Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Greetings from Design Miami...

Hello dear readers.  As Basel week kicks off in Miami I send you my best visual thoughts from the front lines.  While Basel proper looms in the near distance, I spent most of Tuesday soaking in the treasures of Design Miami, and lets face it, these are my people...  So lets get to it, shall we?
The booth of Todd McDonald NYC
I was captivated by the booth of Todd McDonald who has long been a friend of good design, but his array of period Eames was quite a warm respite.  Along with the ESU's and esoteric leg splints he brought a great collection of design jewelry which was already finding homes amongst fair attendees on opening night.
Galerie Downtown-Francois Laffanour Paris
Galerie Downtown Paris was a Prouve-Perriand affair and I must say sometimes it does pay to keep like with like.  I had preview access and thus the booth was free from clients who can delightfilly distract from the most stridently prepared gesumtkunstwerk.
Galerie Downtown-Francois Laffanour Paris
While I could never personally live with this much Mouille/Prouve/Perriand outside of the Congo, it does make sense in the design wilds of Miami and I am sure many of these masterworks will find new homes before the week is out.
Moderne Gallery of Philadelphia
While Moderne Gallery of Philadelphia is a leading exponent of the New Hope School (read Nakashima) their booth was decidedly a Wharton Escherick affair.  While I like his works in small doses it was impressive to see so many models in one spot.  The pair of stools at top left were particularly exquisite.
Galerie Jacques Lacoste Paris
Galerie Jacques Lacoste never (ever) seems to disappoint.  I rarely get verbose but he always manages to procure the masterful examples of Royere.  His booth was excellently curated and while breathable was stocked full of top-notch French 40s design.
Jason Jacques, Inc.
As an admitted design geek the booth New York "pot dealer" Jason Jacques made me lose myself for a  moment as there was so much to absorb.  I must hand it to him he brought out many ceramic works of unmatched quality and provenance (I would hate to be his shipper/insurer).
Masterworks by Viennese ceramicist Ernst Wahliss

This particular group of vessels by the Viennese ceramicist Ernst Wahliss  made me so very happy.  While being firmly rooted in the Jugenstil (1900s) they made me think of Murakami especially the mushroom shaped pot in the foreground (below).
I leave you lastly with an unexpected new discovery.  The highlight of every season is the encounter with something that captivates the eye with its uniqueness, may I present the "Fragile Future" chandeleier (2012) by Ralph Nauta and Lonneke Gordijn.
I apologize in advance for the rather cold nature of the captured light but this is the nature of LEDs.  It read from a distance as a work of Harry Bertoia, but having never seen a model close to this I knew my design vocabulary was leading me astray.  The framework is constructed of polished bronze, but the "bulbs" are actually individually adhered "dandelion seeds" to commercial LEDs, thus recreating and array of clustered dandelions.
The table lamp version of this chandelier was clad in glass which made complete sense as one can only imagine that these delicate reconstructed dandelions would become caked with dust over time.  Oh well, sometimes design is simply made for dreaming....More to follow from my week at the Basel Fair...

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Wrightsman Collection Yields Royal Jewel

Diamond Bow Brooch: Image courtesy Sotheby's
Hello again.  It has been far too long since my last offering but the business of business has once again gotten in the way.  But this post will not disappoint.  It seems that Sotheby's has snagged a consignment of jewels from the collection of Metropolitan Museum of Art donor Jayne Wrightsman.  Sotheby's was a shoe-in as they have been selling off Jayne's treasures ever since they aided her in dusbursing works from her Palm Beach residence in 1984.  The present sale is a single owner catalogue rife with the standard sets of jewels that were requisite for a 5th avenue hostess of the 1950s-1980s.  Big, colorful and impressive, but the sale saves one treasure for last....the above royal brooch.
Grand Duchess Elena Vladimirovna wearing the brooch: Image via The Royal Forums
May I present the diamond and gold bow brooch of circa 1850 from the collection of Russian Grand Duchess Elena Vladimirovna.  For those not in the know, she was the daughter of Grand Duchess Vladimir whose jewelry collection was one of the only Russian aristocratic collections to escape the revolution intact.  As the story goes, the brooch was a wedding present to Grand Duchess Elena either from her mother or from the Czar himself when she married into the Greek line becoming Princess Nicholas of Greece.  The brooch later passed to Elena's daughter Princess Marina of Greece.  Marina was quite a beauty and made a fortuitous match marrying Prince George of Kent thus becoming a prominent member of the British Royal Family.  The brooch was an apparent favorite as she wore it to numerous state events and in formal portraits most notably to the Coronation of George VI in 1937 and Queen Elizabeth in 1953.

Princess Marina wearing the brooch with her sisters Elizabeth and Olga: Image via Tumblr
Portrait of Princess Marina by Cecil Beaton: Image via Tumblr
Duke and Duchess of Kent (with brooch) at the coronation of George VI in 1937: Image via
Duchess of Kent wearing the brooch at the Coronation of Elizabeth II  in 1953: Image via Tumblr
With the present climate for the repatriation of Russian Royal treasures I am confident that the brooch will sail past its estimate of $200,000-300,000 especially given the added layer of British Royal history.  The listed provenance stops with Princess Marina (Duchess of Kent) so we don't know exactly how and when Jayne Wrightsman acquired it which is always frustrating, but then again this was the collector who managed to get Louis XV's desk out of France so I am sure for her anything was possible.  Until next time...AR

UPDATE:  The sale is over and the brooch achieved a staggering $842,500!  Unfortunately the press release provides no clues as to who the buyer may be.  We must wait for any further disclosures...

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Tiffany Coup For Michaan's Auctions

Hello dear readers, it has been far too long since my last post, but relatively speaking it was rather a slow summer for the art market in general.  As August winds to a close the September sale catalogues are upon us as are the flurry of fall press releases.  Asia Week will dominate a majority of next month as well as Sotheby's single owner sale of the Estate of Brooke Astor.  However, I was stunned by a major upset in the New York dominated Tiffany Studios market.  It appears that Michaan's Auctions (based in Almeda, California) has brought to market one of the best collections of Tiffany works of art in the world.  Michaan's beat out both Christie's and Sotheby's for the right to sell the "Tiffany Masterworks" from The Garden Museum in Japan.

Tiffany Studios "Grape" Table Lamp, Estimate $750,000-$850,000.  Photo courtesy Michaan's Auctions.
Detail, courtesy Michaan's Auctions.
This is quite a coup for the small California auction house considering that it was founded some ten years ago.  With the collapse of the economy, auction houses have become much more cautious about offering 0% terms, collateral loans, and guarantees in order to secure consignments but when they do come into play it is usually the larger houses that have the wherewithal to seal the deal...not so in this case.  According the their press release, Michaan's dug in deep and actually secured a group of private investors to acquire the contents of The Garden Museum outright and they will be selling it on their own behalf.  Quite risky and a very bold move for a smaller auction venue, but well played I must say.
Selection of lamps, a painting and favrile glass vases from The Garden Museum. Photo courtesy Michaan's.
The Garden Museum was the brainchild of fervent Tiffany collector Mr. Takeo Horiuchi aided by noted Tiffany expert Alastair Duncan after meeting at an exhibition in 1992.  From that point foreward, the pair worked closely together to track down only the best and most rarified works.  Horiuchi stuck by Duncan while he suffered a career setback that would have ruined others with lesser intestinal fortitude, but that is another story for another day.  Duncan played a major role in bringing this collection to market so it is a definite coup for him as well.
Wisteria and "Pony" Wisteria lamps from the collection.  Photo courtesy Michaan's.
From the press release, Japan's recent seismic activity and ensuing tsunamis motivated Horiuchi to disband the museum as he felt he could no longer ensure the long term safety of the works if they stayed in Japan.
Selection of highlights from the sale.  Photo courtesy Michaan's.
We will have to wait and see if a larger financial motivation comes to light.  The sale is oddly placed on November 17th, a full three weeks before the 20th century sales in New York.  I guess this will make it easier for collectors to to attend both the east coast and west coast sales but if I were Michaan's I would have had the sale in a pop-up space in New York to dominate the week typically won by Christie's and Sotheby's... but I digress.  More to come as the details unfold.  Make sure to secure your copy of Duncan's catalogue of the Museum published in 2002 as it will now likely become a scholarly collectors item.  Until next time--AR.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Untouched "Civa" on the Block in France

Detail of Face.  Courtesy Cortot-Vregille-Bizouard, Dijon
Hello dear readers, it has been some time and I have regrettably been too distracted by the business of business to muse over artistic distractions but I had to take the time to post this little treasure. May I present the gilt and cold painted bronze and ivory figure of "Civa" (Shiva) by Demeter Chiparus.
Civa by Demeter Chiparus.  Courtesy Cortot-Vregille-Bizouard, Dijon
Now I know many of you may think I have lost my mind. Chiparus' art deco figures of exotic dancers and femme fatales illicit very strong reactions from modern viewers. However, one must understand that these works were produced during the decadent interwar period that was rife with cabarets, ancient discoveries and a relaxation of sexual mores. Works of this nature were popular for a mere ten to fifteen years and with the rise of the second world war they were largely forgotten until the 1970s and 80s (another decadent time) when art deco art and furnishings had a revival among collectors and designers alike.
Detail of back.  Courtesy Cortot-Vregille-Bizouard, Dijon
Detail of Side.  Courtesy Cortot-Vregille-Bizouard, Dijon
The pose of this vaguely Indian yet Ballet Russe inspired figure is based on exoticist performers of the period.
Contortionist performer from the period.
The figure itself is made from cast bronze that is exquisitely painted in rouge and orange tones with gilding and silver embellishments. This example is the top tier of the artist's production, thus the face, hands and feet are sculpted from elephant ivory.
Detail of surface decoration.  Courtesy Cortot-Vregille-Bizouard, Dijon
Detail of legs.  Courtesy Cortot-Vregille-Bizouard, Dijon
The use of ivory is naturally controversial these days and does make these works hard to import and export. This is something that potential purchaser's must keep in mind. The statue is being offered by the regional French auction house Cortot-Vregille-Bizouard based in Dijon. Believe it or not, this market is proliferated with fakes both from the the period and of more recent manufacture. They are usually easy to spot but sometimes they can be quite masterfully executed. The present lot is the "Holy Grail" for serious collectors as it has an air tight provenance. According to the auction catalogue the statue was presented to a Mr. H. Lacaille on the 7th of April 1935 at the banquet of the federation of wine and spirits merchants of the eastern region and the syndicate of Haute Marne. The base bears a presentation plaque to this effect. This is all very nice in theory, but thankfully the event was photographed for posterity...with the statue present in the foreground.
1935 banquet for the wine and spirit merchants of Haute Marne.
Detail showing Civa in the period image above.
From an expert's standpoint it does not get any better than this. The work remained in the Lacaille family up until this point. With this in mind, the figure is being offered at the seemingly modest estimate of €50,000-80,000. I say that because a comparable example sold at Christie's London in 2009 for $142,699. I fully expect it to reach the $150,000 range at the very least. We shall have to wait until the hammer falls to find out.
Detail of base interior.  Courtesy Cortot-Vregille-Bizouard, Dijon
As a final aside I had to publish one more detail image. If this work wasn't over the top already...the base illuminates. Now that is what I call gilding the lily. Until next time--AR.

UPDATE: The statue sold netting $140,122 with buyer's premium.  This is completely in line with my thoughts and with the example that sold in London in 2009.  Until next time...--AR

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Rare Tiffany Settee at Doyle New York

Image via Doyle New YorkHello Dear Readers. Just a quick post this time but it is of the utmost importance. Thanks to an old colleague I was tipped off to this rare treasure that is slated to sell tomorrow (Feb. 8th) in Doyle New York's Belle Epoch auction. Let me introduce you to the Indian inspired carved wood settee crafted by Louis Comfort Tiffany for the music room of the H. O. Havemeyer house at 1 East 66th Street.

Image via Doyle New York
The modern upholstery may leave much to be desired but you must think it away. The Havemeyer mansion was one of the premier aesthetic movement homes in America when completed in 1892. Tiffany planned every detail of the decor and the music room was no exception.

Period Image of the Music Room
Unfortunately the home was razed in 1930 and its contents were divided by the family...some of which were disbursed. Thankfully for us many pieces have made it into public collections. From time to time they do appear at auction, but usually at Christie's and Sotheby's. Don't get me wrong, Doyle's is a New York institution, but you would expect a lot of this level to command the cover of an important December/June design sale. It is quite puzzling. Perhaps the consigner wants to sell discretely but the motive is unclear at this point.

Image Doyle New YorkThe provenance shows that the settee descended in the Havemeyer family for four generations but there is no direct indication that it was consigned by the family. It is a bit confusing as that would only add cache to the lot. That said, I have absolutely no doubt that it will sell at its estimate of $125,000-175,000. If I were a gambling man I would guess that it will sell in the $250,000-300,000 range. But there is no telling. This work is so exceedingly rare that it could easily fly despite being discretely inserted in a smaller sale venue. Until tomorrow we wait.-AR

Well I was proven to be a bit too conservative in my exhuberence, perish the thought. The lot sold this afternoon for $422,500.00. It is no surprise because lets face it...where can you find another one in private hands? I will let you know if any further details surface.--AR

Update II:
Well that did not take too long. My contact at Doyle's confirmed that there were seven active bidders competing for the settee. The lot was won by the powerhouse art consultancy McClelland + Rachen bidding on behalf of a private client. They represent some of the best 20th century art collectors so I am not surprised by this news. Evidently the underbidder was Margot Johnson who featured prominently in a previous post about Herter Brothers. How exciting. Until next time.--AR

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Art Nouveau Jewelry at Sotheby's

Detail via Sotheby's
Hello dear readers. The winter antiques/auction season is charging forward despite the fact that we have had little proof that winter has actually taken place in the Northeast thus far. As many of you know I am greatly distracted by interesting and historic jewelry. Thankfully Sotheby's Important Jewels sale this month does not disappoint. The specialists were able to cull a few fine Art Nouveau stunners from different collections for an impressive section in the sale. And here they are:

Image via Sotheby's
This rather florid pendant is by the incomparable Rene Lalique and dates to circa 1900. The enamel on gold is exquisite especially when you note the subtle details to the face enhanced by the engraving to the gold surface below. This was produced at the height of the Art Nouveau period and is exactly what a collector would want, which is likely factored into the estimate of $60,000-80,000.

Image via Sotheby's
This sinewy comb is a perfect marriage of Art Nouveau and Egyptian motifs. It dates to just after 1905 and being a part of the pre-plastic era, it is composted predominantly of translucent tortoiseshell embellished with enamel, opals and gold fitments. It is the work of Georges Fouquet, who in my opinion, does not get the credit he deserves as his works are on the same level as the venerable Lalique.

Detail via Sotheby's
It comes in at a more modest $10,000-15,000 and is really more of collector's cabinet piece but exquisitely designed nonetheless.

Image via Sotheby's
This next offering is composed of a brooch and a separate clasp of the same design by Rene Lalique. The pieces date to circa 1900 and are being offered at an estimate of $60,000-80,000. The decoration is comprised of gold with cream enamel and amethyst stones, the brooch further embellished with pink glass raspberries. While visually interesting the lot gives me pause as there appears to be more to the story. The lot description skirts the issue by merely noting that only the clasp is signed and that the brooch has a later pin fitment. It seems clear to me that these pieces started out life as part of a larger work, perhaps a necklace with the "brooch" serving as the centerpiece or pendent. It will likely sell as it is so rare, but I am not sure where it will fall at that estimate.

Image via Sotheby's
If the previous lot seems a bit lacking this next piece is definitely everything you would want and at the same estimate of $60,000-80,000. Like the peacock, the iridescent dragonfly was a creature emblematic of the Art Nouveau movement and sensibility. This pin of opposing dragonflies was crafted by Rene Lalique between 1903-1904 in enameled gold with opals. The wings are rendered in plique-a-jour enamel which makes them akin to little stained glass windows. It is definitely a technique you want to see in a Lalique piece. I have a strong feeling this work will fare well when it is up on the block. It is a microcosm of a larger work on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I present the elaborate collar necklace that Lalique crafted for his second wife around 1900.

Image via
Again it relies on opals, enameled gold and the plique-a-jour technique....but obviously on a much larger scale and completely over the top as the artist was not constrained by the dictates of a client commission.

Image via
The collar is comprised of nine stylized maidens with wild Mucha-esque whiplash hair with arms flowing into a lobed frame with black swans on a pale blue plique-a-jour ground. Each maiden is flanked by impressive fire opals in gold vine-work mounts. The workmanship of these pieces is even more evident when you view the verso.

Image via
Truly exquisite as there is no need to provide this level of finish to the back of the work. It was donated to the Met in 1985 by the venerable Tiffany dealer Lillian Nassau. I once saw a painting of Nassau wearing the necklace and wish I could find an image of it. It shows the dramatic scale of the piece when worn.

Image via Sotheby's
The final lot to cover from the Sotheby's sale is this intricate pin executed by Georges Fouquet around 1910. Like the comb above, it is looking to the motifs of ancient Egypt for its primary inspiration (albeit filtered through the lens of the late Art Nouveau style). Again it is executed in enameled gold set with an array of semi-precious stones framed by a riviere of small rose cut diamonds. This work is priced at the seemingly popular estimate of $60,000-80,000. As a late Art Nouveau work it is beginning to stiffen-up looking ahead to what would become the Art Deco style. Fouquet took over his father's jewelry business in 1895 and his close alliance with Art Nouveau illustrator Alphonse Mucha is beyond apparent...even to the untrained eye. In 1902 he moved the business to 6 rue Royale and made quite the splash with its decor (designed by Mucha).

Period Image of facade via

Period Image of interior via
As you know, I do love a period image, but thankfully for us the shop was donated in its entirety to the Musee Carnavalet in Paris where it was faithfully reinstalled. Take-in the feast of details below. The next time you are in Paris it is a must see. We shall await the fate of the Art Nouveau gems at Sotheby's...until next time. AR

Image of interior via

Detail via MGLM Architects

Detail via

Detail via Bit of Seasoning Tumblr

Detail via Bit of Seasoning Tumblr

Facade detail via Melbourne Our Home Blogspot