Ian McKay, firstname.lastname@example.org
From the portraits of two beautiful women whose lives followed very different paths, this month’s selections move on to include Dr. Heller’s “silver lexicon,” blacksmithies and white owls, masterpieces of 18th-century French furniture making, overweight cattle and pigs, beautifully engraved glasses, and something to bring a smile to an old Q’s face.
Modigliani’s portrait of Jeanne Hébuterne, sold for $42,104,835 at Christie’s on February 6.
Salvador Dali’s 1943 portrait of Mrs. Harrison Williams, sold for $3,587,930 at Sotheby’s on February 5.
From the high-priced lots of the Impressionist, Surrealist, and Modern series of sales mounted in London in the first week of February, I have selected just two lots—portraits of two very different women with very different tales to tell. One who loved deeply but poorly and briefly; another who loved and was loved for money.
Quite unmistakable in style—even when seen only briefly in the high-rise Hong Kong assassination scene in Skyfall—a portrait of Jeanne Hébuterne that Christie’s offered on February 6 was catalogued as “one of the celebrated, elegant and lyrical portraits that Amedeo Modigliani created of his…common-law wife, the mother of his daughter” and, painted in 1919, a year before he and Jeanne died, is one of those idealised portraits from late in his career that are sometimes referred to as Mannerist.
The artist had a well-earned reputation as a drunken bohemian, whom Jeanne, a shy, quiet student he had met and fallen deeply in love with in 1917, tried, not always successfully, to nurse through ill health, exacerbated by his excesses. But an early friend and patron, Paul Alexandre, said of him, “The true character of Modigliani is found not in all the stories that have been told about him but in his…portraits of women, of young men, of friends, and all the others, [where you will] discover a man of exquisite sensibility, tenderness, pride, passion for truth, purity…Each portrait is the result of deep meditation in front of the sitter...Modigliani never painted without meaning.”
By the time this portrait of Jeanne was made, Modigliani’s avant-garde reputation was rising, thanks in large part to the encouragement and support of Leopold Zborowski, a Polish-born poet turned art dealer, who at various times provided money, accommodation, and even, as a model, his wife in order to maintain the momentum of Modigliani’s career. Zborowski organised a number of exhibitions, including the artist’s first, in 1917 at the Galerie Berthe Weill—an exhibition which caused a scandal when a nude visible from the street resulted in complaints to the authorities and a visit from the police.
Modigliani, who had also suffered from tubercular meningitis, died on January 24, 1920, and though Jeanne’s family, who had always opposed the relationship, brought her back home, the totally distraught Jeanne threw herself out of a fifth-floor apartment window, killing herself and a second, unborn child. She was initially buried at the Cimitière de Bagneux, but ten years later, the Hébuterne family finally relented and allowed her remains to be transferred from Bagneux to the famous Père Lachaise cemetery—just as those of Oscar Wilde had been some 20 years earlier. There she now rests alongside Modigliani, and her epitaph reads: “Devoted companion to the extreme sacrifice.”
Their orphaned daughter, Jeanne, or Giovanna as she was later called, was brought up by Modigliani’s sister in Florence, and though she could have remembered almost nothing of her parents, in later life she began to research their lives, and in 1958 an English language version of their biography was published as Modigliani: Man and Myth.
Her father’s reputation had continued to grow after his death. In 1922, at the Venice Biennale, he was commemorated in his native Italy for the first time with a small exhibition that featured this very portrait. Zborowski himself, who made a fortune when the artists he represented suddenly became fashionable, lost it all in the financial crash of the late 1920’s, and it may have been at the posthumous sale of his effects that this portrait was acquired by a far more successful dealer and collector, Paul Guillaume. In a 1929 exhibition of Zborowski’s collection, it hung alongside works by Dérain, Picasso, Renoir, and others, many of which are now in the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris. Photographs of Guillaume’s Paris home show it hanging on the walls of a bedroom, alongside another of Modigliani’s portraits of Jeanne.
It was later among the Modigliani pictures acquired by the Belgian collector Henri Belien, but by 1955 it was in an American private collection and remained there until 1997, when it made its first major auction appearance at Sotheby’s New York, where it sold at $9.57 million. In 2006, it reemerged, from another U.S. collection, to sell for $30.17 million at Sotheby’s in London.
Seven years on and this time at Christie’s in London, it sold for $42,104,835.
My second portrait is a 1943 work by Salvador Dali and depicts a lady called Mona, then in her later forties, who in the late 1920’s/early ’30’s had been fêted as one of the most glamorous and beautiful women in New York and nominated by those in the fashion world as “the best dressed woman in the world.” In the 1936 song “Ridin’ High” from the musical Red, Hot and Blue, Cole Porter had Ethel Merman sing: “What do I care if Mrs. Harrison Williams is the best dressed woman in town?”
Well, as her Wikipedia entry indicates, she could certainly afford to be well dressed. Born Mona Strader in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1897 and at different times in her life dubbed the “Rich Little Poor Girl” and the “Kentucky Countess,” she had divorced her first husband, Henry Schlesinger, in 1920 but left their son in his custody in exchange for half a million dollars. Mona then spent a few more years in her twenties married to a banker, James Irving Bush, before once again divorcing, but in 1926 she took as her third older and wealthiest husband Harrison Williams, an entrepreneur and investor reputed at the time to be the richest man in America.
Harrison Williams died in 1953, and two years later Mona married what the same source describes as her “secretary,” Albrecht Edward Heinrich Karl, Graf von Bismarck-Schönhausen, or “Count Eddie,” an aristocratic interior decorator and grandson of the great 19th-century German chancellor Otto von Bismarck.
Following his death in 1970, Mona, aged 74, then married her late husband’s physician, “Count” Umberto de Martini (ennobled after Mona acquired a title for him from her old friend King Umberto II of Italy), who was 14 years her junior. It was only after his death in a sports car accident in 1979—cruelly referred to by her socialite friends as “Martini on the rocks”—that Mona realized that de Martini, like Bismarck, had married her for her money (exactly the same way she had with Schlesinger, Bush, and Williams, so many years before). De Martini, however, turned out to be already married and had been secretly bilking Mona of funds for his children.
Moving from Wikipedia to a blog called Savoir Faire, I learn that another of Mona’s old friends, Cecil Beaton, visited her at Capri later in her life and was shocked to find that all traces of her famous beauty had left her: “She is now suddenly a wreck. Her hair, once white and crisp and a foil to her aquamarine eyes, is now a little dried frizz, and she has painted a grotesque mask on the remains of what was once such a noble-hewn face, the lips enlarged like a clown, the eyebrows pencilled with thick black grease paint, the flesh down to the pale lashes coated with turquoise…Oh, my heart broke for her.”
Mona, it seems, spent her last years putting her affairs in order and making arrangements for various paintings to be dispersed to institutions of her choosing. She died at her house in Paris in 1983 but was buried, in a Givenchy gown, with her third and fourth husbands, Harrison Williams and Count Eddie von Bismarck, at Glen Cove on Long Island, New York.
But enough of this—back to art and auction—at Sotheby’s on February 5. Dali painted Mona in 1943 in New York City, where he and his wife, Gala, had arrived after fleeing Paris in 1940, ahead of the German occupation, and where he and other European Surrealists were enjoying great success.
During this period, the Sotheby’s cataloguer tells us, the artist was championing his “paranoiac-critical” method, Dali’s term for the controlled use of freely associated imagery and subjects derived from self-induced hallucinations. These fantastical apparitions often took the form of reoccurring motifs in his work, such as the bust with the bowed head seen towards the right of Mrs. Harrison Williams. Alongside iconographic elements of his own devising, Dalí has included myriad references to monuments from the past, such as mythological beasts and Baroque horsemen, an Egyptian sphinx, and the martyred St. Sebastian—all very Daliesque.
Mona’s portrait, bequeathed to the vendor on death in 1983, was sold for $3,587,930.
Featuring escape aids such as buttons and false teeth that conceal compasses; cigarette lighter cameras; a dartboard containing a hacksaw and cloth, silk, tissue-paper and other disguised or readily hidden maps; convertible clothing such as flying boots with hollow heels that could also be unzipped to look like civilian shoes; and much more besides, Per Ardua Libertas is an illustrated, 76-page catalogue of secret equipment produced during World War II by MI9, the British War Office department responsible for aiding the escape plans of prisoners of war, assisting resistance fighters, and facilitating covert operations.
It was in large part the creation and in many cases the invention of Christopher Clayton Hutton, familiarly known as “Clutty,” an ex-World War I pilot and intelligence officer with a keen interest in the methods used by magicians and escapologists and, it seems, a forceful manner that got things done.
Per Ardua Libertas was apparently produced in small numbers for presentation, specially bound, to a group of American intelligence officers, or agents, visiting Britain in 1942 to study MI9’s operations and techniques.
In a January 29 and 30 “Gentleman’s Library” sale at Bonhams, two copies from the archive of the printers engaged by the War Office during World War II to produce such secret training and propaganda material—a proof copy and a bound presentation dummy—sold for $8275.
Among the “Miscellaneous Carriers” illustrated in the spread reproduced here, at top right is “Tooth—Gold Fitting made to measure,” with an explanatory note that reads “Small medium luminous compass fits in jaws on left and thin gold tube holding message or map slides on the two prongs at the bottom. These are concealed through being in between the cheek and the gum.”
Finely engraved to the side panels with arrangements of flowering plants, birds, and butterflies, this 6½" high hexagonal parcel-gilt silver canister with screw-on cover was made around 1660 by Andreas Schüssler in what is now the central Slovakian city of Banská Bystrica, but at the time of its manufacture would have been part of the old and much more extensive Kingdom of Hungary. Research into his pieces was one of Dr. Heller’s passions, and he was able to identify the source for the eight birds, including two owls, as details from three designs for friezes in a set of engravings made by Henri Le Roy (1579-1652). It sold for a treble estimate $224,205.
Born in Budapest in 1933, István Heller had his progress towards a medical career temporarily ended by his involvement in the brutally suppressed 1956 Hungarian Uprising against their communist rulers. Whilst caring for a wounded Paris Match photojournalist, he was flown out to Vienna and safety, but had lost everything. As there was no possibility of a return to his own country, Heller made his way to relatives in Sao Paolo and set about building a new life and resuming his studies, this time in Portuguese, in Brazil.
In 1959, however, he came back to Europe—to Germany this time—and embarked once more on a European medical career that eventually saw him qualify as a consultant radiologist and work for much of his life at the Saint Franciscus Gasthuis Clinic in Rotterdam.
It was there that he began collecting silver in a serious way, and over the following decades he amassed a remarkable collection of some 200 pieces that were offered at Sotheby’s on December 4, 2012, as “Dr. Heller’s Lexicon.” Full of pieces that reflect his fascination with both the aesthetics and history of a work of art, the sale also benefitted from Heller’s love of detailed studies of marks, armorials, etc., which resulted in several authoritative publications.
The collection includes Dutch and German pieces, but given Dr. Heller’s origins, it is natural that there should be a focus on the work of Central European silver and goldsmiths.
Five pieces from the “Lexicon” are illustrated and described here.
When he began collecting seriously, whilst working in Rotterdam, Dr. Heller sought advice from a noted Dutch silver specialist, Dr. Johan ter Molen, and Dutch pieces are well represented in his collection. This little silver beaker, 2¾" high and decorated with embossed prunts, bears a maker’s mark of a trefoil, but neither this nor the engraved armorial on the base have been identified, and the best that can be said is that it was made in Nijmegen in the late 16th century. A silver-mounted coconut cup in the form of an owl that was included in a 1983 exhibition of Nijmeegs Zilver 1400-1900, held in the city museum, also bore the trefoil mark. The beaker sold at a treble estimate $71,570.
This shell-shaped parcel-gilt silver wine cup is unmarked, but Dr. Heller considers that it may have been made in Prague, circa 1630, and a 2003 article on “Masterpieces of European Goldsmiths’ Works 1560-1860” that he wrote in collaboration with his friend and fellow specialist Professor Ulrich Schneider (who also wrote the introduction to the sale catalogue) reveals that while it bears no hallmark or master’s sign, an ornamental initial “F” intertwined with a crowned snake that holds in its mouth a cross-topped ring reveals the identity of its original owner. This shows it to have belonged to Ferenc Bethlen-Bethlen, a member of a noble Transylvanian family, who in 1625 became high steward to his kinsman Prince Gábor Bethlen, one of the principal opponents of the Habsburg Emperor, Ferdinand II, during the Thirty Years War. Ferenc also served Gábor’s successor, György I. Rákoszí, under whose influence Transylvania grew politically and economically stronger.
It is thought that Ferenc may have been in Prague when his master allied himself with the Elector Palatine, Frederic V, and the Bohemian Protestants against the Emperor Ferdinand. The design of the cup, according to Heller and Schneider, reflects Prague court styles of the time, and they draw attention to similarities with the sinuous forms employed by Dutch goldsmiths such as the van Vianen family, who also worked in Prague and at the court of Charles I in London.
Seen as one of the potential stars of the collection, it was perhaps a little disappointing in selling at a low estimate $98,620.
Standing 16½" tall, this parcel-gilt figural candlestick in the form of Venus and Cupid is the work of one of the German city of Augsburg’s many silver and goldsmiths, Andreas Wickert I, and dates to 1649-53. The precise meaning of the Cyrillic engraved initials on the underside is not known, but it seems that Wickert must have had many Russian commissions, as several silver-mounted ivory cups and tankards by him are to be found in the Kremlin collections, as well as in those of other European royal and aristocratic families. The candlestick sold for a double estimate $185,565.
Yet another piece bid to a much higher than predicted sum was this Romanian parcel-gilt silver tankard of circa 1605 bearing the maker’s mark of Hans Henssel of Sibiu (Hermannstadt). Inset with casts of six antique coins and initialled “DBK” on a stylised animal skin to indicate the Guild of Furriers, it is also engraved with the arms of the Scheu family. It has not been possible to establish a direct connection between the family and the Guild of Furriers in Sibiu, but it seems that the word scheu was used in medieval times for a sheep-shearer, or someone who trimmed cloth.
This cup was one of many works of art confiscated by the Nazis in the 1930’s and from 1941 was in the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum in Munich, but in 1953 it was returned to descendants of the rightful owner, Dr. Alfred Pringsheim of Munich. In 1969, it was sold at Christie’s Geneva as part of the Marigny collection, but more recently, in June 2005, it was seen at Christie’s London, where it sold at $47,760. As part of “Dr. Heller’s Lexicon,” it sold at $166,245.
Joseph Wright of Derby’s rediscovered oil, A Blacksmith’s Shop of 1771, sold for $1,471,995 at Christie’s on December 4. In the late 1760’s, when Wright jotted down some ideas for “Night Pieces” in his account book, he wrote, “Two men forming a bar of iron into a horse shoe from whence the light must proceed”—a notion from which this and two other paintings later emerged.
One of those pictures that falls into the fresh to the market or rediscovered categories, this oil of A Blacksmith’s Shop by a master of the dramatically lit scene, Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797), certainly has auction form, but both appearances came around 200 years ago, and it has lain unrecorded in an American collection for over 100 years.
Bought for 40 guineas ($70 at today’s exchange rates) at, or soon after its 1771 exhibition with the Society of Artists, it joined three other works by the artist* owned by Edward Parker of Brigg in Lincolnshire, but in 1782 it came up for sale at Christie’s where it was knocked down for a bargain ten guineas. It made another auction appearance in 1816 in Derby, for which I have no sale record, but by around 1910 it had found its way into an American collection.
It was previously known only from a contemporary engraving by William Pether, and Benedict Nicholson, in his 1968 catalogue of the artist’s works, lamented its loss. One of five paintings of blacksmith’s shops and forges recorded as made around this time, and the only one still in private hands, it was, said Christie’s, “…both an expression of Wright’s close engagement in the spirit of the Industrial Revolution and a sophisticated example of his mastery of chiaroscuro effects.”
Two other larger depictions of blacksmith’s shops are now with the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut, and the Derby Museum and Art Gallery, while those of Iron Forges are in the Tate Gallery in London and the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.
It attracted a great deal of presale interest when put up for sale by Christie’s on December 4, 2012, and on the day sold at a near double estimate $1,471,995.
* Those other pictures from Parker’s collection, two candlelit scenes and a conversation piece of two girls and their servant, are currently on loan at the National Museum of Wales.
The Craven Heifer, sold for $25,620 at Bonhams.
A Large White Sow, sold for $15,765 at Bonhams.
Huge, almost rectangular cattle beasts once enjoyed great celebrity across England’s green and pleasant land, and The Craven Heifer was the very epitome of bovine bulk. Reputedly the heaviest heifer of all time, she was calved in 1807 and bred and fed up by the Reverend William Carr, a curate of Bolton Abbey at Craven in North Yorkshire, on one of the Duke of Devonshire’s estates.
Bought from Carr by another Yorkshireman, John Watkinson, for the then enormous sum of £200, say $800, she was brought down to London on a journey that took 73 days, visiting and exhibiting at various towns before the great beast was shown at the Cock Inn in the Haymarket. There, ladies and gentleman queued to pay their one shilling entrance fees (servants were allowed in for half the sum, or sixpence) and gawp at the heifer that in her prime in what was a short life, and a fat one, weighed in at 312 stone (4368 pounds or 1980 kilograms) and was 11'4" long.
It was quite common for farmers to commission paintings of oversized animals that might be used to advertise what could be achieved through their breeding techniques, and one anonymous oil on canvas portrait of The Craven Heifer, made in 1811, was seen at Bonhams in what they term their “Gentleman’s Library” sale, held January 29 and 30. It sold for $25,620.
Alistair Laird of Bonhams said, “The Craven Heifer was so big that a special door, twice the width of the other cows, had to be built to get her in and out of the cow shed.” In her home county, several public houses were named after her and still are to this day.
Admiration for the overfed of the animal world was not restricted to cattle, and admirers of the comic novels of P.G. Wodehouse will probably think of Lord Emsworth’s beloved Empress of Blandings when confronted with the portrait of A Large White Sow* reproduced here. Another picture from the “Gentleman’s Library” sale, this oil is the work of E.S. England and is signed and inscribed “Cup Winner/ Leeds Fat Stock Show 1906.”
Lord Emsworth’s pigmen, Wodehouse fans will know, included the inebriate and sometimes treacherous George Cyril Wellbeloved, eventually sacked and replaced with the more reliable but barely articulate James Pirbright, but this picture was once the property of William Watson Buckle, who around this time was head pigman on the Harewood House estate near Leeds, home to the real life Lascelles family. Buckle was the grandfather of the Bonhams vendor, who saw the picture sell at $15,765.
*Just for the record, and to deter any outraged pig fanciers from pointing out the error of my porcine ways, I should note that the Empress was of course a Black Berkshire, not a Large White.
William James Webbe’s The White Owl, sold at Christie’s for $951,050—way more than anything previously seen for his work. The result even elicited a tweet from that well-known connoisseur of Victorian art, Andrew Lloyd Webber. His view on the sale was, “Bit of a hoot! Sorry I wasn’t there.”
Tennyson’s lines from the poem “The Owl” were used by the Victorian painter William James Webbe as a subtitle for the 1856 picture he called The White Owl, a curious work that was estimated at $100,000 or so in a Christie’s sale of December 13, 2012, but one that brought a far, far higher than expected bid of $951,050 before being knocked down to London dealers Dickinson Fine Art. That result would doubtless have delighted the consignors, who found it, dirty and dusty but in good condition, in the loft of their Basingstoke (Hampshire) home whilst making room for a plumber to reach some pipework—but the price was way ahead of anything previously seen for the artist.
Webbe is included in Percy Bate’s early, 1899 study of The English Pre-Raphaelite Painters, but he remains a shadowy and, until now, marginal figure in this movement, and it is not even certain whether the present picture is the one that he exhibited at the Royal Academy summer show in 1856 or a second, virtually identical version made at much the same time.
The White Owl was one of the pictures by the “rising school” that John Ruskin singled out for praise in his exhibition review notes. “A careful study,” he wrote, “the brown wing excellent,” but never one to lavish too much praise, he added, “The softness of an owl’s feathers is perhaps inimitable...but I think the breast might have been nearer the mark.”
The existence of two versions of the picture is further testimony to the popularity of this particular Webbe painting—if no other. A version sold at Sotheby’s Belgravia in 1977 is identical in almost every respect, and it is impossible to be certain which was the one shown at the Royal Academy.
The one sold by Christie’s bears on the back the name [William John] Broderip, an eminent lawyer, naturalist, and founder member of the Zoological Society of London. As well as collecting natural history specimens (mostly for the British Museum), he also bought pictures by British artists. One of his acquisitions was Holman Hunt’s Hireling Shepherd, and since this was a work that profoundly influenced Webbe, it seems more than coincidence, said Christie’s, that The White Owl was also in his collection. It could even have been Hunt who encouraged him to buy it.
The picture did not appear in Broderip’s sale at Christie’s on June 11, 1859, and it is presumed that he had already either given or bequeathed it to Professor Richard Owen, in whose family it had remained until this time. Remembered as a fierce opponent of Darwin’s theory of evolution, Owen was for many years the Hunterian Professor of Comparative Anatomy and Physiology at the Royal College of Surgeons, but in the year that Webbe’s picture was first exhibited had been made superintendent of the Natural History Department at the British Museum. He was also another great admirer of Holman Hunt, who painted Owen’s portrait.
The second version of The White Owl seems to have been one of the two pictures by Webbe that another patron, C. Lucas, lent to the International Exhibition at South Kensington in 1862, but then in that 1970’s Belgravia sale it, too, was claimed as the original R.A. picture.
But to put in owlish terms, “Whoooooooo knows?”
Willem van Heemskerk’s calligraphic tour-de-force, a goblet of 1686 that sold for $102,285 at Christie’s.
The 1619 roemer sold for $75,290 in the King Street sale.
Two glasses from a December 6, 2012, Christie’s sale—one of their “European Connoisseur” events—are pictured here, both of them sent for sale by the Wunsch Foundation, New York City.
Illustrated near right is a calligraphically engraved façon de Venise goblet that sold for $102,285. Signed, inscribed, and dated 1686 to the foot, it is the work of Willem van Heemskerk, who has been described as one of the best known and most prolific Dutch engravers of the Golden Age. The difficulty involved in producing such work is hard to imagine, and F.G.A.M. Smit, in a 1989 monograph on the subject, ended his introduction with, “In order to appreciate fully the mastery of Dutch 17th-century calligraphy [on glass] one might try, for instance, to write (without guidance) one’s own name in calligraphy with embellishment of flourishes à la Willem van Heemskerk….”
It is even more admirable when one realizes that van Heemskerk, as his signature proudly admits, was 73 when he engraved this glass.
The bowl of this 8" high goblet is engraved “Tel don, tell Donneur” (Like gift, like giver), while the conical foot is inscribed “Dees Stoffe, nocht de Kunst, toch niet naukeurig zift, Den Baes is als het Werk, Den Gever als de Gift” (This material, like art, does not exactly separate one thing from another, the workman is like his work, the giver is like the gift).
Bid to $75,290 in the King Street sale was the green-tinted roemer seen far right. Diamond-point engraved with the arms and motto of Maurits, Prince of Orange and Count of Nassau, along with the coats of arms of the Seven United Provinces beneath the motto of the Dutch Republic, it is dated to 1619.
Appointed Stadholder, Captain-General and Admiral of Holland and Zeeland, and eventually Stadholder of the remaining provinces as well, Maurits was only 18 when he came to power in 1585, and the Netherlands was still under Spanish occupation, but he succeeded in liberating numerous towns and fortresses and an armistice concluded with Spain lasted from 1609 until 1621. During those years, religious dissention developed between the orthodox Protestant Orangists and the liberal Remonstrants, and though an ecclesiastical synod held at Dordrecht, 1618-19, failed in its intention to underwrite the theme of tolerance, Dutch political aspirations are alluded to on the glass.
The cataloguer noted that the gross misspellings found on this roemer do not occur on 16 other drinking vessels known to have been diamond-point engraved in honour of Prince Maurits between 1594 and 1619 and suggests that this could perhaps be indicative of a Germanic hand.
Twelve years ago, in New York City, Christie’s held a $40.32 million, white glove sale to disperse a 59-lot portion of the collection of 18th-century French furniture and works of art formed over 50 years by the French-Iranian businessman and collector Djahanguir Riahi and his wife. On December 6 last, in their London rooms, they presented a second, 45-lot installment that was not this time a sell-out, but did raise a very respectable $31.9 million and saw nine of the “top ten” lots go to other collectors. Five of the high spots are illustrated and briefly described here.
Made by Joseph Baumhauer, circa 1765, this Rococo style bureau plat combining panels of Japanese lacquer with tulipwood was one of the Riahis’ earliest acquisitions, in 1963. Baumhauer specialised in the use of rich and exotic materials, and many of his pieces feature delicate Sèvres porcelain plaques, hardstone, and lacquer work. Aside from two others with lacquer panels, one in the Louvre and another in an American private collection, this is the only bureau plat known with tulipwood veneers around the lacquer panels; in the Louvre example, they are set against an ebonised ground. It sold for $2,766,050.
Top price in the Riahi sale was $5,105,840 for this Louis XV period, ormolu-mounted and Japanese lacquered secrétaire à abbatant of 1756-57 by Bernard II van Risen Burgh. Within ten years of its manufacture, it had entered the collections of the Dukes of Richmond at Goodwood House in Sussex, where it remained until 1993, when it was acquired at a Sotheby’s sale by Riahi for around $750,000. Since that time, however, research into the records of a Parisian marchand-mercier, Lazare Duvaux, have shown that it was almost certainly supplied originally to Louis XV’s mistress, Madame de Pompadour, who was very taken with and collected Japanese lacquer wares. The price paid in London sets a record for any piece of furniture by van Risen Burgh, but the sale also saw $3,306,000 paid for the ormolu-mounted, Japanese lacquer, and vernis Martin bureau-en-peinte seen above right, which dates to 1756 and is also attributed to van Risen Burgh.
One from a suite of 28 Louis XV period silver candlesticks bearing the Paris marks of Louis Lenhendrick and dated to 1747-70. Riahi spent 40 years chasing them down, pair by pair, and in the London sale last December this pursuit and patience was rewarded with a bid of $1,686,145.
Executed in the workshops of Jean-François Oeben, 1763-68, this late Louis XV period, ormolu-mounted amaranth, burr walnut, maple, and satinwood commode en bibliothèque was sold for $4,025,935. One of only two such pieces known—the other stamped by Jean-Henri Riesener, who took over the Oeben workshop after the death of the great Ébeniste du Roi in 1763—it was discovered by Christie’s to have a previously unsuspected Viennese Rothschild provenance.
Originally published in the April 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest