JUST IN

by Louis Bofferding

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 for those that have been sold go to SOLD INVENTORY.

 

 GILBERT POILLERAT CENTER TABLE

Gilbert Poillerat (1902-1988).  Center table, circa 1950.  Gilded wrought iron, lacquered wood.  H: 28”  Dia: 51 “.  Provenance:  Mario Buatta; presumably Gregory Smith, Washington, D.C. & New York.  $40,000

Gilbert Poillerat was the premier metalworker of his generation – and after Edgar Brandt, of the century itself.  On moving to Paris from the provinces as a young man, his humble background prompted him to pursue a craft at the Ecole Boulle, rather than painting, his first love, at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.  In the years that followed, he continued to paint for his own pleasure, yet that thwarted ambition may have spurred him on to push craft to the very brink of art, and to become the master of the forge. 

On leaving the Ecole in 1922, Poillerat went to work for Edgar Brandt, who entrusted him with the design and execution of several showstoppers at the 1925 Paris exposition.  When there he married the boss’s secretary Rosette Belleli [his painting of her below right], who had gone to work when her father, an Egyptian banker, declared bankruptcy. A few years later, Poillerat went on to work briefly for a firm that made architectural metalwork, including, among other things, “artistic” elevator cages.  He soon left to establish his own studio  [below left], and rose slowly but surely to prominence, in spite of a depression and a world war.  Along the way he landed commissions for the ocean liner Normandie, the Ministry of Finance, the Elysées Palace, and the Louvre museum.  He also worked with the decorators Serge Roche, André Arbus, and Jean Royère, as well as the decorating firms of Ramsay and the Compagnie des Arts Français. 

After the war, the New York decorating firm of McMillen became Poillerat’s biggest client.  Established in 1924 by Mrs. Drury McMillen, she continued to run it, after her second marriage, as Mrs. Archibald Brown [seen in a Thunderbird and pearls below left].  As Eleanor Brown, she would remain involved until her death at 100 in 1991.  By then she had sold the business to Mrs. Virgil (Betty) Sherrill, her former assistant, who had since become an associate.  Mrs. Sherrill’s daughter, Ann Pyne (Mrs. John Sloan Pyne), runs it today.   Not incidentally, all of these women are found in The Social Register of their day, along with their socially prominent clients.

 

Mrs. Brown, and her associate Miss Grace Fakes, began buying from Poillerat around 1950.  They may have been introduced to his work by Van Day Truex, who was then running the Parsons School in New York, their alma mater, after having run the Paris branch during the 1930s.  They may also have seen it in the French design magazines and books then being sold at the Librairie Française in Rockefeller Center, a few blocks from their East 55th Street office and showroom.  Or Mrs. van Akker, their Paris agent, may have taken them to his studio when on a buying trip.  In any case, they would certainly have seen Poillerat’s work at the Paris design salons where he exhibited regularly.  Among them was Les Arts de la Table of 1951, where he may have shown the room that documented in a McMillen archive photograph [above right].  In it, a table identical in design to our own is seen against a backdrop of mirrored paneling by Max Ingrand. 

McMillen held their own salon-like exhibition, Paris 1952, in their showroom that very year.  It featured modern French furnishings by Poillerat, Ingrand, Jacques Adnet, and Georges Jouve, among others [catalog above left].  According to Ann Pyne, it included a Poillerat table and set of four chairs that match those in the photograph.  McMillen sold the table and chairs to Mrs. Marshall Field.  Another table of the same design was sold to Henry Ford, II.  And some years later they sold a pair of these table bases with a green lacquered top to the Oklahoma oilman George Coleman.  And then they sold yet another table base of this design with a black lacquered top, which is probably our table [above right], to Mr. Gregory Smith, for whom, over the years, McMillen came to decorate twelve residences.  Interestingly, McMillen shipped Poillerat table bases from Paris and had tops made in New York, presumably to save shipping costs and import duties.  Confusingly, they resold many later on, since their client relationships were ongoing.  And so the five table bases we cite do not necessarily represent five different ones.

Fast forward to 2010 when we purchased an unidentified bed [above left], knowing it was by Poillerat, and acquired by McMillen for their 1952 exhibition (although they saved it for a show they mounted in 1954).  When Mario Buatta saw it in our shop, he asked who made it, since he had a table in storage by the very same hand.  He said he had bought it unidentified from a dealer years before.  Since Mario, the Prince of Chintz, was celebrated for his English country house style, we were more surprised by his having bought something modern than his inability find a place for it at home, or with a client.  And so, over the years, it hibernated in his storage, and emerged only last spring, along with the rest of his hidden hoard, in one of the four auctions of his collection.  Passing unidentified once again, it was knocked down to us as a “Lacquer and Wrought-iron Center Table, Attributed to Karl Springer.”

 

 

PAIR OF COCKTAIL TABLES BY POILLERAT

Gilbert Poillerat (1902-1988) for Ramsay (Paris decorating firm).  Pair of small cocktail tables, circa 1950.  Gilt wrought iron, glass.  H: 18 ½”  L: 33”  D: 15 ½”  $12,500

Around 1900, firms like Jansen in Paris, White Allom & Company in London, and Herter Brothers in New York, dominated the field of high-end interior decoration.  Then, in the 1920s, freelance decorators like Elsie de Wolfe, Syrie Maugham, and Jean-Michel Frank muscled their way into the picture.  Yet those firms continued to prosper despite the expense of employing armies of designers, producing their own furnishing lines, and maintaining retail premises stocked with an inventory of antiques. Following the 1929 stock market crash, however, this infrastructure became a heavy lift.  Nevertheless, in 1931 the financier Louis Sée and the antiques dealer André Hammel launched Ramsay, the last of the great decorating firms. 


The name Ramsay was drawn out of thin air to evoke the England that fashionable Parisians associated with fine Savile Row tailoring, exclusive Pall Mall clubs, and the arcane rituals of the hunt.  England, reassuringly, was still a nation unbloodied by revolution, and where the aristocracy still called the shots, even if, at that very moment, the Prime Minister was the left-leaning Ramsay McDonald.  No wonder, then, Ramsay the firm took premises opposite the British Embassy at 54 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré.  

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.”

In the 1930s Ramsay became known for luxurious interiors that carried a whiff of modernity, thanks to minimal furnishing, acres of monochromatic satin, and simple architectonic settings, as seen in their 1937 exhibition room at the Salon des Arts Menegers [above left].  In Nazi-occupied Paris, Ramsay soldiered on when Sée, who was Jewish, and Hammel, who was Protestant, Aryanized the firm by transferring shares to a third party.  After the war, when the coast was clear, Sée and Hammel resurfaced and brought on board three society figures as designers, Louise de Vilmorin [above right], Princess Georges Chavchavadze, and Jacques Franck.  None were professionals, but all were tastemakers.  In the years that followed, they would decorate the French Embassy in London (Franck and Chavchavadze), the home of the André Malraux, Minister of Culture (Franck, and Vilmorin who was his mistress), and the fashion house of Lanvin (Vilmorin).  In addition, Franck designed many now legendary parties, including one thrown in 1950 at the Hôtel Lambert by its then tenants, Princess Ladislas Czartoryska, Mrs. Harrison Williams, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

Around that time, Gilbert Poillerat, the finest metalworker of his day, began supplying Ramsay with a line of gilded-wrought-iron tables and standing lamps. Poillerat was then working in an updated Baroque style characterized by bold curves and counter curves.  His take is exemplified in a drawing for a center table [above left], and a cocktail table he supplied to the Compagnie des Arts Français [above right], then under the direction of Jacques Adnet, which is nearly identical to ours.

Today, that Ramsay decorating triumvirate is largely forgotten, although each member is remembered for something else:  Vilmorin as an author who wrote the novella Madame de, which was filmed by Max Ophuls as The Earings of Madame de…, Chavchavadze as a glamorous international socialite, and Franck as an event planner who elevated the ephemeralto an art form.  His career, however, would come to a crashing halt in 1968, when France was transfixed by student protests, as America was by race riots, not least in Detroit where Franck had recently staged a coming out for Henry Ford II’s daughter.  Franck ruefully told a reporter that very year, “I love frivolity, and I’m sorry it’s on the way out.”  A fitting epitaph not only for himself, but an out-of-touch elite that had, nevertheless, achieved an apogee of refinement and beauty, the likes of which we’re unlikely to see ever again.

 

 

COMPAGNIE DES ARTS FRANCAIS

COCKTAIL TABLE

French, 20th century.  Attributed to the Compagnie des Arts Français.  Cocktail table, circa 1928.  Glass, mirror, nickel-plated steel and copper.  H: 11 ½”  L: 23 ¾”  D: 15 ¾”  $9,000

This shimmering cocktail table of glass, mirror, and nickel-plated metal, is the quintessence of 1930s glamour.  It was so finely made it could be compared to a piece of platinum-mounted diamond jewelry.  It was sold to us as Jacques Adnet [below left], who, in 1928, took charge of the Compagnie des Arts Français, a design studio and retail store established by Louis Süe and Andre Mare in 1919.  Then, those designers collaborated with a small team of like-minded artists and craftsmen, a tradition that Adnet would continue.

In 1928, the retail mogul Théophile Bader added the Compagnie to his collection of luxury-brand firms, which included, among others, the Galeries Lafayette department store, the house of Vionnet, and d’Orsay perfumes (some decades later Francois Pinault and Bernard Arnault would make their own headlines assembling luxury conglomerates). In short order, Süe resigned, and Maurice Dufresne [above right] gave the showroom a flashy new look [below left].  Since 1920, Dufresne had been busy running La Maîtrise, the Galerie Layfayette’s interior decoration studio, and their high-end furniture line, which probably accounts for turning over the Compagnie to Adnet, his 28-year-old protégé.

Adnet would pivot the firm from an Art Deco grace to an au courant modernity that was realized in glass, mirror, metal, and the occasional unembellished veneer of exotic wood.  Yet it would seem that Dufresne was no less responsible for the new direction than Adnet himself, since Dufresne designed many pieces for the Compagnie, like the chandelier, lamp, and table published in Modern Glass, a 1931 book by Guillaume Janneau [above right], whereas Adnet was credited with just one chandelier.   Given this, as well as Dufresne’s years of experience, his redo of the showroom, an in with the boss, and arranging for Adnet to get the job, it’s apparent that he played a significant role at the firm, at least initially.

Yet today, when the Compagnie’s glass pieces appear on the market, they’re invariably credited to Adnet, not Dufresne.  This isn’t so surprising since Adnet designed the firm’s popular leather-wrapped furnishings, ran the firm until its 1959 closing, and outlived  Dufresne by fourteen years, dying in 1984.  As for our table, its glass-globe legs [above right] match the lamp bases that are credited to Adnet [above left], but around the same time Dufresne was designing beds, cabinets, and armchairs, with glass-ball feet.  So the question is: who influenced whom, or did they collaborate?  In either case, shish kabobs of glass became a global 1930s design trope, as can be seen in the balustrades of the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center.  But until more is known about each man’s design contribution, we’ll play it safe, and stake no claim for our table’s authorship, beyond the Compagnie itself.

 

ART DECO SIDE TABLE

Attributed to Marcel Coard (1889-1974).  Side table, circa 1930.  Oak, shagreen.  H: 21 ¾”  L: 11”  W: 11”.  Provenance:  Pierre Le-Tan.  $6,000

This small side table was made from two materials that are rarely combined:  red oak, which is commonplace and humble, and shagreen, which is exotic and rare.  Shagreen is stingray hide, and is like leather if more durable and interesting-looking, being patterned with tiny circular denticles.  For use, it’s sanded down to smoothness and tinted a color – in this case, green. Today, stingrays are commercially farmed in Southeast Asia, but unlike stingray hide naturally fished from Northern European waters, those are coarse, and have large denticles.  In 18th-century Europe shagreen was used to make cases for spectacles, scientific instruments, sewing implements, and cosmetics. Then, in the 19th century, it fell out of fashion until it became all the rage once again in 1910s and 20s Paris, where it was used on luxurious one-of-a-kind furnishings by Paul Iribe, Andre Groult, Pierre Legrain, Jean-Michel Frank, and Marcel Coard [below left].

 

This table’s simple geometrical form, attenuated proportions, fine joinery, and uncommon combination of materials, is characteristic of the work of Marcel Coard, as seen in his 1921 table of blackened oak with a string of ivory inlaid around the top  [above right].  On the underside of our table’s top is a smudged green mark [below left] that may be the ghost of his parrot stamp [below right]. The design of this stamp harked back to the only pet he was allowed to have as a boy, a parrot that friends of his parents had given him, which he named Coco.

The Coards were rich Jewish bankers.  In France, sons typically followed in their fathers’ professions, but by then it wasn’t all that unusual for a son to strike out on his own path.  Marcel may have chosen to study architecture at the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts, rather than design and craft at the Ecole Boulle, to appease his family.  Nevertheless, in 1913 he took a shop, and hung out his shingle as a decorator.  He kept an inventory of antiques, and designed one-of-a-kind furnishings marked by a profound understanding of craft and materials.   The following year he received the first of several commissions from Jacques Doucet, an important collector, and the patron of modern artists and designers.  The largest single commission of his career, however, came in 1928 from Paul Cocteau, the stockbroker brother of Jean, the famous writer, artist, and filmmaker. 

Cocteau and his wife Marcelle commissioned Coard to fully furnish their vast new country house, which would take several years to complete [above left].  What was notable about the pieces he designed for them, other than the shear number and the high quality of their construction, was the variety.  They ranged from the soigné to the rustic, as the materials did from the precious to the commonplace, as seen in a macassar ebony commode inlaid with lapis lazuli and mother-of-pearl, and an African-inspired table hewn from solid oak, and inset with a black-glass top [above right].  Our shagreen and oak table, if it is indeed by Coard as we suspect, would fall somewhere in between these two poles. 

 

1950s FRENCH SIDE TABLE

French side table, circa 1950.  Limed oak, limestone.  H: 19”  L: 13 ¾”  D: 10 ¼”  $5,000

This insouciant little table from the 1950s is perhaps our favorite among the new acquisitions, even though the designer is unknown, and we make no claim for its importance.  In conception and materials — a limed oak frame with a limestone top – the table is simple yet elegant.   But as a carpenter would know, a simple design isn’t necessarily easy to make.  Certainly these curvaceous legs wouldn’t have been, since they start out thin, and taper down precariously, through subtle undulations, to a ballerina’s en pointe.

We trace these curves to French 18th-century joiners and cabinetmakers, like Joseph Canabas, who made a fancy tiered table of mahogany and brass in the 1770s [above left].  Compare it to the humble French provincial side table that was placed by the decorator Frances Elkins, in the fancy 1930a living room of the Albert Laskers, overlooking Lake Michigan on Chicago’s North Shore [above right].  Both of these tables, however, have legs that curve inward to secure shelves, whereas ours curve whimsically inward and outward for no reason.  And so this soignée model has all the originality and sass that characterizes the best of midcentury-modern French design.

 

18th CENTURY JAPANESE ALTAR TABLE

Japanese 18th century altar table. Edo period. Lacquered wood, gilt-brass mounts.  H: 12” L: 24 ½” D: 10 ½”  Provenance:  Pierre Le-Tan, Paris.  $15,000

This lacquered 18th-century altar table was probably made for a shrine in an aristocratic house.  Positioned before an image of a deity, ritual objects — an incense burner, candle stands, and flower offerings – would have been placed on it.  A similar table was in the Mr. & Mrs. Michel Beurdeley in Paris [below left].  Lacquerware is coveted in Japan and China for its beauty, durability, and the skill of the artisans who were trained to make it.  To create a lacquer object, many coats have to be applied, and each must be sanded down before the next is applied.  Lacquer is toxic when wet, so the artisans who worked with it suffered skin rashes and early death. 

Our table was lacquered black, and then with a color we know as “Chinese red.”  Over time, and with use, the surface was worn down to randomly reveal the coats beneath.  So prized was this mottled appearance that the process was sometimes rushed by rubbing.  This appreciation of age is intrinsically Asian.  In addition to lacquerware, it can be seen in Japanese kintsukuroi – “gold repair” ceramics –- which were mended with gold lacquer to emphasize, rather than disguise the breaks and chips that occurred with use over time [above right, a 17th-century example in The Smithsonian]. These techniques reveal an essential difference between Japan, where age is venerated, and America, which is youth-obsessed.

 

RARE GERMAN EXPRESSIONIST TABLE

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

A square or rectangular table has four legs, and a round one can get by with three, even if most have four.  But this round table has eight.  To call that overkill is an understatement.  Their proliferation, however, constitutes an artistic expression, which artists call art.  For us, it’s design at its most interesting.   In any case, this table is a rare example of German Expressionist furniture, and was made around 1920.

After Germany’s defeat in “the war to end all wars” (sic) in 1918 precious little furniture, Expressionist or otherwise, was made or sold.  After all, in addition to the death of an incalculable number of men, territory was lost, the government fell, and the victors levied crippling war reparations on the defeated.  As a result, the German economy collapsed, and hyperinflation ensued.  With Kaiser Wilhelm in exile, the Weimar Republic was established, and leftists held sway, to the unease of the upper classes.  Political power grabs ensued, turning streets into battlefields where branches of the disaffected military fought against each other, as well as rightists, and Communists.  Political assassinations proliferated.  The situation wouldn’t improve until the mid 1920s.

Collective angst found artistic expression in Expressionism.  It took root in the 1900s when avant-garde painters bristled at Wilhelmine philistinism.  It flourished in the 1910s, and metastasized in the 1920s, when society tumbled to what the Expressionists had seen all along.  Today, Expressionism is associated with paintings like Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s Potsdamer Platz of 1914 [above left], depicting prostitutes on a roundabout in a Berlin public square.  Their exaggerated attitudes and spiky forms add up to a grotesquerie that would find its cinematic equivalent in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari of 1920.  That film told the sinister tale of an insane doctor who hypnotizes a man to commit murder.  In one scene, a lamplighter goes about his business in a town square, and a lamp casts a pool of light in the form of a spiky star, which iscomparable to the top of our table.

Today, these forms in architecture and furniture look less modern than those that came to characterize the Bauhaus just a few years later.  But when Walter Gropius established the school in 1919, which is to say around the time our table was made, its idiom was Expressionism.  As noted at the time, the style’s roots were to be found in the German iteration of the Gothic.  Then, centuries before Kirchner painted those Berlin prostitutes, figures carved on cathedral portals expressed spiritual anguish.  And, if one could translate the architectural void found inside into solid form [Cologne above right], as the contemporary English sculptor Rachel Whiteread might [below], the result would be comparable to our table.

Today, these architectural and furniture forms look less modern than those associated with the Bauhaus.  But when that school was founded in 1919, its idiom was Expressionism.  As noted at the time, this style had its roots in the German iteration of the Gothic.  Then, grotesque figures carved on cathedral portals expressed earthly suffering centuries before Kirchner painted his Berlin prostitutes.  And inside those cathedrals is a pointy architectural austerity that clearly aligns with our table [above right] — if you translate void into solid, like the contemporary English sculptor Rachel Whiteread [below].

 

 

 1920’s GERMAN CHINOISERIE TABLE

Attributed to Peter Baumann.  Chinoiserie table, circa 1925.  Japanned wood with raised gilt-gesso decorations, Bohemian Breccia marble top.  H:  25 ¾”  Dia:  31 ½”.  Bibliography: Innendekoration, 1925, pp. 286-7.  $10,000

When one culture discovers another, the discoverer and the discovered find the other exotic, and a mutual fascination ensues.  This has been the case with Europe and Asia since Marco Polo ventured eastward in the 13th century.  In the 18th century that mutual fascination took form in King Frederick the Great of Prussia’s Asian-style pagoda outside Berlin [below left], and the Qianlong Emperor’s European-style summer palace outside Peking [reconstruction below right].  Neither ruler, nor their designers, however, had set foot on the other’s continent, so their knowledge of it was rudimentary at best.  And so their two pleasure domes reflected fantasies rather than realities, and came off looking remarkably alike in style.

In 18th-century Europe, only aristocrats, and odd the filthy-rich banker, could afford Asian goods, or the European interpretations of them known as chinoiserie. But in the 20th century, by which time capitalism had replaced the divine right of kings, a taste for the exotic had trickled down to the middle classes everywhere, from San Francisco to Berlin.  And there, in the 1920s, the interior design studio of Hermann Gerson, a high-end department store, proposed to their clients a chinoiserie dining room with red-lacquered paneling and furnishings, and porcelains that may or may not have been Chinese [below left].

We attribute our 1920s German chinoiserie table to Peter Baumann, based on a nearly identical table seen in a winter garden he designed for a residence in Cologne.  That room, published in Innendekoration in 1925 [above right], was filled with the potted palms native to Asia, and sparingly appointed with Art Deco furniture that was given an Asian twist with stepped spandrels, black japanning (a European painted finish imitating Asian lacquer), and raised decorations picked out in gold [below left].  Those decorations appear to have been based on Indonesian motifs, which can be found in textiles [below right].  No doubt many made their way to Germany when it seized a large chunk of Papua New Guinea, one of Indonesia’s largest islands, in 1885, and renamed it Kaiser-Wilhelmsland. 

Germany’s improbably named colony was seized by Britain at the outbreak of World War I, and then by Japan during World War II.  On Indonesia’s liberation in 1945, independence was finally achieved, as it would be by the other Asian colonies of Britain, France, and Holland, in the years that followed.  In spite of this, Western designers, collectors, and consumers, became ever more familiar with Asian art and its regional characteristics, thanks to increased global tourism, university admissions, art historical scholarship, and museum attendance.  Yet, even today, the lure of chinoiserie – that fantasyland of pagodas, palms, and lacquer – persists in the Western imagination.

 

 ITALIAN RENAISSANCE ARMCHAIR

Renaissance chair, Italian, probably Florence, circa 1575.  Carved walnut.  H: 40 ¾”  W: 21 ¼”  D: 18 ¾” (seat height 17 ¾”).  Provenance:  Pierre Le-Tan, Paris.  $8,000

Over the course of five centuries of use, this Italian Renaissance walnut chair has acquired a rich patina. Its sensuously carved back splat and stretcher relieve the chair’s otherwise austere form.  These vaguely vegetal carvings are in the Auricular style that was named for the human-ear cartilage it resembles.  Too bizarre to be widely popular, this style originated in late Renaissance Italy in the late 16th-century, and spread to the Lowlands in the early 17th-century Baroque period, where it was known as Kwab (Dutch for earlobe).  There, an Auricular giltwood frame came to overpower a self-portrait of Sir Anthony van Dyke facing off with a sunflower, which is now at Hamm House in England [below left].  Centuries later, and back in Italy, in decorating a platter in 1927, Gio Point channeled both the Auricular style in the form of a nude on a puffy cloud, and the High Renaissance style in the form of the city that she hovers above, as well as the balustrade enframing her. 

We purchased our chair in Paris from Pierre Le-Tan, the celebrated artist and collector, who was photographed sitting on it in 2018 for The World of Interiors [below left].  Its earlier provenance, however, remains a mystery despite two tantalizing clues:  a large “F. R.” painted on the rear legs in a 16th or 17th-century script, and a turn-of-the-20th-century Italian shipping label, affixed to the underside of the seat, indicating the chair was to be shipped “with no great speed” to a gentleman in Paris named César something, who lived at number 7 rue de la something.  How infuriating that the information we most want – the collector’s name — is illegible.     

 

We purchased our chair in Paris from Pierre Le-Tan, the celebrated artist and collector, who was photographed sitting on it in 2018 for The World of Interiors [below left]. Its earlier provenance, however, remains a mystery despite two tantalizing clues: a large “F. R.” painted on the rear legs in a 16th or 17th-century script, and a turn-of-the-20th-century Italian shipping label, affixed to the underside of the seat, indicating the chair was to be shipped “with no great speed” to a gentleman in Paris named César something, who lived at number 7 rue de la something. How infuriating that the information we most want – the collector’s name — is illegible.                 

AMERICAN FEDERAL MEETS POP ART

American, 19th century.  Framed silhouettes of William and Charles Livingston, dated June 13th (?) 1838.  Paper cut outs under antique glass in the original giltwood frame.  20 ½”  24 ½” (framed).  Provenance:  Pierre Le-Tan, Paris; John Armbruster, Brussels; Frederick W. Hughes, New York, his sale Sotheby’s Oct.10, 2001.  $8,000

In the late 18th century, snipping someone’s profile from paper with scissors, and mounting the result to a contrasting sheet, was a popular diversion among the European elite.  The results were called silhouettes, after Etienne de Silhouette, a finance minister of King Louis XV.  But lost in the mist of time is whether they were so named because he practiced the art (as has been said), or he snipped away at taxpayers’ incomes (for which he was notorious).  In any case, by 1829, August Edouart, another Frenchman, called himself a “silhouettist” as he snipped his way down the eastern seaboard of a newly established United States. 

A few years later, an amateur snipped our silhouettes on a summer’s day in 1838.  He or she identified the sitters, and dated their work to the very day, but they didn’t bother to sign their name, or erase the pencil outlines made when tracing the profiles to guide their scissors.  But the fancy original giltwood frame, and the fancy sitters themselves — Charles and William Livingston, members, presumably, of the Hudson Valley landowning clan — adds a certain cachet. 

The allure of frame and sitters are equaled by the provenance.  We bought the work from Pierre Le-Tan, the Paris artist.  He bought it from one John Armbruster, a mysterious international private dealer, who has sold many fine if offbeat things, which I’ve coveted over the years.  He, in turn, bought it at the Sotheby’s estate sale of Frederick W. Hughes [above left with Loulou de la Falaise].  Fred was the right-hand man of Andy Warhol, who persuaded the likes of Gianni and Marella Agnelli, Yves Saint-Laurent, and the Empress of Iran, among others, to commission portraits from Andy — the chicest and priciest to have been painted since Anthony Van Dyke. 

And so it was with some amusement that we found our silhouettes of Early American patricians mistakenly identified in the Sotheby’s catalog as “A large free-cut portrait of Fred Hughes and a friend, American 20th Century.”  Fred, who came from humble Texas stock, was a terrible snob, so the error would have delighted him.  But then, in defense of the auction house expert, we concede that Fred’s profile resembled that of William Livingston, and that this nearly two-hundred-year-old work looks remarkably contemporary.

A close connection to a Pop master wasn’t Fred’s only claim to fame.  He also possessed one of the best eyes of his generation, for both art-historical treasures and offbeat curiosities (our silhouettes falling somewhere in between).  In addition, he could arrange a collection better than any museum curator or decorator we know.  He demonstrated the skill in his enchanting Paris apartment on the rue de Cherche-Midi [above right], and his mysterious Manhattan townhouse on Lexington Avenue [above left].  When he sold off the contents of the former, I punched above my weight, competing with a handful of major dealers, decorators, and Cy Twombly.  So when his New York hoard came under the hammer, posthumously, at Sotheby’s in 2001, I restrained myself, and walked away with mere dribs and drabs.  Nineteen years later, I’m still making amends.

 

 

 

IMG_7783

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

 
IMG_7761

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

 
IMG_8482

Portuguese, 18th century. Lamp (electrified candlestick), circa 1800.  Painted and gilded wood.  H: 19 1/2“ (27 with shade).  $3,750

 
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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

 
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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

 
Sconces

Veronese (Paris firm with Murano glassworks).  Pair of sconces, circa 1935.  Glass with aluminum fittings.  H: 24″ W: 17″ D: 13″  $20,000

 
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Baguès Frerès (Paris maker).  Chandelier, circa 1950.  Interior-painted glass, brass.  H: 36” (fixture 24” plus 12” chain) Dia: 24”  $20,000

 
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Pierre Le-Tan (1950-1919).  Bouillotte lamp, circa 1920 and 2019.  Silvered bronze, paint on sheet metal.  H: 33 ½” Dia: 22”   $20,000

 
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Swedish 20th century.  Abstract sculpture, circa 1925.  Painted wood.  H: 29 ½”.  Provenance: Daniel Katz, London; Folke Wickman, Stockholm.  $6,000

 

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