by Louis Bofferding
MINIATURE PAINTING BY FULCO DI VERDURA
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 the family’s Palermo palazzo that wiped out his inheritance. Following that grand gesture he moved to Paris, and went to work as a jewelry designer for Coco Chanel who had attended the ball. A few years after that, he moved to Hollywood where he designed expensive baubles for Paul Flato, jeweler to the stars who flourish during the Depression. Relocating to Manhattan after the war, Verdura established his own 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 miniature painting with the aid of a magnifying glass [above left]. Occasionally he would even apply a coat of clear nail polish to bring out the colors. He had a few selling exhibitions at tony galleries, like Wildenstein, but mostly he painted for his own pleasure, and that of his friends. For Betsey and Jock Whitney he painted a group of paintings in their collection by Cezanne, Van Gogh, and Gauguin, and had a gold easel made to for its display [above right]. Along this line he painted, and then varnished with nail polish, the Sala di Giove, a gallery in the Pitti Palace [below left], with an art student copying St. John the Baptist by Andrea del Sarto. If the del Sarto looks askew, that’s because it was hinged to the wall, which allowed for pivoting to minimize glare off the surface, as seen in a old photo of a Raphael being copied in the same gallery [below right]. No detail, no matter how small, escaped Verdura’s eagle eye.
FRENCH PROVENCIAL BIRDCAGE
French birdcage made in Landres, circa 1850. Walnut with metal fittings. 20 ½”high, 17” long, 11 ½” wide. Sold
In Pre-Columbian America, the Aztecs bred colorful parrots that were kept in temples. Around the same time in Europe, peasants hung perforated pots on trees for birds to take roost. Later on, in the 18th-century, birds were kept in cages as pets in the homes of gentlefolk [below left]. Our charming 19th-century French birdcage is a fanciful version 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 – it was made in northeastern France at Landres. There it would have graced a manor house, served as the home of a songbird or two, and delighted the children.
JOHN VESEY DINING TABLE
John Vesey (1924-1992) 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 according to Vogue. “Opulent modern” was how Bill Cunningham characterized it in a profile he wrote for the Chicago Tribune, long before he picked up a camera. A “status item in many of the best-dressed rooms,” stated Eugenia Sheppard of Women’s Wear Daily, where another columnist signed off a story on the designer with “VIVE LA VESEY!” The enthusiasm of the press was due in part to the “staggering list of celebrities” who bought his furniture, including, besides Givenchy, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Cecil Beaton, Babe Paley, and “Baby Jane” Holzer, among others.
Vesey, in his bespoke suits, fit into their milieu as seamlessly as his expensive furniture did in their homes. There, among their pricey antiques, his beautifully handcrafted steel and brass furniture held its own, in a way that the manufactured plywood and Formica furniture by Ray and Charles Eames could not. After having studying art history at Harvard, Vesey became an antiques dealer in Manhattan. He then began sending pieces from his inventory to a Bronx workshop that copied them in metal. The stylish results were such a smash that he consigned his stock to auction, and used the proceeds to produce his own designs.
Yet antique furniture continued to be Vesey’s inspiration. Our dining table, with a chromed-steel and brass base, and a brown-lacquered linen top, with two matching leaves, was based on English Regency prototypes. It belonged to Jan Cowles, and was a special commission. She was the glamorous third wife of Gardiner Cowles, who owned newspapers and launched Look magazine (she had been the ex-wife of another media mogul, James M. Cox, Jr. of Cox Communications).
For all his elegance, charm, talent, and connections, Vesey’s kink was S & M and “rough trade.” He wound up in court, and was sentenced to jail, which finished off his brilliant career. He was hardly the first creative figure with a dark side — consider Benvenuto Cellini, the 16th-century goldsmith, who bragged in his memoirs of a rape, a maiming, and a killing. This wasn’t a deal breaker in the Renaissance, but it was in Vesey’s day. Since his death in 1992, the sulfurous odor of scandal has lifted, somewhat, permitting a reappraisal of his work. A price surge and a feeding frenzy have ensued — a succès de scandale, you might say.
Baguès, circa 1935. Clear and bronze cut crystal, cast elements, on steel frame. H: 44”; Dia: 30” Sold
This 1930s French chandelier adapts an Ancien Régime form to Café Society taste. That involved attenuating its form, making the frame in steel rather than ormolu, trimming it with cut-crystal arabesques, and festooning it with prisms cut from thick slabs of clear and bronze crystal. Those arabesques are typical of Austrian, not French chandeliers. But in 1930s Paris, the Rococo style of Mitteleuropa became all the rage, inspiring French designers to rise to the occasion.
AMERICAN VICTORIAN BIRDHOUSE
Miller Iron Company, Providence, RI. Birdhouse, 1868. Painted cast iron. Stamped: “Miller Iron Co. / Prov. R.I. / Pat,d April 14 / 1868”. H: 11” L: 10 ½” D: 14 ½” Sold
This charming 19th-century Victorian birdhouse was modeled on the Neo-Gothic mansions that were then being built, and inhabited, by potential birdhouse buyers. Cast in iron, dated 1868, and marked with the name of its Rhode Island maker, this birdhouse retains the original, and pleasingly distressed painted finish. An identical one was shown in the Houston Museum of Fine Arts’ exhibition The Gothic Revival Style in America 1830 to 1870, and published in the catalog.
MODERNIST GLASS LAMP
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. $8,000
This floor lamp may have been designed by Jacques Adnet — see the similar model below — when he served as the artistic director of the Companie des Arts Français in Paris. Then again, it may have been designed under his influence by the New York decorating firm of McMillen. In either case, it was owned by Doris Duke, the heiress, socialite, philanthropist, hortological patron, and noted art collector. She had it at Duke Farms, her vast McMillen-decorated New Jersey estate. There, presumably, it graced the modernist, black-painted bar room adjacent to the Olympic-sized indoor swimming pool.
An Austrian chandelier with a silvered-steel frame decorated with cut- and blown-crystal prisms, circa 1850. H: 57″ Dia: 48″ Provenance: Nicholas Salgo, New York. Sold
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, the Birmingham firm of F. & C. Osler was celebrated for their line of innovative glass products. They exhibited in all of the great world’s fairs, where their stylish wares caught the eyes of English lords, Indian maharajas, and a king of Egypt. This large spectacular lamp is made entirely of gilt-metal-mounted glass.
Set of six American 1930s sconces. Chromed metal, and acid-etched glass beads. Height: 9” Width 10 ½” Depth 6” Sold
In the 1930s, the fanciful geometry of the 1920s Art Deco style softened to a Streamline Moderne sleekness. Then, industrial designers relied on wind tunnels to study drag on airplane, car, train, and ship models — it would seem that furniture designers did too, judging from the aerodynamic contours of their stationary furnishings. This set of six streamlined sconces have chromed back plates to amplify light, and ropes of acid-etched pearls to diffuse it. The effect would have flattered the platinum goddesses of that age, as it will the more casually-dressed ones of our own.
Pair of Jasper Morrison side tables from 1988, prototypes (see invoice above), not from later production, of welded steel and sand-blasted glass. Height 26″, diameter 13″, distance between struts 17″. Sold
Large urn bearing the acid-etched Steuben mark, 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 their underperforming subsidiary Steuben Glass. In short order he pink-slipped the founder, 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 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.
A large pair of sculptural, silvered, cut-glass Steuben ashtrays (or, in our non-smoking age, a pair of vide poches). Illustrated in a 1934 Vogue article on wedding gifts (as seen below), one still bears, miraculously, the original Steuben label. L: 7 1/4″ D: 4 3/4″ H: 1 1/4″. 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 on her “peasant chalet with huge Austrian stoves, Biedermeier furniture…jade, and blanc de chine.” Ironically, that very month the Germans marched into Austria. This prompted Rogers, a fierce Nazi opponent who was then Mrs. Ronald Balcom, to pack up her goods, chattels, and eight dachshunds, to return to the States. Among her furnishings was this lean-limbed, walnut, Biedermeier sofa, circa 1810, upholstered in horsehair. Height 34″ Length 61″. Sold
In 1909 Lajos Kozma (1884-1948) left Hungary for Paris, like many aspiring artists, designers, and architects from around the globe. Kozma landed an apprenticeship under the great Henri Matisse — yet, surprisingly, neither his art nor the 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, his 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 came to prosper again when peace returned. Our eight walnut dining chairs date to his middle, Neo-Baroque period. They can be compared to a nearly identical 1925 chair in the Budapest Museum of Applied Art, and a 1923 small commode in the Wolfsonian in Miami, which is close in spirit. Back height 38″. Sold
THE LIVINGSTON-GRIGGS RESIDENCE
In 1925 Mrs. Theodore W. Griggs, née Livingston, inherited her family’s Summit Avenue mansion overlooking St. Paul, and embarked on a decade-long renovation program. First, she persuaded Allen H. Stem, co-architect with Whitney Warren of New York’s Grand Central Terminal, no less, to take on the relatively small job of reconfiguring the interior, and installing an Elizabethan-style drawing room, while leaving the handsome but unfashionable Victorian facade relatively untouched. Then, she hired the high-society New York decorator Mrs. Philips Brooks Robinson, 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 the decorator and her client, without naming names.
In the span of a few years, Mrs. Griggs and Miss Gheen acquired ten period rooms, and a slew of 18th-century furniture from Jansen in Paris, Adolfo Loewy in Venice, and a still-smarting Elsie de Wolfe in New York. Installing period rooms is a complicated business, so Edwin Lundie, 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 her capacious basement, where her daughter Mary could entertain friends and suitors on her coming out. After marrying, she went on, as Mary Burke, to assemble the most important collection of Japanese art outside Japan, inspired, she said, by her mother’s collecting. When Mrs. Burke died at ninety-six in 2012, her collection was divided between the Metropolitan Museum, and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, where she had passed many a happy hour in her youth. Both museums would mount major exhibitions to commemorate those bequests in 2016.
The amusement room was entered through an unprepossessing oak door in the foyer, which opened to an exquisite stairwell, hewn out of creamy marble, and swagged with a white silk-rope handrail. Guests descended to a silver-leafed room paved with mirrors, and grisaille reverse-painted-glass panels decorated with cavorting commedia dell’arte figures. 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 at the Minnesota Club in downtown St. Paul. On the 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 icicled dacha.
Steuben Glass was established in the town of that name, in New York State, by Frederick Carder in 1903. He remained as artistic director after Corning Glass, owned by the Houghton family, purchased Steuben in 1918. But by 1933, with the onslaught of the Great Depression, and decimated sales, 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 made design history. He brought in industrial designers and sculptors, like William Dorwin Teague and Sydney Waugh, who came up with streamlined designs executed in a newly invented, and startlingly translucent, uncolored glass. To showcase the line, a modern glass-block building went up on Fifth Avenue, where, in a bright, white, double-height showroom, a selection of stunning objects was purchased, commissioned, and shipped to Summit Avenue. And there they remained, 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 silvered and clear glass lamps by Steuben, circa 1935, originally placed on Edwin Lundie designed mirrored pedestals as seen below. H: 14″. Sold
Pair of glass, chrome-plated metal, and wrought iron andirons by Steuben, circa 1935, that can be seen in the fireplace below. H: 13″. Sold
Wall clock with a molded glass frame by Laurence Colwell, circa 1935, who also used the frame for a sconce illustrated in Vogue, October 15th, 1937, page 83, as seen below. Dia: 19 1/2″ Sold
Pair of silvered ashtrays by Steuben (one with the Steuben adhesive label), circa 1935, that was illustrated in an article on wedding gifts in Vogue, 1934, page 78, as seen below. L: 7 1/4″ D: 4 3/4″ H: 1 1/4″ Sold
Pair of horse sculptures in cast glass by Steuben (one with diamond-point signature), circa 1935, that appear in a period catalog of the firm’s designs, as seen below. H: 7: L: 10 1/2″. Sold
A small Fulco di Verdura 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 had brought him fame and fortune (which came in handy after having squandered his inheritance as a youth). But family and home had never been far from his mind, for he returned to Sicily often over the years, with his glamorous friends in tow.
Our small painting is dated August 1972 on the back of the frame, and inscribed Forza d’Agro, the name of a seaside Sicilian town (where, a year or so later, Francis Ford Coppola filmed scenes for The Godfather). It shows an old paneled wood door hung with amphorae, the ceramic pots introduced to Sicily by the ancient Greeks. It’s impossible to say if the ones he painted are antique or modern, 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 on an excursion to this town in that month and year.
Verdura often gave his paintings away as gifts. This one was owned by the film star Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and his second wife Mary. Perhaps they were with him on that excursion to Forza d’Agro, and were given the painting as a souvenir. This is speculation, but their friendship is a fact. When married to Joan Crawford in the 1930s, Fairbanks would have crossed paths with Verdura who was then working in Hollywood for Paul Flato, jeweler to the stars. Fast forward to the 1970s when Verdura was living in London and painting in retirement. And it was there, at the opening of a Verdura exhibition, that Fairbanks found himself leaving the gallery empty handed, because the show had sold out while he dithered over which painting 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.”
A Fulco di Verdura 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, reclining on a military trophy of gilded armor bristling with spears and standards. For centuries military trophies that commemorated battles won had been assembled from actual armor, and sculpted in stone like the ancient Roman marble etched in the 18th century by Giovanni-Battista Piranesi. Verdura, however, updated tradition by presenting Bellona (no less soigné than his client Babe Paley) reclining on a trophy, with nuclear mushroom clouds detonating on the horizon.
This painting retains its original silk mat and giltwood frame selected by the artist himself. It was made by, and 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, better known as Mr. Kenneth, hair stylist to the jet set.
Verdura gave his paintings away as gifts, and sold others through tony galleries like Wildenstein and Knoedler. The pencil inscription “Mrs. Winston,” which appears on the back of the frame, suggests it belonged to Rosita Winston, the wife of real-estate tycoon Norman Winston, who was then cutting her bejeweled swath through international high society.
A large Gio Ponti mirror with four integral light fixtures, made by Venini for the 1928 Venice Biennale. Blown-glass mirror plate, blown-and-cast glass elements, some iridized, aluminum, and wood. Height 77” width 34”. Sold
When Gio Ponti sat down to draft a mirror with lighting fixtures for the rotunda of the 1928 Venice Biennale, he wasn’t yet the towering figure of 20th-century Italian architecture and design that he would become. The century was young then, and at thirty-seven so too was Ponti, who established his architecture practice the year before. That’s why he had only two buildings to his credit by the time 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.
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 the Richard-Ginori porcelain company. 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 to New York a fully-furnished room for a modern design exhibition at Macy’s department store, he designed the Venice Biennale rotunda and its furnishings.
Change is the name of the game at the Biennale, the celebrated contemporary art venue that made its debut in a purpose-built structure in 1895. That’s why the rotunda was altered in 1907 and again in 1919 before Ponti rebuilt 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, which were made in the workshop of Melchiorre Bega, and his four ravishing mirrors with lighting fixtures, which were made by the now legendary Venini glassworks. We’re proud to have rediscovered one of these mirrors — the only one known to survive.
Ponti’s preliminary sketch for the rotunda shows the architecture largely as executed, and a furnishing scheme that wasn’t realized. He would come to 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 to the left of the portal. But since it overlaps with the cabinet, one or the other would have to go. In the end, the mirror won out, grew from three to eight 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 their twenty-six-year-old descendant Paolo 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 that he published in his magazine Domus. For his part, Venini saw to it that his glass featured prominently in every Biennale since he moved his glassworks to Venice. In 1926, for example, he supplied the rotunda with a showstopper of a chandelier. 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 to design something spectacular for it that Venini’s firm would make.
Under the art direction of the sculptor Napoleone Martinuzzi, the Venini glassworks was running at full tilt in 1928. That year, in addition to developing the product line, he designed and oversaw the fabrication of an over-life-size sculpture of Josephine Baker, 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 to be functional mirrors or lighting fixtures, since the embellishments interrupt reflection, 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. During the run of the Biennale, the mirrors may have been sold or placed in Venini’s storage, which was destroyed in a 1973 fire, or sent on the road like the Josephine Baker, which was shown in Paris and London before it vanished without a trace. In any case, the mirrors were also considered lost until this one resurfaced in a New York auction, unidentified and without a provenance.
The fabled city of Venice, where the mirrors were made and exhibited, inspired Ponti’s design. The arrangement of interlocking mirror-plates replicate the pattern of traditional masonry construction, as seen in the 16th-century arcade by Jacopo Sansovino on the Grand Canal. The undulating hand-made mirror plates reflect light and image like the lagoon’s rippling surface. A rainbow iridescence was applied to select elements (and achieved by an ancient tin-fuming process rediscovered by Martinuzzi) mimics the phenomenon of marine phosphorescence. Four half-disks on the outer edges could pass for splashes of water. The joints of the bars that define each mirror plate are masked with seashells. And the seaweed fronds and starfish, which spring from the bowls, are found in the sea from which Venice derived her wealth and power.
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, a graceful thirty-two-story fin of glass that’s considered his architectural masterpiece. Germano Celant, a curator at the Guggenheim Museum in New York who organized the 2004 Venice Biennale, described the skyscraper in his 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.” We might well describe our mirror with those very words.
A Venini chandelier from the late 1940s, designed by Napoleone Martinuzzi, in clear glass and aluminum, given by Paolo Venini to Mr. & Mrs. Giorgio Diaz de Santillana. Height 35″ diameter 33″. A matching pair of sconces, height 18″ width 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 the 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 late 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 in 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 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, among others. 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 own 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 the prototypes for 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. Martinuzzi, however, blew the dust off tradition by simplifying form, stripping 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. 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 the magisterial cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking (as seen in Nora Ephron’s recent 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 the unofficial Venini historian, and her husband Ludovico would take over the Venini glassworks when his father-in-law died in 1959. Laura, who owned our Venini dressing-table mirror and matching lamp (below), was no slouch herself. She studied languages at both Oxford and the Sorbonne, and served as her father’s translator in 1952 when on a business trip to the United States, where he met with department store buyers and museum curators. And that is how she came to meet her future husband, Stanley Hancock Hillyer, an American businessman and a descendant of John Hancock, 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 from previous centuries, and moved to Boston. Widowed relatively young, Laura pulled up stakes yet again and settle in Manhattan, where she became the vice president of Vignelli Associates, the celebrated design firm established by Massimo and Lella Vignelli, who had designed glass lighting fixtures for her father some years earlier. 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 many a hard day at the office, and more than a few glamorous nights on the town.
A pair of English 18th-century paintingsof Jupiter and Diana by a follower of Antonio Verrio. Oil on canvas, with ebonized-and-giltwood frames supplied by Mark Hampton. Diameter 41 ½” framed. From the collection of 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 — both aesthetic and illicit — that this city offered in abundance. Had that not been the case, English lords wouldn’t have considered Naples to be the highlight of the Grand Tour.
Those milordi, as the Italians called them, returned home with crates of paintings, statuary, and even the occasional artist in tow. Among them was the Neapolitan painter Antonio Verrio, seen below brush in hand, 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. Below this scenographic tour de force are illusionistically painted military trophies that bear comparison with our tondi, as art historians (following the Italian) call round paintings. Both depict sculpted stone casting shadows on colored backgrounds, and both 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.
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 of them 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 our handsome tondi from Carlton Hobbs, the eminent English dealer. This is where I entered 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 later when spending a weekend at Brick House, Gasser’s 19th-century retreat in upstate New York, where they hung on the candy-striped-fabric walls of the master bedroom.
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 I had since acquired from Gaser. She and her husband (now there was a collector) found them irresistible, so off they went to be mounted above the doors of their Fifth Avenue, double-height drawing room (now that is what I call decorating). A room and a collection that would have done any of those 18th-century English milordi proud.
A Continental 19th-century cheval mirror of mahogany, gilt gesso, and gilt-metal hardware. 85 ½” high, 50” wide, 22” deep. Sold.
Today, Viscount François-René de Chateaubriand is remembered for the cut of steak that was named for him by his chef, but in Napoleonic France he was celebrated as a writer, diplomat, and world traveler. In 1802 he published a defense of the Catholic church, then under a cloud for its support of the monarchy during the Revolution. He praised the church as defender of the faith and patron of the arts, and singled out for special mention her role in the development of the then unfashionable Gothic style, which came as a surprise to his contemporaries who found it barbaric. But some forty years later, when he sat down to write his memoirs, the Gothic had become all the rage. And so, at a time when fashionable parisiennes wore Gothic-inspired jewelry and bought objects in le style troubadour, Chateaubriand staked a claimed to have “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, however, contradicts his boast, for in the mid 18th century, long before Chateaubriand entered the picture, a small but influential group of tastemakers in England and France had already discovered the charms of the Gothic. In the 1750s the writer Sir Horace Walpole built a “gothick” castle named Strawberry Hill, and in the 1780s the painter Hubert Robert designed a picturesque Gothic ruin for the Princess of Monaco’s garden. And by then, in the furniture trade, Chippendale’s Neo-Gothic designs were all the rage in London, just as Jacob’s chair backs with pointy arches were amusing jaded Parisians.
The aristocratic delicacy of Rococo and Neo-Classical design 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, a refugee who escaped the the turmoil of Revolutionary France to settle in London. By the middle of the 19th century, when his son A.W.N. Pugin, architect of the Houses of Parliament, designed this 1864 side chair, the style had come to assume a sober mien that was 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 much easier. That’s because the Neo-Gothic style spread from Moscow to New York by the 1850s, and reached every continent but Antarctica by 1900. So while the mirror’s defining characteristics – the openwork double-helix finials, the ribbed-serpentine columns, the florid central crocket – are nothing if not distinctive, they don’t suggest a place of manufacture, which is why our research continues.
With the triumph of eclecticism in the late 19th century, Neo-Gothic was just one of many historical styles to choose from. 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 the rough-and-tumble press baron William Randolph Hearst went Gothic all the way in the stupefyingly grand hall of his quintuplex penthouse on Riverside Drive in Manhattan. An obsessive accumulator of art and furnishings from the past, Hearst would no doubt have sided with Chateaubriand who had written in those celebrated memoirs of his that “the greater part of genius is composed of memories.”
A pair of Jansen white-lacquered telephone tables and a red faux-finished one, all with brass castors, that belonged to Mrs. Vincent (Brooke) Astor. The pair 11” high, 11” long, and 7 ½” wide, $5,500; the single 11” high, 12 ½” long, and 8 ½” wide. 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 client list included not only Jayne and Charles Wrightsman, but Babe and Bill Paley, Marella and Gianni Agnelli, and scores of other luminaries as well. But it wouldn’t have fazed him either, having decorated for royals (Leopold III of Belgium), royals in exile (the Duke of Windsor), and self-proclaimed royals (the Shah of Iran). Still, for a man in his seventies who was 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 their 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 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 also an ambassador to the Court of St. James’s (she would herself be appointed ambassador to France some years later 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. Enough said?
And so it came to pass in 1963 that Mrs. Hayward opened, managed, and stocked the inventory of 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 Blackberry, not to mention her ashtray and glass of Chardonnay.
Louis XV armchair, circa 1760. Painted wood, upholstered in “shocking pink” silk satin. Provenance: Elsa Schiaparelli, Paris; Pierre Le-Tan, Paris. Height 36″ Sold
Millicent Rogers’ beauty and style were often mentioned in the press, but her intelligence (she was fluent in several languages including Latin and ancient Greek), and creativity (she designed and cast her own jewelry) was often passed over. If her beauty was a man magnet, her intelligence could intimidate, 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. Unframed, 10″ x 8 1/4″. 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 — one that has an undertone of plum. 16″ high, 24″ long, 13 3/4″ deep. Sold
When making the rounds of the Paris antiquaires, Mrs. Auchincloss acquired this ravishing pair of red-and-black chalk drawings of fantastical flowers by the inventive Rococo artist Jean Pillement (1728 – 1808). 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 he had made for them. Each 12 1/2″ x 15 1/2″ framed. Sold
In 1935 Mrs. Theodore W. Griggs of St. Paul, born a Livingston of Hudson River valley lineage, asked Edwin Lundie, a local architect, to create a ballroom for her daughter’s coming out. (That debutante was Mary Burke who went on to assemble a definitive collection of Japanese art, which was recently divided between the Metropolitan and Minneapolis museums.) This glamorous room was paved with mirrors and filled with silver-leafed furnishings, including our Louis-Louis barometer. In a period photograph it can be seen balancing a sunburst clock, which we recently sold. 45″ tall. Sold
Gabriella Crespi (1922-2017) designed this set of cutlery for twelve in 1974, and named it Gocce Oro — “Dripping Gold.” It was made of 24-carat gilded copper, with steel blades for the knives, and glass inserts for the salts. Every piece in this 78-piece set is signed. It has 12 soup spoons, 12 desert spoons, 12 salad forks, 24 dinner forks, 4 salts, 1 serving fork, and 1 serving spoon. Sold
A small Richard Blow (1904-1992) inlaid marble picture of a rooster, in the original black-painted gesso frame with a gilt inset, circa 1950. Inlaid in the lower-right corner with an “M” in a circle for Blow’s Montici workshop. 10″ x 10 1/2″. Sold
An unusual 19th-century Japanese openwork box, with interior compartments, and a carrying handle. One side slides upwards and off, and one interior wall is hinged to swing open. Gold-decorated black lacquer, brass hinge. 20″ x 15 3/4″ x 12″. Sold
German mirror, circa 1830, by Georg Andreas Steinhäuser (born 1779), which is nearly identical to a mirror in the collection of the Clark Institute. Gilded wood and plaster, mirror plate. H: 43″ W: 41″ Sold
FLORAL DUMMY BOARD
A large 19th-century European trompe l’oeil dummy board of a stone urn filled with flowers. Oil on panel, 41″ x 42″. Sold
Belle Epoque chaise longue, French circa 1900. Giltwood, caning. Height 39″, length 62″, depth 26″. Sold
A Venetian Sansovino frame, circa 1580. Giltwood, probably walnut, with red bole, mounted on cypress. 53 1/2“ x 49 1/2“; interior dimensions 39 “ x 34”. Sold.
In the 20th century a Modernist room was a white-painted envelope of space, and the frames of the paintings that were hung there were mere strips of wood. In the 16th century, however, a Renaissance room was sumptuously decorated, and frames were anything but wallflowers. Then, frames were sculpted, painted, and gilded, and when arranged symmetrically (as they nearly always were) they reinforced the architectonic integrity of the room itself.
Francesco de’ Medici’s studiolo in Florence is an exemplar of the seamless union of frame and decor. 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 that frames should be unobtrusive, they were taking a position that artists and their patrons would have found risible four centuries earlier. 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 that was built for strolling in inclement weather, rather than displaying pictures from the royal collection. There, Rosso executed a series of allegorical frescoes set in plaster frames that were every bit as assertive as the painted scenes themselves.
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 when 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 with elaborate enframements that were, in fact, the work of the sculptor Alessandro Vittoria (seen here in a painting by Veronese).
Fast forward to the 1960s when the New York financier Robert Lehman left his vast collection to the Metropolitan Museum. Among the treasures were nearly four hundred period frames, many dating from the Renaissance. Initially he bought them to match up with his paintings, but in 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, Lehman may have gotten wind of an extraordinary collection of 18th-century French giltwood frames that were coming up for auction in Paris. They were consigned by the widow of Paul-César Helleu, the fashionable society portraitist (seen below in a John Singer Sargent watercolor), who was celebrated for his exquisite taste in art, furniture, and women. Helleu had used them to frame his Watteau, Boucher, and Fragonard drawings, but he also arranged them empty on his 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, took pleasure in seeing his paintings in 17th-century frames, both period and reproduction, as does George Condo today. And then there’s Tobias Meyer, 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 their prized John Curran painting, knowing full well that the contrast would bring out the best in both.
An 18th-century Italian painted and gilded armchair from the collection of Count and Countess Rodolfo Crespi, Rome. 43” high.
Cutting a bella figura (“to put one’s best foot forward” might be the English equivalent) has been a characteristic of the Italians and their furniture for centuries. To succeed at it 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 one cut more of a bella figura in 1960s Rome than Count Rodolfo Crespi and his wife Consuelo who placed this large armchair behind a modern steel desk by John Vesey in their Palazzo Odescalchi residence. 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 earlier. Her sense of style so impressed Diana Vreeland of Vogue that she hired the countess as the editor of the Italian edition.
A pair of giltwood Louis XVI chairs by Jean Avisse, from the collection of Antenor Patiño, and then Countess Crespi, New York. 20” high.
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 three times. In the last century they were acquired by Antenor Patiño, a great collector of FFF and the son of the Bolivian magnate known as the “King of Tin.” His family’s mines were nationalized in the 1950s, but that didn’t prevent him 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 another 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.
An 1846 portrait of Fanny, Queen Victoria’s whippet, by John Edward Jones (1806-1862). Chalk on paper, in its original giltwood and lacquered frame. 15“ x 15 1/4 “.
“We are not amused” is the oft-quoted line of Queen Victoria’s that buttonholed her for all posterity as a dour woman who ruled over an empire so vast that when the sun set on one of her territories it rose above another. Victoria was also a proponent of what’s known today as family values. A homebody of many palatial homes, she was devoted to her husband Prince Albert, their many children, and their innumerable dogs. Albert’s favorite was Eos, a greyhound that was given nearly equal billing in the painting by Sir Edwin Landseer of the couple’s firstborn child, the Princess Royal. One of the Queen’s favorites was Fanny, the whippet seen here that’s identified by name on her collar.
The likeness was made by John Edward Jones who first achieved fame and fortune as a designer of bridges and viaducts in Dublin, and a sewage system in London. In 1840 he threw caution to the winds by abandoning a successful career as an engineer in order to become a sculptor. As it turned out his gamble paid off. He came to be celebrated for sculpting portrait busts of European royals, including this pair mounted on columns of Victoria and Albert. His work was exhibited at the Louvre and the Royal Academy, and also at the Great Exhibition held in London at Prince Albert’s instigation in 1851. There, to much acclaim, Jones exhibited a group of drawings of children and animals.
This drawing of Fanny is dated “Dec 25 1846,” and has on the verso a sketch of the royal family. It may well have been a Christmas gift to them from the artist who spent considerable time in their company. And no wonder, as he had all the attributes of a successful courtier, at least according to a contemporary who praised his “kind, courteous and generous disposition,” and noted that “in wit, humor and vivacity he was a thorough Irishman.”
A French Belle Époque screen, circa 1890, of painted-and-gilded wood, beveled glass, and silk panels, from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Henry E. Huntington, Pasadena. 60” tall, panel width 19” and 17 ½”.
San Francisco high society was scandalized in 1913 when Arabella Huntington 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. All that’s long gone, but what remains is their impressive manse in Pasadena with its garden, art collection, furniture, and library that opened to the public as The Huntington Library in 1928. There, in her day, Mrs. Huntington hung the Vermeer, positioned the Jacob chairs, and shelved the Gutenberg Bible. Among those treasures were some newly made things too, like this screen of superlative quality which 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 into something more comfortable, transforming the screen into a gilt-edged vitrine for this formidable woman’s considerable charms.
A pair of 1960s Maison Charles bronze and plastic resin lamps with bronze-trimmed steel shades. 34” high.
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 and gave the firm’s traditional fixtures an up-to-date twist.
These stylish lamps were inspired by the sheet-metal ornaments made in France around 1800 after the exotic flora arriving from their colonies in the West Indies. But if the wit of the pineapple lamps is their modish take on an old form, the chic of them is the unexpected juxtaposition of traditional bronze with modern plastic and industrial steel. To make sure their clientele saw these lamps in a modern light, the model was introduced in the Maison Charles line named Inox, from the French acier inoxydable, or, as we say in English, stainless steel.
A 1930s Steuben glass vase by Sidney Waugh, signed with diamond scribe. 6” high. Sold
Design history was made in 1933 when Arthur Houghton Jr., scion of the family that owned Corning Glass, was put in charge of their underperforming division Steuben Glass. In short order the firm’s elderly founder and artistic director was shown the door, and his saccharine-colored, Victorian-looking wares were discontinued. In came the young mustachioed sculptor Sidney Waugh who merged a stripped-down classicism with no-nonsense modernism.
Around this time Corning developed a colorless glass known as G10M for commercial optical purposes, but its translucent beauty prompted Houghton to turn over the formula to Steuben for the production of luxury goods. This small urn is made from that new glass, although it takes its form from the large terracotta kraters of ancient Greece that were used for mixing wine with water. Waugh’s interpretation of classic designs, the ravishing glass, and the sleek Fifth Avenue showroom built to showcase them, would usher in Steuben’s golden age.
A 1930s pair of sconces by Caldwell & Co., of 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 the sconces, chandeliers, and lamps appropriate to the Renaissance, Georgian, and Colonial revival interiors they were 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 his behind-the-scenes partner Victor von Lossberg took over and put a modern spin on the company’s output. This glamorous pair of 1920s sconces, for example, may be 18th-century-English in form, but their golden glisten makes them more jazz baby than Queen Anne.
A set of six (now four) brown-lacquered-and-gilded cigarette tables, circa 1970, attributed to C. T. Loo, Paris. 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. Back then the scarcity of lacquered imports and the inability to produce true lacquer prompted imitations in 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 that demonized craftsmen as mini capitalists. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world in Paris, a team of Chinese artisans lacquered away in a building done up au chinois for the art dealer C. T. Loo. In addition to offering Western museums ancient Chinese treasures, he supplied a more style-conscious and less scholarly clientele with smart furnishings in true lacquer. Among them were the politically incorrect cigarette and telephone tables that decorators like Henri Samuel and Michael Taylor placed within reaching distance of low-slung banquettes in faux-lacquered rooms.
A Turkish angora rug, circa 1950, sold by the Istanbul dealer Vedat Durusel. 53” x 80”.
“Persian” and “Oriental” rugs had been prized in the West long before modernist designers took notice of a simpler kind that was also loomed in the Islamic world. The rugs that appealed to them came from remote tribal areas 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 Le Corbusier called “machines for living.” Within a few short years, however, these humble rugs were being purchased by the chi-chi decorators modernists scorned, like Frances Elkins who put them in her antiques-filled rooms to add a bit of modern pizzazz.
It was the Kurdish women of central Anatolia in Turkey who loomed this graphic rug in wide black-and-white stripes. As the wool they used was un-dyed angora, its two-color scheme reflects the actual coloration of the sheep that were sheared to make it.
A Piero Fornasetti set of 8 gilt-porcelain ashtrays in their original cardboard box, circa 1960. Box 4 ½ ” diameter. SOLD
The Latin term horror vacui was coined by art historians to identify the neurotic aversion to blank surfaces that can be found in the profusely decorated manuscript illuminations of 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.
Fornasetti turned to design after being expelled for insubordination from the Brera Academy art school 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 attention 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 on the luxury liner Andrea Doria (which sank en route to New York in 1956). In them Fornasetti spangled every available surface, hard and soft, with signs of the zodiac that were 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 source, they come in their original faux-malachite box that’s appliquéd with a lyre of silver foil.
A pair of 1930s Steuben glass anchors with dolphins, commissioned by the Grolier Club of New York. 21” high, 17” wide.
Italics, the semicolon, and pocket edition books are so omnipresent it’s difficult to imagine they weren’t always around, yet they were invented in the late 1400s by the Venetian publisher Aldus Manutius. His books’ title pages were emblazoned with his device, a dolphin curling around an anchor, which pays homage to the city of seafarers where he lived himself. This being the Renaissance, his best-seller was Aristotle, and his new talent was Erasmus. With such a distinguished backlist it’s not surprising the Grolier Club in New York, the society of bibliophiles, commissioned these unique sculptures that were probably modeled by their in-house designer Sydney Waugh. As shown here suspended from a simple rope, these striking sculptures would add an erudite sparkle to a beach house dining room or stairwell.
A Korean 19th-century mother-of-pearl inlaid lacquer wood box. 6” high, 11” wide and deep.
Toxicodendron vernicifluum, commonly known as the lacquer tree, 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 the lacquer distilled from its sap are. The status of these objects was conferred by their beauty, as well as the painstaking means of their production, which requires the application of multiple coats of lacquer under strict, climate-controlled conditions. Typical of Korean lacquer are the mother-of-pearl inlays, the floral motifs, and the four-lobed shape of this box. In their day, these objects were horded by aristocrats, sent as diplomatic gifts, and offered as bribes to corrupt court officials. They were so coveted that Confucians lamented the “wanton skill” that produced objects with the power to “sway the mind” of courtiers and emperors alike.
A 1960s Alessandro Albrizzi steel-mounted acrylic and glass cocktail table that was owned by 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 very first time to take in the gilded splendor of the family’s ancestral palace. Even in Venice, a city fabled for an abundance of them, the Palazzo Albrizzi stood out for its beauty and the magnificence of its furnishings. All this he would one day inherit, but the title of baron was his from the start. In hindsight, one is tempted to say that this scion of a proud line was fated to have what the cognoscenti call “an eye.”
Albrizzi had an industriousness that was not often encountered among the aristocrats of his generation. Initially making a name for himself as a photographer, he went on to achieve fame, and fortune too, as a designer of furniture that 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 [see BOXES] — which is known as Perspex in England — and acrylic and glass tables mounted with steel or brass [see the center table in CASE FURNITURE].
Like a true aristocrat, Albrizzi couldn’t abide anything that was shoddy. This fastidiousness lead him to have his modern designs produced, ironically, by hand, rather than mass produced by machine. No wonder Albrizzi’s “Perspex was like diamonds — so expensive,” according to Mary Jane Pool, a magazine editor of the day. And since anything expensive in a capitalist society is by definition exclusive, his elegant furniture attracted “the Beautiful People,” like Egon and Diane von Fürstenberg, the Agnellis, and Princess Margaret, as well as fashionable decorators like David Hicks, Billy Baldwin, and Jansen of Paris.
With shops in London, Rome, and Paris, in 1968 Albrizzi moved to New York and opened yet 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 that’s crafted like jewelry. In her sixties at the time, and already a grand dame in training, giltwood, marble, and porcelain, was more her cup of tea than steel, glass, and acrylic. But her younger jet-set friends were buying it, the baron was so charming, and, after all, who doesn’t want to be in the swim? And so a sale was made, and another bold-face name was added to Albrizzi’s distinguished roster of clients.
A pair of Syrie Maugham painted-and-gilded chairs from the 1930s. 36” high. SOLD
The English decorator Syrie Maugham 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 Edward VIII, thanks to a referral from another client, Mrs. Simpson, for whom the king famously abdicated. When Maugham wasn’t stripping original finishes off antique pieces or painting them white, she was having white-painted furniture made to order. Since she wasn’t the type to sit at a drafting board, her designs were mostly stylized versions of her favorite antique pieces. For example, this graceful chair model, which turns up in many of the rooms she decorated, appears to be Maugham’s own streamlined take on a Swedish rococo model.
A pair of nesting jade dishes, one mounted with a gold “B” initial, possibly by Cartier. Dia: 6 1/2″ and 6 1/8″. Provenance: Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan, Southampton & Palm Beach.
Cecil Beaton (1904 – 1980), English. Elsie de Wolfe in her Paris apartment wearing a Schiaparelli cape, late 1930s. Image 7 1/2″ x 7 1/2″
Fontana Arte box by Pietro Chiesa (1892-1948), Italian circa 1950. Hewn oak and glass. H: 5 ¼” L: 4 ½” D:4 ½”
Justen Ladda, Untitled (Green & Pink Dress), American 2002. Photo printed in gum bichromate on wood. H: 18 1/2″ W: 13 1/2″
Two Venini bottles, Italian, both 1978. Inciso glass. H: 12″ and 8 1/2″
American folk-art flashed-glass sock-darner in red and white, circa 1900. L: 9 3/4″
Pair of Irish gilt-crystal dishes, circa 1900. Dia: 7″
Tapio Wirkkala “egg” in clear glass with gold yoke for Venini, Italian circa 1960s. 3″
Globe paperweight by Zecchino, Italian, 1960s. Blue-green glass with air bubbles. Dia: 2 1/2″
Ovoid paperweight by Gunnel Nyman for Nuutajarvi, Finnish 1940s (unmarked). Blue and clear glass with web of air bubbles. H: 3″
Venini chandelier in clear glass & aluminum, Italian 1948. H: 35″ Dia: 33″. Provenance: Given to Mr. & Mrs. Giorgio de Santillana by Paolo Venini.
Pair of Venini sconces in clear glass & silvered metal, Italian 1948. H: 18″ W: 17″. Provenance: Given to Mr. & Mrs. Giorgio de Santillana by Paolo Venini.
Venini paperweight, Italian circa 1960. Glass with multicolor spiral. 5″
Pair of Chinese Song dynasty vases mounted as lamps. Incised white-slip glaze on stoneware. H: 14 1/2″(bases)/26 1/2 ” (with shades).
Pistol-form object (can be hung from wall),German circa 1760. Blanc-de-chine porcelain. L: 16 1/4″
Chinese side table, 1920s. Bamboo and black-lacquered wood. Provenance: Mrs. Vincent (Brooke) Astor. H: 19″ L: 16″ D:12 1/4″
Frances Elkins dressing table, with its original French 1760s bench, American 1930s. Gilt wood, lacquered bronze, upholstery. H: 30″ L: 46″ D: 18″. Provenance: Lady Donohue, Los Angeles
Low table attributed to Robert Block, French 1930s. Mirror, gilt and painted wrought iron. H: 19″ L: 40″ D: 20″
Pierre Le-Tan console, French 2010 (antique trestle supports). Painted wood, inset glass top. H: 36 1/2″ L: 47 1/4″ D: 13 1/2″
Miniature articulated tilt-top table, American circa 1840. Bronze. H: 4″ Dia: 4″
Checkerboard, American 19th century. Mirror, modern steelframe and grey-and-black felt backing. 23″ x 12″
Obelisk, Continental, 19th/20th century. marble (serpentine, giallo antico with intrusion, steatite). H: 22″
Pair of Jules Leleu sconces, 1940s. Gilt bronze, sand-blasted glass. H: 7 1/4″ W: 15″ $5,000
Bird-leg lamp by P. E. Guerin (New York), circa 1950. Brass and painted metal. Provenance: Mrs. Vincent (Brooke) Astor. H: 61″ including original shade.
Frances Elkins lamp made by Larkin Studio (San Jose), American 1950s. Silver-leafed ceramic, silvered fittings. H: 12″ (24″ with shade). Provenance: Lord and Lady Donohue, Los Angeles
Single lamp. Made from antique rock crystal, silvered mounts. H: 8 1/4″ (16 1/2″ including shade)
Single lamp. Made from antique rock crystal, silvered mounts. H: 7″ (14″ including shade)
American mirror, circa 1960. Gilt and gesso on pickled wood with burlap liner, mirror plate. 35″ x 29″ $4,500
John Dickinson console (unique), American, 1975. Painted wood. H: 6″ L: 108″ D: 18″
Large French Louis XV-style armchair, French circa 1900. Walnut upholstered in velvet. H: 40″ W: 30″ D: 31″. Provenance: Pierre Le-Tan, Paris.
Set of 6 rococo chairs (available in pairs), Italian circa 1760. Painted wood with satin cushions (4 red, 2 oyster). H: 35 1/2″. Provenance: Whitney Warren, Jr., San Francisco.
Pair of Jean Avisse small chairs, French circa 1780. Giltwood, silk satin upholstery. H: 20″. Provenance: Mr. & Mrs. Antenor Patino, New York; Countess Consuelo Crespi, New York.
Pair of Capodimonte (Naples) magpies, Italian 19th century. H: 11 1/2″
Chinese umbrella stand, 20th century. Transfer-printed porcelain. H: 19″ Dia: 8 1/4″
Cut-silk velvet, Japanese 1930s. 75″ x 29″
A bolt of voided silk velvet, Chinese circa 1910. W: 23 1/2″ (includes selvage) L: 132″ (11′) and 40″ (3′).
Piero Fornasetti set of 8 ‘Musicalia’ ashtrays in original faux-malachite box, Italian 1960s. Gilt porcelain, cardboard box. Dia: 4″ each ashtray.
Fornasetti paperweight, Italian circa 1960. Gilt porcelain. 4″
Giambattista Piranesi (1720 – 1778), Italian 18th century. Frontispiece from Vasi, candelabri series. Etching on paper. 29 1/2″x 38 1/2″ framed.
Justen Ladda, Silver Mirror, American 2010. Silver leaf on wood, clear lacquer. Dia: 27 1/4″.
Pair of Neo-Gothic garden benches, English circa 1840. Painted cast iron. H: 33″ L: 55″ D: 20″.
Mariano Fortuny evening jacket, Italian circa 1930. Silk velvet gold-printed in neo-Moorish style, silk lining, original label. Drop 29″. Provenance: Mrs. Potter Palmer, Chicago
Tibetan “singing bowl” in brass and carved wood. H: 7 1/2″ Dia: 9″
Chinese scholar’s rock. Stone, wood base. H: 10 1/2 ”
French Louis XV-style stool, 19th century. Painted wood, ocelot upholstery. H: 16 1/4″ W: 14″ D: 14″
Pair of Jansen dog beds, French circa 1920. Giltwood. H: 14 1/2″ W: 15 1/4″ D: 13″
Faceted obelisk. Green-gray cut crystal. H: 5″
Small octagonal Indian table, 20th century. Pickled wood. H: 10″ D: 9 1/2″. Provenance: Mrs. Vincent (Brooke) Astor.
Set of 6 Fornasetti cups in original packaging, Italian 1960s. Each; 3″ in diameter, box; H: 3 1/2″ W: 10″ D: 5 1/2″
Japanese box with feather decorations, 1930s. Lacquered wood, with gold. Provenance: Mrs. Vincent (Brooke) Astor. H: 2 1/3″ L: 5 1/4″ D: 3 3/4″
Chinese cylinder box, 1930s. Carved red-and-black guri lacquer with blue-enameled brass interior. Provenance: Mrs. Vincent (Brooke) Astor.
Miniature scholar’s rock, Chinese 19th century. Pink quartz, burled-wood base. H: 5 1/2″.
Two sculptures of pineapples, American, early 20th century. Cast metal with steel fronds. H: 11″ and 13″.
Cartier box from the 1970s. Bronze, whip-stitched leather. H: 2 1/2″ L: 8″ D: 5 1/2″. Provenance: Bobby Short.
A Jugendstil candleholder by Erdmann Schlegelmilch, German circa 1902. Gilt porcelain. 4″. SOLD
Pitcher by KPM (Berlin), German circa 1840. Gilt porcelain. H: 10 1/2″.
Pair of Piero Fornasetti ashtrays in original box, Italian 1960s. Gilt porcelain, cardboard box. 4 1/4″ x 5 1/2″ each ashtray.
Gio Ponti for Richard Ginori (Milan) bud vase in the form of a helmet, Italian, 1927. Gilt porcelain. H: 4 1/2″.
Set of 6 Fornasetti cups in original packaging, Italian 1960s. Each; 3″ in diameter, box; H: 3 1/2″ W: 10″ D: 5 1/2″.
Set of 3 Dresden small dishes, German 1950s. Gilt porcelain. 6″ x 5″ each.
Napoleonic commemorative object, French circa 1860. Gilt bronze, marble. W: 6 1/4″ D: 3 1/4″.
Binoculars, American or English circa 1920. Ivory, brass, glass. H: 5″ W: 5″.
Two sculptures of pineapples, American, early 20th century. Cast metal with steel fronds. H: 11″ and 13″.
Dish, French 20th century. Carved marble. Dia: 8″.
Paperweight, American 20th century. Marble. H: 3 1/2″ Dia: 3 1/2″.
Pair of Jean-Pierre Hagnauer cigarette tables, French 1960s. 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. Elsie de Wolfe (Lady Mendl), 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 for Vogue 1960s. Image 9″ x 9 1/4″ frame 16″ x 16″.
George Platt Lynes (1907 – 1955). American. Joan Crawford, 1940s. Image 9″ x 7 1/4″
George Platt Lynes (1907 – 1955), American. Millicent Rogers 1940s. Image 9″ x 7 1/4″
Chinese cylinder box, 1930s. Carved guri black-and-red lacquer on brass, with blue-enamel interior. H: 4″ Provenance: Mrs. Vincent (Brooke) Astor.
Japanese box, 1930s. Lacquered wood with feather decoration. H: 2 1/4″ W: 5 1/4″ D: 3 3/4″. Provenance: Mrs. Vincent (Brooke) Astor.
Belle Epoque table, French circa 1900. Painted and gilded wood, marble. H: 24 1/2″ L: 18″ D: 27″. Provenance: Theodora Lang, Wayzata.
Alessandro Albrizzi cocktail table, Italian 1960s. Chromed steel, acrylic, glass. H: 15 1/4″ Dia: 48″. Provenance: Mrs. William (Brooke) Astor.
Victorian table, English circa 1860. Lacquered papier mache, mother-of-pearl inlay, painted gold decorations. H: 28″ L: 38″ D: 27″.
Pair of Syrie Maugham chairs, English 1930s. Painted and gilded wood, upholstered. H: 38 1/2″.
Jansen folding campaign chair, French 1960s. Steel, brass, leather. H: 37″ W: 25″ D: 36″.
Neo-classical large armchair, Italian circa 1770. Painted and gilded wood, silk upholstery. H: 43″. Provenance: Count and Countess Consuelo Crespi, Rome
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.
Frances Elkins rope-twist standing lamp, 1940s. Black-lacquered wood. H: 70″ (including shade) Provenance: Lord and Lady Donohue, Los Angeles.
Pair of Maison Charles lamps, French 1960s. Brass, steel, synthetic resin. H: 34″.
French 19th-century lantern. Painted sheet metal. H: 24″ (36″ includes drop as shown).
Etienne Drian mirror painting, circa 1932. Reverse painted mirror, tinted mirror and painted wood frame. 63″ x 43″. Provenance: Geoffrey Beene, New York.
Kai Frank flask, Finnish 1960s. Glass. H: 6 3/4″.
Schnaps bottle, Swedish 1940s. Glass, cork stopper with metal ring pull. H: 11″.
Alessandro Albrizzi pen box, 1960s. Clear and yellow acrylic. H: 3 3/4″ W: 9″ D: 4″.
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 attributed to Fornasetti, Italian, 1960s. Faux-malachite 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 lacquer interior. H: 1 1/4″ W: 8 1/4″ D: 6″.
Japanese scroll box, circa 1850. Gold, silver, copper lacquers, aventurine interior, silk cord and tassels. 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 for KPM (Berlin) boy on a dolphin, German 1920s. Porcelain. H: 8 1/4″.
Tiffany & Co. mounted section of first transatlantic 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
A French Belle Epoque screen, circa 1900. Glass, painted and gilded wood, upholstered. H: 60″ W: 19″ and 17 1/4″. Provenance: Mr. & Mrs. Henry E. Huntington, Pasadena (now the Huntington Museum)
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.
Clear and cloudy quartz specimen. H: 1 1/2″ W: 4″ D: 2 1/2″.
Pierre Le-Tan, trompe l’oeil urn on column, French circa 2009. Paint on board. H: 102″.
Sculpture of a female nude, French circa 1770. Geso and giltwood on bronze stand. H: 18: (with stand 23″).