Sorry to be away for a few days, but sometimes life does get in the way... but what a majestic beast to leave you with. I added it in hopes that it would help solve the previous post, but this was a hard one. May I present the "Clodion" vases from the Louvre...
Detail of the impala antelope vase
The name Clodion refers to the 18th century vase shape designed by none other than Claude Michel known as Clodion. These vases have great pedigree, being acquired by Louis XVIII for his brother the future Charles X. Works of this nature require a veritable army of designers to execute the final work. While the shape is typically neoclassical the final product is 19th century exotic fantasy. However, great care was taken to realistically capture the splendors of what was then becoming colonial Africa.
Detail of the kudu vase
Detail of the kudu source image from Daniell's African Scenery and Animals
The depiction of the kudu was taken directly from a print source, Samuel Daniell's African Scenery and Animals of 1804 and reflects the increasing interest in natural history.

The jeweled and plumed bronze elephant handles are particularly stunning. An added touch of whimsey is found in the mottled tortoiseshell painted ground....a particularly difficult feat to achieve in porcelain decoration.
Detail of the molded and chased bronze ring mount
The vases were purchased by the Louvre in 1989 but unfortunately I know nothing more of that story.... Until next time --AR

Sunday, October 2, 2011