by Louis Bofferding
JOHN DICKINSON FETISHES
John Dickinson (1919-1982), American. Set of 8 sculptures, circa 1970. Wood sprayed with automobile paint. H: 20“ to 27“. Provenance: John Dickinson; Carlene Safdie. Sold
In the early 1970s, John Dickinson, the San Francisco furniture and interior designer, bought a group of new, hand-made, yet mass-produced African figures at Cost Plus, a local import store. He mounted them on bull-nosed bases and sprayed the works with glossy white automobile paint. Then, he put them on a chest in a room he created for a 1974 showhouse benefit for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art [below left]. When it closed he took them home, and put them in a towering Victorian cabinet he customized to meet his high if offbeat aesthetic standards [below right].
Dickinson’s methodology prefigures that of the New York appropriation artists of the 1980s, like Richard Prince who re-photographed cigarette ads, and Sherrie Levine who painted watercolors after modernist masterpieces by famous male artists. Their work critiques sexism, the media, and the art world, whereas Dickinson’s transformation of African crafts into first-world commodities critiques the design world and its fetishes.
Dickinson’s clients got the point of his conflation of design and art. But he, and they, were oblivious to the colonialist implications that we find inescapable now. Yet, among contemporary art collectors and museum curators today, it’s this very freighted edginess of his work that accounts for its appeal,.
French (Landres), 19th century. Birdcage, circa 1850. Walnut with metal fittings. H: 20 ½” L: 17” W: 11 ½”. Sold
In Pre-Columbian America, the Aztecs bred colorful parrots and kept them in temples. Around the same time in Europe, peasants hung perforated pots on trees for the birds to take roost. Later, in the 18th-century, birds were kept as pets in cages by gentlefolk [below left]. Our charming 19th-century French birdcage is a fanciful rendition of an actual house. Cut with a coping saw in lace-like patterns from sheets of walnut, this cage has a double gate at one end, and a single gate at the other. According to the old certificate of a Paris antiquaire (one Monsieur Parenti by name, who had a shop off the Étoile of the Champs-Élysées) our birdcage was made in the Landres region of northeastern France. There, it would have graced a manor house, and housed a songbird, to the delight of the children.
JOHN VESEY FURNITURE
John Vesey (1924-1992), American. Dining table with two leaves, circa 1970. Chromed steel, patinated brass, brown-lacquered linen-wrapped top. H: 29 ½”; Dia: 72”; with both 22″ wide leaves in place overall length 116” (9’ 6”). Provenance: Mrs. Gardner (Jan) Cowles. Sold
“Merveilleux” was Hubert de Givenchy’s pronouncement on John Vesey’s furniture as quoted in Vogue. “Opulent modern” was how Bill Cunningham characterized it in a Vesey profile he wrote for the Chicago Tribune, years before documenting fashionable passersby with his camera. A “status item in many of the best-dressed rooms,” proclaimed Eugenia Sheppard of Women’s Wear Daily, where another columnist, challenged by the French language, signed off with “VIVE LA VESEY!” (“le” would have been the correct article). The enthusiasm of the press was due in part to the “staggering list of celebrities” who bought his furniture, which included, besides Givenchy, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Cecil Beaton, Babe Paley, and Baby Jane Holzer.
Vesey, in his bespoke suits, fit into their milieu as seamlessly as his expensive furniture fit into their homes. There, among the pricey antiques, his beautifully handcrafted metal designs held their own, in a way that the manufactured plywood and Formica designs of Ray and Charles Eames simply could not. Having studied art history at Harvard, Vesey became a Manhattan antiques dealer, and sent the occasional antique to a Bronx metalworking studio, where it would be copied in steel and brass. The stylish results were such a hit that he consigned his entire inventory to Parke-Bernet for auction, and spent the proceeds on having his own designs fabricated.
Yet Vesey continued to be inspired by antiques. This dining table, with a chromed-steel and brass base, a brown-lacquered linen top, and two matching leaves, was based on English Regency mahogany examples [above right]. Our unique table was the result of a special commission from Jan Cowles [above left], the glamorous third wife of Gardiner Cowles, scion of a newspaper publishing family, who had launched Look magazine. Previously, she had been married to James M. Cox, Jr., of Cox Communications (media moguls, apparently, were her type).
Belying Vesey’s elegance and charm was his dark side. His kink was S & M, which landed him in a courtroom, where he received the jail sentence that ended his career. He was hardly the first creative type to do dreadful things. Consider Benvenuto Cellini, the 16th-century goldsmith, who bragged in his memoirs of rape, maiming, and killing. This may not have been a deal breaker in the Renaissance, but it was by Vesey’s day. Since his death in 1992, however, the sulfurous odor of his work had lifted somewhat, leading to a reappraisal, a price surge, and a head-spinning bidding frenzy. in the auction room. One could call it a succès de scandale.
French, 20th century. Baguès, circa 1935. Clear and bronze cut crystal, cast elements, on steel frame. H: 44”; Dia: 30” Sold
This 1930s French chandelier adapts ancien régime form to café society taste. That involved attenuating proportions, making the frame in steel rather than ormolu, plating the arms with cut-crystal arabesque plaques, and festooning it with prisms cut from thick slabs of clear and bronze crystal. Those plaques are typical of Austrian, not French, chandeliers. But in 1930s Paris, the Rococo style, as practiced in Mitteleuropa, was all the rage, prompting the designer of our chandelier to rise to the occasion.
American, 19th century. Miller Iron Company, Providence, RI. Birdhouse, 1868. Painted cast iron. H: 11” L: 10 ½” D: 14 ½” Provenance: George Schoellkopf. Sold
This charming 19th-century Victorian birdhouse is a miniature version of the Neo-Gothic mansions that were then being built for well-to-do families. And those very families were the potential buyers of this birdhouse, which was cast by the Miller Iron Company of Providence, Rhode Island. Dated 1868, and marked with the name of its maker, our birdhouse retains the original and pleasingly distressed painted finish. An identical birdhouse was shown and published in the catalog of the Houston museum’s 1976 exhibition, The Gothic Revival Style in America 1830 to 1870, a 1976 [below right].
Attributed to Jacques Adnet (1901-1984). Adjustable floor lamp, circa 1935. Glass, mirror, chrome-plated fittings, painted wood. Maximum height 70″. Provenance: Doris Duke, Duke Farms, Hillsborough, New Jersey. Sold
This glass-and-metal floor lamp may be by Jacques Adnet, who, in Paris around 1930, was designing similar ones [below left] for the Companie des Arts Français. Then again, it may have been designed under his influence by someone at McMillen, the New York decorating firm. In either case, it was owned by Doris Duke [below right], the heiress, socialite, philanthropist, hortological patron, and noted art collector. She had recently engaged the decorator Eleanor Brown, who had been Mrs. McMillen during her first marriage, to redecorate Duke Farms, the vast estate she inherited from her father, James B. Duke, the tobacco tycoon. There, the lamp graced the modernist black-painted bar adjacent to the Olympic-sized indoor swimming pool.
Attributed to F. & C. Osler (Birmingham, England). Oil lamp, now electrified, circa 1860. Cut lead crystal, gilt brass. H: 38 1/2“ (as shown, shade adjustable) Sold
In the 19th-century, when the Industrial Revolution allowed Britannia to rule, the Birmingham firm of F. & C. Osler was celebrated for innovative and artistic glassware. Their stylish product line included chandeliers and sconces, which had previously been made of glass, but also fountains and oil lamps, which had not. No wonder they were invited to exhibit at every world’s fair, where they caught the eyes of rich English lords, Indian maharajas, and an Egyptian king. The design of this large, spectacular glass lamp, held together with a minimum of gilt-metal-fittings, took full advantage of the material’s refractive properties.
American, 20th century. Set of 6 sconces, 1930s. Chromed metal, and acid-etched glass beads. H: 9” W: 10 ½” Depth 6” Sold
In the 1930s, the fanciful geometry of the 1920s Art Deco style softened to a Streamlined Moderne sleekness. Then, industrial designers were just beginning to study drag on airplanes, cars, trains, and ships, by testing models of them in wind tunnels [below left]. And, judging from the aerodynamic contours of stationary furnishings, it would seem that designers did too, even if they had not. This set of six streamlined sconces have chromed back plates to amplify light, and walls of acid-etched pearls to diffuse it. The effect would have flattered the platinum goddesses of that age, as it would the more naturally coiffed ones of our own.
Line Vautrin (1913-1997), French. ‘Sainte Foi’ clip, circa 1950. Enameled gilt bronze. 1 ¾” Sold
Line Vautrin launched her career in the late 1930s with a jewelry collection for Elsa Schiaparelli. Then, after the war, she also began to make the sunburst mirrors that sell for fortunes today. By the 1980s, however, she had fallen into obscurity. Then, she was rediscovered by Pierre Le-Tan, the Paris artist and tastemaker, which led to a commission from Rei Kawakubo to design jewelry for her Comme des Garcons label. A good Catholic girl, Vautrin occasionally incorporated religious imagery in her work. This enameled, gilt-bronze clip was based on the medieval, bejewelled gold reliquary of Sainte Foy, the patron saint of pilgrims, soldiers, and prisoners, which can still be seen today in the abbey church at Conques.
Steuben, American 20th century. Large urn, mid 1930s. Blown and cut glass. Height 9” Diameter 10” Sold
In 1933, Arthur Houghton Jr., scion of the family that owned Corning Glass, took charge of its under-performing subsidiary Steuben Glass. In short order he pink-slipped the firm’s designer and founder Frederick Carder, had the unsalable inventory of saccharine-colored Victorian-looking wares smashed to bits, and hired the young sculptor Sidney Waugh to revamp the product line. Thus began Steuben’s golden age. Just then, Corning had developed a highly refractive glass for optical purposes. Its translucent beauty prompted Houghton to requisition the secret formula for the production of Steuben’s luxury goods. The form of this urn, derived from ancient Greek mixing bowls, or kraters [below left], was an early smash hit. It was produced in different sizes, of which this is the largest and rarest. In 1934 Edward Steichen photographed one for Vogue [below right], cradled in fashionable hands, at the firm’s Fifth Avenue showroom.
Austrian, 19th century. Biedermeier sofa, circa 1820. Walnut, horsehair, brass nailheads. H: 34″ Length 61″. Sold
Millicent Rogers, a Standard Oil heiress and a passionate skier, was living in St. Anton, Austria, when Harper’s Bazaar ran a story in the March 1938 issue [below] on her “peasant chalet with huge Austrian stoves, Biedermeier furniture…jade, and blanc de chine.” That very month the Germans marched into Austria, prompting Rogers, then Mrs. Ronald Balcom, and a fierce Nazi opponent, to return to the States, after having packed up her goods, chattels, and eight dachshunds. Among the hoard was this lean-limbed, walnut Biedermeier sofa, which, over two centuries, managed to retain its durable, original horsehair upholstery.
Lajos Kozma (1884-1948), Hungrian. Set of 8 chairs, circa 1925. Stained walnut, upholstered in velvet. Back height 38″. Sold
Like many aspiring artists, architects, and designers the world over, Lajos Kozma left Hungary in 1909 to study in Paris. There, he managed to land an apprenticeship under Henri Matisse. Surprisingly, neither that painter nor his milieu influenced Kozma in the least. Rather, on returning to Budapest the following year, he worked in a style inspired by the Vienna Sessession, and Hungarian folk art. Still young and impressionable, Kozma’s next inspiration was the local iteration of the Baroque. By 1930 he moved on to modernism, designing tubular furniture and glass-walled villas. At the outbreak of World War II, Kozma, a Jew, had much to fear, yet he stayed put, survived, and prospered when peace returned. Our eight walnut dining chairs date to his middle, neo-Baroque period. They are nearly identical to a 1925 chair in the Budapest Museum of Applied Art, and are close in spirit to a 1923 commode in the Wolfsonian in Miami.
THE LIVINGSTON-GRIGGS RESIDENCE
In 1925, Mrs. Theodore W. Griggs, a descendant of the Livingston family of Hudson Valley fame, inherited her parents’ mansion on Summit Avenue in St. Paul, Minnesota. She then embarked on a decades-long renovation. First, she persuaded Allen H. Stem, an important local architect, who designed New York’s Grand Central Station with Whitney Warren, to take on the small job of reconfiguring the interiors, and installing an Elizabethan-style drawing room, while leaving the unfashionable but handsome Victorian facade intact. Then, she hired the high-society New York decorator Mrs. Philips Brooks Robinson (wife of the son of the Metropolitan Museum’s director), known professionally by her maiden name Miss Gheen. In landing the job, she beat out Elsie de Wolfe, who, in her 1935 autobiography After All, trashed her decorating rival, and Mrs. Griggs, without naming names.
In the span of a few years, Mrs. Griggs and Mrs. Robinson acquired ten period rooms, and a slew of 18th-century furniture from Jansen in Paris, Adolfo Loewy in Venice, and the New York showroom of a still-smarting Elsie de Wolfe. Installing period rooms is a complicated business, so Edwin Lundie, who would beecome the architect of choice to the local gentry, deserved a gold star in pulling it off. That, along with his charming manner and eye for detail, prompted Mrs. Griggs to commission him to create an “amusement room” in the capacious basement, where her daughter Mary could entertain friends and suitors on her coming out. After marrying, she would go on, as Mary Burke, to assemble the most important collection of Japanese art outside Japan, which was inspired, she later said, by her mother’s collecting. When Mary, by then Mrs. Burke of New York, died at ninety-six in 2012, her collection was divided between the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, where she had passed many a happy hour in her youth, and the Metropolitan Museum. In 2016, both museums mounted major exhibitions to commemorate her bequests.
The amusement room was entered through an unprepossessing oak door in the foyer. It opened to an exquisite stairwell hewn from creamy marble, and swagged with a white silk-rope handrail [below left]. Guests descended to a silver-leafed room paved with mirrors, and grisaille reverse-painted-glass panels, which were decorated with cavorting commedia dell’arte figures [below right]. Among the furnishings were silvered banquettes, a mirrored Serge Roche cocktail table, a Laurence Colwell glass sunburst clock, a pair of Steuben glass-and-chrome andirons, and an embarrassment of glittering Steuben glass ornaments. On December 23rd, 1935, Mary was launched in society at a debutante ball held at the Minnesota Club in downtown St. Paul. And on December 29th, Mrs. Griggs launched the amusement room with a party for her daughter. On that frigid night, guests sloughed off their furs, and entered this frosty jewel-box of a room — the Art Deco equivalent, you might say, of Doctor Zhivago’s frozen dacha.
Frederick Carder established Steuben Glass in 1903, in the town that bears this name in New York State. He stayed on as the artistic director when the Houghton family, owners of Corning Glass, purchased Steuben in 1918. But by 1933, in the depths of the Great Depression,, their sales were decimated, and their old-fashioned product line, in yesterday’s colors, was gathering dust on the shelves. And so the firm was turned over to the family’s young scion, Arthur Houghton, Jr., for a revamp that would make design history. He hired industrial designers and sculptors, like William Dorwin Teague and Sydney Waugh, to come up with streamlined designs that were made in a newly discovered, and startlingly translucent glass. To showcase the line, a modern glass-block building went up on Fifth Avenue, where, in a bright, white, double-height showroom, Mrs. Griggs and Mr. Lundie purchased and commissioned glass objects that were shipped to Summit Avenue. And there they would remain, along with the 18th-century furnishings upstairs, until the 1980s when, after a brief stint as a house museum, the mansion was sold, and the contents dispersed.
GLASS FURNISHINGS FROM THE GRIGGS AMUSEMENT ROOM
Pair of Steuben silvered and clear glass lamps, circa 1935, originally placed on Edwin Lundie designed mirrored pedestals as seen below. H: 14″. Sold
Pair of Steuben glass, chrome-plated metal, and wrought iron andirons, circa 1935, that can be seen in the fireplace below. H: 13″. Sold
Wall clock by Laurence Colwell with a molded glass frame, circa 1935 (the frame was also used for a sconce illustrated in Vogue, October 15th, 1937, page 83). Dia: 19 1/2″ Sold
Pair of Steuben horse sculptures in cast glass (one with diamond-point signature), circa 1935. H: 7: L: 10 1/2″. Sold
Pair of Steuben silvered-glass ashtrays, one with a Steuben adhesive label, circa 1935 (illustrated in Vogue, 1934, page 78). L: 7 1/4″ D: 4 3/4″ H: 1 1/4″ Sold
American or French, 20th century. Barometer, 1930s. Silvered wood, paint, metal fittings. H: 45″ Sold
MINIATURE PAINTINGS BY FULCO DI VERDURA
Fulco di Verdura (1898-1978) painting of amphorae hanging on a door, dated August 1972. Gouache on paper. 10″ x 8″ framed. Provenance: Mr. & Mrs. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. Sold
He knew everyone who was anyone, but in his 1976 memoir Fulco, Duke of Vedura, didn’t drop names. Nor did he mention his adventures in the Great War, or his brilliant career as a jewelry designer. Instead, he wrote of his idyllic Sicilian childhood. Verdura was then in his seventies, by which time he had retired from the jewelry trade that brought him fame and fortune (which came in handy after having squandering his inheritance as a youth). But family and home had never been far from his mind. And so, over the years, he would return to Sicily often, with his glamorous friends in tow.
Our small painting is dated August 1972 on the back of the frame, and inscribed Forza d’Agro, which is the name of a Sicilian seaside town, where Francis Ford Coppola filmed scenes for The Godfather shortly thereafter. It shows an old paneled wood door hung with amphorae [below left], the ceramic pots the Greeks introduced to Sicily in antiquity. It’s impossible to say if these pots are antique ones that were dregged from the sea, or newly made ones, since their tried-and-true form didn’t change over millennia. In any case, Verdura must have come across this still life, just waiting to be painted, when on an excursion to the town on that day.
Verdura often gave his paintings away as gifts. This one was owned by the film star Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and his second wife Mary [above right]. Perhaps they were with him on that excursion to Forza d’Agro, and given it as a souvenir. This is speculation, but their friendship is fact. In the 1930s, when married to Joan Crawford, Fairbanks would have crossed paths with Verdura who was then living in Hollywood, and designing jewelry for Paul Flato, jeweler to the stars. Fast forward to the 1970s when Verdura was living in London and painting in his retirement. There, Fairbanks found himself leaving a gallery opening of Verdura’s paintings empty handed, because they sold out while he dithered over which one to buy. Shortly thereafter, he wrote magnanimously to the artist, “it is always so wonderful to have friends who grow in value through the years. It is even nicer to have those friends enjoy great gifts – and it is even more agreeable when those gifted friends blossom out into still another avenue of talent.”
Fulco di Verdura (1898-1978) miniature painting of Bellona, goddess of war, from the 1960s. Gouache on paper. 6 1/4″ x 6 1/4″ framed. Provenance: Mrs. (Rosita?) Winston; Kenneth Batelle. Sold
Around 1960, at the height of the Cold War, the high-society jeweler Fulco di Verdura painted this tongue-in-cheek miniature Allegory of War. In it he depicted Bellona, the Roman goddess of war, seated on a pile of gilded armor, and bristling with spears and standards. For centuries military trophies, commemorating battles won, were assembled from actual arms and armor, and carved in stone, like the acient marble sculpture etched in the 18th century by Giovanni-Battista Piranesi [below left]. Verdura updated the tradition. He presented Bellona — as soigné as Babe Paley, his client and friend — on just such a trophy, with nuclear mushroom clouds detonating on the horizon.
The painting retains its original silk mat, and giltwood frame, selected by the artist himself. It bears the label of Robert Kulicke, the premier framer in New York at the time, who happened to be a talented painter himself. It comes from the collection of Kenneth Battelle [below right], better known as Mr. Kenneth, hair stylist to the jet set.
Verdura gave his paintings away as gifts, and sold them in exhibitions at prestigious galleries, like Wildenstein and Knoedler. On the back of this painting is inscribed the name of a Mrs. Winston. This suggests it belonged to the real estate tycoon Norman Winston’s wife Rosita, who was then cutting a bejeweled swath through international high society.
Fulco di Verdura (1898-1978) miniature painting of the Sala di Giove in the Pitti Palace, 1966. Gouache on paper sealed with nail polish. Signed and dated. Original frame 8 1/2“ x 7, image 3 ½” x 2 ¼” Sold
In 1929, Duke Fulco di Verdura threw a lavish costume ball in his family’s Palermo palazzo. It wiped out his inheritance. Following that grand gesture, he moved to Paris, and went to work for Coco Chanel, who had attended his ball. She would discover his gift for jewelry design. A decade later, following the outbreak of war, he moved to Hollywood, where he designed expensive baubles for Paul Flato, jeweler to Tinseltown’s crowned heads. Relocating to Manhattan after the war, Verdura established a studio on Fifth Avenue, where Linda and Cole Porter, Bill and Babe Paley, and Gianni and Marella Agnelli, spent lavishly.
In 1973, Verdura retired, moved to London, and resumed in a serious way his hobby of painting in miniature, with the aid of a magnifying glass [above left]. Occasionally, he would apply a coat of clear nail polish to bring out the colors. He had a few selling exhibitions at tony galleries, but mainly he painted for his own pleasure, and that of his friends. For Betsey and Jock Whitney he depicted a group of paintings from their collection (including a Cezanne, a Van Gogh, and a Gauguin), and had a gold easel made for its display [above right]. Along that line, he painted, and varnished like a manicurist, a view of the Sala di Giove [below left] in a gallery at the Pitti Palace. There, he painted an an art student copying Andrea del Sarto’s St. John the Baptist. If that painting appears slightly askew, it’s because it was hinged to the wall, allowing for pivoting to minimize glare. In an old photograph taken in the very same gallery, while a student copyist was on break, one sees a Raphael similarly hinged [below right]. No detail, no matter how small, escaped Verdura’s eagle eye.
WORKS BY VENINI
Gio Ponti (1891-1979) for Venini, Italian, 20th century. Mirror with four integral light fixtures for the 1928 Venice Biennale. Blown-glass mirror plate, blown-and-cast glass elements, some iridized, aluminum, and wood. H: 77” W: 34”. Sold
When Gio Ponti sat down in 1928 to draft a mirror with light fixtures for the rotunda of the Venice Biennale, he wasn’t yet the towering figure of 20th-century Italian architecture and design that he would soon become. Then, the century was still young, and at thirty-seven so too was Ponti [below left], who had established his architecture practice the year before. That’s why he had only two buildings to his credit when the rotunda was unveiled — his own house in Milan, and a villa on the outskirts of Paris for the owner of Christofle, the silver manufacturer. Ponti, however, had been hard at work since the early 1920s, designing household furnishings like the now iconic light fixture that his French client had put into production in 1927 [below right].
Ponti was on the fast track from the get go, and there he remained until drawing his last breath and floor plan at the age of eighty-eight. His red-letter dates began to accrue in 1923 when he became the art director for Richard-Ginori porcelain. In 1925 he won the Grand Prix for those porcelains at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs in Paris. In 1927 he brought together a group of designers to form the association Il Labirinto (“because our ideas are labyrinthine”), dedicated to improving the quality of furnishings in the modern Italian home. That same year he launched the furniture line Domus Nova (New House in Latin) for La Rinascente, Milan’s largest department store. And in 1928 he published the first issue of Domus, Italy’s preeminent architecture and design magazine, which is still published today.
The 1920s also saw Ponti enter the field of exhibition design. In 1925 he designed the Richard-Ginori stand where his award-winning porcelains were showcased at the Paris exposition. In 1927 he masterminded the setting of the Monza Triennale. And in 1928, in addition to sending a fully-furnished room to New York for a modern design exhibition at Macy’s, he designed the Venice Biennale rotunda and its furnishings [below}
Change is the name of the game at the Biennale, the celebrated contemporary art venue that debuted in a purpose-built structure in 1895. That’s why the rotunda was altered in 1907, and again in 1919, before Ponti redid it in 1928. When he entered the picture it had an octagonal plan, a sectional dome, and was elaborately painted and gilded. When he finished it had a circular plan, a semi-spherical dome, and was painted flat white. This austere backdrop offset the dramatic silhouettes of his chairs and sofas that were made in the workshop of Melchiorre Bega, and his four ravishing mirrors with light fixtures that were made by the Venini glassworks. We’re proud to have rediscovered one of these mirrors — the only one that is known to have survived.
Ponti’s preliminary sketch for the rotunda [above left] shows the architecture largely as executed, and a furnishing scheme that wasn’t realized. He would change the seating arrangement and eliminate the center table, cabinets, and vases. As for the mirrors, he roughed in an idea for one with three light bulbs, seen to the left of the portal [above right]. But since it overlaps with the cabinet, one or the other had to go. In the end, the mirror won out, grew from three to eight mirror plates, acquired bowls to hide the bulbs, and multiplied into a set of four.
They were made by Venini on the island of Murano, just a few vaporetto stops from the Giardini, the public gardens where the Biennale was, and is still held. The Venini family had been in the glassmaking trade since the 18th century, but in 1921 Paolo, their twenty-six-year-old descendant [below left], relocated the firm from Como to Venice, at Ponti’s suggestion it has been said. Then, Venice was teeming with rich tourists and talented glassblowers, and the financial boom that would make the 1920s roar was just beginning to gather steam.
Venini’s success, however, can’t be chalked up merely to his being in the right place at the right time. He was, after all, a shrewd businessman, and a champion of modern design. One of the seven members of Ponti’s Il Labirinto group, Venini mounted exhibitions of their work in his Milan showroom, for which Ponti drew an ad [above right] that he published in his magazine Domus. For his part, Venini saw to it that his own glass was featured prominently in every Biennale since he established his Venetian glassworks. In 1926, for example, he supplied the old rotunda with a showstopper of a chandelier [below left]. And so, when the next Biennale was being planned, Venini no doubt wielded his considerable influence to land Ponti the rotunda commission, and then on Ponti himself to design something spectacular that Venini would make.
The Venini glassworks, under the artistic direction of the sculptor Napoleone Martinuzzi, was running full tilt in 1928. That year, in addition to developing the product line, he designed and overseen the fabrication of an over-life-size sculpture of Josephine Baker [above right], the African-American dancer and chanteuse who was then all the rage in Europe. It stole the show at the large Murano glass exhibition, which was held in the exclusive Excelsior Hotel on the Lido during the run of the Biennale. But Venini’s most ambitious project that year was the fabrication of the four Biennale mirrors. To our knowledge they were the first mirrors Venini made, the largest ones they’d ever make, and the first of their many collaborations with Ponti.
The Biennale mirrors weren’t designed as functional mirrors or light fixtures, since the embellishments interrupt the reflections, and the sconces emit little light. Rather, they were presented as works of art in their own right, and their purpose was to demonstrate Venini’s mastery to the crowds that gathered beneath their glimmer. The mirrors may have been sold during the run of the exhibition — or, if not, placed in Venini’s storage, which was destroyed in a 1973 fire, or sent on the road like the Josephine Baker, which was then shown in Paris and London before vanishing without a trace. In any case, the mirrors were also considered lost until this one resurfaced in a New York auction, unidentified, and without provenance.
The fabled city of Venice, where the mirrors were made and first exhibited, inspired Ponti’s design. The arrangement of interlocking mirror-plates replicate the pattern of masonry construction, as seen in the 16th-century arcade by Jacopo Sansovino on the Grand Canal [above left]. The undulating hand-made mirror plates reflect light and image like the lagoon’s rippling surface [above right]. A rainbow iridescence was applied to some glass elements (achieved through an ancient tin-fuming process rediscovered by Martinuzzi), which mimics the phenomenon of marine phosphorescence. Four half-disks “splashes” artiulate the outer edges. The joints of the bars that define each mirror plate are hidden by seashells. And the starfish and seaweed fronds that spring from the bowls are found in the sea, from which Venice had derived her wealth and power centuries before.
Transparency, reflection, evanescence – characteristics of glass, mirror, and water – are recurring themes in Ponti’s work. Some thirty years after the Biennale mirrors were made, Ponti would design the Pirelli Tower in Milan [above right], a graceful thirty-two-story fin of glass that is his architectural masterpiece. Germano Celant, a curator at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, who organized the 2004 Venice Biennale, described the skyscraper in a foreword to Lisa Licitra Ponti’s book on her father’s work as “aqueous…a vertical jet of solid lightness that can be identified with water itself.” One could well describe our mirror with those very words.
Venini, Italian 20th century. Chandelier and pair of sconces, designed by Napoleone Martinuzzi, late 1940s. Glass, aluminum. Provenance: Mr. & Mrs. Giorgio Diaz de Santillana, gift from Paolo Venini. Chandelier H: 35″ Dia: 33″; sconces H: 18″ W: 17″. Sold
A Venini dressing-table mirror, in colored and clear glass mounted on wood with a brass support, and matching lamp, both circa 1950, from the collection of Mrs. Stanley Hancock Hillyer, née Laura Venini. Lamp SOLD, 16″ x 13″ mirror Sold
In 1921, a recent law-school graduate from Milan named Paolo Venini arrived in Venice to take possession of a glassworks he purchased on the island of Murano. Venini [below right] was the scion of a family that had been in the glassmaking trade since the 18th century. Back then, they were in Como, and there they would have remained in obscurity had it not been for their descendant who saw the potential of relocating to Venice, where talented glassblowers abounded, and the free-spending beau monde forgathered.
Fabled since the Middle Ages, the prestige of Venetian glass had diminished by the time Venini [below right] entered the picture. Then, the charming but retardataire production of Venice had long since been overshadowed by the innovative work of Tiffany in America, Loetz in Austria, and Lalique in France. But by Venini’s death in 1959, Murano had undergone a renaissance, thanks to this newcomer who raised the creative bar in the process of achieving international preeminence for his firm.
Venini’s savvy selection of artists and architects as in-house designers was essential to his success. Among their number was Napoleone Martinuzzi, the sculptor who designed our chandelier and sconces around 1930. Martinuzzi had been inspired by 18th-century examples, like the chandelier in the Palazzo Rezzonico, which had been made by stringing glass elements on metal armatures [below left]. Martinuzzi, however, blew the dust off tradition by simplifying form, stripping away excess embellishments, eliminating color contrasts, and utilizing aluminum rather than brass fittings. The effect, stylistically speaking, is more café society elegance than ancien régime nostalgia.
In the early 1950s, our chandelier and sconces were shipped from Venice to Boston, along with a few spare parts, including one that still bears a Venini label [below left]. They were a gift from Paolo Venini to his old friend Giorgio de Santillana [above right)] an Italian philosopher who landed a professorship at MIT, and his wife Dorothy, a book editor who steered Julia Child through writing her magisterial cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking (as seen in Nora Ephron’s film Julie & Julia). Both Giorgio and Dorothy had sons by previous marriages, and both, as fate would have it, came to marry Venini’s two daughters. Giorgio’s son Ludovico married Anna Venini, and Dorothy’s son Stanley married Laura Venini [below right].
Anna, who remained in Venice, became Venini’s unofficial historian, and her husband Ludovico would take over the glassworks in 1959 when his father-in-law died. Laura, who owned our Venini dressing-table mirror and matching lamp [below], was no slouch herself. She studied languages at Oxford and the Sorbonne, and served as her father’s translator on a business trip to the United States in 1952. There, he met with department store buyers and museum curators, and Laura met her future husband, Stanley Hancock Hillyer, a businessman who was a descendant of John Hancock, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Two years later, Laura and Stanley married in Venice and settled in Milan, where they furnished their home with an embarrassment of Veninis. In 1958 they packed up these modern treasures, as well as a few antique ones, and moved to Boston. Widowed relatively young, Laura pulled up stakes yet again to settle in Manhattan, where she became the vice president of Vignelli Associates, the celebrated design firm established by Massimo and Lella Vignelli, who, in the past, had designed lighting fixtures for her father. And so, over the years, and on two continents, this lovely dressing-table mirror captured Laura’s elegant visage, lit by a matching lamp, as she applied her maquillage for a hard day at the office, and a glamorous night on the town.
English, 18th-century. Pair of tondi depicting Jupiter and Diana. Oil on canvas, ebonized-and-gilded wood frames supplied by Mark Hampton. Diameter 41 ½” framed. Provenance: Mr. & Mrs. Carter Burden, New York. Sold
You can be forgiven for thinking the old saw “see Naples and die” warns the tourist against visiting a place that’s reputedly run by the Mafia. But when Goethe penned these words in his travel diary in 1787, what he meant was that one could go to the grave satisfied after experiencing the pleasures — aesthetic and illicit — that this city offered in abundance. Had that not been the case, English lords wouldn’t have considered Naples the highlight of the Grand Tour.
Those milordi, as the Italians called them, returned home with crates of paintings, statuary, and the occasional artist in tow. Among them was the Neapolitan painter Antonio Verrio seen brush in hand [below left], who arrived in the Duke of Montagu’s entourage. Verrio’s mastery of illusionistic painting, then a novelty in England if a commonplace in Italy, lofted him to the pinnacle of success and the patronage of kings.
For King William III, Verrio frescoed the grand staircase at Hampton Court Palace with a swirl of gods descending from Mount Olympus [above right]. Below this scenographic tour de force are illusionistically painted military trophies, which bear comparison to our tondi, as art historians (following the Italian) call round paintings. Both depict sculpted stone busts casting shadows on colored backgrounds, and were painted with the slapdash vivacity characteristic of Italian artists. Our tondi represent Jupiter in all his bearded majesty, and Diana, the moon goddess with a lunar crescent in her hair. Painted di sotto in sù (“as seen from below”), they would originally have been positioned high in a room, like the pair of busts in niches at Bellamont Forest, an 18th-century Irish country house [below left].
No one had a keener appreciation for the Anglo-Saxon country house than the great Italian decorator Renzo Mongiardino, who did up more than few himself in the 1970s and 80s. Overseeing his jobs in England and America (and doing some on his own, too) was Gaser Tabakoglu, a Turkish-born cosmopolite, who had purchased these tondi from Carlton Hobbs, the eminent English dealer. This is where I enter the picture, laying eyes on them for the first time over a glass of scotch in Gaser’s lacquered sitting room on Sloane Street in London. The next sighting came a few years after that, when spending a weekend at Brick House, Gasser’s 19th-century retreat in upstate New York. There, they hung on the candy-striped-fabric walls of the master bedroom [above right].
Back then I was a contemporary art dealer, but in 1994 I switched to dealing in antiques from a townhouse apartment. The first person to sound the buzzer and mount the stairs was none other than Mark Hampton, America’s preeminent decorator (now there was a class act). He, in turn, sent over Mrs. Carter Burden, who leveled her discerning gaze on the tondi that I had since acquired from Gaser. She and her husband (now there was a collector) found them irresistible, so off they went to be hung above the doors of their double-height drawing room (now that is what I call decorating) on Fifth Avenue [below}. A room and a collection that would have done any of those 18th-century English milordi proud.
Continental. 19th-century. Cheval mirror. Mahogany, gilt gesso,gilt-metal hardware. 85 ½” high, 50” wide, 22” deep. Sold.
Viscount François-René de Chateaubriand is remembered today for the steak receipe named for him by his chef, but in Napoleonic France he was a celebrated writer, diplomat, and world traveler. In 1802 he published a defense of the Catholic church, then under a cloud for having supported the monarchy during the Revolution. But Chateaubriand praised the Church as the defender of the faith, patron of the arts, and singled out for special mention its role in the development of the Gothic style. That style was then unfashionable and deemed barbaric. But, by the time he sat down to write his memoirs some forty years later, Gothic had become all the rage. And so, when fashionable parisiennes wore Gothic-inspired jewelry [below left], and bought objects in le style troubadour [below right], Chateaubriand staked a claimed for having “linked the current taste to the edifices of the Middle Ages — it was I who brought back a young century’s admiration for the old temples.”
History contradicts his boast. In the mid 18th century, long before Chateaubriand entered the picture, a small but influential group of tastemakers in England and France were discovering Gothic charms. In the 1750s, the writer Sir Horace Walpole built Strawberry Hill, his “gothick” castle [below left]. And in the 1780s the painter Hubert Robert designed a picturesque Gothic ruin for the garden of the Princess of Monaco [below right]. And in the furniture trade, Chippendale’s Neo-Gothic designs were the talk of London, just as the pointy chair backs of Jacob were in Paris.
The aristocratic delicacy of the Rococo and Neo-Classical styles didn’t expire with ancien régime France, or Georgian England. Rather, it flourished well into the 19th century, and left its mark on the early Gothic revival. This can be be seen in the 1823 armchair by Auguste-Charles Pugin [below left], a refugee who escaped the turmoil of the French Revolution by settling in London. By the middle of the 19th century, however, when his son A.W.N. Pugin, architect of the Houses of Parliament, designed this 1864 side chair [below right], the Gothic style had come to assume a sober mien, in keeping with the zeitgeist of the Industrial Revolution.
The graceful elegance of our cheval mirror inclines us to date it to the 1840s. As difficult as it is to say exactly when it was made, pinpointing the where isn’t easier. That’s because the Neo-Gothic style spread from Paris and London to Moscow and New York by the 1850s, and by 1900 reached every continent except Antarctica. So while the mirror’s defining characteristics – openwork double-helix finials [below right], ribbed-serpentine columns [below left[, florid central crocket – are nothing if not distinctive, they don’t suggest a place of origin to us.
With the triumph of eclecticism in the late 19th century, Gothic was just one of many historical styles from which to choose. Then, it was stereotyped as masculine, and suited to men, just as the Louis XV style was feminine, and suited to women. And so it follows that William Randolph Hearst, the rough-and-tumble press baron, went Gothic all the way in the stupefyingly grand hall of his quintuplex Manhattan penthouse on Riverside Drive. An obsessive accumulator of antique art and furnishings, Hearst would no doubt have sided with Chateaubriand who had written in his celebrated memoirs, “the greater part of genius is composed of memories.”
Jansen, French 20th century. Pair of white-lacquered telephone tables and a red faux-finished one, with brass castors. Provenance: Mrs. Vincent (Brooke) Astor. The pair H: 11” L: 11” W: 7 ½”. The single H: 11” L: 12 ½” W: 8 ½”. Sold
“I can never ever thank you enough for twisting Boudin’s arm and making that enchanting, brilliant man come to Washington,” wrote a grateful Jackie Kennedy to Jayne Wrightsman, the wife of an oil tycoon, and an eminent collector of 18th-century French furniture. Stéphane Boudin, the director of Jansen, the great Paris decorating firm, had just given the young senator’s wife some free decorating advice. The big payoff for him would come a few years later, when Mrs. Kennedy, now the First Lady, asked Boudin to redecorate the White House.
Landing this prestigious job would have pleased Boudin, whose impressive client list included not only the Wrightsmans, but also Babe and Bill Paley, Marella and Gianni Agnelli, and scores of other millionaires. But it wouldn’t have fazed him either, having decorated for royals like Leopold III of Belgium, royals in exile like the Duke of Windsor, and self-proclaimed royals, like the Shah of Iran. Still, for a man in his seventies on the verge of retirement, it was a suitable grand finale.
Some years earlier, Jansen had opened a boutique at 9 rue Royale on the ground floor of the Paris headquarters. There, the firm’s clients and well-heeled passersby could breeze in and buy a vintage bergère, a modern dining table, a charming picture, or a precious bibelot. With the success of this boutique, and rave reviews coming in for the White House decor, the time had come to open a Jansen boutique stateside.
Enter Pamela Hayward, an English thoroughbred who was then married to Leland Hayward, the producer of countless musical hits on Broadway, including South Pacific, Gypsy, and The Sound of Music. Mrs. Hayward was a daughter of Lord Digby, an ex-wife of Winston Churchill’s son Randolph, and a future wife of Averell Harriman, the American railroad heir who was the ambassador to the Court of St. James’s (she would be appointed ambassador to France herself, some years hence, by President Clinton). If a stint as a New York shopkeeper in the midst of all this sounds like a comedown, keep in mind that the Jansen boutique in Paris was run by the beautiful Neapolitan princess Cora Caetani.
And so it came to pass, in 1963, that Mrs. Hayward opened, managed, and stocked the a Jansen boutique at 32 East 57th Street. There, she received her high-society friends, including Brooke Astor, who was so taken with these charming telephone tables (which had been designed in the firm’s Paris studio) that she bought several. And no wonder, since their brass wheels spared the busy socialite from having to lug hither and yon the large wired telephones of that day. And in our own day of small, cordless ones, the tabletops can comfortably accommodate the modern socialite’s mobile phone, not to mention a glass of Chardonnay.
George Platt Lynes (1907-1955). Millicent Rogers in an Adrian dress, 1947. 10″ x 8 1/4″ (unframed). Sold
Millicent Rogers’ beauty and style were often mentioned in the press, but her intelligence (she was fluent in many languages, including Latin and ancient Greek), and her creativity (she designed and cast her own jewelry) was often passed over. If her beauty was a man magnet, her intelligence could intimidate them, and it certainly presented a challenge to her three husbands, and many lovers, who included a ski champion in the Tyrol, a Navajo Indian in Taos, and Clark Gable in Hollywood. It was in Tinseltown that George Platt Lynes captured her wistful side in this 1947 photograph, with the aid of a soft-focus lens, props reminiscent of 19th-century daguerreotypes, and a Victorian-revival ballgown by Adrian, fashion designer to the stars. The photograph was published in a September 1947 issue of Harper’s Bazaar.
Japanese altar table, early 20th century. Lacquered wood with gilt-brass mounts. H: 16″ L: 24″ D: 13 3/4″ deep. Sold
Take a close look at a black-lacquered Asian object and you’ll find the suggestion of a color. That’s because true lacquer is a natural substance, one that’s built up layer on layer, each laboriously polished before the next can be applied. This creates richness and depth, in contrast to the artificial lacquered surface of a Steinway grand, which, by comparison, is more like the paint job of an automobile. Our small, exquisite early 20th-century Japanese table, with its delicate fretwork rails, and gilded brass mounts, was lacquered in a rich black that has an undertone of plum.
Jean-Baptiste Pillement (1728-1808), French 18th century. Pair of drawings. 12 1/2″ x 15 1/2″ framed each. Provenance Armand Rateau; KK Auchinchloss. Sold
When making the rounds of the Paris antiquaires, Mrs. James D. Auchincloss, who was known as KK, acquired this ravishing pair of red-and-black chalk drawings of fantastical flowers by Jean Pillement, the inventive Rococo artist. The provenance confirms their worthiness, for they bear the collection label of Armand Rateau, the great Art Deco designer, who was also a connoisseur of 18th-century French drawings. They remain in the French mats and giltwood frames that he had made for them.
Venetian, 16th century. Sansovino frame, circa 1580. Giltwood, probably walnut, with red bole, mounted on cypress. 53 1/2“ x 49 1/2. Sold
In the 20th century, a modernist room was a white-painted envelope of space, and the frames of the paintings that hung in them were mere strips of wood [below left]. In the 16th century, however, a Renaissance room was sumptuously decorated, and frames were anything but wallflowers. Then they were sculpted, painted, and gilded, and when arranged symmetrically (as they nearly always were) they reinforced the architectonic integrity of the room they were hung in.
Francesco de’ Medici’s studiolo in Florence is an exemplar of the seamless union of frame and decor [above right]. Ironically, that unity made frames vulnerable to shifting taste, for when a room was redecorated the paintings were reframed to suit, leaving the frames themselves out of the picture, if not in the dustbin.
So when Modernists decreed frames should be unobtrusive, they were taking a position that artists and collectors would have found risible in previous centuries. It certainly would have seemed so to Rosso Fiorentino, and King Francis I of France, who summoned him to the chateau of Fontainebleau in 1530. On arrival, Rosso set about decorating a gallery built for strolling during inclement weather, rather than displaying pictures from the king’s collection. There, Rosso executed a series of allegorical frescoes in plaster frames that were as impressive as the paintings themselves [below left].
Art historians separate the Renaissance into three chronological periods: Early, High, and Late, when the Mannerist style prevailed. It was during that last, mannered phase that frames like ours became showstoppers bristling with scrolls, swags, boughs, cherubs, and the humanoid supports called caryatids. These frames are referred to as Sansovino frames, after the Venetian architect Jacopo Sansovino, whose interiors were articulated by elaborate enframements that were the work of a sculptor, Alessandro Vittoria [seen in a portrait by Veronese above right].
Fast forward to the 1960s when the New York financier Robert Lehman left his vast art collection to the Metropolitan Museum. Among the treasures were nearly four hundred frames, many dating to the Renaissance. Initially, he bought them to put his paintings in, but over time he seems to have come around to buying them for their own sake. In so doing, Lehman embarked on a path that was obscure but not untrodden. In 1928, when he was making a name for himself on Wall Street, an extraordinary collection of 18th-century French giltwood frames came up for auction in Paris [catalog below left]. They were consigned by the widow of Paul-César Helleu, the fashionable society portraitist [seen below right in a John Singer Sargent watercolor portrait], who was celebrated for his exquisite taste in art, furniture, and women. Helleu used them to frame his Watteau, Boucher, and Fragonard drawings, but he also hung them empty on the walls, which is to say, he displayed them as works of art in their own right.
Antique frames have seduced more than a few artists and collectors with the confidence to stray from the beaten track. Picasso, for example, liked to see his paintings in 17th-century frames, both period and reproduction, as does George Condo today. And then there’s Tobias Meyer, former head of Sotheby’s contemporary art worldwide, and his partner Mark Fletcher, a contemporary art dealer. Together they selected an early 18th-century Italian giltwood frame for a prized John Curran painting, knowing the contrast would bring out the best of both.
Italian, 18th century. Armchair, circa 1780. Painted and gilded wood. Provenance: Count and Countess Rodolfo Crespi, Rome. 43” high. Sold
In Italy, cutting a bella figura — putting one’s best foot forward is the English equivalent — is a matter of self respect. To succeed at doing so isn’t easy, since it involves being a bit showy without being vulgar. In the case of this over-scaled, and almost over-embellished armchair, nearly every neo-classical motif – swag, rosette, volute, ribbon, and bow – is thrown in and somehow pulled off.
No couple in 1960s Rome cut more of a bella figura than Count Rodolfo Crespi and his wife Consuelo [below left], who placed this large armchair behind a modern steel desk by John Vesey in their Palazzo Odescalchi residence [below right]. The countess, who hailed from New York, was one of the beautiful O’Connor twins, the jet set’s answer to café society’s Cushing sisters a generation before. Her sense of style so impressed Diana Vreeland of Vogue that she hired the countess as the editor of the magazine’s Italian edition.
Jean Avisse, French 18th century. Pair of small chairs. Giltwood upholstered in silk satin. Provenance: Antenor Patiño; Countess Crespi. H: 20” Sold
If the best Italian furniture is swashbuckling, 18th-century fine French furniture — referred to by insiders as FFF — is nothing short of Apollonian in perfection. No wonder connoisseurs for the last two centuries have considered it the apogee of the art of furniture making.
A celebrated menuisier of that refined time and place was Jean Avisse, who proudly stamped each of these exquisite, diminutive Louis XVI giltwood chairs with his name three times [below left]. In the last century they were acquired by Antenor Patiño [below right], a great collector of FFF, and the son of the Bolivian mining magnate who was known as the Tin King. The family mines were nationalized in the 1950s, but that didn’t prevent Antenor from living splendidly in a hôtel particulier in Paris, and an enormous quinta in Portugal, both decorated by Jansen. Later, he and his wife Beatriz acquired an apartment at 834 Fifth Avenue, but when widowed, Mrs. Patiño downsized to one on Park Avenue, and consigned these chairs to auction. There, they caught the eye of Countess Crespi (see the post above) who had recently returned stateside as a widow herself. Placing the winning bid, she whisked them off to her own Park Avenue apartment.
John Edward Jones (1806-1862), Irish/English, 19th century. Portrait of Fanny, Queen Victoria’s whippet, 1846. Chalk on paper, in the original giltwood and painted frame. 15“ x 15 1/4 “. Sold
“We are not amused” is the oft-quoted line of Queen Victoria. It buttonholed her for all time as the dour woman who ruled an empire so vast that when the sun set on one of her territories it rose on another. Victoria was a proponent of what we call family values. A homebody with many palatial homes, she was devoted to her husband, Prince Albert, their many children, and innumerable dogs. Albert’s favorite was Eos, a greyhound given equal billing in Sir Edwin Landseer’s portrait of the couple’s firstborn child, the Princess Royal [below left]. Among the Queen’s favorites was Fanny, the whippet pictured here, identified by the name on her collar.
The likeness was made by John Edward Jones, who first made his name as an engineer designing bridges and viaducts in Dublin, and a sewage system in London. But then, in 1840, he threw caution to the winds and became an artist. As luck would have it his gamble paid off. He would soon be celebrated for his painted and sculpted portraits of European royals. They were shown at the Louvre in Paris and the Royal Academy in London. There, the Victoria and Albert Museum bought a pair of portrait busts from him [above right]. And in 1851, at the Great Exhibition, which had been organized by Prince Albert himself, Jones showed, to much acclaim, a group of portrait drawings of children and dogs.
The drawing of Fanny is dated December 25th, 1846 (interestingly, if not coincidentally, on the verso is a rough sketch of the royal family itself). It may well have been the artist’s Christmas gift to the royal couple, as he spent considerable time in their company. And no wonder, since he had all the attributes of a successful courtier, according to a contemporary, who praised his “kind, courteous and generous disposition,” noting that “in wit, humor and vivacity, he was a thorough Irishman.”
French, 19th/20th century. Belle Époque screen, circa 1890. Painted-and-gilded wood, beveled glass, silk panels. Provenance: Mr. and Mrs. Henry E. Huntington, Pasadena; The Huntington Library. 60” tall, panel width 19” and 17 ½”. Sold
High society San Francisco was scandalized in 1913 when Arabella Huntington [below left] married her deceased husband’s recently divorced nephew Henry Huntington. You might say they were just keeping it in the family — and there was an awful lot to keep, what with the railroads, oilfields, hotels, and streetcar lines that they owned. All that’s long gone, but what remains is their impressive manse in Pasadena [below right], its garden, art collection, furniture, and library, which opened to the public in 1928 as The Huntington Library. There, in her day, Mrs. Huntington hung the Vermeer, positioned the Jacob chairs, and shelved the Gutenberg Bible. Among the treasures were a few newly made ones, like this screen of superlative quality that probably graced her boudoir. While inspired by the rococo period, its Art Nouveau curves and beveled-glass panels are pure Belle Époque. One can imagine Mrs. Huntington, known to her intimates as Belle, stepping behind it to slip on something more comfortable, transforming the screen into a gilt-edged vitrine for that formidable woman’s considerable charms.
Maison Charles, Paris. Pair of lamps, 1960s. Bronze, plastic resin, steel shades. 34” high. Sold
In 1908 the Paris bronzier Ernest Charles founded Maison Charles, and set about casting reproductions of the 18th-century sconces, candelabra, and andirons, that were then fashionable. Taste, however, had changed by the time his sons Jean and Jacques entered the picture, who gave the firm’s traditional lighting fixtures an up-to-date twist.
These stylish lamps were inspired by the sheet-metal ornaments made in France around 1800. Then, exotic flora was arriving from the French colonies in the West Indies. But if the wit of these 1960s pineapple lamps is their modish take on an antique type, the chic of them is the unexpected juxtaposition of traditional bronze with modern industrial steel and plastic. To make sure their clientele saw these lamps in a modern light, the model was introduced in a new Maison Charles line, christened Inox, from the French acier inoxydable, or, as we say in English, stainless steel.
Caldwell & Co., Philadelphia. Pair of sconces. Cut glass mounted on brass, with cast-brass arms. 17” high. Sold
By the end of the 19th century the Victorian style was out, and historical revivalism was in. But the makers of lighting fixtures didn’t seem to notice. That made it difficult for architects and decorators to find sconces, chandeliers, and lamps appropriate for the Renaissance, Georgian, and Colonial revival interiors they were then furnishing. But in 1895 the portrait painter Edward F. Caldwell, egged on by his architect friend Stanford White of McKim Mead & White, put down his paintbrush and went into the lighting trade.
While Caldwell’s handsome fixtures filled the historicist bill, his reproductions of period models weren’t exactly exciting from a design point of view. But when Caldwell died in 1914, Victor von Lossberg, his formerly behind-the-scenes partner, took over and gave the company’s product line a modern spin. This glamorous pair of 1920s sconces, for example, may be 18th-century-English in form, but their golden glisten makes them no more jazz baby than Queen Anne drudge.
Chinese/French, 20th century. Attributed to C. T. Loo, Paris. Set of six brown-lacquered-and-gilded cigarette tables, circa 1970. 5“ high, 12 3/4“ wide and deep. Sold
In the 18th century, demand for Asian luxury goods in the West so exceeded the supply that craftsmen set about making things chinoiserie. Then, the scarcity of lacquered imports, and the inability to produce true lacquer in the West, prompted the making of imitation lacquer with glossy paints and varnishes. History repeated itself two hundred years later when the flow of luxury goods from China came to a dead stop, thanks to Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution, which demonized craftsmen as mini capitalists. Meanwhile in Paris, a team of Chinese artisans lacquered away in a building that was done up au chinois [below left] for the art dealer C. T. Loo [below right]. In addition to offering Western museums and collectors ancient Chinese treasures, he supplied a more style-conscious and less scholarly clientele with smart lacquered furnishings. Among them were these politically incorrect cigarette and telephone tables, which decorators like Henri Samuel and Michael Taylor placed within reaching distance of low-slung banquettes in faux-lacquered rooms.
Turkish, 20th century. Angora rug, circa 1950. Provenance: Vedat Durusel (Istanbul dealer). 53” x 80”. Sold
“Persian” and “Oriental” rugs were prized in the West long before modernist designers took notice of a simpler kind, which was also loomed in the Islamic world. The rugs that appealed to them came from remote tribal regions, and were made for local use, rather than a regional elite, or far flung markets. Boldly patterned, long haired, and making minimal use of color, they held their own in the spare white rooms that Le Corbusier called “machines for living.” Within a few short years, however, these humble rugs were being purchased by the chi-chi decorators whom modernists scorned, like Frances Elkins, who put them in fancy rooms to add a bit of pizzazz [below left].
It was the Kurdish women of central Anatolia in modern Turkey who loomed the black and white stripes of this graphic rug. The wool they used was undyed angora, so its two-color scheme reflects actual coloration of the goats that were sheared to make it [below right].
Piero Fornasetti (1914-1988). Set of 8 gilt-porcelain ashtrays, circa 1960, in the original cardboard box. Dia: 4 ½ ” each. Sold
The Latin term horror vacui was coined by art historians to identify the visual busyness, which reflects a neurotic aversion to the undecorated surface, found in profusely decorated manuscript illuminations by medieval monks, and the edge-to-edge paint drippings of Jackson Pollock. It can also to be found in the decorative objects of Piero Fornasetti [below right].
Fornasetti turned to design after being expelled for insubordination from the Brera Academy of Art in Milan. But that didn’t prevent his patterned-silk scarves from being a hit at the 1943 Milan Triennale, where his work caught the eye of Gio Ponti, the greatest Italian architect and designer of the 20th century. They would collaborate on a number of projects, among them the first-class staterooms [below left] on the luxury liner Andrea Doria, which sank en route to New York in 1956. In them, Fornasetti spangled every surface, hard and soft, with signs of the zodiac taken from old prints.
Fornasetti’s decorative genius was brought to bear on the most unlikely and humble of objects, like this set of amusing ashtrays sold under the name “Musicalia.” Embellished with archaic musical instruments taken from an antique sources, they come in their original faux-malachite box, which is appliquéd with a lyre of silver foil.
Steuben, American 20th century. Pair of sculptures, 1930s, commissioned by the Grolier Club of New York. 21” high, 17” wide. Sold
Italics, the semicolon, and pocket edition books, are so omnipresent today that it’s difficult to imagine they weren’t always around. Yet they were invented in the late 1400s by Aldus Manutius, a publisher in Venice. Title pages of his books were emblazoned with a dolphin curling around an anchor [below left], a device that paid homage to the city of seafarers where he lived. This being the Renaissance, his best-seller was Aristotle, and his biggest sign up was Erasmus. With a distinguished backlist like that, it’s not surprising the Grolier Club in New York [below right], the society of bibliophiles, commissioned these unique glass sculptures from Steuben Glass. They were probably modeled by Sidney Waugh, a sculptor who was the firm’s in-house designer. As shown here, suspended from simple rope, these striking sculptures would add an erudite sparkle to any interior.
Korean, 19th-century. Covered box. Mother-of-pearl inlaid lacquered wood. 6” x 11” x 11″. Sold
Toxicodendron vernicifluum, a tree that’s a source of lacquer, produces a toxic sap that hardens to a durable luster when applied by brush. This tree, which grows in China, Japan, and Korea, isn’t rare, but the objects that are painted with its sap are. They were prized for their durability, and the painstaking means of their production, which requires the application of multiple lacquer coats, under climate-controlled conditions. Korean lacquered boxes are typically four lobed, and inlaid with mother-of-pearl floral motifs. They were horded by aristocrats, sent as diplomatic gifts, and offered as bribes. Lacquerware objects were so coveted, in fact, that Confucians lamented the artisans “wanton skill,” and the power of their creations to “sway the mind” of corrupt courtiers.
Alessandro Albrizzi (1934-1994). Cocktail table. Steel, acrylic, glass. Provenance: Mrs. Vincent (Brooke) Astor. 15 1/4″ high and 48″ in diameter. Sold
Fortune smiled on Alessandro Abrizzi at birth, when he opened his eyes for the first time and took in the gilded splendor of his family’s ancestral palace. Even in Venice, a city famous for an abundance of them, the Palazzo Albrizzi stood out for its beauty and the magnificence [below left]. All this he would one day inherit, but the title of baron was his from the get go. In hindsight, one is tempted to say this scion of a proud line was fated to have “an eye.”
Albrizzi [below right] had an industriousness not often encountered among aristocrats. Initially he made a name for himself as a photographer. He then went on to achieve fame, and a bit of a fortune too, as a designer of furniture, which can best be described stylistically as “mod.” Appropriately enough, he opened his first shop in swinging ’60s London, where he sold his line of geometric carpets by the yard, steel director’s chairs upholstered in suede, objects cut from acrylic — known as Perspex in England — and acrylic and glass tables mounted in steel or brass.
A snob, Albrizzi couldn’t abide anything shoddy. His fastidiousness lead him to have his modern designs made by hand, rather than mass production by machine. No wonder his “Perspex was cut like diamonds — so expensive,” according to Mary Jane Pool, a magazine editor and a friend of the designer. And since anything expensive in a capitalist society is exclusive, his elegant furniture attracted “the beautiful people,” like Egon and Diane von Fürstenberg, the Agnellis, Princess Margaret, and fashionable decorators like David Hicks, Billy Baldwin, and Jansen of Paris, among others.
With shops in London, Rome, and Paris, in 1968 Albrizzi moved to New York and opened another one at 989 Madison Avenue, in the Carlyle Hotel. There, Mrs. Vincent Astor found this elegant cocktail table with curved sheets of transparent acrylic, mounted in steel, which was crafted like jewelry. In her sixties at the time, and a grand dame in training, giltwood and marble was more her thing than steel, glass, and acrylic. But her younger jet-set friends were buying it — and who doesn’t want to be in the swim? Besides, the baron was so charming. So a sale was made, and another bold-face name was added to Albrizzi’s distinguished client roster.
Syrie Maugham (1879-1955), English, 20th century. A pair of painted-and-gilded chairs, 1930s. 36” high. Sold
The English decorator Syrie Maugham [below left] is remembered for two things: a failed marriage to the famous novelist Somerset Maugham, and creating a vogue for the all-white interior. Known as the “white queen,” her affinity for royalty extended to decorating for King Edward VIII, thanks to a referral from another client, Mrs. Wallis Warfield Simpson, for whom the king famously abdicated. When Maugham wasn’t stripping original finishes off antique pieces and painting them white, she was having white-painted furniture made to her specifications. Since she wasn’t the type to sit at a drafting board, her designs were mostly stylized versions of favorite antique pieces. For example, this graceful chair model, which turns up in many of the rooms she decorated, like the sitting room of her daughter Liza Paravicini inLondon [below right], appears to be Maugham’s own streamlined take on a Swedish rococo model.
ARCHIVE OF ADDITIONAL SOLD ITEMS
French, 18th century. Louis XV armchair, circa 1760. Painted wood, upholstered in “shocking pink” silk satin. Provenance: Elsa Schiaparelli, Paris; Pierre Le-Tan, Paris. Height 36″
Austrian, 19th century. Chandelier, circa 1850. Silvered-steel, cut-crystal and blown-glass prisms. H: 57″ Dia: 48″ Provenance: Nicholas Salgo, New York.
John Vesey (1924-1992), American 20th century. Backgammon table, circa 1967. Chromed steel, glass, leather with gold tooling. H: 29″ L: 50 1/4″ D: 25″
John Vesey (1924-1992), American 20th century. Cocktail table, circa 1965. Extruded aluminum, glass. H: 18” Dia: 45”
Jasper Morrison, English (born 1959). Pair of side tables, 1988 prototypes (not from later production). Welded steel, sand-blasted glass. Height 26″, diameter 13″.
Gabriella Crespi (1922-2017), Italian 20th century. Gocce oro (Dripping Gold) cutlery, 1974. 78 pieces including 12 soup spoons, desert spoons, salad forks, dinner forks, 4 salts, 1 serving fork and spoon, 1974. 24-carat gilded copper, steel blades for the knives, glass inserts for the salts.
Richard Blow (1904-1992), American 20th century. Rooster, circa 1950. Inlaid marble panel in original frame. 10″ x 10 1/2″.
Japanese, 20th century. Openwork box with sliding panel and hinged interior wall, circa 1900. Gold-decorated black lacquer, brass hinge. 20″ x 15 3/4″ x 12″.
Georg Andreas Steinhäuser (born 1779), German 19th century. Mirror, circa 1830. Gilded wood and plaster, mirror plate. H: 43″ W: 41″
Continental, 19th-century. Trompe l’oeil dummy board. Oil on panel, 41″ x 42″.
French, circa 1900. Belle Epoque chaise longue, circa 1900. Giltwood, caning. Height 39″, length 62″, depth 26″.
Pietro Chiesa (1892-1948) for Fontana Arte, Italian circa 1950. Oak and glass. H: 5 ¼” L: 4 ½” D:4 ½”
Justen Ladda, born Germany living in United States. Untitled (Green & Pink Dress), 2002. Photo print in gum bichromate on wood. H: 18 1/2″ W: 13 1/2″
Venini, Italian 20th century. Two bottles, both 1978. Inciso glass. H: 12″ and 8 1/2″
Irish, 20th century. Pair of cut, gilt-crystal dishes, circa 1910. Dia: 7″
Tapio Wirkkala (1915-1985), Finnish, for Venini. “Egg” in clear glass with gold yoke, 1960s. 3″
Venini, Italian circa 1960. Paper weight. Glass with multicolor spiral. 5″
German, 18th century. Pistol-form object, circa 1760. Blanc-de-chine porcelain. L: 16 1/4″
Chinese, 20th century. Side table, 1920s. Bamboo and black-lacquered wood. Provenance: Mrs. Vincent (Brooke) Astor. H: 19″ L: 16″ D:12 1/4″
Frances Elkins (1888-1953), American, 20th century. Dressing table, 1930s, she paired with 18th-century French bench. Gilt wood, lacquered bronze, silk upholstery. H: 30″ L: 46″ D: 18″. Provenance: Lady Donohue, Los Angeles
Attributed to Robert Block, French 1930s. Mirror, gilt and painted wrought iron. H: 19″ L: 40″ D: 20″
Pierre Le-Tan (1950-2019). Console, (antique trestle supports), 2010. Painted wood, inset glass top. H: 36 1/2″ L: 47 1/4″ D: 13 1/2″
American, 19th century. Miniature articulated tilt-top table, circa 1840. Bronze. H: 4″ Dia: 4″
Continental, 19th/20th century. Obelisk. Marble (serpentine, giallo antico, steatite). H: 22″
P. E. Guerin (New York). Bird-leg lamp, circa 1950. Brass and painted metal. Provenance: Mrs. Vincent (Brooke) Astor. H: 61″ including original shade.
Frances Elkins (1888-1953). Lamp made by the Larkin Studio, San Jose. Silver-leafed ceramic, silvered fittings. H: 12″ (24″ with shade). Provenance: Lord and Lady Donohue, Los Angeles
John Dickinson (1919-1982). Console (unique), stone-quary series, 1975. Painted wood. H: 6″ L: 108″ D: 18″
French, 19th century. Louis XV-style armchair, circa 1900. Walnut upholstered in velvet. H: 40″ W: 30″ D: 31″. Provenance: Pierre Le-Tan, Paris.
Italian, 18th century. Set of 6 rococo chairs, 1760s. Painted wood with silk-satin cushions (4 red, 2 oyster). H: 35 1/2″. Provenance: Whitney Warren, Jr., San Francisco.
Japanese, 20th century. Bolt of cut-silk velvet, 1930s. 75″ x 29″
Chinese, 20th century. Bolt of voided silk velvet, circa 1910. W: 23 1/2″ (includes selvage) L: 132″ (11′) and 40″ (3′).
Piero Fornasetti (1913-1988) paperweight, circa 1960. Gilt porcelain. 4″
Giambattista Piranesi (1720 – 1778). Frontispiece from Vasi, candelabri series. Etching on paper. 29 1/2″x 38 1/2″ framed.
Chinese scholar’s rock. Stone, wood base. H: 10 1/2 “
French, 19th/20th century. Louis XV-style stool. Painted wood, ocelot upholstery. H: 16 1/4″ W: 14″ D: 14″
Jansen, French, 20th century. Pair of dog beds, circa 1920. Giltwood. H: 14 1/2″ W: 15 1/4″ D: 13″
Salviati (maker), Italian 20th century. Faceted obelisk. Green-gray cut crystal. H: 5″
Indian table, 20th century. Octagonal table. Pickled wood. H: 10″ D: 9 1/2″. Provenance: Mrs. Vincent (Brooke) Astor.
Japanese, 20th century. Box with feather decorations, 1930s. Lacquered wood, gold decorations. Provenance: Mrs. Vincent (Brooke) Astor. H: 2 1/3″ L: 5 1/4″ D: 3 3/4″
Chinese, 20th century. Cylinder box, 1930s. Carved red-and-black guri lacquer, blue-enameled brass interior. Provenance: Mrs. Vincent (Brooke) Astor.
Chinese, early 20th century. Miniature scholar’s rock. Pink quartz, burled-wood base. H: 5 1/2″.
American, 20th century. Pair of pineapple sculptures, on later bases. Cast metal, steel. H: 11″ and 13″.
Cartier. Cigarette box, 1970s. Bronze, whip-stitched leather. H: 2 1/2″ L: 8″ D: 5 1/2″. Provenance: Bobby Short.
Erdmann Schlegelmilch, German 20th century. Candleholder, circa 1902. Gilt porcelain. 4″
KPM (Berlin), German circa 1840. Pitcher. Gilt porcelain. H: 10 1/2″.
Piero Fornasetti (1913-1988), Italian, 20th century. Pair of ashtrays in original box, 1960s. Gilt porcelain, cardboard. 4 1/4″ x 5 1/2″ each ashtray.
Gio Ponti (1891-1979), Italian 20th century. Bud vase in the form of a helmet, 1927. Richard Ginori (Milan) gilt porcelain. H: 4 1/2″.
American or English, circa 1920. Binoculars. Ivory, brass, glass. H: 5″ W: 5″.
Jean-Pierre Hagnauer, French 1960s. Pair of cigarette tables. Lacquered wood. H: 9 1/2″ L: 12 3/4″ D: 12 3/4″. Provenance: Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, London.
H. T. Koshiba, American, born Japan. Lady Mendl/Elsie de Wolfe (decorator), 1929. Image 10″ x 7″, framed 16 1/2″ x 14″.
George Platt Lynes (1907 – 1955), American. Pavel Tchelitchew (artist), circa 1942. Image 10″ x 8 1/4″.
Cecil Beaton (1904 – 1980), English. E. M. Forster (writer), 1960s. Published in Vogue. Image 9″ x 9 1/4″ frame 16″ x 16″.
George Platt Lynes (1907 – 1955). American. Joan Crawford (actress), 1940s. Image 9″ x 7 1/4″
Belle Epoque table, French circa 1900. Painted and gilded wood, marble. H: 24 1/2″ L: 18″ D: 27″. Provenance: Theodora Lang, Wayzata.
Victorian table, English circa 1860. Lacquered papier mache, mother-of-pearl inlay, painted gold decorations. H: 28″ L: 38″ D: 27″.
Japanese folding chair, circa 1850. Painted and gilded wood, leather, brass hardware. H: 40 1/2″ W: 33″ D: 17″
Set of 6 English 20th-century candlesticks, 1930s. Glass with spirals of air in stems. H: 12″ Provenance: Frances Elkins; her daughter Katie Boyd.
Frances Elkins (1888-1953), American 20th century. Rope-twist standing lamp, 1940s. Black-lacquered wood. H: 70″ (including shade) Provenance: Lord and Lady Donohue, Los Angeles.
French 19th-century lantern. Painted sheet metal. H: 24″ (36″ includes drop as shown).
Etienne Drian (1885-1961), French. Still life, circa 1932. Reverse-painted mirror in original painted and mirrored frame. 63″ x 43″. Provenance: possibly Walter Crysler; Geoffrey Beene, New York.
Kai Franck (1911-1989), Finnish 1960s. Flask. Glass. H: 6 3/4″.
Schnaps bottle, Swedish 1940s. Glass, cork stopper with metal ring pull. H: 11″.
Jean-Michel Frank box, circa 1930. Straw marquetry, wood-veneer interior. H: 1 1/4″ L: 7 1/4″ D: 4 3/4″.
Small box with panel attributed to Fornasetti, Italian, 1960s. Faux-malachite-painted porcelain, gold electroplated metal. H: 1 1/2″ W: 4″ D: 3″.
Japanese box in form of a carp, early 19th century. Carved gold and silver lacquer on wood, glass eyes, aventurine interior. L: 7 1/2″ Provenance: Private collection, Chicago.
Japanese writing box, circa 1900. Wood, lacquer, black lacquered interior. H: 1 1/4″ W: 8 1/4″ D: 6″.
Japanese scroll box, circa 1850. Gold, silver, copper lacquers, aventurine interior, silk tasseled cord. H: 3 1/4″ W: 15 3/4″ D: 3 3/4″. Provenance: M. Nakazawa, Tokyo; Private collection, Minneapolis.
Aesthetic Movement octagonal umbrella stand, English circa 1890. Stoneware. H: 23 3/4″.
Chinese blanc-de-chine vase, circa 1900. Porcelain, giltwood stand. H: 22 1/2″.
Paul Scheurich (1883-1945) for KPM (Berlin),l 1920s. Boy on a dolphin. Porcelain. H: 8 1/4″.
Tiffany & Co., mounted section of the first transatlantic telegraph cable, American 1858. Steel, brass, with original paper certificate attesting to its authenticity. L: 4″.
American (Chicago) screen, circa 1940. Mirror and painted wood. H: 90″ x 14″ each panel.
Guri bowl, Chinese, circa 1650. Carved red-and-black lacquer, silvered-copper interior and foot. H: 3 3/4″ Dia: 9″. Provenance: Valerian Rybar & Jean-Francois Daigre, Paris; Christie’s Paris; Pierre Le-Tan, Paris.
Pierre Le-Tan (1950-2019), trompe l’oeil urn on column, 2009. Paint on board. H: 102″.
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