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

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Greetings from Design Week in Paris

Hello dear readers.  Just a quick post.  Between the museum exhibitions, galleries and auction previews it has been an exciting time thus far...despite the spring rain.  Yesterday I had the opportunity to take in the 20th Century preview at Tajan and I must say I forgot how well suited their art deco space is to this material.
Tajan Premises: Design Sale (23 May 2013)    Photo: AR
There were many offerings between Printz, Leleu (the chair and ottoman in the foreground) and an impressive Adnet suite in parchment.  But I was captivated by something a bit earlier in the category.
Georges De Feure Writing Table and Chair    Photo: AR
For me, this is a lovely rare survival that is not often seen.  This finely carved art nouveau writing table and chair retain their original upholstery scheme.  The chair and table are by Georges De Feure who was a master of florid art nouveau that was slightly more restrained then his contemporaries.  It is always a treat to see how the period upholstery operates with the work, incorporating the motifs from the carving and integrating the work as a whole.
Georges De Feure Chair      Photo: AR
Detail  Photo: AR
Detail of table upholstery       Photo: AR
Detail of carving to leg      Photo: AR
This piece will hit the block tomorrow and I will post an update.  While art nouveau is not the hottest commodity in this category it has seen a resurgence in the past few years and intact works such as these are what a serious collector seeks.  I am off to hit the galleries....until next time.  --AR

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Rateau's Commission For the Duchess de Alba to be Sold at Christie's Paris: Part II

Duchess de Alba's Bathroom, Liria Palace, Madrid circa 1922  Image via Musee Des Arts Decoratifs, Paris
Hello dear readers.  Well I hope you enjoyed my first post on this subject.  The Christie's catalogue is out and many questions have been answered regarding this elusive Rateau commission for the Liria Palace in Madrid.  According to the catalogue, upon the marriage of the XVII Duke of Alba to the future Duchess (doña María del Rosario de Silva y Gurtubay)in 1920 an entire enfilade of rooms were commissioned for her use including a boudoir, bedroom and bathroom.
Liria Place, Madrid: Plan of first floor with the Duchess' suite highlighted in white.  Image via Christie's (Fonds Rateau)
We now know that this fabled suite of rooms had a rather short shelf-life.  The Duchess died 11 January 1934 of tuberculosis and the Liria Palace itself was greatly destroyed during the tumultuous Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).  According to the catalogue essay, in advance of the looming revolution, many of the palace treasures and furnishings were safeguarded at either the British Embassy or the Banco de Espana.  So now the mystery is solved,  The Rateau interiors enjoyed a mere decade of completeness before the tides of war sealed their fate.  Now, onto the surviving artworks themselves.
Alba commission Rateau torcheres    Image via Christie's
We know the floor lamps "aux oiseau" as this image was included with the press release for this sale issued in February.  The lamps are being offered individually each at an estimate of €1,500,000-2,000,000.  They are two from the four that were originally installed in the bathroom.
Alba commission low table "aux oiseau"   Image via Christie's
As I stated previously this iconic low table is a Rateau collector's must-have item and seems to be in very good order.  I am completely unfazed by the estimate of €1,500,000-2,000,000.  It will do far better than that.
Alba commission Rateau low table "aux oiseau" shown in situ   Image via Musee des Arts Decoratifs
Now onto the adjustable daybed.  The previous literature on the subject suggested that this was a unique work.  It has now come to light that it is one of two recorded.  The other example with cream upholstery shown in my previous post was exhibited at Delorenzo Gallery, New York in 1990.  It can be deduced that it was subsequently sold, its whereabouts are currently unknown.
Alba commission Rateau adjustable daybed      Image via Christie's
The Alba daybed has never left their possession and looks to be in good condition.  It has been recovered in an animal print fabric in keeping with the original ocelot upholstery.  While it is no longer classified as a "unique" work it is only one of two known and with this stellar provenance the estimate of €400,000-600,000 still seems conservative.
Alba commission Rateau adjustable daybed shown in-situ      Image via Musee des Arts Decoratifs
Detail of daybed   Image via Christie's
I really enjoy the shell and drapery carved frieze on the seatrail.  The bronze pendent's are functional as well as beautiful as they hold the pins that secure the adjustable sides in various positions.

Now onto the dressing table.  It appears that over the years of movement and storage that the original top and bronze-mounted mirror superstructure have been lost.
Alba commission Rateau dressing table  Image via Christie's
Alba commission Rateau dressing table in its original configuration shown in-situ  Image via Musee des Arts Decoratifs
Detail of dressing table showing original bronze mounted mirror   Image via Musee des Arts Decoratifs
As you can see from the period images the mirror and its sculptural mount are now lacking.  I would surmise that the the top has been replaced as well.  It either took a spill in the past ninety years or was modified to make it a more versatile piece.  I will be attending the exhibition so I will be able to check for sure because if the top is original it will have plugged holes to the surface where the bronze mount was affixed.  From the images it looks like the present top is thicker and in the period photos the upper edges appear to be rounded (however it may just be glare).  Rateau made versions to this table with and without mirrors so the present condition is not a deal-breaker and explains the €600,000-800,000 estimate.  It will perform quite well with this conservative approach.
Alba commission Rateau Canape aux Cols Cygnes    Image via Christie's
Now to the sofa, it looks very smart in it brown satin upholstery.  The catalogue confirms that it was originally covered in dark pony skin.  It also notes that all four legs have been replaced to the original specifications.  It is also noted that the patinated seatrail has been restored to its original color.  However, if you look at the period image, the seatrail had additional stenciling, carving or appliques when it was originally installed.
Alba commission Rateau Canape aux Cols Cygnes shown in-situ with original seatrail decoration    Image via Musee des Arts Decoratifs
The rosettes at either end of the seatrail appear to be in low-relief in the period photo as well.  I will be intriguing to read the condition report for this lot to see what was needed to make it presentable for the auction.  That said, the estimate seems right at €200,000-300,000.  Not conservative given the condition, but that will likely not matter given the provenance.
Alba commission Rateau marble bathtub   Image via Christie's
Last but not least we come to the marble tub.  I was curious as to how it was configured.  It was in-fact carved out of a solid square block of white marble.  As you can see from the period image the mass was sunken into the floor with only the edge molding exposed.
Alba commission Rateau bathtub shown in-situ   Image via Musee des Arts Decoratifs
Unfortunately, it is now lacking its cast bronze fixtures.  As you can see from the detail below the holes have been patched.
Detail of carved marble tub showing the infilled holes from the bronze taps   Image via Christie's
Detail showing original bronze taps from the Alba commission   Image via Musee des Arts Decoratifs
The arrangement of birds and floral motifs are in keeping with the rest of the room's decorative scheme.  The same arrangement of bird faucets and stopper were utilized in the bathroom of Jeanne Lanvin as well.
Rateau bronze bath fixtures from Jeanne Lanvin's Bathroom   Image via Musee des Arts Decoratifs
The catalogue also notes that the tub will not be displayed at Christie's Paris office but rather at the Monin warehouse located on the northern border of the city.  I can only guess it has to do with the massive weight of the work causing logistical and safety concerns.  On a side note, I heard that the tub spent part of the past sixty years as a water feature in the gardens of the Liria Palace.  The mind reels, but I digress.  The tub is indeed a great object but as I stated before it will need the right buyer who is willing to take on a project.  Lacking its bronze hardware and being relegated to an off-site display location, I do hope that it meets its €150,000-200,000 estimate.  Fingers crossed.

Stay tuned for updates from the design sales in paris later this month!--AR.