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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 to ARCHIVE for those that have been sold.

A 1928 BRUNO PAUL SIDEBOARD FROM HIS NEW YORK LINE

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Bruno Paul (1874-1968) sideboard, 1928, made by the Vereinigte Zoo-Werkstätten, Berlin. Stained birch veneer on pine, mahogany interior, silvered brass. 38” high, 102” long, 25” wide. $20,000

Before the spotlight came to focus on the Bauhaus in the late 1920s, the most prominent modern architect designers working in Germany were Peter Behrens and Bruno Paul. Both began their careers in the 1890s as Jugendstil illustrators and graphic designers. In the 1900s both became architect designers without the benefit of technical training. And in 1907 both were among the forward-looking founders of the Werkbund, which was launched by Hermann Muthesius “to express architectonically the dignity and calm endeavor of a new and confident national German spirit.”

At the time, Paul [above left] was just becoming internationally known. His work was being published in professional journals, exhibited in museums, and shown at design expositions and world’s fairs, including Paris in 1900 and St. Louis in 1904. In 1905 he designed the waiting room of the Frankfurt train station. In 1906 he was made principal of the Royal Berlin School of Arts and Crafts. And in 1907 he received the first of many commissions from the North German Lloyd for the first-class interiors of their transatlantic ocean liners [above right the George Washington]. According to a company brochure, the firm took “the advanced step of inviting the leading architects for interiors,” among whom “Prof. Bruno Paul easily established his supremacy.” Yet in 1914 this modernist designer would furnish his large apartment on the school’s top floor in an updated neo-classical, or Biedermeier style [below left].

By then, after having applied modern design principles to all building and furniture types, Paul, like Behrens and many of their colleagues, had come to view modern design as better suited to factories and places of business than civic buildings and residences. And so they often pivoted to modern interpretations of the historical styles that they had reacted against a decade before, and to the Biedermeier style in particular.

The Biedermeier style took root in the German states and Austria around 1800, and petered out before 1871 when those states united to form the German nation. The style is characterized by sculptural form and restrained ornamentation, and is geared to comfort and utility [above right a chair in the Residenz, Stuttgart]. This appealed to the modernists who gravitated to geometrical forms suited to mass production, regarded ornament with suspicion, and preached the gospel of functionality. Not coincidentally, this style, and their updated version of it, known as zwischen Biedermeier, or second Biedermeier, bolstered an increasingly belligerent Wilhelmine Germany‘s sense of national identity as it girded for war. Following defeat in 1918, the Kaiser’s abdication, territorial loss, war reparations, run-away inflation, widespread poverty, and the establishment of a leftist Weimar Republic, the Neo-Biedermeier style, which harked back to a serene past, lost none of its appeal. And so it continued to pass as modern, and was streamlined for a new age.

In those dire times Paul secured another appointment. In 1924 he was made director of the United State Schools for Fine and Applied Arts in Berlin, which, under his leadership, was favorably compared to the Bauhaus by progressives (in the 1930s, he, unlike Behrens, would loose his official positions by refusing to join the National Socialist party). Thanks to his stature, Paul continued to land commissions for the few luxurious villas that were still being built, like the 1921 Fraenkel house in Hamburg [above left], and furnished, with pieces like the 1925 nightstand for the Kuhn house in Leipzig [above right]. Shrewdly, he also set his sights on the booming American market. In 1928 he sailed to New York and installed two fully furnished rooms in a design exhibition at Macy’s. Other rooms were contributed by Josef Hoffmann, Gio Ponti, William Lescaze, and Kem Weber, a former Paul student now living in Los Angeles. Welcomed with much fanfare, Paul was hailed by Vogue as “the leader of the modern movement in Germany,” and The New York Times as “the dean of the German contemporary art movement…who has more to do than perhaps anyone else with developing in Europe the style we know as ‘modern’.”

On returning to Berlin, Paul sat down at his drafting board and designed Germany’s first skyscraper, built on the Potsdamer Straße, and a line of furniture inspired and named for New York, which was made by the United Zoo Workshops, located near the famous Berlin Zoo. The line represents a rekindled interest in typenmöbel, the furniture types that he had first designed in 1908. Both lines were made in series, but the more luxurious New York line couldn’t be mass-produced   It was shown and photographed in mock rooms, including a dining room with two sideboards that match our own [below]. To launch a furniture line in Germany at that time would have been folly, had Paul not been able to place pieces from it in his own projects, and send others off to be sold in America.

In 1929, Paul and Lucian Bernhard, a former Werkbund member who had moved to New York, established Contempora, a design showroom on East 56th Street [below left an advertisement from Arts & Decoration]. Paul sent three rooms to the inaugural exhibition that were shown with others by Kem Weber, the New York artist Rockwell Kent, and the Atelier Martine, the interior design studio of the Paris couturier Paul Poiret. Also on view were works by the Austrian ceramicist Wally Wieseltier, and an exhibition on the German architect Erich Mendelsohn. Contempora organized a costume ball to celebrate and promote the venture. A photograph of some of the designers cavorting was published in Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration [below right], which shows Poiret and Wieseltier standing on the left, Bernhard kneeling center, and Kent seated on the right. A few years later, Contempora would close, a casualty of the Depression.

Since our sideboard was acquired in Germany, it presumably never made it to New York until now. Its sculptural, horizontal layering is characteristic of Paul’s furniture, as well as his architecture. Yet its bold form is more sober than the earlier nightstand, and more architectonic than the Fraenkel house facade. The sideboard’s severe geometry situates it in the context of the Bauhaus, and takes us back to a time when craftsmanship wasn’t considered inimical to modernism, a notion then just beginning to take root with the founding of the Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM) in 1928, and the Museum of Modern Art’s 1932 exhibition Modern Architecture, which coined the term “International Style.” Paul, however, practiced a different international style – one that was made by hand, not on a production line. But like the other one, Paul’s was, in his own words, “the style of modern man, whose airplanes have conquered the distance between the continents, whose audible and comprehensible voices echo around the globe, and whose thoughts and feelings transcend the confines of international boundaries.”

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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 had been 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 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 I would receive drawings from Pierre that depicted one or two of my recent acquisitions.  I had these drawings reproduced on the invitations to viewings of the art and furnishings that I presented and sold from home.  Then, in 2002, when I signed a lease on a Lexington Avenue store, Pierre sent a drawing of my shop front, which I had reproduced on my new business card [below left].

On my July buying trip to Paris, I visited Pierre, and his second wife Toboré, for the last time at their 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, from notes he wrote for his grandson.  They belonged to a dynasty of lacquer artists that lasted for twelve generations.

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

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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

In the 16th century pineapples, native to South America, began trickling into Europe one by precious one. There, the lust for them prompted kings and aristocrats to build greenhouses for their cultivation. They were proudly displayed on the dining tables of the rich and powerful, and they were even served on rare occasions.  That is how they came to epitomize hospitality, which led to their being carved in stone as welcoming gatepost finials, and cast in bronze as dining room ornaments [below left, one of an 18th-century French pair at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs].  And in England, one was constructed out of masonry as a garden folly at Dunmore House [below right].

Fast forward to 1955 when Van Day Truex was appointed design director at Tiffany’s. By then the firm’s Gilded Age glory days were long gone, but Truex made Tiffany’s fashionable once again. Three years later, Truman Capote made the Fifth Avenue store a refuge for 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 own 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 a sculpture pure and simple. Of them, only the pineapple was partially gilded to distinguish its forms – fruit and rockwork silver, fronds silver-gilt. Ours belonged to Mario Buatta, who, years ago, had purchased the seedpod from us to round out his collection. Back then, he said his pineapple was the rarest of them all, accounting for our not having seen one before, or another one since.

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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-size paper. This changed in the 17th century, when Louis XIV established the Manufacture Royale des Glaces. There, molten glass was poured onto a flat surface, and 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 that were made under safer conditions, but their smokey, crystalline beauty was lost in the process.

Our mercury-glass mirror, made in Italy in the 19th century, has a greyish tinge that endows a mystery to whatever happens to be reflected in it.  The design harks back to the 17th-century craze for mirror-framed mirrors, with intricately cut pieces covering the joints [see an 18th example above left]. These mirrors became all the rage once again in the 1930s.  Then, the Paris decorator and antiques dealer Serge Roche designed his own versions [seen in Vogue above right].  They would be snapped up by fashionable decorators like Elsie de Wolfe and Syrie Maugham, and copied stateside by Eleanor Brown of McMillen.

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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 design hallmark of the Belle Époque, which was then flourishing.

Then, designers faced the challenge of adapting the traditional, candlelit chandelier forms to the electric light bulb. But the brightness of the bulbs made it uncomfortable to look directly at the chandelier, and when they blazed from on high, electric bulbs cast unflattering shadows.  That’s why the bulbs were often tucked into the frame, or shielded with silk shades. Our chandelier has five sockets for bulbs hidden behind the glass-beaded trelliswork pouch [below right], and another five sockets mounted to the arms. We found ten bulbs overkill.  And not wanting to burden the chandelier’s 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.

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Snakes 1

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 were secured by hardware embellished with bronze snakes.   Decades later, the memory of those snakes 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 have followed, we’ve had to make due with flea market finds, and coffee-table books best left unread.

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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 French 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 in the 18th century [above right]. But if Fragonard’s suggests the hurried departure of furtive lovers, Terry’s embodies the fevered imagination of a celibate bachelor, albeit one who lived in luxurious grandeur.

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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 1840s Washington Monument.   Around 1930 Gio Ponti designed an obelisk or two for the Venini glassworks on the island of Murano. And shortly thereafter Carlo Scarpa, their artistic director, put into production a torqued obelisk of transparent diamante glass [below left], so-named because its ropy diagonal striations take on a diamond-like appearance when they crisscross, visually, thanks to the transparency of glass. 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 of English tastemaker Rory Cameron, and his mother Lady Kenmare.

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Head 5

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, and mounted with a pair of heads by Thomire that are similar to our own [below right].

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Shells 1

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 established in the 18th century. When Ponti moved on in 1930, his vacant position was filled by his protégé Giovanni Gariboldi, who also designed furniture and interiors. 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) to create his form, which he endowed with a faux verisimilitude of delicate ribbing along the scalloped edge. Distancing his shells even further, and more charmingly, from nature, Gariboldi applied candy-colored pink, yellow, and blue glazes.

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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 protect and trick simple 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 form is pleasing from every angle, making it, in its humble 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 such finely carved details as slit eyes, beady pupils, sharp teeth and nails, and the pup’s paws sinking into the mother’s luxuriant tail.

This sculpture was in the collection of Lucy Truman Aldrich of Providence, Rhode Island. Many 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 Aldrich’s own country estate. Through the years Yamanaka cataloged her burgeoning collection, and on the underside of our sculpture is a label with her initials, and an inventory number.

Aldrich was born in, lived in, and died in her family’s mansion on Benevolent Street. And 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.  They were 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 that 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.”

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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, fine flower vase was made of porcelain, and the better ones were mounted in gilt bronze. But the most fashionable were made of cut-crystal, and mounted in gilt bronze. The vogue for that type had began in France when Napoleon was emperor.  It spread to Britain, Russia, and the United States, and remained popular  through the reign of his nephew Napoleon III, who was an emperor himself. Our vase has four imperial eagles on the corners of the base.  They could refer to either emperor, but the attenuated proportions, and the gutsy sunburst cut in the crystal, indicate it was made during the reign of the latter one. 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 the circa 1850 date that we had proposed.

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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 them both. Our side table was finely made of solid and veneered walnut. By sliding a brass 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 the work 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 artist Georg Friedrich Kersting.

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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 color 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.

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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 table with these glamorous golden plates. They’re not the usual gold porcelain, but rather 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, made, or retailed them, nor for that matter do we know where, or even when, they were made. Mrs. Cowles took that information with her when she went to that big dinner party in the sky.

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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 Russian Grand Duke, Boris Vladimirovich Romanov. In the 1920s the young Boris [below left] went to work for Madeleine Vionnet, designing jewelry, handbags, and dresses, before going on to redesign her fashion house [below right] and her three homes. In 1938, the year she closed her business, he went to work for her former 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, an ebonized wooden sphere, and an acid-etched glass cylinder.  That cylinder takes the place of the traditional lampshade, which would have undercut the lamp’s rigorous geometry. It also would have contradicted Lacroix’s functionalist dictum: “furniture should occupy just the space that is needed, and preferably no more.”

 

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