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by Louis Bofferding

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

A NEWLY DISCOVERED PAIR OF 1920s CUBIST FRESCOES BY EYRE DE LANUX

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Eyre de Lanux (1894-1996) pair of  “frescoes” in their original oak frames, circa 1925. 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 of the 20th century avant-garde, these stock female roles fill the art historical interstices between the lives great men. 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. 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. 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  (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, which was painted when dry.

The lines incised in our painted panels, which we date to around 1925, 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 some years later were photographed together at the Cafe de Flore by Brassaï. And a few years after that, back in New York, she rented an apartment in a brand new East 58th Street building namef 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 glass with an olive, a pipe, a smoldering cigar, an ace of diamonds, an Ionic capital, stars, a mask, and what looks like 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, and sailed away on a honeymoon to Paris, where they took a pied-a-terre overlooking the Seine on the Left Bank. They were ardent Francophiles. Helen, a Knickerbacker on her mother’s side, had served as a nurse in France during the war, and wore Paris couture. Kenneth was a Yale man who studied law at Harvard, became a lawyer for the French Line, the passenger ship company, and Madame Coty, of Paris perfume fame, before going into politics. A Social Register couple, they lived at 935 Park Avenue, and were attracted to la vie bohème.  They befriended Gertrude Stein, Alice Toklas, and the notorious Harry and Caresse Crosby. They also collected modern art, including works by Modigliani, Picasso, Matisse, Giorgio de Chirico, and Joan Miró.

The objects depicted in our panels call for a biographical reading.  Kenneth was a heavy drinker, a chain smoker, and an avid poker player. The Ionic capital,  symbol of the arts, reflects their keen interest in art, music, and literature. The panels could be an evocation of an evening chez Simpson — when the stars appear, 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, at one time or another, to Sara and Gerald Murphy, E. E. Cummings, Gilbert Seldes (critic of popular culture and father of actress Marian Seldes), and Alice De Lamar, the American lesbian patron of the arts, whose apartment was a crash pad for her bohemian friends, including Dolly Wilde, Oscar’s niece, the artist Eugene Berman, and dis 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 in 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 wrote art criticism, poetry, and fiction, but was best known as an artist. By 1930 she became 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 on a much younger man as a 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.

BAGUES CHANDELIER

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Baguès, circa 1935. Clear and bronze cut crystal, cast elements, on steel frame. H: 44”;  Dia: 30”  Sold

This 1930s French chandelier adapts an Ancien Régime form to Café Society taste. That involved attenuating its form, making the frame in steel rather than ormolu, trimming it with cut-crystal arabesques, and festooning it with prisms cut from thick slabs of clear and bronze crystal. Those arabesques are typical of Austrian, not French chandeliers. But in 1930s Paris, the Rococo style of Mitteleuropa became all the rage, inspiring French designers to rise to the occasion.

 

A KITSUNE FROM THE EDO PERIOD

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Japanese, 18th century. Carved wood painted with urushi. H: 9 ½”. Carved wood. Provenance: probably Yamanaka; Lucy Truman Aldrich; by descent her great niece. $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 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 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 bedclothes, and held for ransom. Two weeks later she escaped 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.”

 

JOHN VESEY EXTENSION DINING TABLE FOR JAN COWLES

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John Vesey (1924-1992) dining table, with two leaves, circa 1970. Chromed steel, patinated brass, brown-lacquered linen-wrapped top. H: 29 ½”; Dia: 72”; with both 22″ wide leaves in place overall length 116” (9’ 6”). Provenance: Mrs. Gardner (Jan) Cowles.  Sold

“Merveilleux” was Hubert de Givenchy’s pronouncement on John Vesey’s furniture according to Vogue. “Opulent modern” was how Bill Cunningham characterized it in a profile he wrote for the Chicago Tribune, long before he picked up a camera.  A “status item in many of the best-dressed rooms,” stated Eugenia Sheppard of Women’s Wear Daily, where another columnist signed off a story on the designer with “VIVE LA VESEY!” The enthusiasm of the press was due in part to the “staggering list of celebrities” who bought his furniture, including, besides Givenchy, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Cecil Beaton, Babe Paley, and “Baby Jane” Holzer, among others.

Vesey, in his bespoke suits, fit into their milieu as seamlessly as his expensive furniture did in their homes. There, among their pricey antiques, his beautifully handcrafted steel and brass furniture held its own, in a way that the manufactured plywood and Formica furniture by Ray and Charles Eames could not. After having studying art history at Harvard, Vesey became an antiques dealer in Manhattan. He then began sending pieces from his inventory to a Bronx workshop that copied them in metal. The stylish results were such a smash that he consigned his stock to auction, and used the proceeds to produce his own designs.

Yet antique furniture continued to be Vesey’s inspiration. Our dining table, with a chromed-steel and brass base, and a brown-lacquered linen top, with two matching leaves, was based on English Regency prototypes. It belonged to Jan Cowles, and was a special commission.  She was the glamorous third wife of Gardiner Cowles, who owned newspapers and launched Look magazine (she had been the ex-wife of another media mogul, James M. Cox, Jr. of Cox Communications).

For all his elegance, charm, talent, and connections, Vesey’s kink was S & M and “rough trade.” He wound up in court, and was sentenced to jail, which finished off his brilliant career. He was hardly the first creative figure with a dark side — consider Benvenuto Cellini, the 16th-century goldsmith, who bragged in his memoirs of a rape, a maiming, and a killing. This wasn’t a deal breaker in the Renaissance, but it was in Vesey’s day. Since his death in 1992, the sulfurous odor of scandal has lifted, somewhat, permitting a reappraisal of his work.  A price surge and a feeding frenzy have ensued — a succès de scandale, you might say.

 

NAPOLEON III CRYSTAL AND ORMOLU VASE

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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Now, as in the past, balangada could be worn to dramatic effect, but they are still suited to their other original purpose.  That’s why we show them heaped in a Venini glass bowl at the gallery, and as we first used them, ornamenting a Christmas tree at home.

 

 

AN ART NOUVEAU CENTERPIECE

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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.

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A DRESSING TABLE MIRROR

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An English mirror-framed dressing table mirror, or frame, from the 1930s.  Etched mirror and black-painted wood.  H: 19 ½” W: 14 ½” D: 10″  $1,500

In the 1920s, Edward, the young and handsome Prince of Wales — the future King Edward VIII and then the Duke of Windsor – made a splash on the international social scene.  That’s when his device of three plumes became a reigning motif in the decorative arts. This mirror-framed dressing table mirror, which would also serve nicely as a photo frame, is acid-etched with those plumes on the cresting. It dates to the 1930s, the decade of his abdication and his marriage to Wallis Warfield Simpson, the glamorous American divorcee.

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HANDSOME PRINCE ALBERT

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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.

IMG_4083Windsor Castle in modern time; Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and Victoria, Princess Royal, 1840-43 (oil on canvas)

AN HISPANIC BEAUTY

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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.

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AN ITALIAN BEAUTY

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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.

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EUGENE BERMAN COLLAGE

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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.

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GEORGE III SILVER LUSTERWARE VASE

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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.

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AMERICAN VICTORIAN BIRDHOUSE

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Miller Iron Company, Providence, RI. Birdhouse, 1868. Painted cast iron. Stamped: “Miller Iron Co. / Prov. R.I. / Pat,d April 14 / 1868”.   H: 11” L: 10 ½” D: 14 ½” $6,000

This charming 19th-century Victorian birdhouse was modeled on the Neo-Gothic mansions that were then being built, and inhabited, by potential birdhouse buyers.   Cast in iron, dated 1868, and marked with the name of its Rhode Island maker, this birdhouse retains the original, and pleasingly distressed painted finish.  An identical one was shown in the Houston Museum of Fine Arts’ exhibition The Gothic Revival Style in America 1830 to 1870, and published in the catalog.

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IBERIAN MIRROR WITH FLOWERING TENDRILS

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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

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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

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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.

MODERNIST GLASS LAMP

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Attributed to Jacques Adnet (1901-1984).  Adjustable floor lamp, circa 1935.  Glass, mirror, chrome-plated fittings, painted wood.  Maximum height 70″.  Provenance: Doris Duke, Duke Farms, Hillsborough, New Jersey.    $8,000

This floor lamp may have been designed by Jacques Adnet — see the similar model below — when he served as the artistic director of the Companie des Arts Français in Paris.  Then again, it may have been designed under his influence by the New York decorating firm of McMillen.  In either case, it was owned by Doris Duke, the heiress, socialite, philanthropist, hortological patron, and noted art collector.  She had it at Duke Farms, her vast McMillen-decorated New Jersey estate.  There, presumably, it graced the modernist, black-painted bar room adjacent to the Olympic-sized indoor swimming pool.

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CHIAVARI CHAIRS

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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.

FILIKLI RUGS

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These silken mohair rugs have been made for centuries by the nomadic peoples of Anatolia, and are still being made today by their descendants in what is now modern Turkey.  When on the road they were worn as cloaks, and when in camp they were used as blankets, and laid on the earth in tents.  During the winter the soft mohair tufting was kept against the body for warmth, and reversed to the cooler, mat side during the summer.

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Purple and black ”filikli tulu” rug. Mohair, wool backing. Approximately 92″ x 60” $7,000

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Green “filikli ulu” rug. Mohair, wool backing. Approximately 87″ x 64”. $6,000

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Red “filikli tulu” rug. Mohair, wool backing. Approximately 83″ x 57”. $5,000

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Violet “filikli tulu” rug. Mohair, wool backing. Approximately 54” x 41”  $3,000

MODERNIST LAMP

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

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

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FLOWERING URN

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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.

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A SHAPE-SHIFTING TABLE

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French gate-leg table, circa 1650. Oak with metal fittings. Height 28 ¼“ Width 54“ Depth 20 ½“ / 41 ½“/ 62“ $20,000

This French Baroque, solid-oak table has two pivoting legs to prop up hinged leaves. When left hanging the table’s a compact rectangle, with one raised it’s a half circle, and with both raised it’s an oval that seats six. Between meals, with cutlery stashed in two long narrow drawers, it does triple duty as a desk and display table. Its versatility suits the small Manhattan apartment, and when fully extended and heaped with books and objects, it makes the grand statement in a Hamptons manse.

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CAFÉ SOCIETY CHAIRS

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Pair of American chairs, 1930s. Mahogany, brass, leather studded with nail heads. H: 38 ½“ W: 21 ½” $12,500

In the 1930s, gossip columnists christened the sophisticates who frequented swank restaurants and nightclubs, and lent their presence to opening nights, “Café Society.” When it came to furnishing their homes, they favored streamlined classics over genuine antiques, and hard-edged modernist designs. This pair of over-scaled chairs were said to have graced a Chicago interior that was decorated by Samuel Marx.  Perhaps so, but they were probably made by William Quigley, who made much of that celebrated designer’s furniture, and designed his own too, which was sold in his Lake Forest and Chicago stores [below left]. The sweeping lines of the back and seat, the white leather upholstery, and the fluted mahogany legs are a sleek riff on the George III style. And those brass-rope handles, permitting the chairs to be dragged hither and yon, would have come in handy at cocktail hour on the servant’s night off.

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MYSTERY VESSEL

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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.

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AN ALLEGORY OF SUMMER

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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.

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MONA VON BISMARCK:  “THE BEST DRESSED WOMAN IN THE WORLD”

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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.

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BAGUES LAMPS

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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.

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ROCK-CRYSTAL CANDLESTICKS

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Baguès Frerès, Paris.  Pair of candlesticks, 1950.  Rock-crystal and gilt bronze.  Reproduced in Plaisir de France, 1950.  H: 13 1/2″ $18,000

This spectacular pair of rock-crystal-and-ormolu candlesticks was made by Baguès, reproduced in a French design magazine, and retailed by Bonzano, a stylish purveyor of luxury goods in Paris.

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A GERMAN MIRROR

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Northern European, probably German.  Mirror, circa 1710.  Mirror plate, with walnut and pine backing.  H: 24″ W: 15 1/2″  $5,000

 

 

PAIR OF LOUIS-PHILIPPE ARMCHAIRS

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French, 19th century.  A Pair of Louis-Philippe armchairs, 1840s.  Rosewood, upholstered.  H: 37″  Provenance:  KK Auchincloss.    $15,000

In the 1940s KK Hannon, a Boston-born socialite in the making, moved to Manhattan, launched a clothing line, designed jewelry for Tiffany, and said yes to a marriage proposal from “Shipwreck” Kelly, the legendary football hero — and then yes again to Peter Larkin, an heir to the 825,000 acre King Ranch in Texas.  She would come to say yes twice more before she breathed her last as Mrs. James D. Auchincloss at age 89.  Over the span of those years she had come to call Manhattan, the North Shore of Long Island, Dark Harbor, Hobe Sound, London (the Albany), and Paris (the Place des Etats Unis), home.  Among her stateside possessions was this superbly carved pair of Louis-Philippe rosewood armchairs, now upholstered in grey felt.

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THE DIVA AS MUSE

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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. 

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ROBERT BLOCK / ROBERTO BLOCK

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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.

LACQUERED OBI STAND

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A rare Japanese 19th-century rack on which to hang obi, the sash that binds the waist of a robe.  Exceptionally fine gold decorations on a black-lacquered ground, with brass fittings.  24″ x 22 1/4″ x 10″.  $4,000

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FORNASETTI PLATES

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A complete set of twelve Stoviglia (“Crockery”) plates by Piero Fornasetti (1913-1988), all marked, numbered, and dated 1955.  Gilded and transfer printed on porcelain, each plate 10 1/4″ diameter.  $15,000

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20TH CENTURY BERLIN BLANC DE CHINE

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Two large porcelain sculptures of a Nereid and Triton, and a Nereid on a hippocamp, modeled by Paul Scheurich (1883-1945) for KPM, produced in 1941 as table decorations, and bearing their mark.  Their heights are 20″ and 16″ respectively.  $12,500

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KPM porcelain wall bracket, attributed to Alexander Kips (1858-1910), circa 1900.  Height 13″.  $3,750

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A circa 1900 KPM porcelain vase, attributed to Alexander Kips, modeled in a style that blends Art Nouveau with Rococo.  Height 19 1/2″.  $3,750

ROCOCO CANAPE

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Louis XV sofa, circa 1760.  Walnut, silk-satin upholstery.  Height 43 1/4″ length 73 1/4″ depth 33″  $20,000

JEAN HUGO WATERCOLOR

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Small painting by Jean Hugo, signed and dated 1927.  Gouache on paper, matted, and in its original oak frame that’s 10 3/4″ x 11 1/2″ $10,000

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A LEVITATING NUDE

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French 18th-century sculpture of a female nude, circa 1760, on a modern bronze base.  Gilt, gesso, wood.  Height 18″ (with stand), lenght 27″, depth 9″  $20,000

ALBRIZZI RUG

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Alessandro Albrizzi rug, 1960s.  Wool.  15′ 4″ x 10′ 6″.  Provenance:  Alessandro Albrizzi, his London shop (as seen below), and then his New York apartment.  $20,000

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JASPER MORRISON ADJUSTABLE TABLE

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Jasper Morrison 1988 table with adjustable top, not from the later production (see original invoice below), that was made from industrial parts.  Glass, steel, paint, rubber.  Height ranges from 23″ to 43 1/2″, diameter 20 1/2″.  $6,000

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AN IMPORTANT PAIR OF JEAN PERZEL TORCHERES

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Pair of Jean Perzel standing lamps from the 1930s of brass and sand-blasted glass.  Height 67″, diameter 22″.  $30,000

JEAN-PIERRE HAGANAUER DECK CHAIR

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Adjustable mahogany and brass deck chair by Jean-Pierre Hagnauer, French circa 1950.  H: 43″ L: 36 W: 24 ½”.  $15,000

TOYOHARA HIKANOBU

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Portrait of Emperor Meiji, his consort, and son, by Toyohara Chikanobu (1838-1912), 1887.  Color woodblock triptych in silk-wrapped mat and giltwood frame.  Image 14″ x 18 1/2″, framed 19 1/2″ x 33 1/2″.  $8,000

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Japanese female courtiers by Toyohara Chikanobu (1838 – 1912), from the 1890s.  Color woodblock diptych, in a silk-wrapped mat and a giltwood frame.  Image 14″ x 18 1/2″ image, framed 19 1/4″ x 24″.  $5,000

JUSTEN LADDA

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Justen Ladda 2012 painting of an AMG Mercedez-Benz engine, executed by ink jet on metal-leafed wood, with epoxy resin.  Diameter 11″.  $4,000

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