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