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by Louis Bofferding

R. LOUIS BOFFERDING FINE & DECORATIVE ART  232 EAST 59TH STREET NYC 10021  TELEPHONE 212.744.6725  /  LOUIS.BOFFERDING@VERIZON.NET

JAPANESE LACQUER BOXES FROM THE COLLECTION OF PIERRE LE-TAN

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This remarkable collection of 18th and 19th-century Japanese lacquer boxes was assembled by the Paris artist and collector Pierre Le-Tan (1950-2019). In recent years, his work was the subject of a 2004 museum retrospective at the Reina Sofia in Madrid, and gallery shows at Emmanuel Perrotin in Paris, Paul Kasmin in New York, and Tristan Hoare in London. But it was as an illustrator that Pierre initially made a name for himself in 1969, at the tender age of nineteen, with the first of his many covers for The New Yorker. He went on to illustrate the covers of books written by his friend Patrick Modiano, who won the 2014 Nobel Prize for Literature, and with whom he co-authored several books as well [below left]. In addition to writing and illustrating innumerable books of his own, Pierre designed film and stage sets [below right], a Palais Royal fashion boutique for his daughter Olympia, and the interiors of a chateau — furniture included – for a Rothschild. A jack of all artistic trades, Pierre, somehow, also managed to find the time to make daily rounds of the Paris antiques shops and auction rooms. The result was a shape-shifting collection, and renown among the cognoscenti for having “an eye.”

When it came to collecting – antiquities, Persian miniatures, 18th-century French furniture, Cecil Beaton photographs, and Andy Warhol drawings, among other things — Pierre was insatiable. He occasionally left a purchase in the gallery where he had found it, sometimes for years, or sent a chair to the upholsterer without ever supplying the  fabric. Pierre, you see, needed to know that he possessed the object of his desire more than he needed to have it at hand. His pursuit of the fine and the rare, however, could leave him short on cash, and his apartment on the rue Saint-Augustin, commodious though it was, overflowing [below left]. And so he turned with some regularity to me, an antiques dealer, to relieve those pressures. This could exasperate his then wife, Plum, who would return home after running her errands to find that my shipper had just made off with a favorite armchair, a useful lamp, or a much-loved picture. Not that I bought everything he came to part with — hence, a 1995 single-owner sale at Sotheby’s London [below right], and a large consignment to Christie’s London twelve years later.

To back track, Pierre and I met in the 1980s when I was a private dealer in contemporary and modern art. Then, I sold him the odd picture by Giorgio de Chirico, and bought from him the occasional Jean-Michel Frank chair. But when I undertook to reinvent myself as a dedicated antiques dealer in 1994, and embarked on an intense study of the decorative arts, Pierre became an inspiration, a source, and a mentor. He took me to drinks at Pierre Chareau’s 1932 masterpiece, the so-called Maison de Verre, then still fully furnished and owned by the family that had built it. He ushered me into the sky-lit studio of the legendary Line Vautrin, maker of jewelry and miroirs sorcières, and told me to select a pair of cufflinks as his gift. He introduced me to antiquaires off the beaten track, and led me on treasure hunts through dust-furred apartments of recently deceased grandees. Before, in between, and after, we discussed pictures, furniture, and provenance, over lunches of foie gras and Ladoucette at the Grill of the Plaza Athénée, aperitifs at Le Scarlett with Mr. Modiano, dinners at Davé, where Pierre air-kissed Karl Lagerfeld, and nightcaps at Raspoutine, an improbably named haunt for superannuated Russian aristocrats.

Back in New York, where I presented “collections” of art and furnishings I sold from home, I received drawings from Pierre that depicted one or two of my recent acquisitions, which appeared on my opening invitations.  Then, in 2002 when I signed a lease on a Lexington Avenue store, Pierre sent me a drawing of the shop front that was printed on my business card [below left].

On my July buying trip to Paris, I visited Pierre, and his second wife Toboré, for the last time at home on the place du Palais-Bourbon [above right]. On the eve of my departure, we came to terms on the lacquer boxes found below, and some other furnishings and artwork that I will offer soon.  Among the items was one that will not be for sale — a drawing by Pierre’s own hand. It was not by chance that I selected one that depicts an eye.

 

“Everything in the universe is depicted in lacquer. The dynamic and the static aspects of heaven, earth, and man — the shells and the fish, mountains and rivers, a thousand grasses and ten thousand trees, the materials of a house and its many utensils, tools, jewelry, the arts, incense, the tea ceremony, cooking, karma, and impressions of the mind.”

Kōami Nagasuki, 1718.  Taken from the notes he wrote to his grandson, both members of a twelve-generation dynasty of lacquerers.

WRITING BOX

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Writing box (suzuri-bako), 18th/19th century, depicting fans outside, and within young pine trees. Gold and silver lacquer on gold-sprinkled black ground, gilt-brass water dropper, ink stone, and gilded ink stick. Old Japanese paper label, and western inventory label on underside of cover. 2” x 8 5/8” x 9 ½” $8,750

PILLOW BOX

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Pillow, 19th century, perforated in form of a family crest, with drawer for dried aromatic plants, depicting tendrils and two other family crests. Gold and black lacquer. 5” x 8 ½” x 4 ½”   $5,500

FAN BOX

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Fan case with pivoting lid, 18th century, depicting lotus blossoms in profile. Raised gold and silver lacquer on gold-sprinkled black ground, silk-brocade lining, brass fitting of butterfly form, with old French inventory label. 1 ½” x 12 ¾” x 1 3/8” $4,000

INRO

Inrō have multiple, uniformly-sized compartments.  Initially, they contained medicaments and were worn by men and women from kimono sashes. Later, inrō were used to contain personal seals.  And later still, once pockets were sewn into kimono sleeves, inrō became a decorative accessory for men, and conveyed the status and refinement of the owner.

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Five-tier medicine box (inrō), 18th century, depicting horses in a landscape, signed Kajikawa Saku. Gold, brown, and silver lacquer on black, silk cord, bronze fitting. 3 ¾” x 1 ¾” x 1” $6,000

THE INCENSE GAME

This gentlemen’s game was played around a small brazier, where incense, made of pulverized fragrant woods and herbs, were burned sequentially. Participants tried to guess what each fragrance was, wrote their identifications on paper slips, called counters, which were inserted in a box. The host then identified the incenses that he had selected, and named the winner.  This game required several boxes for incense and paraphernalia.

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Incense game counter box (fuda-bako), 19th century, depicting two family crests and bamboo among young pine trees. Gold and black lacquer, gold sprinkled interior. 3” x 2 ¾” x 2 1/8” $4,000

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Incense box (kō-bako), early 18th century, depicting two buildings in a landscape by the sea. Raised gold on black lacquer with gold and silver foil on exterior, gold sprinkled interior. 1 ¾” x 3 ¾” x 4” $6,500

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Incense box set, (kō-bako), 18th/19th century, lid decorated with cherry blossoms against hanging blind, and wood grain alternating with gold panels on sides; containing three incense boxes (kōgō) of melon form, decorated with tendrils and leaves, with coral stems. Slightly raised gold on black lacquer, gold sprinkling on underside of lid, and inside melon boxes. 1 3/8” x 3 15/16 x 2 1/8” $6,000

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Two-tiered and footed incense box (kō-ju-bako), 18th/19th century, depicting on the lid a peony with bird, and on the sides a dragonfly, butterflies, carnations, and morning glories. Raised gold decorations on black with gold sprinkled interior. 2 1/8” x 2 5/8” x 2” $4,000

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Shallow incense box (kō-bo) in form of bound book, 19th century, depicting title block and chrysanthemum pattern on lid, book spine and bound pages on sides. ¾ “ x 2 ¾“ x 3 1/8“ $3,750

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Small incense box (ko-bako), 18th/19th century, depicting carnations with a dragonfly and clouds on lid, plants by a stream on sides. Gold-sprinkled interior. 1” x 2” x 1 11/16”  Sold

OTHER JAPANESE LACQUERWARE

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Rack for kimono obe, 18th/19th century, depicting plants on bamboo trellis. Gold-and-black lacquer, gilt brass. $6,000

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Household altar, 19th century. Raised gold lacquer decorations and sprinkling on brown ground, with gilded underside, gilt brass. H: 5 ½” L: 10 ½” D: 8 ½” $3,750

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Vase for a scholar’s desk, 19th/20th century, signed by the maker. Natural gourd, black lacquer. 7 ¼” $1,500

SOME OTHER RECENT ARRIVALS

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John Vesey backgammon table, circa 1967.  Chromed steel, glass, leather with gold tooling.  H: 29″ L: 50 1/4″ D: 25″  Sold

MARIO BUATTA’S TIFFANY PINEAPPLE 

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Van Day Truex (1904-1979) sculpture of a pineapple, circa 1960. Sterling and gilded silver. 9 ½” high.   Provenance: Mario Buatta. $9,000

The pineapple, native to South America, began trickling into Europe in the 16th century, one by precious one. There, the lust for them prompted kings and aristocrats to build greenhouses for their cultivation. Displayed proudly, and occasionally even served, the pineapple came to represent extravagant hospitality, which led to their being carved in stone as gatepost finials, cast in bronze as dining room ornaments [like the pair of 18th-century French ones at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs in Paris below left], and fabricated in masonry as a garden folly at Dunmore House in England [below right].

Fast forward to 1955 when Van Day Truex was appointed design director at Tiffany’s. By then their Gilded Age glory days were long gone, but Truex would make them fashionable once again. Three years later, Truman Capote made the Fifth Avenue store the refuge of Holly Golightly, his stylish heroine in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. And three years after that, the film version, starring Audrey Hepburn in her defining role, positioned Tiffany’s as the apogee of American chic.

Previously, Truex had directed the Parsons School where he told students “mother nature is our best teacher.” Taking his words to heart, he designed five sterling-silver objects for Tiffany’s. Four of them — a seedpod, a gourd, a pinecone, and a cabbage — were nominally boxes, but the fifth, a pineapple, was sculpture pure and simple. Of them, only the pineapple was partially gilded to distinguish form – fruit and rockwork silver, fronds silver-gilt. Ours belonged to Mario Buatta himself, who, years ago, had purchased a seedpod from us to round out his collection of the entire group. Then, he said the pineapple was the rarest of them all, which accounts for our not having seen one before, or another one since.

JOHN DICKINSON FETISHES

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Set of 8 unique sculptures by John Dickinson (1919-1982), circa 1970. Wood sprayed with automobile paint. Heights range from 20“ to 27“. Provenance: John Dickinson; Carlene Safdie. $30,000

Around 1970, John Dickinson, the San Francisco furniture and interior designer, bought some hand-crafted yet mass-produced African figures at a local import store. He mounted them on bull-nosed bases, sprayed the works with glossy white automobile paint, and placed them on a chest in a 1974 showhouse room he created for a San Francisco Museum of Modern Art benefit [below left] When it closed he took them home, and placed 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 Richard Prince (who re-photographed the Marlboro Man cigarette ads), and Sherrie Levine (who painted watercolors after modernist masterpieces by celebrated male artists). But if their work critiqued sexism, the media, and the art world, Dickinson’s  transformation of African crafts into expensive accessories for First World homes was a critique of the design world.

The conflation of art and design is a Dickinson hallmark — and his clients got it.  But he and they were oblivious to the colonialist implications we find unavoidable today.  Yet it is this freighted edginess that accounts for the appeal of Dickinson’s work among contemporary art collectors now.

AN ITALIAN MIRROR-FRAMED MIRROR

Mirror 1Italian mirror-framed mirror, circa 1850. Cut beveled mirror on wood backing. 36 3/4“ x 31 1/2 “ $20,000

Since the Middle Ages, the glassblowers of Venice had been making fine glassware and mirrors for the European aristocracy. Their technique, however, limited the size of mirror plates to that of a modern sheet of legal paper. This changed in the 17th century when Louis XIV established the Manufacture Royale des Glaces. There, molten glass was poured on a flat surface, and then silvered with toxic mercury. This technique could produce the larger plates that held their own over fireplace mantles. If those mirrors were expensive to produce, the human cost was prohibitive, with craftsmen dropping like flies from mercury poisoning. Subsequent technical developments resulted in ever larger and clearer mirrors made under safer conditions, but their smokey, crystalline beauty was lost in the process.

Our mercury-glass mirror, made in 19th century Italy, has a greyish tinge that endows it with mystery. The design reflects the taste, first manifested in the 17th century, for mirror-framed mirrors with intricately cut pieces that cover the joints [see an 18th example above left]. In the 1930s these mirrors became all the rage once again when the Paris designer, decorator, and antiques dealer Serge Roche designed his versions [seen in Vogue above right], which were snapped up by fashionable decorators like Elsie de Wolfe and Syrie Maugham, and copied stateside by Eleanor Brown of McMillen.

BELLE EPOQUE CHANDELIER

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Belle Époque chandelier attributed to Baguès, circa 1900. Bronze and rock crystal. 31” high (not including cap and chain), 21”diameter. $20,000

This chandelier was probably made by the Paris bronzier Baguès around 1900. The botanical forms of the cage, and the shapes of the rock-crystal prisms, hark back the 18th-century Rococo style, but the sinuous cast-bronze curves are in line with the Art Nouveau style that was then all the rage. This soigné union of the two is a hallmark of the Belle Époque that then flourished.

At the time, designers faced the challenge of adapting the traditional, candlelit chandelier form to the electric light bulb. But the brightness of the bulbs made looking directly at the chandelier uncomfortable, and when blazing from on high they cast unflattering shadows.  That’s why bulbs were often hidden in the frame, or shielded with silk shades. Our chandelier has five sockets for bulbs tucked behind the glass-beaded trelliswork pouch [below right], and another five mounted on the arms. Finding ten bulbs overkill, and not wanting to burden the graceful form with cumbersome shades, we refitted the arms for candles. Now, the chandelier shimmers from within at the flick of a switch, and casts flickering candleglow at the strike of a match — or both, should it suit the occasion, or whim of the owner.

 

ALESSANDRO ALBRIZZI NEST OF SNAKES SCULPTURE

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Alessandro Albrizzi (1934-1994) “nest of snakes sculpture,” circa 1970. Lucite and metal. 6” high, 14 ½” wide. $3,750

What the madeleine was to Marcel Proust, the snake was to the designer Baron Alessandro Albrizzi [below left]. As a child, he played with his toys on the terrazzo floors of the family palazzo in Venice [below right]. There, the French doors that opened onto the garden had hardware embellished with bronze snakes.   Decades later, the memory of them prompted Albrizzi, then working in London, to create his “nest of snakes” sculptures. Their Lucite tubes were tied in knots by hand, making each nest unique. Yet some are better than others, and ours is as good as they get. These works were among the last 20th-century decorative objects made in a modern style, which is why, in the years that followed, we’ve had to make due with flea market finds, and coffee-table books best left unread.

EMILIO TERRY 1930s “LOUIS XVII” BED

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Emilio Terry (1890-1969) design for a bed, circa 1935. Ink on architect’s tracing paper, in a circa 1800 giltwood frame. 8 ¾” x 12 ½” framed, 5 ¼” x 8” sheet. $5,500

Emilio Terry — architect, interior, and furniture designer — was the inventor and sole-practitioner of what his friends drolly referred to as his “Louis XVII style.” Thanks to the Revolution, there was no Louis to follow the sixteenth, and therefore no such style (and even if there had been, it would have gone out of fashion long before Terry was born). Heir to a Cuban sugar fortune, Terry [below left] didn’t have to make a living, or cater to the prevailing taste for the moderne. Yet he didn’t lack for commissions from raffiné aristocrats like Vicomte Jean-Charles de Noailles, would-be aristocrats like Carlos de Beistegui, sophisticated nouveaux riches like Stavros Niarchos, or his chichi decorator friend Jean-Michel Frank, for whom Terry designed a line of furniture. Among his more intellectual admirers was Alfred Barr, director of the Museum of Modern Art, who included Terry’s oddball work in his 1936 exhibition Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism.

Our pen-and-ink sketch of a bed on architect’s tracing paper has a splendid agitation. Suffocating under bolts of draped fabric, the supports take the form of fasces – a bundle of rods with an ax — that had been the symbol of the people’s power in a republic since the days of ancient Rome [above center]. Terry’s severe Neo-Classical bed can be contrasted with the sensually disheveled Rococo one drawn by Jean-Honoré Fragonard [above right]. But if Fragonard’s suggests the hurried departure of furtive lovers, Terry’s embodies the fevered imagination of a celibate bachelor who lived in luxurious grandeur.

VENINI DIAMANTE GLASS OBELISKS

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Pair of Venini torqued obelisks by Venini, circa 1934. Diamante blown glass. 15” high, 7” wide. $20,000

The obelisks of ancient Egypt inspired countless designers over millennia, including the architect of the Washington Monument that dates to the 1840s.   Around 1930, Gio Ponti designed an obelisk or two for the Venini glassworks on the island of Murano. And shortly thereafter, Carlo Scarpa designed for them a torqued obelisk in transparent diamante glass [below left], so named because its ropy diagonal striations crisscross to take on a diamond-like appearance. Venini’s diamante line was launched at the 1934 Venice Biennale, and expanded for the 1936 Milan Triennale. Until then, Venini had been celebrated for colored glass, but now they were giving the makers who were celebrated for their transparent glass — Steuben, Baccarat, and Lobemeyer — a run for their money.  Venini’s new line was an immediate success. And so diamante obelisks came to be arranged on mahogany tabletops in Lake Forest mansions decorated by Frances Elkins, and used as doorstops – yes, doorstops – in the foyer of La Fiorentina [below right], the Cote d’Azur villa that the English tastemaker Rory Cameron shared with his mother Lady Kenmare.

FRENCH EMPIRE BRONZE OF A WOMAN

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Empire furniture mount, circa 1810. Gilt bronze mounted on a later painted wood base. Overall height 9 ¾”. $6,500

This Empire ormolu head of a woman was made as a furniture mount in France around 1810. It may have adorned a bed like the one designed by Charles Percier around the same time [below left]. In any case, closer to our own time, it was deemed worthy of mounting as a sculpture on a finely made base. Its Neo-Classical style, quality of casting, chiseling, and gilding, recall the work of the bronzier Pierre-Philippe Thomire. He was a supplier of candelabra, centerpieces, and furniture mounts to Percier, who was then Napoleon’s architect and interior decorator. Among the many projects they collaborated on was Malmaison, the emperor’s retreat outside Paris. There, one can still see Napoleon’s own bed, designed by Percier, that is mounted with a pair of heads, partially gilded, by Thomire, which are similar to our own [below right].

GIOVANNI GARIBALDI PORCELAIN SHELLS

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Set of twelve dishes by Giovanni Gariboldi (1908 – 1971), circa 1948. Marked Richard-Ginori. Porcelain glazed in one of three colors. 5” wide. $5,000

In the 1920s, Gio Ponti, who defined 20th-century Italian design, was the art director of Richard-Ginori, a venerable porcelain company that had been established in the 18th century. When Ponti moved on in 1930, Giovanni Gariboldi, his protégé who also designed furniture and interiors, filled the vacant position. It would seem that Gariboldi found his model for these shell-shaped dishes in nature, but in fact no such shell exists. Rather, he channeled the essence of “shellness” (to invoke Plato) in order to create this form, which he endowed with the faux verisimilitude of delicate ribbing along the scalloped edge. Distancing his shells even further, and more charmingly, from nature, he had candy-colored glazes applied in pink, yellow, and blue.

NEWLY DISCOVERED CUBIST FRESCOES BY EYRE DE LANUX

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Eyre de Lanux (1894-1996) pair of  “frescoes” in their original oak frames, late 1920s.  Each 15 3/4“ x 22 1/2“ framed. Provenance: Mr. & Mrs. Kenneth Farrand Simpson, Paris and New York; by descent, Mr. & Mrs. William Kelly Simpson, New York.  $30,000

Madonna, whore, muse, vamp – in the annals modern art, these stock female roles fill the interstices between the lives of great male artists.  Only recently have women like Hilma af Klint, Lee Miller, and Louise Bourgeois emerged from their relative, unwarranted obscurity. Among their number is the artist, furniture and interior designer Eyre de Lanux, who resurfaced after a decades-long hiatus in 1989, seven years before she breathed her last at the age of 102. Since then, her work and its significance have come into focus. And that work, along with her beauty, chic, and many love affairs with celebrated men and women, have made her a cult figure.

Lanux led a high profile life in Paris and New York during the interwar years. Her contemporaries, however, were long gone by 1989 when a Cubist table she designed in the late 1920s resurfaced at Sotheby’s New York, and sold for $72,500, an astonishing price for an unknown maker [below left]. This prompted Rita Reif to interview her for a profile in The New York Times. In 1997, shortly after Lanux’s death, the art and furniture that she had kept for herself was hammered down at Christie’s for multiples of the estimates.   In 2013 she was the subject of a Paris exhibition at Galerie Willy Hubrechts, and a book by Louis-Géraud Castor. Two years before, Nick Mauss, that contemporary art world darling, featured a group of her Sapphic pen-and-ink doodles in his 2011 Whitney Biennial installation.

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Born Elizabeth Eyre, Lanux hailed from a distinguished Philadelphia family. On moving to New York, she studied painting at the Art Students’ League under Robert Henri. In 1918, during the Great War, she worked at the Foreign Press Bureau where she caught the eye of Pierre de Lanux, a handsome French diplomat, cultural liaison, and writer [above right]. Before the year was out, the Armistice was signed, they married, and set sail for France. Over the decades that followed they remained very much in love, and faithful in their fashion, but, from the get go, theirs was an open marriage.

Lanux wasn’t the only member of the Lost Generation who found herself, literally and figuratively, in Paris. There, in the crucible of modernism, she crafted a new identity, and took her maiden name as her first, becoming Eyre de Lanux. She bobbed her hair, wore the geometrically patterned clothes of Sonia Delaunay, and studied under the sculptor Constantin Brancusi (in 1979 she donated a group of his rare photographs, which he presumably gave her, to the Museum of Modern Art). She posed for the camera of Man Ray [above left], and was painted as a huntress in animal skins by Romaine Brooks [above right], another American ex-patriot, and the lover of Natalie Clifford Barney, poet, salonnière, and celebrated beauty from Dayton, Ohio. Lanux had a fling with Barney  too  (conveniently, they lived in the same building on the rue Jacob), and became a regular at her salon, where Jean Cocteau, Colette, Ezra Pound, Isadora Duncan, Eric Satie, Anais Nin, and T. S. Elliot forgathered, along with other avatars of the modern.

If a bohemian lifestyle is a necessary ingredient for cult figure status (think Jean-Michel Basquiat), so too is talent. As an artist, Lanux mastered portrait drawing, painting on canvas and wood panel, and etching and lithography. But it was fresco painting that she returned to time and again over the course of her life. She showed hers in Paris at the Galerie des Quatre Chemins in 1937, and in New York at the galleries of Peggy Guggenheim in 1943, and Alexander Iolas in 1951. Fresco, however, is a misnomer since they are painted in wet plaster, whereas Lanux incised, and modeled bas-reliefs from a concrete-like mixture, that she painted when dry.

The lines incised in our painted panels, which we date to the late 1920s, can be compared to those chiseled by Brancusi in stone, as seen in his masterpiece The Kiss [below left], which Lanux would surely have known.  The compositions, however, can be compared to those painted by Picasso during his Synthetic Cubist period, when the multiple shards that characterize Early and Analytic Cubism coalesce into recognizable forms, as seen in his 1922 Still Life with Guitar [below right]. Not coincidentally, Lanux and Picasso became friends around this time, and were photographed together some years later at the Cafe de Flore by Brassaï. A few years after that, back in New York, she rented an apartment in a brand new East 58th Street building named The Picasso, where three large works after his originals still decorate the lobby. Presumably, she was the only tenant there who knew, or was on a first name basis with the artist.

One of our still lives depicts a bottle of Gordon’s Gin, a martini with an olive, a pipe, a smoldering cigar, an ace of diamonds, an Ionic capital, stars, a mask, and what might be a newspaper. The other depicts a bottle of VO Whisky, a seltzer bottle, a cut-glass tumbler, a lemon for a twist, an ace of hearts, dice, and that Jazz Age musical favorite, a ukulele, against a background of books.

The panels belonged to Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Farrand Simpson of New York [seen below left with their children]. In 1925 they married at St. James’s on Madison Avenue, embarked on a Paris honeymoon, and rented a Left Bank pied-a-terre overlooking the Seine.  They were ardent Francophiles. Helen, a Knickerbacker on her mother’s side, had served in France during the war as a nurse, and wore Paris couture. Kenneth was a Yale man who went on to study law at Harvard, becoming a lawyer representing  the French Line, the passenger ship company, and Madame Coty of Paris perfume fame, before entering politics. Together they were a Social Register couple that was attracted to la vie bohème.  Befriending Gertrude Stein, Alice Toklas, and the notorious Harry and Caresse Crosby, they also collected modern art, including the work of Modigliani, Picasso, Matisse, Giorgio de Chirico, and Joan Miró.

Our panels call for a biographical reading, since Kenneth was a heavy drinker, a chain smoker, and an avid poker player. The Ionic capital, a symbol of the arts, reflects their keen interest in art, music, and literature. And so our panels evoke an evening chez Simpson — when the stars come out, books and newspapers are put aside, cocktails are served, the aroma of tobacco wafts through the air, and a jazz tune is casually strummed on a ukulele (masquerade optional).

Many years later, when jotting down her chronology, Lanux noted, “Helen: 1st order.” Around 1927 she asked Lanux to decorate their Paris apartment at 1 rue Git-le-Cour (in translation Here-Lies-the-Heart). The building was also the home to Sara and Gerald Murphy, E. E. Cummings, Gilbert Seldes (pop culture critic and father of the actress Marian Seldes), and Alice De Lamar, the American lesbian patron of the arts, whose apartment was a crash pad for her artistic friends, including Dolly Wilde, Oscar’s niece, the painter Eugene Berman, and his actress wife Ona Munson. Some thirty years later, Lamar would step up to the plate for Lanux, whose means had by then thinned, to cover her rent at The Picasso.

Lanux painted the Simpson dining room a terracotta color [below left], designed a steel table with an actual terracotta top, bought chairs from Jean-Michel Frank, and collaborated on the rug design with her latest love interest, Evelyn Wyld, a weaver who had just broken up with her previous collaborator and lover, the architect designer Eileen Gray. Lanux transformed an alcove into a wet bar [below right] by installing a sink and a zinc countertop. She mirrored the backsplash and cabinets, positioned an African tribal mask, and laid down another Wyld rug. Our terra-cotta-painted panels may have hung in this room, and been a gift from the artist, or the result of a commission.

In the 1920s Lanux was best known as an artist, although she also wrote art criticism, poetry, and fiction. By 1930 she had become known for her furniture and interiors. But in the mid 1930s she abruptly abandoned design, and took off for Rome.  At the outbreak of war she repaired to New York, and when peace returned she ricocheted between New York, Paris, and Rome, where she took a much younger man as her lover. In the years that followed, she painted more frescoes, experimented with photography, illustrated books, and published fiction in The New Yorker. In an age of specialization, she branched out. Lanux was born at a time, and in a class, that discouraged women from having a métier, pursuing a career, and achieving success. She took it on the chin. The incarnation of freedom, hers was a life fulfilled.

A KITSUNE FROM THE EDO PERIOD

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Japanese, 18th century. Carved wood painted with urushi. H: 9 ½”. Carved wood. Provenance: probably Yamanaka; Lucy Truman Aldrich; by descent her great niece Mrs. William Kelly Simpson. $5,500

According to Japanese folklore, kitsune – the sly fox — assumed human form to both protect and trick humble country folk. Dating to the 18th century, our fox is protecting its pup. Carved and painted with a dull black lacquer finish called urushi, it’s pleasing from every angle, and is, in its way, a small masterpiece. The sweeping curve of the snarling fox’s body is countered by the undulations of the playful pup. Their generalized forms are countered by finely carved details, like slit eyes, pupils, sharp teeth, nails, and tiny paws that sink into the tail.

This sculpture was in the collection of Lucy Truman Aldrich of Providence, Rhode Island. Most of her Japanese works were purchased in the 1920s and ’30s from Yamanaka, a then four-hundred-year-old firm based in Osaka, Japan, with branches in New York, Cleveland, Bar Harbor, and Newport, which was only a few miles from her country estate. Through the years Yamanaka cataloged her burgeoning collection, and on the underside of our sculpture is a label with her initials, and inventory number.

Aldrich was born in, lived in, and died in her family’s mansion on Benevolent Street. Speaking of benevolence, in the 1930s she gave her collections of Asian textiles and European porcelains to the Rhode Island School of Design Museum. Her remaining treasures passed down through the family of her sister, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, the modern art collector, and a founder of the Museum of Modern Art. Lucy was a spinster, a bluestocking, and deaf, but she was no drudge, traveling through Asia wearing Paris couture and Cartier jewelry. One night in 1923, on a Peking-bound train, she and her fellow passengers were kidnapped by bandits, marched off in their bedclothes, and held for ransom. Two weeks later she managed to escape during a rainstorm, and hid in a doghouse. On returning to Providence the local worthies assumed she’d finally learned a woman’s place is in the home. But when she received compensation from the Chinese government she went on another buying trip to Asia. By way of an explanation she remarked, “I’d rather be a Buddhist than a Baptist.”

NAPOLEON III CRYSTAL AND ORMOLU VASE

Flower 1 (1)

Napoleon III vase, circa 1850. Cut crystal mounted with gilt bronzes. H: 14”; W: 4 ¼; Base: 3 ½” square. $3,750

In the early 19th-century the typical, but fine flower vase was made of porcelain. The better ones were mounted in gilt bronze. But the most fashionable were made of cut crystal and gilt bronze. The vogue for them began in France when Napoleon was emperor, and spread to Britain, Russia, and the United States.  It continued through the reign of his nephew Napoleon III, an emperor himself. Our vase has four imperial eagles on the base corners, which could refer to either emperor — but the attenuated proportions, and the gutsy sunburst cut into the crystal, indicate it was made during the reign of the latter. The ormolu handles, however, are similar to those seen in a design for a vase-form clock that dates to the reign of the first. But since bronziers continued to cast from earlier molds, we’ll stick with to circa 1850 date we proposed.

BIEDERMEIER SIDE TABLE

Table 1

Austrian 19th century, Biedermeier tilt-top table, circa 1830. Walnut, solid & veneered, brass fittings. H: 31 1/2”; Dia: 24”. $6,000

Elegance and charm tend to be mutually exclusive, but the best Biedermeier furniture often embodies both. Our side table was finely made of solid and veneered walnut. By sliding a bronze latch, the top can tilt vertically. This is a common enough feature of large tables that take up lots of space, or have showoffy tops that present “pictures” to the viewer. But our table is small, and has a top of subtle marquetry. Go figure. In any case, the attenuated proportions of the baluster support, and the openwork scrolls that connect it to the base and top, indicate a sophisticated designer and an accomplished maker. Its spritely grace suggests Viennese origins, yet it would have looked at home in the enchanting Biedermeier interior painted by the German master Georg Friedrich Kersting.

PAIR OF 18TH CENTURY ITALIAN ARMCHAIRS

Chairs 1

Italian, circa 1800. Gilt & painted wood, caned, with cushions.  H: 34 ½“ back; seat 19“ including cushion; W: “25 ½”. Provenance: Mr. & Mrs. Richard Norton, Lake Forest. $15,000

Low, deep, and wide, this pair of armchairs is exceptionally comfortable — and the striking gold-and-black colour scheme is undeniably chic. What’s most distinctive about them from a design point of view, however, is the spiral fluting of the legs and arm supports. Spiral fluting is found in the chair legs of Sulpice Brizzard, the great 18th-century French menusier, but he was never so audacious as to carry it up through the arm supports. This off-beat detail, and the dramatic color scheme, point to Italian origins. To accentuate the chairs’ quirky elegance, we upholstered the cushions in silk-satin, with over-scaled bow tiebacks — a couture detail inspired by the ball gowns of Roman couturier Roberto Capucci.

A SET OF 29 GOLDEN PLATES FROM THE 1970S

Plates 1

Set of 17 dinner and 12 salad plates, circa 1970. Gilt glass, back-painted in black, and stamped “HHD / PAT. PEND. 33”. Dia: 10 ¾” and 6 ½”. $4,500

When Jan Cowles threw one of her famous dinner parties – her skill as a hostess was chronicled in Vogue – she set her John Vesey table [see listing above] with these glamorous golden plates. They’re not the usual gold porcelain, but rather thin glass that was gilded on the back, and sealed with dull black paint. No wonder the maker filed for a patent, indicated by the markings on the reverse of each plate. Over the years, judging from the odd number of large plates, there was attrition, but the occasional scratch and discoloration gives them a pleasing patina, and permits dining without sunglasses. We don’t know who designed them, retailed them, or for that matter, where and exactly when they were made. Mrs. Cowles took that information with her when she went to that big dinner party in the sky.

MODERNIST LAMP

Lamp 1

Jean-Boris Lacroix (1902 – 1984). Table lamp, circa 1930. Nickel, ebonized wood, and acid-etched glass. Height 14 “ $15,000

Jean-Boris Lacroix’s name is an amalgam of those of his unmarried parents, a fetching parisienne named Jeanne Lacroix, and a Romanov Grand Duke, Boris Vladimirovich. In the 1920s young Boris [below right] went to work for Madeleine Vionnet, designing jewelry, handbags, and dresses, before going on to redesign her fashion house [below left] and three residences. In 1938, the year she closed the business, he went to work for her rival Jeanne Lanvin when her decorator, the Art Deco master Armand Rateau, died prematurely. Unlike him, Lacroix was a Modernist. Then as now, he was celebrated for his lighting fixtures. This lamp consists of a metal disk, a wood sphere, and an acid-etched glass cylinder.  That cylinder takes the place of a traditional lampshade that would have undercut the lamp’s rigorous geometry, and contradicted the designer’s functionalist dictum, “furniture should occupy just the space that is needed, and preferably no more.”

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