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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 glittering cocktail table of glass, mirror, and nickel-plated metal is the quintessence of 1930s glamour, and so finely made it could be compared to diamond-mounted platinum jewelry.  It was sold to us as the work of 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.  Those designers collaborated with a small team of like-minded artists and craftsmen, establishing a tradition that continued under Adnet.

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 (decades later Francois Pinault and Bernard Arnault would make their own headlines assembling similar luxury conglomerates). In short order Süe resigned, and Maurice Dufresne [above right] gave the showroom a flashy new look [below left].  Since 1920 Dufresne kept busy running La Maîtrise, the Galerie Layfayette’s interior decoration studio and high-end furniture line, which probably accounts for his turning the Compagnie over to Adnet, his 28-year-old protégé.

Adnet would pivot the firm from an Art Deco grace to an au courant modernity, realized in glass, mirror, metal, and the occasional unembellished rare-wood veneer.  Dufresne, however, must have been involved since he designed some furnishings for the Compagnie. Among them were a chandelier, lamp, and table published in Modern Glass [above right], a 1931 book by Guillaume Janneau that included only one chandelier by Adnet.   Given this, Dufresne’s years of experience, his redo of the showroom, an in with the owner, and his appointing Adnet as director (acording to an Adnet interview), must have been an éminence grise at the firm in those transitional years.

When the Compagnie’s glass pieces appear on the market today, however, they’re invariably credited to Adnet.  This isn’t surprising, since in the 1930s and 40s Adnet designed the firm’s popular line of leather-wrapped furnishings, ran the Compagnie until its 1959 closing, and outlived Dufresne by fourteen years, dying in 1984.  As for our table, its glass-globe legs [above right] do indeed match the lamp bases credited to Adnet [above left], but around the same time, Dufresne was designing furniture with glass-ball feet under his own name.  So the question is who influenced whom, or to what degree did they collaborate?  In any case, shish kabobs of glass balls became a global design trope in the 1930s, as can still 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 authorship for our table beyond the Compagnie itself.

SIDE TABLE ATTRIBUTED TO MARCEL COARD

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 the hide of the stingray, which is leather-like, but more interesting-looking, with a natural patterning of tiny circular denticles.  For use its sanded down to smoothness, and tinted a color – in this case green. Today, stingrays are commercially farmed in Southeast Asia, and, unlike those that are fished from Northern European waters, they have large coarse denticles.  In 18th-century Europe, shagreen was used to make cases for spectacles, scientific instruments, sewing implements, and cosmetics. It fell out of fashion in the 19th century, only to become all the rage once again in 1910s and 20s Paris, when it was used for luxurious, one-of-a-kind furnishings by Paul Iribe, Andre Groult, Pierre Legrain, Jean-Michel Frank, and Marcel Coard [below left].

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

The Coards were rich Jewish bankers.  Traditionally in France, sons took up their fathers’ professions, but by this time it wasn’t that unusual for a young man to strike out on his own path.  Marcel may have chosen to study architecture at the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts, rather than design at the Ecole Boulle, to appease his parents over the choice of a career.  Nevertheless, in 1913 he signed a shop lease, and hung out his shingle as a decorator.  He kept an inventory of antiques, and designed one-of-a-kind furnishings marked by a deep understanding of material and craft.   The following year he received the first of several commissions from Jacques Doucet, the important collector and patron of modern art and design.  But the largest commission of his career came in 1928 from Paul Cocteau, the stockbroker brother of Jean, the famous writer, artist, and filmmaker. 

In the late 1920s, Cocteau and his wife Marcelle commissioned Coard to fully furnish the vast country house [above left] they were building, a job that took him years to complete.  What was notable about the results, aside from the sheer number of pieces, and the high quality of craftsmanship, was the variety.  They ranged from the soigné to the rustic, as did the materials 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 topped with black-glass [above right].  Our shagreen and oak table, if it is indeed by Coard as we suspect, would fall somewhere between these two poles.

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 the private shrine of an aristocratic home.  There, it would have been placed before a deity, and ritual objects — an incense burner, candle stands, and offerings of fresh flowers — would have been placed on it.  A similar, longer table was once in the important Asian art collection of Mr. & Mrs. Michel Beurdeley of Paris [below left].  In Japan and China, as in the West, lacquerware is coveted for its beauty, durability, and the skill of the artisans who are trained to make it.  To lacquer an object properly requires dozens of coats, and each must dry and be sanded down before the next can be applied.  And since lacquer is toxic when wet, the artisans who mastered the art suffer skin rashes, and risk early death. 

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

1920s 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 was rudimentary at best.  And so their two pleasure domes reflect fantasies rather than realities, and come off looking remarkably alike in style.

In 18th-century Europe, only aristocrats, and the odd 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 it was in Berlin, in the early 1920s, that 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 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 that 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.  Following liberation in 1945, Indonesia finally achieved independence, as would 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 global tourism, art historical scholarship, and museum attendance.  Yet even today, the lure of chinoiserie – that fantasy land of pagodas, palms, and lacquerware – persists in the Western imagination.

ITALIAN RENAISSANCE CHAIR

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 form is characterised by austerity, which is relieved by a sensuously carved back splat and stretcher.  Their vaguely vegetal forms are in the Auricular style that was named for the human-ear cartilage its forms resemble.  Too bizarre to be widely popular, the style originated in late 16th-century Renaissance Italy, and found its fullest expression during the Baroque in 17th century Holland, where it was known as Kwab, which is Dutch for earlobe.  There, an Auricular giltwood frame came to overpower a self-portrait of Sir Anthony van Dyke facing off with a sunflower [below left], which is now at Ham House in England.  Centuries later, back in Italy, when decorating a platter in 1927, Gio Ponti 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 she hovers over, as well as in the balustrade that enframes her.

We purchased this 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-or-other, who lived at number 7 rue de la something.  How infuriating that the information we most want to know – the collector’s surname — is now illegible.     

ITALIAN ROCOCO ARMCHAIR

Italian (Venetian) Rococo armchair, circa 1760 (bearing the emblem of the Knights Templar).  Parcel-gilt walnut, upholstered with later voided-silk-velvet.  H: 49 ¼”  W: 28 ½”  D: 25 ½”  $15,000.

During the first half of the 18th century, the bold curves and counter curves of the magisterial Baroque effervesced into the spritely curlicues of the vivacious Rococo.  In the decorative arts at their best, the Italian iteration of the Rococo assumes an anthropomorphic guise – animated legs and arms like living limbs – as seen in our wonderfully lanky Venetian armchair upholstered in an old, sumptuous, voided-silk velvet.  Nearly lost amidst the rocaille, the tendrils, and a scattering of flowers, even though it’s front, top, and center, is the cartouche where one would expect to find the original owner’s coat of arms.  This cartouche [below left], painted a dark brown to imitate bronze, was carved with the cross of the Knights of Calatrava.  This Spanish military and religious order was established during the Crusades by the King of Castille, and named for a castle in Morocco that he and his knights had conquered from the Moors in 1147. 

The aristocratic Knights of Calatrava, like those of Malta and the Templars, were entitled to display its insignia on personal possessions, as seen in the 17th-century Velasquez portrait of Don Pedro de Barberana y Aparregui [above right], who had it embroidered on his doublet and cape.  By the mid 18th century, when our chair was made, the Order had evolved into a secular confraternity of hereditary nobles who occasionally admitted new members deemed worthy, among them Farinelli, the celebrated castrato who, when he sang in Madrid, beguiled King Ferdinand VI.  Farinelli would also sing to rave reviews at La Fenice in Venice.  Nevertheless, it would be a stretch to propose that Farinelli commissioned our armchair between performances when there.  Rather, we assume it was made around 1760 for a noble Spanish member of the Order, an ambassador perhaps, when living in Venice.

SMALL BAGUES CHANDELIER

Baguès (Paris maker).  Chandelier, circa 1950.  Bronze, glass, and interior-painted glass.  Fixture H: 36” Dia: 24” (with original 12”chain not seen here) $15,000

The Paris bronzier Noël Baguès established his eponymous firm in 1860.  Initially he cast reproductions of 18th-century andirons, candlesticks, and chandeliers.  But before the century was out, his firm, under the direction of his two sons, transitioned from candle- and oil-powered lighting fixtures to those powered by electricity and the newly invented light bulb.  They also began rolling out more original designs in historicist and modern styles.  Those smart designs, and their superior craftsmanship, won Baguès press accolades, and landed them overseas clients, resulting in showrooms being opened in New York, London, Rome, and even Cairo.

A PAIR OF 1920s SCONCES

Baguès (Paris maker), design attributed to Armand Rateau.  Pair of sconces, 1920s.  Silvered bronze, rock crystal, amethyst.  H: 13 ¾  W: 11 ½  D: 5 ½ $15,000

In 1920s Paris, the smartest cut-crystal lighting fixtures were to be found at Baguès.  There, well-heeled clients and high-end decorators placed custom orders, and bought chandeliers, sconces, and lamps off the floor.  Among the American decorators who did so were Rose Cummings and Frances Elkins, and, closer to home, the now-legendary decorating firm of Jansen. 

Baguès’ main claim to decorative-arts fame, however, is their collaboration, which began in 1919, with the designer, decorator, and sometime architect Armand Rateau.  Today he’s identified with the Art Deco style, and celebrated for his beautiful yet idiosyncratic interiors, and the furnishings that he designed for them, as seen in the Paris dining room [above left] of couturiere Jeanne Lanvin, and the madcap cut-glass, rock-crystal, and amethyst chandelier that Baguès made for her sitting room after Rateau’s design [above right].  

Less well known today, but equally well known in his own day, are his interiors and furniture designs inspired by historical styles, and made for clients who collected antique furniture and old master paintings, like the Comtesse de Beaurepaire in Paris, Lady Baillie in Kent, England, and the George Blumenthals in New York, Paris, and Grasse.  But much of his Art Deco work was also inspired by the Louis XV and XVI antiques that he collected himself.  A photo of him at the office [above left] shows some of his trophies, including a group of master drawings and a pair of antique sconces.  Yet when working in this idiom he never failed to give it a personal spin, as seen in the Louis XVI-style chair he designed [above right], and a Louis XV-style dining room he exhibited at the 1934 Salon des Arts Menagers [below left].  Neither the chair, with it’s stark black-and-gold decoration, nor the woodsy interior, mixing humble Provincial furniture and paneling with a fancy chandelier, centerpiece, and clock, would have made sense to a pair of 18th century eyes.  

We attribute the design of our Louis-Louis sconces to Rateau, and their fabrication to Baguès.  Typically, Rateau stamped his furniture but not his lighting fixtures. Baguès also stamped their fixtures, but not as a rule, if there was a flat surface to apply it, as there wouldn’t have been on these wisps of glinting rock crystal and amethyst that appear to hang in mid air.  Yet these sconces reflect both Rateau’s sensibility and Baguès’ ability.  That said, we’ve never before seen a sconce or a chandelier by Rateau, Baguès, or anyone else for that matter, that employ openwork “nets” to secure prisms [above right].  This is a jeweler’s technique for setting gemstones in chandelier earrings, and the sort of subtle, amusing, extravagant detail that we expect of Rateau and Baguès at their best.   

PAIR OF VERONESE GLASS SCONCES

Attributed to Jean Gabriel Domergue (1889-1962), made by Véronese (Paris and Murano firm).  Pair of sconces, 1930s.  Glass and aluminum.  H:  24” W:  19” D: 12 ½” $20,000

In 1930s Paris, the smartest blown-glass lighting fixtures were to be found at Véronese.  The firm was established in 1931 by Marcel Barbier, most likely the furniture designer of that name who was cited in a 1928 article.  Regardless, Véronese was unique in having a design office in Paris (vortex of fashion), and a glassworks on Murano (vortex of glassmaking).  Under Barbier, Véronese developed a product line of clear translucent glass, which was promoted through extensive advertising [below left], and sold from striking showrooms in Paris and Nice [below right].  As for the name itself, their master glassblower was Giovanni Veronese, but to christen a company for an artisan who didn’t work exclusively for their firm, and was unknown beyond Murano, seems odd to say the least.  In any case, Barbier was also attempting, presumably, to tap into the fame of Paolo Veronese, the 16th-century Venetian artist who depicted glassware and other luxury goods in his paintings.  Paolo Venini was too, just a few years before, when he named the Veronese Vase after him, since it was copied from one he had painted, which became Venini’s signature product and a design classic.

Launched early in the Depression, Véronese devised a lean business model.  Instead of employing a salaried in-house art director, they commissioned designs from independent architects, like Marcel Roux-Spitz and Jean Courtois (who designed the Nice showroom), decorator Andre Arbus, and society painter Jean-Gabriel Domergue [below left], among others.  Not incidentally, these men were in a position to propose the products they designed for Véronese to their own clients.  Additionally, Véronese avoided the expense of maintaining a glassworks. Instead, they bought furnace time from Archimede Seguso, the descendant of a family that had been in the glassmaking trade since the 14th century.  Then, Suguso’s art director was Flavio Poli, who also created designs for Véronese.  At the time, Poli’s glassblower was the aforementioned Giovanni Veronese who worked for Véronese.   If all this seems a bit incestuous, it was, but it isn’t atypical of the glassmaking world that is Murano.

Véronese’s clear glass, creative marketing, and shrewd business practices, masked their essentially conservative approach to design.  Most of their models were based on 18th-century prototypes.  This can be seen in our pair of sconces, as well as a chandelier [above right] designed for them by Domergue, according to a caption in the 1937 article on the firm in Art et Industrie.  Since our sconces and that chandelier share a design sensibility, and incorporate identical glass elements, they were quite likely made en suite. And that accounts for our attribution of the sconces to Domergue himself.

BOUILLOTTE LAMP WITH A PIERRE LE-TAN PAINTED SHADE

Antique bouillotte lamp with a Pierre Le-Tan (1950-2019) painted shade.  Painted sheet-metal shade 2019, silvered-brass bouillotte lamp circa 1920.  H: 33 ½”  Dia: 22”   $20,000

Early last year the artist Pierre Le-Tan painted the shade of this antique lamp with words for light — lumièrelux, luce, licht — in English, French, Latin, Italian, and German.   Pierre, who was fluent in French and English, got by in a few other languages too.  He was, you might say, a cosmopolite. When I first met him in the 1980s he boarded planes at the drop of a hat, ricocheting from Paris, his home, to New York, London, Milan, and Tangier.  He was also attracted to more offbeat destinations like Cairo, São Paulo, Portmeirion in Wales, and Macao, China.  Pierre chronicled his travels in Album [below right], an artist’s book published in 1990.  But in recent years just getting him across the Seine to see a museum exhibition was like pulling crab meat from its shell.  Pierre [below left] had come to the sad conclusion that venturing afield was no longer worth the effort, with globalization and commercialization making the world ever more uniform and vulgar.

Not that Pierre became a hermit.  He made a second marriage, had two more children, and continued to meet friends at restaurants in the neighborhood, and on the other side of town too, if the décor and atmosphere were de l’époque (and if that époque wasn’t the present one).  Nor was there a good, important, or interesting antiques shop that he didn’t frequent.  In one of them he came across this massive, silvered-bronze bouillotte lamp.  Like all bouillotte lamps it has a metal shade that can be raised or lowered in order to adjust light for the playing of bouillotte, a card game popular in the 18th and early 19th centuries, which evolved into poker.  This particular lamp, however, is in the Empire style, and dates to the early 20th century.  That didn’t put Pierre off since it was handsome, and came with a shade that presented a blank field for him to decorate. He chose to paint it an astringent yellow, with contrasting black-painted words, arabesques, and pictograms, in his signature crosshatching style [below].

Amongst those pictograms and words are a few English phrases — “Stars do shine if you ask them gently”, “Full moon = good mood,” “The moon and her friends the stars” – and French ones too — “L’ étoile filante” (Shooting star), “L’oeil lumineux” (The luminous eye), “Lumiere d’ici et de là” (Light here and there).  Pierre was pleased when he stood back to observe his work.  Yet he found that this over-scaled lamp didn’t suit the intimately-scaled rooms of his much-photographed and published apartment on the Place du Palais-Bourbon.  And so he telephoned me to say, in his ever so slightly British-accented English, that he had decided to sell something that I might like.  Before we signed off I bought the lamp, sight unseen, without discussing the price.

CHINESE FRETWORK SCREEN

Chinese, 18th/19th century.  Quing dynasty screen panel, circa 1800, on later base, circa 1920.  Wood, plant fiber inset screen.  H: 73 ½” W: 56” D: 19”.  $9,000

The large 19th-century fretwork panel of this Chinese standing screen was originally the window of a house.  In the early 20th century it was salvaged and mounted in a matching hardwood stand, along with the horizontal panel and two small vertical ones below, in order to create a freestanding indoor screen to function as a room divider.  Only that large panel, however, was intricately carved on one side, or fitted with a fine mesh-reed screen, which would have kept buzzing insects and flying birds from getting inside.  Presumably, that house, like most, incorporated several panels of identical design [below left]. It can only be hoped that they also survived.

A qilin, the mythological hoofed creature that could fly, appears dead center in that large panel [above right].  Since they spouted flames from their mouths at the approach of malefactors, they protected the houses of wise and benevolent men — appearing when needed, and disappearing when not.  As such, their placement at any point of entry to a house is appropriate.

This qilin is set in a circle carved with four winged bats seen head on.  And beyond that circle is an octagon, beyond which are four more bats shown from above. In China, bats are symbols of prosperity since the word for them is pronounced fook, as is the word for wealth itself.  In the fretwork beyond, in radiating tiers going outward, are pairs of pine boughs in circular form, symbolizing steadfastness and longevity.  Beyond them on each side in the final tier are what appear to be lotus flowers symbolizing purity of heart and mind, since they rise pure, white, and unbesmirched from the muck of ponds.   And at the top and bottom are what appear to be plum blossoms symbolizing perseverance and hope.  Auspicious symbols all, which are suited to the geomancy of the home known as feng shui.

1930s TIFFANY DESK SET

Tiffany & Company.  Desk set, 1930s.  Sterling Silver, Portor marble, leather.  Blotter container size 30 1/4“ x 19 1/4“.  Provenance:  Philip Green Gossler, New York; Marion “Oatsie” Charles, Newport, RI.  $10,000

On March 14th, 1938, Mrs. Georgia Whiting Saffold Oates — a former southern belle and a recent divorcee — plighted her troth with Mr. Philip Green Gossler [below left], then on his third marriage.  If he was, as they used to say, “a caution,” he was also a man of substance.  A utilities magnet, he was “one of fifty-nine men who rule America,” according to his 1945 obituary in The New York Times. This 1930s Tiffany desk set belonged to him, and his initials “P.G.G.” are engraved all over it [below right], except on the notepad holder that didn’t have a blank field large enough to accommodate them.

Born in Columbia, Pennsylvania, Gossler attended the local university before studying electrical engineering at Columbia University.  Making a name for himself at Edison General Electric, he went on to Royal Electric in Montreal.  Returning to New York, he rose through the ranks of Columbia Gas & Electric, becoming chairman, and, along the way, orchestrated the mergers and acquisitions that made it one of the largest utility cartels in the world, with thirty-four companies in eight states.  Appointed a director of the Guaranty Trust Company, he was clubbable enough to be admitted in the Metropolitan, University, and Piping Rock clubs, as well as the Royal Nassau Sailing Club, which came in handy when wintering on Hog Island where he had an estate.

We don’t know if Gossler kept this desk set at the office or in his East 65th Street townhouse [below left], designed by William Welles Bosworth, architect of the skyscraping AT & T headquarters on lower Broadway, and Kykuit, the Rockefeller family manse on the Hudson River.   In any case, Tiffany forged it from sterling-silver-mounted Portor marble, which is known in Italy, where it is mined, as Portoro.  The French, however, most favored the marble, especially for topping off commodes and cabinets from the 17th century on.  Its striking coloration of black, yellow, and white, complimented rich woods and gilt bronze, as seen on (if only just barely) a precious Art Deco bar cabinet designed by Süe et Mare [below right].

It isn’t just the Portor marble that makes us believe this 1930s desk set was made for Tiffany in Paris, and not Tiffany in New York.  For one thing, it bears the Tiffany hallmark [below left] but not the so-called maker’s mark found on all Tiffany New York silver. For another, its au courant design is in line with the work of the Paris masters of Art Deco, but not the more traditional New York designers.  Among the Paris ones who had worked for Tiffany were André Groult and Armand Rateau, who designed Tiffany’s showroom on the Avenue de l’Opera some years before.   This isn’t to say that Gossler’s desk set had necessarily been purchased there, since Paris-made luxury goods were commissioned and shipped to New York, where they caught the eyes of the discerning few, who still had the wherewithal to buy them as the Depression closed in.

On Gossler’s 1945 demise, the desk set presumably passed to his widow, and when she breathed her last, to her beautiful daughter Marion, who would expire in 2018 at the age ninety-nine [above].  That Marion had bothered to keep it says more about her love of the beautiful than her fondness for her stepfather, whom she didn’t much like. This, in spite of his having footed the bill for her extravagant 1938 coming out at his townhouse, and the St. Regis rooftop supper dance that followed.  She, too, as it turned out, was “a caution,” painting her fingernails black, which matched her dark moods, and earning her the sobriquet ‘Black Marion.’  Back then, her name was Marion Oates, which changed on her marriage to Thomas Leiter, a Marshall Field & Company heir, and once again following a divorce, and remarriage to Robert H. Charles, Assistant Secretary of the Air force.  Those marriages gave her the wherewithal to become Washington, D.C.’s most celebrated hostess, ‘Oatsie’ Charles (a sobriquet bestowed by her by fellow debutante Brenda Frazier).  There, she regularly hung out a ham for the likes of Jack and Jackie Kennedy, Ian Fleming, Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, and Deeda Blair, among others.  Summertime, she was doyenne of Newport society, living in Land’s End, Edith Wharton’s former “cottage,” and chairing the Newport Restoration Foundation.  Fashionable to the bitter end, she enchanted, impressed, and intimidated more than a few.  According to her admiring grandson, “children were terrified of her — so were most adults.”

SCHOOL OF FONTAINEBLEAU PRINT

Master F. G., French (Fontainebleau), circa 1550.  Wounded Paris Carried Beneath the Walls of Troy.  Etching on laid paper, framed. Sheet 10 “ x15 “, framed 12 ½” x 17 ½”  $4,000

“Sing goddess, of Achilles’ rage, black and murderous, that cost the Greeks incalculable pain, pitched countless souls of heroes into dark Hades, and left their bodies to rot as feasts for dogs and birds.”  That opening line of Homer’s Iliad, and the thousands that follow, rang in the ears of the ancient Greeks, burned through the page in the Roman world, and, after a centuries-long hibernation in the Dark Ages, resurfaced to enthrall the Renaissance.  Homer’s tale of the Trojan War, along with his sequel the Odyssey, continue to resonate among American veterans squaring trauma with duty after deployments in Afghanistan, if less so among academics retooling the Western cannon. 

This engraving illustrates an episode in the war that was overlooked by Homer.  Paris, the scapegrace Trojan princeling, who initiated the war by abducting Achilles’ wife Helen, is being carried to safety behind city walls as bugles and horns sound the retreat.  The scene is archly presented, which is typical of late Renaissance, or Mannerist, compositions.  The nude Paris gazes directly at the viewer with bedroom eyes through tumbling locks.  Though not dead yet, his dead weight is shouldered by a warrior with a balletic lift of leg, which should send them both tumbling to the ground.  The scene is also improbably theatrical.  It is presented on a trompe l’oeil stage, and bears the engraver’s initials “GR.F”, and the inscription “a Fontana.Bleo. Bol.”, which a contemporary viewer would read as “At Fontainebleau” after the “Bolognese” painter Francesco Primaticcio, then a famous artist who hailed had from Bologna. 

In 1534, King Francis I of France summoned Primaticcio [above left] to the palace of Fontainebleau, which then functioned as the capitol of France.  Between 1541 and 1544 Primaticcio frescoed the barrel-vaulted ceiling of the Porte Dorée [above right], a courtyard entrance. There, he painted this scene of the wounded Paris [below left], along with four others, including Hercules being dressed as a woman (Fontainebleau taste was nothing if not kinky).  All conformed to an obscure iconographic program that promoted the king and celebrating his reign.  Not incidentally, at that time, a legend gained traction that Frankus, a mythological warrior, had established the French kingdom after fleeing Troy when it fell. 

Concerning our print, there are two mysteries we can’t explain.  One is the name of the artist who engraved it.  In the 19th century, a group of stylistically related prints bearing the initials R G F were identified as the work one engraver, who was then christened Master F. G.  It was posited that he might have been Francois Gentil, a Frenchman who worked at Fontainebleau, and to whom no other works could be attributed.  Then it was pointed out that the F isn’t an initial, but an abbreviation of fecit, which is Latin for “he made it.” That would mean his initials were G R.  Then it was posited that he was Guido Ruggieri, another artist, Italian this time, who had worked at Fontainebleau, and to whom, like Gentil, no other works could be attributed.  The jury remains out.

The other mystery is that the composition has the same orientation as Primaticcio’s painting [above left] and preparatory drawing, which is in the Louvre [above right].  Typically, that isn’t the case since a print is an impression taken from an inked matrix, and therefore appears as the inverse of the image that was copied.  In any case, before photography, prints were the only effective means of disseminating images widely. And so King Francis sang his own praises, as it were, by commissioning artists to paint fresco cycles that had iconographic programs that were propogandistic. He also financed a print studio at Fontainebleau to disseminate those cycles, image by image.  It was all the printmakers could do to keep up. And it should be noted that many of the painters also made prints.  In any case, the general rush accounts for printing flaws – note the poor inking of our impression – and editions so small that some are known by just one impression. 

Striking a pose even when dying, risqué content, a thirst for fame, and slapdash production values, as embodied in this print, are hallmarks of what has come to be known as the School of Fontainebleau.  They are also hallmarks of our Instagram age.  Yet the Fontainebleau that flourished five hundred years ago — not all that distant relative to the fall of Troy in the 12th-century BC — flashed with an erudition, a beauty, and a glamor that is at odds with what passes for those qualities today.   

ROSA DI TIVOLI PAINTING ON SLATE

A glowering ram lowers its horns in a face off with a barking dog rising on its haunches.  An imperturbable ox turns its massive head to watch the row.  Annoyed, a recumbent ewe to the left glances over its shoulder, but the two behind her don’t deign to give the combatants the satisfaction of looking on.  And then, lastly, a pair of blissfully oblivious sheep grazes at a safe distance to the right. Nothing could be more ordinary than a dog corralling a herd before heading home for the night, but what is extraordinary is the painter’s ability to portray an animal-kingdom drama.  You might say the scene is the barnyard equivalent of a modern-day subway altercation – more posturing than fight – which suggests, intentionally or not, the restiveness of animals and humans alike.  

The painter was Philipp Peter Roos, better known as Rosa di Tivoli [above right].  He was born in Germany, to a multigenerational family of painters who specialized in landscapes and animals.  Early on, he worked in Frankfurt am Main under the protection of Charles I, Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel.  Knowing talent when he saw it, that beneficent ruler sent the young Roos to Rome to perfect his art in 1677.  There, his skill was honed in the studio of Giacinto Brandi, a painter of religious scenes, of all things.  And in Rome he would remain after falling in love with his master’s daughter, Maria Isabella.  In 1681, Roos, a Lutheran, converted to Catholicism to marry her.  Three years later, they purchased a house in nearby Tivoli, where they raised seven children, two of whom became painters.  During those years his surname was Latinized to Rosa, and, following that change of address, he became known to the locals, and to posterity alike, as Rosa di Tivoli. 

Tivoli is celebrated for a landscape of rolling hills garnished with ancient Roman ruins.  Among them are the surviving arches of the famous aqueduct [above left], which can be discerned, if just barely, through the evening gloom to the left in our painting.  Rosa’s acreage in Tivoli allowed him to keep a menagerie of animals that served as models [above right his “portrait” of a ram], which is why his home was known as Noah’s Ark.  Not that Rosa cut a figure of biblical propriety.  He was one of many Northern painters then living in Rome who was notorious for carousing.  He joined the Bentvueghels (Dutch for “birds of a feather”), a confraternity of German and Dutch painters who met in a room of the Pantheon.  That 2nd-century temple, originally dedicated to all the pagan gods as its name would suggest, had since been rededicated to St. Mary and the Martyrs.  The painters’ meetings there invariably turned into drinking binges, sending members hopscotching from tavern to tavern for weeks at a time.  If many contemporary Romans looked down on the antics of these barbaric foreigns, aristocratic connoisseurs bestowed on them their patronage.  This is why most of Rosa’s paintings are still to be found in the palazzi of the Colonna, Borghese, Ludovisi, and Doria Pamphilj families.

Connoisseurs were then partial to small jewel-like paintings on hardstones, which were selected for their suitability to the scene depicted.  For example, precious blue lapis lazuli was matched to scenes unfolding against a daytime sky, just as satiny black slate was matched to scenes unfolding against a nighttime sky.  Our rustic scene, painted on fine-grained slate, probably dates to the 1680s.  In 1691, by which time dark Caravaggesque scenes like Rosa’s were less in vogue, he was forced to sell Noah’s Ark and return to Rome.  He died there in poverty at the age of fifty-one (ale, women, and song, had taken a toll).  We know this from Arnold Houbraken, his contemporary, who included Rosa in a book he wrote on German and Dutch painters.  There, he records: “In the year 1698 to 99, the Landgrave of Hessen-Kassel, his first patron, came to Rome, and inquired after our Roos, whether he still lived, and after his conduct in life, and said, when he heard that he had changed his Religion, that I am still able to forgive him, but that he has never sent me a piece of his Art as proof of his gratitude I can never forget.”  Reckless ingrates, take note.  

AMERICAN SILHOUETTES

American, 19th century.  Framed silhouettes of William and Charles Livingston, 1838.  Paper cut outs in the original giltwood frame.  20 ½”  24 ½” (framed).  Provenance:  Pierre Le-Tan, Paris; John Armbruster, Brussels; Frederick W. Hughes, New York  $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.  They 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 because he notoriously snipped away at taxpayers’ incomes.  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 own name, or erase the pencil outlines they made when tracing the profiles to guide the 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 sitters and frame 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 that 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].  The right-hand man of Andy Warhol, it was Fred 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 we were amused to find our silhouettes of Early American patricians mistakenly identified in the Sotheby’s sale 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 he would have been delighted to be taken for a Livingston.  But in defense of the auction house expert, we must concede that Fred’s profile resembles 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 rather spooky 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 the artist 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.

SWEDISH GRACE SCULPTURE

Swedish 20th century, possibly by Sidney Gibson. Abstract sculpture, circa 1925. Painted and gilded wood and plaster. H: 29 1/2:. Provenance: Folke Wickman, Stockholm; Daniel Katz, London. $10,000

This abstract 1920s Swedish sculpture, of painted-and-gilded plaster on a painted-wood base, is pleasing from all angles. At the time and place of its making, the Swedish Grace movement was in full swing. That style, characterized by a refined and delicate fluidity, updated the neoclassical style of the Gustavian period that prevailed around 1800. What’s unusual about this sculpture, however, is the union of Swedish Grace arabesques, recalling vegetation or windswept drapery, with stark Cubistic forms, suggesting the influence of French modernism. Nevertheless, we can identify the sculpture stylistically as Swedish, and because the previous owner, the important London sculpture dealer Daniel Katz, purchased it in Stockholm. As for the sculptor’s identity, when the research libraries reopen we’ll be looking into the work of Sidney Gibson. He was a sculptor who designed furniture, lighting fixtures, and furniture, for the Stockholm town hall, and his own beautifully appointed house on the grounds of the royal palace of Haga.

JAPANESE LACQUERED BOXES FROM THE COLLECTION OF

PIERRE LE-TAN

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This remarkable collection of 18th-and 19th-century Japanese lacquered boxes was assembled by the Paris artist and collector Pierre Le-Tan (1950-2019). In recent years his work has been the subject of a museum retrospective at the Reina Sofia in Madrid, and solo gallery exhibitions at Paul Kasmin in New York, Emmanuel Perrotin in Paris, 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 magazine 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), with whom he co-authored several other books as well  [below left]. In addition to writing and illustrating innumerable books of his own, Pierre also 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 prolific jack of all artistic trades, Pierre somehow managed to find the time to make his daily rounds of the antiques shops and Hôtel Drouot auction rooms.  The result was a shape-shifting collection, and acclaim among the cognoscenti for having “an eye.”

When it came to collecting – Japanese lacquerware, antiquities, Persian miniatures, 18th-century French furniture, Cecil Beaton photographs, Islamic tiles, Andy Warhol drawings — Pierre was insatiable. Yet he frequently left a find at the gallery where he had purchased it, sometimes for years, or sent a chair to an upholsterer without ever getting around to supplying the fabric. Pierre, you see, had to know that he possessed the object of his desire more than he needed to live with it.  Yet his pursuit of the fine and the rare often left him short on cash, and his commodious apartment on the rue Saint-Augustin overflowing [below left].  And so, to relieve the pressure, he turned with some regularity to me, an New York antiques dealer. This could exasperate his then wife Plum, who would, on occasion, return home after running an errand to find that my shipper had made off with a comfortable  armchair, a useful lamp, or a favorite 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 twelve years later to Christie’s London.

To back track, Pierre and I met in the 1980s when I was dealing privately in modern and contemporary art. Then, I sold him the odd picture by Giorgio de Chirico, and bought from him the occasional Jean-Michel Frank chair. But in 1994, when I undertook to reinvent myself as a dedicated antiques dealer, and embarked on a crash course on the decorative arts, Pierre became a source, a mentor, and an inspiration. He took me to a cocktail party at the Maison de Verre, the 1932 Pierre Chareau masterpiece, then still fully furnished and owned by the family that had built it. He ushered me into the sky-lit studio of the now legendary Line Vautrin, maker of jewelry and miroirs sorcières, whom he had rediscovered, 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 a bottle or two of 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 elderly, superannuated White Russian emigrés.

After returning to New York I invariably received a drawing from Pierre that depicted one or two of my recent acquisitions.  They were reproduced on the invitations to the evening openings of art and furnishings that I was then selling from home.  And in 2002, on signing a Lexington Avenue shop lease, Pierre sent me a drawing of the storefront for my new business card [below left].  These drawings, I should note, were always his gifts.

On a buying trip to Paris last July I paid several visits to Pierre, and his second wife Toboré, at their home on the place du Palais-Bourbon [above right].  On the eve of my departure I returned for what would be our last meeting. It was then that we came to terms on the Japanese lacquerware boxes found below, and some other works of art and furnishings that I will be offering in the months to come.  One item, however, that I will not offer for sale is a drawing by Pierre’s own hand.  It was not by chance I selected one of 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 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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Lac 2-1

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 — which have multiple, uniformily-sized compartments — contained medicaments and personal seals.  These finely-made decorative accessories were worn by both men and women from kimono shashes.  Highly individualized, inrō signaled the owners’ refinement, and conveyed their personal sense of style.

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Five-tier 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 brazier, where incense, made of pulverized woods and herbs, were burned sequentially. Participants wrote down their identifications of each on slips of paper, called counters, that were inserted in a box. Finally, the host itentified the fragrences 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 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” $6,500

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Two-tiered and footed incense box (kō-ju-bako), 18th 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, 18th/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“ $3,000

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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 (American 1904-1979).  Pineapple sculpture, circa 1960. Sterling and gilded silver. H: 9 ½”   Provenance: Mario Buatta.  SOLD

Pineapples, native to South America, began trickling into Europe one by precious one in the late 16th century. There, the lust for them prompted kings and aristocrats to build greenhouses for their cultivation. Then, they were proudly displayed on dining tables — and, on rare occasion, even eaten.  That is how they came to signify hospitality, which led to their being carved in stone as finials for welcoming gateposts, and cast in bronze as ornaments for dining rooms, like the French 18th-century pair at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs in Paris [below left].  Around that time, at the height of the pineapple craze across the Channel, a garden folly was even built in the form of the fruit on the grounds of 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 them fashionable once again. A mere three years later, Truman Capote made the Fifth Avenue store the refuge of Holly Golightly, the stylish heroine of 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 directed the Parsons School where he told his 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 partly gilded to distinguish form – fruit and rockwork silver, fronds silver-gilt. Ours belonged to Mario Buatta, who, some years ago, had purchased the seedpod from us to complete his collection of this series of objects. Back then, he said, the pineapple was the rarest of them all, which accounts for our not having seen one before, or another one since.

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Mirror 1Italian 19th century.  Mirror, circa 1850. Cut and beveled mirror on wood backing. 36 3/4“ x 31 1/2 “ $20,000

The glassblowers of Venice had been making fine glassware and mirrors for the European aristocracy since the Middle Ages. Their technique, however, limited mirror-plate size 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 then silvered with toxic mercury. This technique produced the larger plates that could hold their own over fireplace mantles. And if those large 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 to cover the joints [above left, an 18th example]. These mirrors would become 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 were snapped up by fashionable decorators, like Elsie de Wolfe in Paris and Syrie Maugham in London, and inspired others that were made for Eleanor Brown of McMillen in New York.

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French 19th/20th century.  Attributed to Baguès Frerès (Paris maker).  Belle Époque chandelier, circa 1900. Bronze and rock crystal. H: 31” (not including cap and chain), Dia: 21” $20,000

This chandelier was probably made by the Paris bronzier Baguès around 1900. The form of the cage, and the shape of the rock-crystal prisms, hark back to the 18th-century Rococo style, but the curves of the cast-bronze endow it with an Art Nouveau sinuosity. The soigné union of the two is a design hallmark of the Belle Époque that then flourished.

Then, designers faced the challenge of adapting the traditional candlelit chandelier to the electrical light bulb. The dilemma was that the bulbs’ brightness made it uncomfortable to look directly at the chandelier itself, and that the blazing light was unflattering when cast from above.  That’s why the bulbs were often shielded with silk shades, or tucked inside the frame. Our chandelier had five sockets hidden behind glass-beaded trelliswork [below right], and another five on the arms. We found that overkill, so we retained the ones within, and, not wanting to burden the graceful form with cumbersome shades, refitted the arms for candles. Now, at the flick of a switch, the chandelier shimmers from within, and, at the strike of a match, emits flickering candleglow — or both, should it suit the occasion and the whim of the owner.

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Snakes 1

Alessandro Albrizzi (Italian 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 Baron Alessandro Albrizzi [below left]. As a child he played on the terrazzo floors in the family palazzo in Venice [below right], where the French doors that opened onto the garden were secured by bronze hardware embellished with snakes.   Decades later, as a London designer, the memory of them prompted the creation of Albrizzi’s “nest of snakes” sculptures. Their Lucite tubes were tied in knots by hand, making each unique. Yet some are better than others, and ours is as good as they get. They were among the last decorative objects to be made in a modern style.  Since then we’ve had to make due with “amusing” flea market finds, and coffee-table books that are better left unread.

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Emilio Terry (French 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. Provenance:  Pierre Le-Tan.  $5,500

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

This pen-and-ink sketch on architect’s tracing paper has a splendid agitation. Suffocating under bolts of draped fabric, the bed’s upright supports take the form of fasces, the bundles of rods surrounding an ax, which have symbolized the strength of a nation since the days of ancient Rome [above center]. Terry employs them less for political reasons than aesthetic effect. The result here is a  severe, neo-classical bed.  It is in stark contrast to 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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Venini (Italian, Venice).  Pair of torqued obelisks, circa 1934. Diamante blown glass. H: 15” W: 7”  $20,000

The obelisks of ancient Egypt inspired countless architects and designers over the course of millennia, including Robert Mills, who drew up plans for the Washington Monument.  Nearly a century later, around 1930, Gio Ponti designed an obelisk or two for the glassworks of Paolo Venini. And shortly thereafter, Venini put into production Carlo Scarpa’s design for a torqued obelisk [below left].  His were made of diamante glass, so-named because, when transparent, their ropy diagonal striations crisscross to take on a diamond-like appearance. Scarpa and Venini would develop the diamante line that was launched at the Venice Biennale in 1934, 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 known for their transparent glass — Steuben, Baccarat, and Lobemeyer — a run for their money.  Soon, diamante obelisks came to take their places on mahogany tabletops in Lake Forest mansions, decorated by Frances Elkins, and on the floor as doorstops — yes, doorstops — of La Fiorentina [below right], the palatial Cote d’Azur villa of English tastemaker Rory Cameron.

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Head 5

French 19th century.  Empire furniture mount, circa 1810. Gilt bronze mounted on later painted-wood base. H: 9 ¾” including stand. $6,500

This ormolu head of a woman was made as a furniture mount in France around 1810. It quite likely 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 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, which are similar to our own [below right].

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Shells 1

Giovanni Gariboldi (Italian 1908 – 1971).  Set of 12 dishes, circa 1948 for Richard-Ginori. Glazed porcelain. 5” wide  $5,000

In the 1920s, Gio Ponti, the definitive figure of 20th-century Italian design, was the art director at Richard-Ginori, a venerable porcelain company established in the 18th century. When Ponti left in 1930, the vacant position was filled by his protégé Giovanni Gariboldi, who, like Ponti himself, designed furniture and interiors. One might assume that Gariboldi found his model for these shell-shaped dishes on the seashore, but, in fact, no such shell exists. Rather, he channeled the essence of “shellness,” to invoke Plato, when inventing the form, which he endowed with the faux verisimilitude of delicate ribbing on the scalloped edges.  Taking yet another liberty, Gariboldi had the interiors glazed in candy-colored pastels of pink, yellow, and blue.

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Nicolini 1

Giovanni Nicolini (Italian 1872-1956). Head of a woman, circa 1920. Marble. H: 10 ½” W: 7 ½” D: 9 ½” $9,000

The sculptor Giovanni Nicolini won sufficient fame and fortune to keeep two studios humming in Rome and Palermo, from the 1910s until his death in the 1950s.  He exhibited at the Venice Biennale, and was later compared by Primo Levi (no less) to the great Michelangelo (no less again), who had been the 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, who helped Cuba win independence from Spain. On a smaller scale, he sculpted portraits of great composers, poets, and the statesmen of his day, including Verdi, d’Annuzio, Mussolini, and Victor Emanuel II, King of Italy. The identity, however, of our Roman beauty – signed “G. Nicolini Roma” – is a mystery.

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Berman

Eugene Berman (Russian 1899-1972). Radiograph of a Heart, 1945. Paint on paper, collage, metal shavings. 24 3/4 x 21″ framed. $9,000

This haunting image by Eugene Berman was painted on a sheet of paper cut in the shape of a heart, mounted to a sheet of white-speckled black paper, encircled with metal shavings, and set in an antique frame selected by the artist. The title, Radiograph of a Heart, refers to the medical X-rays that doctors had only recently come to use.  Berman, however, seems to suggest that while the heart may be scientifically monitored, the emotions traditionally ascribed to it lie beyond the grasp of medical science.

Russian by birth, Berman [below left] fled St. Petersburg for Paris after the revolution, and then, as a Jew, fled Europe during the onslaught of World War II.  Having taken a comfortable refuge in New York and Hollywood, his peace of mind was shattered again by the suicide of his wife, the actress Una Munson [below right], who had played Belle Watling in Gone With the Wind.  This distressing event — “Don’t follow me” she admonished in her suicide note — cast him adrift once more. He eventually came to rest in Rome, where he would pass his final years more calmly.

Eugene Berman, along with his brother Leonid, Pavel Tchelitchew, and Christian Bérard, was a leading figure in the Neo-Romantic school of painting. In the 1930s and 40s their works were avidly collected and exhibited by, among others, Alfred Barr, the founding director of the Museum of Modern Art.  Since then this school has fallen from favor.  But in an art world where fashion reigns, what’s in today is out tomorrow, until it’s revived some years later.  And so Berman’s paintings in the museum’s collection — at least those that haven’t yet been deaccessioned — may reemerge to resume their rightful places on those hallowed walls.

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Latin or South American, possibly Cuzco school. Portrait of a Noblewoman, circa 1700. Oil on canvas, in a later giltwood frame. 37 “ x 28 ¾” $10,000

The sitter’s elaborate coiffure, sumptuous dress, pearl collar, and jeweled necklace, speak to her wealth, just as the coat of arms does to her exalted station.  This painting was sold to us as Spanish, but we now think it the work of a Latin or South American artist.  The painter may have been a member of what is known as the Cuzco School, which takes its name from the Spanish Colonial city that had once been the capital of the Incas.  Our sumptuously dressed European sitter would have been a member of, or in the circle of, the viceregal family.  Originally octagonal in shape, the painting was later supplemented with corners and placed in a rectangular frame.  That former decorative shape suggests it may once have been one in a series of portraits of distinguished sitters that encircled a room.

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Chinese Chairs 1

American or European.  Pair of chinoiserie hall chairs, circa 1925. Lacquered wood, carved and gilt decorations. H: 37” D: 19” W: 17 ¾”  $8,000

When made in the 1920s, this glamorous pair of chairs, which merges Asian and Art Deco characteristics, would have evoked the orient for occidental buyers. The construction suggests Western manufacture, but the carved and gilded medallions appear to be the handiwork of native Asian artisans.  Then, a number of them lived in western capitals, including Paris, London, and New York, where they worked for restorers, importers, retailers, and important dealers who specialized in Asian art, like C. T. Loo and Yamanaka.

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Russian Table 1 (1)

Russian, circa 1840. Tray table with 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 during the reign of King Louis-Philippe.  At that time Russians were besotted by all things French, even though a recent war with Napoleon had left Moscow in cinders.

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Chiavari Chairs 3

Italian (Chiavari) 20th century.  Figli Zunino & Rivarola (maker).  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 19th century.  Their elegance and grace would come to charm mid-century modernists, including the influential architect and furniture designer Gio Ponti.  As he was the first to admit, it was the Chiavari chair that inspired his Superleggera chair, perhaps his most iconic design.

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English, 18th century. Neo-classical vase.  Painted and silver lusterware-glazed 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 around 1800, aligning the vase with the refined taste of the London architect and designer Robert Adam.

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Mirror front

Iberian 18th/19th century.  Bilbau mirror, circa 1800. Walnut veneer, gilded and gessoed wood, original mirror plate. H: 34 ¼” W: 15” $8,000

The so-called Bilbao mirrors, made around 1800 in Portugal and Spain, were named after the Spanish city of Bilbao, where many if not all were made. More recently, on our shores, they were mistakenly believed to have been made in America, for the simple reason that  many were found in old New England  houses.  But they got there on clipper ships freighted with fortified wines, like port and madeira from Porto and Madiera, which were then very popular.  Thus did Bilbao mirrors come to the new American Republic, and take their place on the walls of the Early American home.

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Flower Urn 3

Italian (possibly Genoese) 18th century.  Flowering urn, circa 1720. Gilt cut metal, gessoed and silvered wood. Height 24” $10,000

This flowering urn of gilded-metal flowers in a silvered-wood vase was probably made in Genoa in the early 18th century. If the flowers are lilies, symbol of the Immaculate Conception, and carnations, symbol of the Virgin’s love, it may have been one of a pair that was made for a church altar [see below]. But if those lilies are actually tulips, which don’t symbolize much of anything, it may have been made to decorate a private house. Flowering urns on altars were seen frontally, and therefore typically one-sided, whereas ours was sculpted in the round, suggesting domestic use. But 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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Spanish or Hispanic 19th century.  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. The form is typical of Renaissance and Baroque metalwork [below left], and the copper glaze is found in Hispano-Moresque ceramics around that time [below right].  Those forms and glazes, however, also inspired Latin and South American artisians working in the Spanish colonies.  But then, around 1900, in both places, these traditions were revived, and similar ceramics were made once again. Regardless of where and when our jug was made, however, it’s monumental form, and gutsy decoration, endow it with the boldness that bears witness to an unknown craftsman’s mastery.

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Painting 1

French 18th/19th century.  Allegory of summer, circa 1800. Oil on canvas, unframed. H: 33“ L: 72“  $15,000

This Neo-Classical painting is an allegory of summer.  It would have been hung over the doors of a salon [below left], along with representations of fall, winter, and spring over others. Here, the Roman goddess of agriculture, Ceres, wears a sheaf of wheat in her hair, and points to her handmaidens who are harvesting it.  A child toys with succulent fruits in a basket.  Wheat, the harvest, a child, and fruit, symbolize fertility and by extension summer itself. Our panel was painted in trompe l’oeil to imitate a carved stone bas-relief.  The shadows were painted to conform with the up-cast light that would have emanated from the windows and candles below.  Trompe l’oeil panels like ours were in vogue in late 18th century France, when the Belgian-born artist Piot-Joseph Sauvage, who specialized in painting them, was appointed Peintre du Roi by Louis XVI.

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George Platt Lynes (American 1907-1955).  Mrs. Harrison Willams, later Countess Mona von Bismarck, circa 1940.  Photograph. 10″ x 8 1/4″, framed ” x ”  $4,000

Known universally as Mona, Mrs. Harrison Williams was the beautiful wife of the world’s first billionaire, who was also the world’s richest man at the time. In 1933 she set her own record when a panel of experts, including Coco Chanel, voted her “Best Dressed Woman in the World.”  She first American to be so honored, Mona also smashed records for the speed of her social ascent and her accumulation of luxury goods.  The daughter of a Kentucky stableman, she first married her father’s employer, and then, as Williams’s widow, three other men, including Count Edzard von Bismarck, grandson of the Iron Chancellor. All this took effort, and left little time for self-reflection. Our 1940s photograph by George Platt Lynes [below right] captures her hard glamor, and suggests a lack of substance, by juxtaposing her airily coiffed head with that of her dog, and presenting both on a settee with openwork carving, against a backdrop of perforated paper. We lent this vintage print, the only known, to the exhibition Magnificent Mona Bismarck, at the Frazier Museum, in her hometown of Louisville, Kentucky [below left].  No catalog was published, but Scott Rogers, the curator, is writing her biography.  Inevitably, it will involve that fugitive thing known as style.  Hers was enthralling.  So much so that it obsessed the fashion world in her day, as well as our own.

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Bagues Candelabra

Baguès Frerès (Paris maker).  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.  The firm’s major commissions ranged from 18th-century-style chandeliers, laden with prisms, for a restoration of the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, to the modern 1920s glass-beaded ones at the Palais de la Méditerranée in Nice, the pleasure dome built by the American tycoon Frank J. Gould.  Like much of the work of Baguès, our madcap, tendril-sprouting, urn-form lamps can be situated, design wise, somewhere between Louis-Louis gentility and Art Deco flash.

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Pierre Bonnard (French 1867-1947).  Bookplate for Misia Sert, circa 1920.  Etching on laid paper.  4 3/8″ x 2 6/8″ in 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, the publisher of La Revue Blanche, the important art and literary journal, 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 was a muse to artists like Renoir [see his portrait of her below left], writers like Cocteau, composers like Stravinsky, the ballet impressario Diaghilev, and even the fashion designer Coco Chanel, whom she introduced to opium (and, rumor had it, sapphism).

As one might expect of a muse to the intelligentsia, she read books, which, in that genteel day, meant having a bookplate.  And so Pierre Bonnard, who had painted her often, etched one for her that depicts a flowering plant in a pot on a table in her country house, which is set for just one.  The use of her first name only suggests their intimacy, and, in a world where there was only one Misia, her celebrity.  A prolific graphic artist, Bonnard created just one other bookplate for Charles Terrasse, his son-in-law who was the expert on his work, and the father of Antoine who wrote the introduction to Bonnard’s print catalogue raisonné. In it one finds an etched study for our bookplate [below right], in which the artist experiments with plant motifs.  The finished bookplate itself, however, doesn’t appear in the catalog, which was compiled long after Bonnard and Misia had died.  Presumably, the author didn’t know of our it’s existence.  Perhaps it was a trial proof for one that was never actually printed for her use.  In any case, this impression, with it’s wide untrimmed margins, is a great rarity, and may be a unique impression, which testifies to a friendship that left its mark on art history.

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Robert Block (French/Mexican, born Switzerland).  Gueridon, circa 1945.  Painted steel, brass, marble.  H: 26 1/2″ Dia: 31 1/4″  $15,000

Robert Block was a well-known furniture and interior designer in 1930s Paris.  But the outbreak of war left him, as a Jew, to  a fate far worse than career disruption.  And so he hightailed it to Mexico, of all places, and settled in Mexico City with his brother and design partner Mito Block.  There, Robert achieved success yet again as Roberto Block.  Until recently, Latin and South American designers didn’t figure on the map, but now they’re a focus of interest among curators and collectors worldwide.  This positions Roberto Block for a revival.  Our table is an inventive 1940s riff on the traditional French guéridon.  It may be taken as a nostalgic, backward gaze at the place of his birth, and the culture that had nurtured him — until it didn’t.

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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, by enslaved men from equatorial Africa. Symbols of fertility, balangada were the bling of their day, adorning the wrists and waists of their makers’ womenfolk — not those of their master’s — and adorned their homes when not being worn. Balanganda represent the final efflorescence of the Benin people’s metalworking skills.  Those skills had reached their apogee in the 16th-century bronzes that were stolen and admired by European kings, and coveted by museum curators today.  Like the jazz music that would come into being much later in the United States, 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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Designed by Albert Meyer (German 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, which, one might say, was the Tiffany of Mitteleuropa. Celebrated internationally, the firm exhibited at 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 that featured this centerpiece, and built a six-story salesroom, office and studio in London, christened Wurtemberg House.

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Baron Carlo Marochetti (Italian/English 1805-1867).  Bust of Prince Albert, circa 1850.  Chased bronze.  H: 14 ½”  $8,000

In centuries past, it was a rare honor for an a artist to be ennobled for his artistry.  But Carlo Marochetti, the scion of an aristocratic family, was a baron at birth, long before he proved his mettle as a sculptor.   After studying in Rome, he moved to Paris where he was honored with the patronage, and eventually the friendship, of King Louis-Philippe. When that French king fled to 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 in clay of Prince Albert, her beloved husband and consort, “extremely successful,” the prince commissioned a marble version as a gift for his wife and queen. To profit on its overnight renown, Marochetti had smaller bronze versions cast and sold.  Like the clay and marble busts, they celebrated the sitter’s good looks, and certified the artist’s mastery.  They also delight the eye, with the madcap juxtaposition of Victorian facial hair with the toga redolent of ancient Rome.

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Armchairs 1

French, 19th century.  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 home not only Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, but also the North Shore of Long Island, Dark Harbor, Hobe Sound, the Albany in London, and the Place des Etats Unis in Paris.  Among her stateside possessions was this superbly carved pair of Louis-Philippe rosewood armchairs.

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Table 6

French 17th century.  Gate-leg table, circa 1650. Oak with metal fittings. H: 28 ¼“ W: 54“ L: 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 is 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 can do triple duty as a desk or a 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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Chairs together 11

American 20th century.  Attributed to William Quigley (Chicago).  Pair of chairs, 1930s. Mahogany, brass, leather studded with nail heads. H: 38 ½“ W: 21 ½” $15,000

In the 1930s, gossip columnists christened the sophisticates who frequented swank restaurants, nightclubs, and lent their presence to opening nights, “Café Society.” When it came to furnishing their homes they favored streamlined versions of the classics over genuine antiques or modernist design. This pair of over-scaled chairs were said to have graced a Chicago interior decorated by Samuel Marx, the noted architect designer.  Perhaps so, but they were probably designed and made by William Quigley, who, in addition to crafting furniture to Marx’s design, sold his own furniture from his stores in Chicago and Lake Forest [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 the brass-rope handles, allowing the chairs to be dragged hither and yon, came in handy then, as they would today, at the cocktail hour on the servant’s night off.

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English 20th century.  Dressing table mirror, or frame, 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 — subsequently King Edward VIII and then the Duke of Windsor – made his first splash on the international social scene.  Not surprisingly, his device of three plumes became a popular design motif. This mirror-framed dressing table mirror, which would also serve nicely as a photo frame, is acid-etched on the cresting with the prince’s device of three plumes. The mirror dates to the 1930s, the decade of his abdication and marriage to Wallis Warfield Simpson, the glamorous American divorcee.

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French 18th century.  Louis XVI trumeau mirror, circa 1780.  Oak, mirror, brass strings. 81″ x 36“  $20,000.

“Don’t forget, there were people with good taste in the 18th century as well,” said Eugenia Errázuriz in the late 1920s to Jean-Michel Frank in Paris.  Coming from an avant-garde tastemaker like her, that admonition might have surprised the designer of modern furniture and interiors, who was then just coming into his own.  After all, she was an intimate of Pablo Picasso, a patron of Igor Stravinsky, a backer of Serge Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe, and, on the cusp of seventy, a client of Coco Chanel’s still.

Fashionable Parisians were abuzz over the minimally-furnished home of Mme Errázuriz, where, following her dictum “elegance is elimination,” she hung on the chalk-white walls of her salon just one of her many Picassos.  But if they looked closely, as Frank surely did, they would have seen her fine Louis XVI pieces, which would come to rub shoulders with the modern upholstered furniture, and Giacometti lamps, that Frank would supply [below left].

With her words ringing in his ears, and her 18th-century furniture before his very eyes, Frank set about designing the Louis XVI-style pieces that would round out his furniture line.  His versions, however, were no mere copies, for he made the tried and true look decidedly new by eliminating superfluous ornament, emphasizing line and proportion, and substituting humble oak for giltwood and mahogany veneer.

Meanwhile, across the English Channel, the decorator Syrie Maugham achieved a similar look by having antiques stripped of original paint and gilding.  A sacrilege to be sure, but the abstract and modern-looking results became so fashionable that soon the only antiques that weren’t in danger of being stripped were those safely lodged in museum collections.

Fast forward to the present and our acquisition of this handsome Louis XVI trumeau mirror.  It had been stripped to the oak decades ago, but we decided not to repaint and regild it since that would erase a chapter of its history, and in the history of taste.  Besides, as Errázuriz and Frank knew, line and proportion trump surface decoration.

Those qualities, and the trophy of musical instruments – flute, horn, tambourine, triangle, violin — are what make our mirror sing.  When carved in the 18th-century this trophy would have been recognized as an allegory of music, just as the laurel branch would have been associated with Apollo, god of music, who is always shown wearing a wreath of it in his hair.

The charm of trophies representing the arts, the seasons, and the sciences, have lost none of their appeal since the reign of Louis XVI.  That’s why, in 1970s, San Francisco designer John Dickinson gathered a group of actual farm implements, painted them white, and hung them on a wall at home to create an agricultural trophy.  Thus did Dickinson, like Frank and Maugham before, make the 18th-century new for yet another age.

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Louis Danjard (French, active 1862 to 1880).  Milliner’s head.  Papier-maché, leather, fabric netting, iron, and wood.  Provenance: Mr. & Mrs. A. Stewart Walker, Southampton; by descent.  H: 19” under 23″ modern bell jar. Bibliography:  New-York Historical Society, Making It Modern: The Folk Art Collection of Elie and Viola Nadelman, page 143.  $12,500

Pioneers of modernism, like Picasso and Brancusi, took inspiration from the pure forms and direct expression of so-called primitive and folk art.  Among them was the Polish-born, Paris-trained sculptor Elie Nadelman, who settled in New York in the 1910s after marrying Viola Flannery, an American heiress.  Together they assembled an important collection of folk art, and built a private museum in Riverdale to house it.

Without the example of the Nadelmans, it is unlikely that this striking, almost surreal-looking milliner’s stand, would have found its way into the collection of Mr. and Mrs. A. Stewart Walker, a Social Register couple with worldly tastes.  Mr. Walker was a prominent architect.  He commissioned Nadelman to sculpt the monumental bas-relief that still presides over the 57th Street entrance of the Fuller Building, his celebrated Art Deco skyscraper [below center], on 57th Street in New York.  His wife Sybil was a well-known decorator.  She arranged their Nadelman sculptures among the old master paintings, 18th-century English furniture, and Jean Dunand lacquered vases, in their upper east side apartment, and Southampton beach house.

Folk art wasn’t really their thing, but the Walkers couldn’t have failed to appreciate the striking resemblance of this milliner’s head, or wig stand, to their friend’s sculptures [below left}.  And that begs the question: how did the Walkers come to own it?  They could have bought it on their own, inspired by the Nadelmans’ collecting, but since the two couples were known to exchange gifts, it could also have been a gift from them.  Or the Walkers could have acquired it when the Nadelmans were forced to sell their collection during the Depression.  Happily, most of what they sold was acquired by The New-York Historical Society in 1937, thanks in part to the good graces of Stuart Walker, who was at the time completing a museum addition.  And there, in 2015, the Nadelman folk art collection was shown with the sculptor’s own work in the exhibition The Folk Art Collection of Elie Nadelman: Making it Modern.  Our sculpture warranted mention in the catalog.

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English 18th century.  Queen Anne wine cellaret, circa 1710.  Walnut veneered and solid, brass.  From the collection of Dr. & Mrs. Egil Boeckmann (daughter of James J. Hill), St. Paul.    $10,000

During the depths of the Great Depression, David Adler, the celebrated Chicago architect, went on a shopping spree for antiques in New York and London.  His clients, Dr. & Mrs. Egil Boeckmann of St. Paul, were sitting pretty thanks to Rachel Boeckmann’s vast inheritance from her father, the railroad tycoon James J. Hill. Their refined red brick mansion, located just a few doors down from her parents granite pile on Summit Avenue, was designed by Adler, and furnished by him with an embarrassment of fine English antiques.

Among the pieces that Adler bought for his clients was this walnut-veneered wine cellaret.  We bought it with the original 1930 bill of sale from Lenygon & Morant, the eminent London antiques dealership that had a New York branch on Madison Avenue.  Since twentieth-century wine bottles are taller than their eighteenth-century ancestors, the Boeckmann’s staff would have had to position them horizontally to fit, rather than vertically.  That, and Prohibition, which wasn’t revoked until 1933, makes us wonder if this handsome, sculptural cellaret might have served as an end table in the library, rather than for storing contraband in the dining room.

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Juliette de Lavoye (Canadian 1903-?).  Self Portrait, circa 1950.  Painting on ivory, bleached rosewood frame with brass inset and hanging chain on back, domed glass.  5″ x 6″.  $3,000.

In 18th-century Paris and London, women of fashion (not to mention the men and children in their lives) were painted in miniature on small sheets of ivory.  Then, unlike today, perciosity was chic, skill was prized, and ivory expensive rather than illegal.  This craze among European aristocrats spread to the upper crust of Boston and Philadelphia, only to peter out early in the 20th century.  But when the young Canadian artist Juliette de Lavoye saw an exhibition of antique ivory miniatures in the 1940s, she knew she had found her true calling.

If this art form was moribund even before Lavoye attended art school in Chicago, and later New York, it had not lost its appeal when she entered the picture.  Lord Bessborough would commission her to paint a portrait of his son, and the Queen Consort of England and her daughters Elizabeth and Margaret, who posed for Labour during their 1939 royal visit to Canada (years later she painted another portrait of Elizabeth, this time as Queen, based on a Cecil Beaton photo sent from London).  In this, her own self portrait, she presents herself as a woman of fashion in a cocktail dress, with one hand ungloved to emphasize her painting hand, and the other  holding a precious sheet of ivory. Lavoye appears self-assured, as she had every right to be, having acieved mastery over the miniaturist’s tools, the three-haired brush, and, of all things, a feather for the blending of background colors.

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Italian, 20th century.   Cooperativa Artieri Alabastro, Volterra, circa 1938.  Pair of alabaster lamps.  H: 12 ½”  $10,000

Shortly after the invention of the light bulb, decorative urns, vases, and other types of vessels, were wired for electricity, and used as lighting fixtures.  When illuminated from within, marble and alabaster emit a lovely, mysterious glow.  And when light is cast upwards to illuminate indirectly, it flatters the room as well as the people who are in it.  That’s why Louis Süe and Andre Mare, the Art Deco masters, set about designing lighting fixtures from scratch that were carved from translucent stones.

Our graceful Italian lamps were carved from alabaster in the form of cornucopia fastened to bases with ropes.  They were made in the Volterra workshop of a firm that was promoted by Gio Ponti, the great 20th-century Italian architect.  He published this very lamp model in the July 1938 issue of Domus, the magazine that he had founded in 1928 to promote modern design.  And no wonder he admired these lamps.  Not only are they  functional lighting fixtures, they’re illuminated sculptures as well.

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Blue Spiral CDSK 1

English 19th-century.  Glass candlestick.  Provenance:  Baron Max Fould-Springer, Palais abbatiale de Royaumont; by descent Lilane de Rothschild.  H: 14” high.  $3,000

For centuries, the glassblowers on the island of Murano in the Venetian lagoon had inspired their counterparts throughout Europe and beyond.  Among them, it would seem, was the Englishman who, around 1800, created the bold spiral stem of this candlestick by fusing flattened blue-and-white glass canes back to back, and twisting them into a column of clear molten glass.

This stunning candlestick was owned by Baron Eugene Fould-Springer, the heir to a small French fortune, who married the heiress to a large Austrian one.  So conjoined, he was in a position to indulge his pitch-perfect taste, and restore Royaumont, a small 18th-century palace just outside Paris, to its former ancien regime splendor.  He then went on to furnish it superbly. In the 1970s, his handsome son Max (seen below) inherited the house and its contents, which he, in turn, left to his sister, the arbiter of Paris high society at the time, Liliane, Baroness de Rothschild.

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Lamps

Baguès Frerès (Paris maker).  Pair of candlesticks, 1950.  Rock-crystal and gilt bronze.  H ” with shades, base 13 1/2″    $18,000

We transformed this pair of rock-crystal-and-ormolu candlesticks into a pair of lamps.  This wasn’t contrary to the maker’s intention, judging from an existing interior channel for electrical wires.  Made by the Paris firm of Baguès, the candlestick model was published in a 1950 issue of the design magazine Plaisir de France.  There, the capation states that the models reproduced could be purchased at Bonzano, then a stylish Paris purveyor of luxury goods.

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FILIKLI RUGS

Group of Rugs detail 1

Silken mohair rugs, called filiklis, have been woven for centuries by the nomadic peoples of Anatolia.  And they are still being woven today by their descendants, in what is now modern Turkey.  When on the road, they were worn as cloaks, and when encamped for the night, they were used as blankets, and in tents as rugs.  During the winter, the soft mohair tufting was turned against the body, or laid face up on the ground for warmth.  During the warmer summer months they were reversed.

Dark Purple Rug straight

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

Green Rug straight

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

Large Red Rug straight

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

Small Red Rug

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

Rug

White “filikli tulu” rug.  Mohair, wool backing.  Approximately 65″ x 54″  $3,750

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Japanese, 18th-century Edo Period sculpture of a fox with its cub (kitsune). Lacquered carved cypress, painted eyes. H: 9 1/2″. Provenance: Miss. Lucy Truman Aldrich; by descent Mrs. John D. [Abby Aldrich] Rockefeller; by descent Mr. & Mrs. William Kelly Simpson. $6,000

According to Japanese folklore the sly fox, or kitsune, assumed human form to protect as well as trick humble country folk. This fox protects its own pup, and dates to the 18th century. 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 bold, sweeping curve of the snarling fox’s body is countered by the undulation of that of the playful pup. These generalized forms, in turn, are countered by finely carved details like the slit eyes (with the whites painted), sharp teeth and nails [below left], and tiny paws sinking into the luxuriant tail.

This sculpture belonged to Lucy Truman Aldrich [below right] of Providence, Rhode Island. She was an important collector who concentrated on Asian art. Many of her Japanese works were purchased from Yamanaka, then a four-hundred-year-old firm in Osaka, Japan, with branches in New York, Cleveland, Bar Harbor, and Newport (just a few miles from her country estate). Over the years, Yamanaka cataloged her burgeoning Asian collection, and they affixed a label to the underside of our sculpture with her initials and an inventory number.

Aldrich was born, lived, and died in her family’s mansion on Benevolent Street in Providence. In the 1930s she gave her collections of Asian textiles and European porcelains to the Rhode Island School of Design Museum. Most of her remaining treasures, however, passed down through the family of her sister, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, the modern art collector and a founder of the Museum of Modern Art.

Lucy was a spinster, a bluestocking, and deaf.  But she was no drudge, traveling through Asia wearing Paris couture and Cartier jewelry. One night in 1923 on a Peking-bound train, she and her fellow passengers were kidnapped by bandits, marched off in bedclothes, and held for ransom. Two weeks later she managed to escape during a rainstorm, taking shelter and hiding out in a farmer’s doghouse. On returning to Providence it was assumed she’d learned her lesson that a woman’s place is in the home. But when the Chinese government made good on her losses, she received she booked passage to Asia on another buying trip. To the shocked local worthies, she explained, “I’d rather be a Buddhist than a Baptist.”

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