by Louis Bofferding
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JAPANESE LACQUERED BOXES FROM THE COLLECTION OF
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 (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, 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 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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
MARIO BUATTA’S TIFFANY PINEAPPLE
Van Day Truex (American 1904-1979). Pineapple sculpture, circa 1960. Sterling and gilded silver. H: 9 ½” Provenance: Mario Buatta. $9,000
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.
Italian 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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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].
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Purple and black ”filikli tulu” rug. Mohair, wool backing. Approximately 92″ x 60” $7,000
Green “filikli ulu” rug. Mohair, wool backing. Approximately 87″ x 64”. $6,000
Red “filikli tulu” rug. Mohair, wool backing. Approximately 83″ x 57”. $5,000
Violet “filikli tulu” rug. Mohair, wool backing. Approximately 54” x 41” $3,000
White “filikli tulu” rug. Mohair, wool backing. Approximately 65″ x 54″ $3,750
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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