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Modern Design Auctions Bring $11.1 Million

Lita Solis-Cohen | December 17th, 2013

Alexandre Noll (French, 1890-1970) created this rare circa 1945 dining table and set of ten chairs of mahogany. The table is 28¼" x 98 5/8" x 34½"; each chair is approximately 34¼" x 16" x 17". They sold for $905,000 (est. $400,000/600,000). Noll was not an interior decorator; he was a writer and musician who began his career as a wood carver in the commercial environment of department stores and quickly attracted attention from established designers of the period such as Paul Poiret, who commissioned him to design decorative objects and household goods.

François-Xavier Lalanne (1928-2008), L’Âne planté, circa 1986, 56 1/8" x 42½" x 60", cast by Figini, France, number two from the edition of eight. The harness is incised with artist’s initials and impressed “Lalanne” and “2/8,” and one hoof is impressed with “FIGINI/ fondeur d’art.” It sold for $269,000 (est. $60,000/80,000).

George Nakashima (1905-1990) created this Slab coffee table in 1969 of American black walnut and East Indian rosewood. The 13" x 95" x 22" table is signed on the underside in black marker with “George Nakashima/ Nov 1969” and M[U]RAKAM” and sold for $102,500 (est. $8000/12,000).

Harry Bertoia (1915-1978) created Golden Rods, amelt-coated wire sculpture, circa 1959, of brass-covered steel and phosphor bronze. The 49¼" x 73" x 8¾" sculpture sold in the salesroom for $521,000 (est.$150,000/200,000) together with the original invoice from Fairweather-Hardin Gallery, Chicago, to Mr. and Mrs. Patrick B. McGinnis of Boston. Patrick McGinnis was then president of the Boston and Maine Railroad. It was consigned by a West Coast collector who had bought it in 1997 from the Michael Lowe Gallery in Cincinnati.

Ico Parisi (1916-1996) designed this sofa as part of a European commission in the 1950s. The walnut and fabric sofa is 35 3/8" x 84" x 20½", executed by Spartaco Brugnoli, and sold for $87,500 (est. $12,000/18,000).

Hans Coper created this large (9½" high, 12 5/8" diameter) globular pot with abstract design in 1953 of stoneware. It has a manganese glaze with a white linear abstract design. Impressed with the artist’s seal, it sold on the phone for $197,000 (est. $30,000/40,000).

Phillips, New York City

Photos courtesy Phillips

Phillips began the week of sales of modern design in New York City on December 17, 2013, with an offering of 355 lots in three oversize catalogs. At 10 a.m., the Betty Lee and Aaron Stern collection, featuring 20th-century ceramics by Lucie Rie, Hans Coper, Gertrud and Otto Natzler, and Ken Price, crossed the block. The Sterns are downsizing and sent a major part of their collection and furnishings to auction.

According to ceramics dealer Garth Clark, who had a hand in forming the collection and wrote on line about the sale, Betty Lee Stern has an “impeccable eye.” She bought the best and concentrated on works by the British potters Hans Coper and Lucie Rie. She also liked the Natzlers’ jewel-like glazes and bought some naughty works by Ken Price as well as one of his series installations and some of his individual ceramics and works on paper.

The catalog included views of the collections installed in the Sterns’ stunning New York City apartment and Connecticut house. The pots are shown arranged in groups on specially designed shelves and pedestals and some individual pieces on tables.

Most of the works by Hans Coper and Lucie Rie sold, but the work of Ken Price was not as enthusiastically embraced. Unit 6 from his “Happy’s Curios” series, the cover lot of the sale, sold for $293,000 (includes buyer’s premium); it was estimated at $300,000/400,000. Coper and Rie pottery soared above expectations. A large, globular pot with an abstract design by Coper sold for $197,000 (est. $30,000/40,000). It was especially coveted because his early pots are rare. Two Coper hourglass-form vessels sold for $191,000 (est. $30,000/40,000) and $149,000 (est. $16,000/24,000) to the same bidder on the phone with Alexander Payne, head of the Phillips design department worldwide. Another phone bidder paid $112,500 (est. $30,000/40,000) for Hans Coper’s 16" tall spade-form vessel and $106,250 (est. $30,000/40,000) for another Coper, a composite form with a central disk.

The most expensive works by Lucie Rie sold for $81,250 each (both estimated at $20,000/30,000). One is a slightly over 17" tall porcelain vase with a shiny white glaze, circa 1968, and the other is a deep conical porcelain bowl with a golden manganese glaze with bands of inlaid and sgrafitto grid designs, circa 1982. They went for the same price to two different phone bidders, showing depth of this market.

The earthenware by the Natzlers generally sold within estimates, but a squat, closed-form vase of black earthenware with a “mariposa” glaze, just 4 5/8" high, made in 1967, sold for $16,250 (est. $4000/6000). Another of theirs that made that price was a flaring conical 9¼" tall vase from 1962 with an iridescent glaze in blues.

On Tuesday afternoon at 2 p.m. Phillips offered Design and at 6 p.m. Design Masters. The afternoon session offered 170 lots, of which 107 sold, and in the early evening session 30 of the 42 lots offered sold from the Design Masters separate catalog. In all 269 lots of the 355 offered sold from three catalogs and tallied up to a total of $11,159,688; it came close to the high end of estimates ($8,391,000/11,920,800 figured without buyers’ premiums). The total was the highest total for design sales held at the four New York auction houses that week.

For a top-ten list, Phillips combined Design and Design Masters. Eight of the top-ten lots were sold from the Design Masters catalog, led by Alexandre Noll’s dining table and set of ten chairs that sold for $905,000 (est. $400,000/600,000).

Noll (1890-1970) began his career as a wood carver in the commercial environment of department stores, designing decorative objects and household goods. In the post-Second World War years Noll began to create large, simple “furniture sculptures,” allowing the natural qualities of the wood to dictate the forms of his sculpture and furniture. He preferred to use wood without visible grain and also refused to use nails, hinges, handles, or metal hardware. When he did not bypass joinery altogether by carving from a single piece of wood, he assembled his furniture with swallow-tail pins and mortise joints.

An untitled abstract sculpture of ebony by Noll sold to a phone bidder for $173,000 (est. $90,000/110,000). It was one of three sculptures that made the Phillips top-ten list. Harry Bertoia’s Golden Rods, a lyrical melt-coated wire sculpture, sold for $521,000 (est. $150,000/200,000). The market for Bertoia’s best works remains strong.

Phillips catalogs are too heavy to carry and too stunning to recycle. They are studded with short essays and gorgeous pictures and have made Phillips a competitive contender for the top of the 20th- and 21st-centuries design market.

This Phillips sale reflected a relatively weak market for British Arts and Crafts (i.e., Dresser and Godwin sold for modest prices); a strong market for Hans Coper and Lucie Rie ceramics; some big prices in a recovering market for Paul Evans and George Nakashima; and an emerging market for more affordable art furniture. As in every field there was keen competition for the best and less interest in the rest.

For more information, contact Alex Heminway at (212) 940-1269 or Meaghan Roddy at (212) 940-1266 at the New York City headquarters or check the Phillips Web site (

When this sold in December there was an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art of 300 vessels designed by Carlo Scarpa between 1932 and 1947 for Venini, the leading Venetian glass house. So it was not surprising that a 13 7/8" tall Corroso a rilievi vase, model no. 3695, circa 1938, with lightly iridized green glass with applied reliefs, produced by Venini, sold for $137,000 (est. $25,000/35,000). The buyer was a man seated in the salesroom who entered the bidding early and competed to the end against several phone bidders. Scarpa, who was trained as an architect, is credited with thoroughly modernizing the ancient Venetian craft of glass blowing. Working closely with Venini, he directed the glass blowers to create over two dozen styles. His production is considered the avant-garde of modernity in Italian glass.

This rug was designed in 1945 by textile master Barbro Nilsson (1899-1983).The 170" x 122½" rug is titled Gyllenrutan, blå (The Golden Square, blue) and is handwoven wool on a linen warp, produced by Märta Måås-Fjetterström AB, Båstad, Sweden and woven by Ulla Larsson and Birgit Nilsson. With the manufacturer’s mark “AB MMF” and artist’s initials “ BN” it sold for $118,750 (est. $30,000/50,000).

Gaetano Pesce (b. 1939) designed this prototype Moloch adjustable floor lamp, 1970-72, anodized aluminum, aluminum, and painted metal, 141¾" maximum height. Produced by Bracciodiferro, Italy, it is prototype “C” of six known prototypes; its base is impressed with “Moloch Rid.” It sold on the phone for $197,000 (est. $60,000/80,000). Gaetano Pesce named this towering floor lamp after the ancient Ammonite god Moloch, to whom Levantine tribes sacrificed children by fire.  It was the first object produced by Bracciodiferro. The firm wanted to make 100 but had sold only 13 by July 1975, its final year of production. This is one of six known prototypes in various finishes. It is derived from Jac Jacobsen’s “L-1” adjustable lamp (1937), of which the Norwegian manufacturer Luxo produced more than 25 million.

Originally published in the May 2014 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2014 Maine Antique Digest

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