Below you’ll find the backstories on some of our most recent arrivals — for those on other items in our inventory, go to FEATURED INVENTORY, and to ARCHIVE for those that have been sold, go to SOLD INVENTORY.
A 1928 BRUNO PAUL SIDEBOARD FROM HIS NEW YORK LINE
Bruno Paul (German 1874-1968), made by the Vereinigte Zoo-Werkstätten, Berlin. Sideboard 1928. Stained birch veneer on pine, mahogany interior, silvered brass. H: 38” L: 102” long D: 25” Sold
Before the spotlight came to focus on the Bauhaus in the late 1920s, the most prominent modern German designers were Peter Behrens and Bruno Paul. Both began their careers in the 1890s as Jugendstil illustrators and graphic designers. In the 1900s they both became architect designers without the benefit of technical training. And in 1907 they were among the forward-looking founders of the Werkbund that was launched by Hermann Muthesius “to express architectonically the dignity and calm endeavor of a new and confident national German spirit.”
By then, Paul [above left], like Behrens, was becoming internationally known. His work was being published in professional journals, exhibited in museums, and shown at design exhibitions and world’s fairs, including Paris in 1900 and St. Louis in 1904. In 1905 he designed the waiting room of the Frankfurt train station. In 1906 he was made principal of the Royal Berlin School of Arts and Crafts. And in 1907 he received the first of many commissions for the first-class interiors of transatlantic ocean liners of the North German Lloyd [above right, the solarium on the George Washington]. According to a company brochure, the firm took “the advanced step of inviting the leading architects for interiors,” among whom “Prof. Bruno Paul easily established his supremacy.” Yet in 1914 this modernist designer furnished his own large apartment on the school’s top floor in an updated neo-classical, or Biedermeier style [below left].
By then, after having applied modern design principles to all building and furniture types, Paul, like Behrens and many of their colleagues, had come to view modern design as better suited to factories and places of business than civic buildings and residences. And so they occasionally pivoted to modern interpretations of the historical styles that they had reacted against decades before, and to the Biedermeier style in particular.
The Biedermeier style took root in the German states and Austria around 1800, and petered out before 1871 when those states united to form the German nation. The style was characterized by sculptural form and restrained ornamentation, and geared to utility and comfort [above right, a chair in the Residenz, Stuttgart]. This appealed to the modernists who gravitated to geometrical forms suited to mass production, regarded ornament with suspicion, and preached the gospel of functionality. Not coincidentally, this style, and their updated version of it, known as “zwischen Biedermeier,” or second Biedermeier, bolstered an increasingly belligerent Wilhelmine Germany‘s sense of identity as it girded for war. Following defeat in 1918, the Kaiser’s abdication, territorial loss, war reparations, run-away inflation, widespread poverty, and the establishment of a leftist Weimar Republic, the Biedermeier revival lost none of its appeal, evoking as it did a seemingly serene past. And so, when streamlined for a new age, it continued to pass as modern.
In those dire times, Paul secured another appointment. In 1924 he was made director of the United State Schools for Fine and Applied Arts in Berlin, which, under his leadership, was favorably compared to the Bauhaus by progressives (in the 1930s he lost his official positions by refusing to join the National Socialist party, unlike Behrens). Thanks to his stature, Paul continued to land commissions for the few luxurious villas that were then still being built, like the 1921 Fraenkel house in Hamburg [above left], and furnished with pieces like the 1925 nightstand for the Kuhn house in Leipzig [above right]. Shrewdly, he also set his sights on the booming American market. In 1928 he sailed to New York and installed two fully furnished rooms in a Macy’s design exhibition. Other rooms were contributed by Josef Hoffmann, Gio Ponti, William Lescaze, and Kem Weber, a former Paul student then living in Los Angeles. Welcomed with much fanfare, Paul was hailed by Vogue as “the leader of the modern movement in Germany,” and The New York Times as “the dean of the German contemporary art movement…who has more to do than perhaps anyone else with developing in Europe the style we know as ‘modern’.”
On returning to Berlin, Paul sat down at his drafting board to complete plans for Germany’s first built skyscraper, and design a line of furniture inspired by and named for New York. That line was fabricated by the United Zoo Workshops, located near the famous Berlin Zoo. It represents his rekindled interest in the typenmöbel, or furniture types, he had first designed in 1908. Both lines were made in series, but unlike the first, the luxurious and finely crafted New York line couldn’t be mass-produced. It was shown and photographed in mock rooms, including a dining room with two sideboards that match our own [below]. To launch a furniture line in Germany at this time would have been folly, had Paul not been able to place elements of it in his projects, and send others off to be sold in America.
In 1929 Paul and Lucian Bernhard, a former Werkbund member who had moved to New York, established Contempora, a design showroom on East 56th Street [below left, an advertisement from Arts & Decoration]. Paul sent three rooms to the inaugural exhibition. They were shown with others by Kem Weber, the New York artist Rockwell Kent, and the Atelier Martine, the interior design studio of Paris couturier Paul Poiret. Also on view were ceramics by Wally Wieseltier of Vienna, and an exhibition of work by the Berlin architect Erich Mendelsohn. Contempora threw a fancy-dress party to celebrate and promote their venture. A photograph of some of the exhibiting designers in costume was published in Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration [below right], showing Poiret and Wieseltier standing on the left, Bernhard kneeling center, and Kent seated on the right. A few years later Contempora would close, a casualty of the Depression.
Since our sideboard was acquired in Germany, it presumably never made it to New York until now. Its sculptural, horizontal layering is characteristic of Paul’s work in the 1920s, although it’s more architectonic than the Fraenkel house facade, and less whimsical than the Kuhn house nightstand. Severely geometrical, the sideboard falls in line with Bauhaus precepts, but fine craftsmanship was just then coming to be seen as antithetical to modernism. This notion had begun to take root in 1928 with the founding of the Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM), and was reinforced in the 1932 Museum of Modern Art exhibition Modern Architecture, which launched the term “International Style.” Paul, who was not included in that exhibition, practiced a different international style — one that was made by hand, not on a production line. But, like the other one, Paul’s was, in his own words, “the style of modern man, whose airplanes have conquered the distance between the continents, whose audible and comprehensible voices echo around the globe, and whose thoughts and feelings transcend the confines of international boundaries.”
The backstories on the following new acquisitions will be uploaded shortly:
Japanese, 18th century. Altar table. Lacquered wood, gilt-brass fittings. H: 12” L: 24 ½” D: 10 ½” Provenance: Pierre Le-Tan, Paris. $10,000
German 20th century, attributed to Hans Heinrich Müller (1879-1951). Expressionist table, circa 1920. Solid and oak veneer, dark stain. H: 28” Dia: 27” $10,000
German 20th century, attributed to Peter Baumann. Chinoiserie table, circa 1925. Japanned wood with raised gilt-gesso decorations. H: 25 ¾” Dia: 31 ½”. $10,000
French 20th century, in the manner of Marcel Coard. Side table, circa 1930. Oak, shagreen top. H: 21 ¾” L: 11” W: 11” Provenance: Pierre Le-Tan $6,000
French 20th century, attributed to the Compagnie des Arts Francais. Cocktail table, French circa 1930. Glass, mirror, patinated copper. H: 11 ½” L: 23 ¾” D: 15 ¾” $9,000
Gilbert Poillerat (French 1902-1988). Center table, circa 1950. Gilt and blackened wrought iron, black-lacquered wood top. H: 28″ Dia: 51″ $40,000
Gilbert Poillerat (French 1902-1988) for Ramsay (Paris decorating firm). Pair of low tables, circa 1950. Gilt wrought iron, glass. H: 18 ½” L: 15 ½” D: 15 ¼” $12,500
French 20th century, in the manner of Jean-Charles Moreau. Side table, circa 1950. Limed oak, limestone top. H: 19” L: 13 ¾” D: 10 ¼” $5,000
Italian 16th/17th century. Renaissance chair, circa 1700. Walnut. H: 40 ¾” W: 21 ¼” D: 18 ¾” (seat height 17 ¾”). Provenance: Pierre Le-Tan, Paris. $8,000
Italian (Venetian) 18th century. Rococo armchair bearing the emblem of the Knights Templar, circa 1750 . Walnut, gilding, upholstered in cut silk-velvet. H: 49 ¼” W: 28 ½” D: 25 ½” $15,000
Italian (Venetian) 19th/20th century, made by Pauly et Cie. Grotto chair, circa 1900. Gilded and silvered wood, paint. H: 35 ½”W: 23” D: 23”. $15,000
A. S. Benson (English 1854-1924). Articulated table/wall lamp, circa 1900. Brass. H: 30“ (when vertical with shade), base 8“ between foot pads (one with aperture for hanging). $4,000
French 20th century, attributed to Baguès (Paris maker), possibly designed by Armand Rateau. Pair of sconces, circa 1925. Silvered brass, rock crystal, amethyst. H: 13 ¾ W: ll 1/2″ D: 5 1/2″. $15,000
Veronese (Paris firm with Murano glassworks). Pair of sconces, circa 1935. Glass with aluminum fittings. H: 24″ W: 17″ D: 13″ $20,000
Baguès Frerès (Paris maker). Chandelier, circa 1950. Interior-painted glass, brass. H: 36” (fixture 24” plus 12” chain) Dia: 24” $20,000
Pierre Le-Tan (1950-1919). Bouillotte lamp, circa 1920 and 2019. Silvered bronze, paint on sheet metal. H: 33 ½” Dia: 22” $20,000
American, 19th century. Silhouette portraits of William and Charles Livingston, June 12th (?) 1838. Cut paper on black paper ground, original giltwood frame, antique glass. 20 ½” x 24 ½. Provenance: Frederick W. Hughes, New York; his sale Sotheby’s Oct.10, 2001; John Armbruster, Brussels; Pierre Le-Tan, Paris. $8,000
Swedish 20th century. Abstract sculpture, circa 1925. Painted wood. H: 29 ½”. Provenance: Daniel Katz, London; Folke Wickman, Stockholm. $6,000
View other recent arrivals at FEATURED INVENTORY
R. LOUIS BOFFERDING FINE & DECORATIVE ART
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