by Louis Bofferding
R. LOUIS BOFFERDING FINE & DECORATIVE ART 232 EAST 59TH STREET NYC 10021 TELEPHONE 212.744.6725 / LOUIS.BOFFERDING@VERIZON.NET
JOHN DICKINSON FETISHES
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 white automobile paint, and placed them on a chest in a 1974 showhouse room he designed for a San Francisco Museum of Modern Art benefit [below left] When it closed he took them home, and placed them in a pair of towering Victorian cabinets 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 critiqued the design world.
The conflation of art and design is a Dickinson hallmark. He and his clients got that. But they would have been oblivious to the colonialist implications we find in these sculptures today. Yet it is this freighted edginess that accounts for the designer’s importance, and his appeal among contemporary art collectors.
AN ITALIAN MIRROR-FRAMED MIRROR
Italian 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.
FRENCH 19TH-CENTURY 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.
BELLE EPOQUE CHANDELIER
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
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
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
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.
PINEAPPLE BY VAN DAY TRUEX FOR TIFFANY
Van Day Truex (1904-1979) sculpture of a pineapple, circa 1960. Sterling and gilded silver. 9 ½” high. Provenance: Mario Buatta. $8,500
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 who, years ago, purchased a seedpod from us to round out his collection of the group. Then, he said the pineapple was the rarest of them all, accounting for our not having seen one before, or another since.
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 EMPIRE BRONZE OF A WOMAN
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
BRAZILIAN SILVER AMULETS
Brazilian, 19th century. A set of 31 amulets consisting of 29 fruits, 1 double gourd, and 1 gourd dipper. Silver, content 70 to 80%. Double gourd 8″, fruits approximately 5“ each, dipper 16″ $8,500
These 19th century Brazilian amulets, known as balangada, were hammered from silver in the form of pomegranates, guava, sugar apples, and other exotic fruits. Symbols of fertility, they were the bling of their day, adorning women’s wrists and waists, and when not being worn, their homes. Crafted by enslaved men from equatorial Africa for their own womenfolk, balanganda represent the final efflorescence of the Benin people’s metalworking skills, which reached an apogee in the figurative bronzes coveted by European kings in the 17th century, as they are today by museum curators. Like the jazz music that would come into being in the United Stares, Brazilian balanganda testify to the persistence of the creative impulse under duress, and the inventiveness of black culture in the New World.
Now, as in the past, balangada could be worn to dramatic effect, but they’re perhaps better suited to their other original purpose of home decoration. That’s why we’ve put some in a Venini glass bowl, and, in a few months hence, we’ll hang them on a Christmas tree.
AN ART NOUVEAU CENTERPIECE
Designed by Albert Meyer (1867-1944), made by the Württembergerische Metallwarenfabrik. Flower bowl, circa 1905. Silver plate with a glass liner. H: 4 ½” L: 12″ D: 4 ½” $5,000
This ravishing Art Nouveau silver-plated centerpiece, decorated with butterflies, flowers, and budding tendrils, was designed by the German sculptor Albert Meyer. It retains the original applied patina, the cobalt-blue glass liner, and the stamp of its maker, the Württembergerische Metallwarenfabrik (the Tiffany of Mitteleuropa, you might say). Celebrated internationally, this firm exhibited in every world’s fair, and maintained showrooms in Württemberg, Berlin, Vienna, and Warsaw. To capture the Anglo-Saxon market, they published an English-language catalog, which featured this centerpiece, and built a six-story salesroom, office, and studio in London, which was christened Wurtemberg House.
HANDSOME PRINCE ALBERT
Baron Carlo Marochetti (1805-1867). Bust of Prince Albert, circa 1850. Chased bronze. H: 14 ½” $8,000
In centuries past, it was rare for an artist to be ennobled for his mastery, but Baron Marochetti was born into a noble family years before he proved his mettle as a sculptor. After studying in Rome he moved to Paris, where he was honored with the patronage and friendship of King Louis-Philippe. When the king fled France for England at the outbreak of the 1848 Revolution, he took his court sculptor with him. On arrival, Queen Victoria noted in her diary that Marochetti was “very agreeable, pleasant and gentlemanlike.” And when that famously laconic monarch pronounced the bust he modeled after Prince Albert, her consort and beloved husband, “extremely successful,” the prince commissioned a marble version as a gift for his wife. To capitalizing on its overnight renown, Marochetti created this signed bronze version that celebrated the sitter’s good looks, and certified the artist’s mastery. It also delights the contemporary eye with a madcap juxtaposition of Victorian facial hair and the off-the-shoulder toga of an ancient Roman.
AN HISPANIC BEAUTY
Hispanic, late 17th century. Portrait of a Noblewoman, circa 1700. Oil on canvas in a later giltwood frame. 37 “ x 28 ¾” $8,000
The elaborate coiffure, sumptuous dress, pearl collar, and jeweled necklace speak to the sitter’s wealth, as the coat of arms does to her exalted station. At first sight we assumed the painting was by a Spanish hand, but after consideration, we’ve come to wonder if it might not be South American. In that case, the sitter would be a member of a grand Spanish or Portuguese family that immigrated to the New World. In any case, this image was quite likely one in a series of “court beauties,” depictions of women whose likenesses were hung in galleries devoted to their charms. Over the centuries, as fashions changed and family fortunes declined, these galleries were dismantled and their beauties sold off. Our painting was originally octagonal in shape, and, at some point in its history, supplemented with corners, and framed as the rectangle it is today.
AN ITALIAN BEAUTY
Giovanni Nicolini (1872-1956). Bust of a Woman, circa 1920. Marble. H: 10 ½” W: 7 ½” D: 9 ½” $9,000
The sculptor Giovanni Nicolini won fame and fortune in the 1910s, and kept two studios in Rome and Palermo humming until his death in the 1950s. He exhibited at the Venice Biennale, and was compared by Primo Levi (no less) to the great Michelangelo (no less again), architect of St. Peter’s in Rome where Nicolini’s over-life-size marble of St. Eufrasia surveys the nave. Nicolini also made his mark in Havana with an enormous monument to General Jose Miguel Gomez. On a smaller scale, he sculpted portraits of the great composers, poets, and statesmen of his day, including Verdi, d’Annuzio, and Italy’s king, Victor Emanuel II. The identity of our Roman beauty – signed “G. Nicolini Roma” – is a mystery.
EUGENE BERMAN COLLAGE
Eugene Berman (1899-1972). Radiograph of a Heart, 1945. Paint on paper, collage, metal shavings. H: W: D: $9,000
This haunting image by Eugene Berman was painted on a sheet of paper that was cut in the shape of a heart, mounted to a paint-speckled ground, encircled with metal shavings, and placed in a frame of the artist’s own devising. The title, Radiograph of a Heart, refers to the medical X-rays that doctors had recently come to employ. Berman, however, seems to suggest that while a heart can be monitored scientifically, the emotions traditionally ascribed to it lie beyond the grasp of medical science.
Russian by birth, Berman fled St. Petersburg for Paris after the revolution. Then, as a jew, he fled Europe before the outbreak of World War II. Having taken a comfortable refuge in New York and Hollywood, his peace of mind was again shattered by the suicide of his wife, actress Una Munson (who played Belle Watling in Gone With the Wind). That distressing event — “Don’t follow me” she admonished in a suicide note — cast him adrift once more. He would come to rest in Rome, where he passed his remaining years.
Along with his brother Leonid, Pavel Tchelitchew, and Christian Bérard, Berman was a painter of the Neo-Romantic school. The works of these artists were avidly collected in the 1930s and 40s by, among others, Alfred Barr, founding director of the Museum of Modern Art. Since then, the school has fallen out of favor. Should fashion reverse itself yet again, perhaps their paintings will emerge from storage, and resume their places on those hollowed walls.
GEORGE III SILVER LUSTERWARE VASE
English, circa 1800. Painted and silver lusterware porcelain. H: 14 ½” $5,000
This elegant vase of attenuated proportions was given an unusual silver-luster glaze, and embellished with two medallions on a military theme. One depicts a young soldier with a sword and statuette of Athena, goddess of war. The other depicts an older, bearded, and helmeted warrior visiting a shrine. There’s no maker’s mark, but the classical proportions, Wedgwood-blue color, and antique-inspired medallions suggest English manufacture, circa 1800, and align the vase with the refined taste of Robert Adam.
IBERIAN MIRROR WITH FLOWERING TENDRILS
Mirror, possibly Bilbao, circa 1800. Walnut veneer, gilded and gessoed wood, original mirror plate. H: 34 ¼” W: 15” $9,000
The so-called Bilbao mirrors were made around 1800 in Portugal and Spain, and named after the city where many were crafted. On our shores they’re often mistakenly said to be American, for the simple reason that examples were found in old New England houses. Nevertheless, these mirrors were made on the Iberian peninsula, and dispatched to the republic on swift clipper ships laden with cargoes of port wines. Only then did they come to take their places on the walls of the Early American home.
ART DECO CHINOISERIE CHAIRS
Pair of Chinese-style hall chairs, circa 1925. Lacquered wood, carved and gilt decorations. H: 37” D: 19” W: 17 ¾” $8,000
When new in the 1920s this glamorous pair of chairs, that merge Asian and Art Deco styles, evoked the orient for occidental buyers. Although the construction suggests Western manufacture, the carved and gilded medallions appear to be the handiwork of the Asian artisans who were then working in Paris, London, and New York, for retailers, dealers, and importers like C. T. Loo and Yamanaka.
RUSSIAN MAHOGANY TABLE
Russian, circa 1840. Tray table with a drawer. Mahogany, brass stringing and wheels. H: 26” L: 18 ¼” D: 11 ¾” $8,500
Every contour and plane of this exquisite mahogany table is outlined with glinting brass stringing — a hallmark of Russian cabinetry. The form, however, is derived from the furniture that was then being made in France under King Louis-Philippe. At the time, Russians were besotted by all things French, in spite of their recent war with Napoleon that left Moscow in cinders.
Figli Zunino & Rivarola, Chiavari, Italy. Pair of chiavari chairs, circa 1950. Painted wood with gold decorations, caning. H: 37 ¼” W: 16” D: 16” $7,000
The delicate, lightweight chiavari chair was first made in the Italian town of Chiavari in the early years of the 19th century. Their elegance and grace would come to charm mid-century modernists, including the influential architect and designer Gio Ponti. As he was the first to admit at the time, they inspired his Superleggera chair, perhaps his most iconic design.
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.”
Italian flowering urn, possibly Genoese, circa 1720. Gilt cut metal, gessoed and silvered wood. Height 24” $10,000
This flowering urn of gold flowers in a silver vase was probably made in Genoa in the early 18th century. If the flowers are are lilies, symbol of the Immaculate Conception, and carnations, symbol of the Virgin’s love, it may have been made for the altar of a church [see below]. But if those lilies are actually tulips, which don’t symbolize much of anything, it may have been made as a decoration for a grand private house. Flowering urns on altars, it should be noted, were typically one-sided, since they were seen frontally, whereas this one was sculpted in the round. Whether destined for a sacred or secular setting, the sophistication of form, fine workmanship, and costly gilding, point to a prominent studio and a patron of note.
Hispanic jug. Copper-luster-glazed earthenware. Height 10 ½“ $3,000
The origin of this jug, with its sculptural form and copper-luster glaze, is a mystery to us. Its form is typical of Renaissance and Baroque metalwork [below right], as the copper glaze is of Hispano-Moresque ceramics made in Spain [below left]. But then it could have been made in Latin or South America by an artisan inspired by those wares — or, for that matter, in Spain or the Hispanic New World around 1900, when vernacular traditions were revived. In any case, the monumental form and gutsy decoration endow our jug with a boldness that bears witness to an unknown craftsman’s mastery.
AN ALLEGORY OF SUMMER
Overdoor painting of an allegory of summer, French circa 1800. Oil on canvas, unframed. Height: 33“ Length: 72“ $15,000
This Neo-Classical painting, an allegory of summer, would have been hung with representations of fall, winter, and spring, over the doors of a salon [below left]. Here, Ceres, Roman goddess of agriculture, points to her handmaidens harvesting wheat, and wears a few springs of it in her hair. A child toys with succulent fruits in a basket. The harvest, a child, and fruit, symbolize fertility and, by extension, summer itself. Our panel was painted to imitate a bas-relief carved in stone, with shadows cast upward to conform with light emanating from windows and candles below. Trompe l’oeil panels were in vogue, but not invented, in late 18th century France when Belgian-born artist Piot-Joseph Sauvage, who specialized in them, was appointed Peintre du Roi.
“THE BEST DRESSED WOMAN IN THE WORLD”
George Platt Lynes (1907-1955). Mrs. Harrison Willams, later Countess Mona von Bismarck, circa 1940. Photograph. 10″ x 8 1/4″ unframed. $4,000
Mrs. Harrison Williams, known universally as Mona, was the beautiful wife of the first billionaire, and the world’s richest man. In 1933 she set her own record when a panel of experts, which included Coco Chanel, voted her “Best Dressed Woman in the World” — the first American to be so honored. Mona also smashed records for the accumulation of luxury goods, and the speed of her social ascent (the daughter of a Kentucky stableman, she would go on to marry Count Edzard von Bismarck, among others). All this took some effort, and left little time for reflection. Our 1940s photograph by George Platt Lynes [below left] captures her hard glamor, and hints at a lack of substance, by juxtaposing her perfectly coiffed head with a fluffy dog, a perforated-paper backdrop, and the carved openwork back of a settee. We lent this vintage print, the only one known, to the exhibition Magnificent Mona Bismarck at the Frazier Museum in Louisville [below right]. No catalog was published, but Scott Rogers, the curator, is writing a book on her life, and that fugitive thing known as style. Hers, however, continues to enthrall the fashion world to this very day.
Baguès Frerès, Paris. Pair of table lamps, circa 1935. Silvered metal, cut and cast glass, glass beads and prisms. H: 24″ $10,000
During the first half of the 20th century, Baguès of Paris produced the world’s most fashionable lighting fixtures. Their major commissions ranged from 18th-century-style chandeliers laden with prisms for a restoration of the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, to the glass-beaded Art Deco chandeliers of the Palais de la Méditerranée in Nice, the pleasure dome built by American tycoon Frank J. Gould. Like much of the work of Baguès, our madcap tendril-sprouting urn-form lamps can be situated, designed wise, between Louis-Louis gentility and Art Deco flash.
THE DIVA AS MUSE
Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947). Bookplate for Misia Sert, circa 1920. Etching on laid paper. 4 3/8″ x 2 6/8″, the giltwood frame 12″ x 9 1/4″. $4,000
The very definition of haute bohème, Misia Sert, a musical prodigy who once played the piano on Franz List’s knee, married, successively, an art publisher, a newspaper baron, and the high-society painter José-Maria Sert. A raving beauty when young, and the apogee of chic to the bitter end, she was also a divining rod for talent. With her affinity for the modern, she inspired Renoir [see his portrait of her below], Mallarmé, Cocteau, Satie, Stravinsky, Diaghilev, and Coco Chanel, whom she introduced to opium and, it was rumored, sapphism.
As one might expect of a muse to the intelligentsia, she had a library, which, in that genteel day, meant having a bookplate. And so, Pierre Bonnard, who had painted her often, etched her ex-libris of a flowering potted plant, placed on a dining table, set for just one, in her country house. The use of her first name only suggests their intimacy, and, in a world where there was only one Misia, her celebrity. Bonnard created just one other bookplate for Charles Terrasse, an expert on his work, who wrote the introduction to the catalog raisonne of Bonnard’s prints. There, an etched study for our bookplate appears [below right]. It shows the artist experimenting with various motifs that include the plant, which made the final cut. Our bookplate, however, doesn’t appear in the book. Apparently, Terrasse never saw an impression — an indication of its rarity.
ROBERT BLOCK / ROBERTO BLOCK
Robert Block (born Switzerland). Table, circa 1945. Painted steel, brass, marble. H: 26 1/2″ Dia: 31 1/4″ $15,000
The furniture and interior designer Robert Block achieved considerable success in 1930s Paris. But, as a jew, the outbreak of war left him facing a fate far worse than career disruption. So he high-tailed it to Mexico, and settled in Mexico City with his brother, Mito. There he achieved success yet again as Roberto Block. Until recently, Latin and South American designers didn’t figure on the cultural map, but now they’re a focus of interest among curators and collectors worldwide. This positions Block’s work for a rediscovery. Our table is a inventive riff on the traditional French guéridon — and a nostalgic, over-the-shoulder gaze at the land of his birth.
R. LOUIS BOFFERDING FINE & DECORATIVE ART 232 EAST 59TH STREET NYC 10021 TELEPHONE 212.744.6725 / LOUIS.BOFFERDING@VERIZON.NET