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Twentieth-Century Design

Lita Solis-Cohen | December 19th, 2013


Rembrandt Bugatti (1885-1916) created Éléphant d’Asie en marche (grand modèle) circa 1909. Of patinated bronze this is number “1” from an edition of five, 17¾" x 27" x 8½", and signed “R. Bugatti 1909,” with stamp “Cire Perdue A.A. Hébrard” and numeral “1” and with a plaque inscribed “To William Barnes from the Republicans of Albany County on the Completion of His Service as a Member of the Republican State Committee April 28. 1892 to September 29. 1914.” It sold on the phone for $725,000 (est. $300,000/ 500,000). The plaque commemorates its presentation to William Barnes, owner and publisher of the Albany Times-Union, who in 1915 unsuccessfully sued ex-President Theodore Roosevelt for libel for describing him as a crooked Republican boss making deals with corrupt Tammany Hall Democrats. There are five recorded copies cast by A.A. Hébrard. This one was executed by Hébrard for M. Tiffany of New York in 1913, likely Louis Comfort Tiffany, who is known to have acquired other animal bronzes by Bugatti.


This circa 1930 desk by Armand Albert Rateau (1882-1938) is silver-leaf-decorated wood with painted details, 28½" x 47¼" x 23¾". It sold on the phone for $413,000 (est. $180,000/220,000). According to catalog notes, Rateau decorated Cole Porter’s Paris apartment with panels of silver leaf similar to the decorations on this desk.


Diego Giacometti (1902-1985) designed A Bibliotheque “Au Mexique” circa 1966 of patinated bronze and glass, 73¼" x 31½" x 13". It is stamped twice “Diego X” and sold for $317,000. According to the catalog, this bookshelf was originally in the collection of Isabelle Waldberg (1911-1990), a sculptor who was a former member of George Bataille’s secret society Acéphale and a member of the Surrealist group. Her work was included in Peggy Guggenheim’s 1944 exhibition Art of This Century. Waldberg’s husband, Patrick Waldberg (1913-1985), was an American-French writer and art critic who was well acquainted with most of the Surrealist artists. He wrote numerous essays on André Breton, Jacques Hérold, Max Ernst, and Alberto Giacometti.


Jean-Michel Frank (1895-1941) designed these two table lamps, 1931-32, using quartz. One has a bronze plate and stands 12" high; it is  stamped “9494” and impressed with “Chanaux & Cie” mark. The other is 11" tall and is stamped “8351.” One sold on the phone to a European private collector for $317,000. The other sold on the phone to the U.S. trade for $305,000. Both were estimated at $120,000/180,000. They were sold with certificates of authenticity from the Comité Jean-Michel Frank.

Christie’s, New York City

Photos courtesy Christie’s

On December 19, 2013, Christie’s 20th-century decorative art and design sale was a slim offering of 143 lots, and just 89 sold (62% sold by lot). The sale was not without some successes, though. With an estimate of $300,000/500,000, Rembrandt Bugatti’s Éléphant d’Asie en marche (grand modèle) sold for $725,000 (includes buyer’s premium). It was made in two sizes; this larger version is numbered “1” of an edition of five and was cast by Adrien-Aurélien Hébrard for M. Tiffany of New York in 1913, likely Louis Comfort Tiffany, who is known to have acquired other animal bronzes by Bugatti, namely three casts of the smaller version of this model, as well as a cast of the Éléphant de l’Inde au feuillage ou gros éléphant jouant.

Highlighting the sale were furnishings from the house built for Mrs. Kersey Coates Reed in Lake Forest, Illinois, a collaboration of architect David Adler and his younger sister, Frances Elkins, an interior decorator. They selected Art Deco furniture and objects designed by Jean-Michel Frank. The influential interior designer Mark Hampton (1940-1998) once called Mrs. Reed’s library “the most boldly stylish room I have ever seen in this country.” Elkins had purchased from Jean-Michel Frank a plaster Colonne table lamp that sold at the auction for $137,000 (est. $40,000/60,000) and two quartz table lamps that look like lumps of white ice and sold for $317,000 and $305,000 (est. $120,000/180,000 each). They had been purchased from Frank’s Paris shop for the ivory guest bedroom and placed on bedside tables next to twin ivory high-post beds. They have inspired numerous copies over the last 80 years.

The furniture by Frank that Elkins had selected for the Forest Hills house was not embraced enthusiastically. An occasional table from the living room sold for $15,000 (est. $10,000/15,000) and only one of two lacquered wood side tables sold for $25,000 (est. $20,000/30,000); the other failed to get a bid above $17,000.

A bedroom suite by Armand Albert Rateau had the same fate. A desk decorated with silver leaf and painted with delicate leafy branches, a motif Rateau used frequently with variations in this elaborate decorative technique, sold for $413,000 (est. $180,000/220,000), but the chair and the bed failed to sell.

A desk by Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann of burl amboyna wood and ivory with a leather writing surface did not meet its $250,000/350,000 expectations and failed to sell. Among the other disappointments was a bench designed by Antoni Gaudí. The bench is among the few remaining examples from the original commission of 20 from the crypt of the Church of Colònia Güell, Santa Coloma de Cervelló, 1913-14, one of the Spanish architect’s most important and intriguing works. The bench was estimated at $200,000/300,000; there was no interest at that level. Other benches from the Gothic Revival crypt are in museum collections.

A hanging lamp designed by Frank Lloyd Wright using the inspiration of a butterfly, circa 1903, a prototype for the five in the Susan Lawrence Dana house, Springfield, Illinois, failed to sell on the day but was bought immediately after the sale by Joseph Cunningham and Bruce Barnes, passionate and studious collectors, for their Leeds Art Foundation (recently renamed from American Decorative Art 1900 Foundation after they purchased the Morris Evans Leeds House in Philadelphia). The price for the hanging lamp was not disclosed.

“We were quite interested in the chandelier when it appeared at Christie’s in 2004 but thought the estimate of $400,000 to $600,000 very substantial,” said Cunningham after the sale. “When it failed then [2004], we were told that it sold after the sale for about $380,000, so we were intrigued when it reappeared this season again at Christie’s, this time with a much reduced estimate of $200,000 to $300,000.” Cunningham said they were pleased to be able to add a masterpiece chandelier from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie period to their well-developed lighting collection from the period around 1900. Calling it “an exemplar of Wright’s finest expressions in lighting and glass,” he said it adds significantly to their holdings of Wright, which include his finest furniture and metalwork.

“The Susan Lawrence Dana House stands as among the best residences ever designed and executed in America,” said Cunningham. “The sublime beauty of the house is especially evident in the astonishing array of decorative designs which evoke natural forms, such as sumac trees, and as stylized in the butterfly wing formations of the chandelier.”

Christie’s offered 47 lots of Tiffany in a separate catalog, and just 28 sold, accounting for $1,372,625 of the $5,833,250 sale total. Several lamps failed to sell.

For more information, contact Christie’s at (212) 636-2000 or on line at (www.christies.com).

Jean-Michel Frank (1895-1941)  Colonne table lamp, 1931-32, plaster with lighting components, paper shade, 20¾" high (base). It sold on the phone for $137,000 (est. $40,000/60,000). This lamp came from the house built for Mrs. Kersey Coates Reed, Lake Forest, Illinois, a Georgian-style house designed by David Adler and the interior design by his younger sister, Frances Elkins, a protégé of Elsie de Wolfe, who in turn was known for mixing contemporary and traditional and introducing works of French designer and decorator Jean-Michel Frank and sculptor Alberto Giacometti. De Wolfe was initially Frank’s exclusive distributor in the US. (Mrs. Reed was the daughter of John G. Shedd, second president of Marshall Field & Company. Her first husband, Kersey Coates Reed, was an attorney and a director at the department store.)

Fernand Léger (1881-1955) designed the carpet called simply Blanc circa 1927. It was woven by Maison Myrbor of hand-knotted wool, 4'4" x 8'8¼", and signed in the binding “Leger,” and it sold on the phone for $72,500 (est. $8000/12,000). A nearly identical rug photographed in the apartment of Robert Mallet-Stevens (1886-1945) is shown  in Art Deco and Modernist Carpets by Susan Day (2002).

Tiffany Studios Pony Wisteria table lamp, circa 1910, leaded glass, bronze, 17" high, 10¼" diameter shade, stamped Tiffany Studios, base stamped “Tiffany Studios New York 1001.” It sold for $221,000 (est. $1000,000/150,000).

Edgar Brandt (1880-1960) created this 49" x 28" fabric display tree, circa 1925, of patinated wrought iron. It sold to an American private collector for $60,000 (est. $25,000/ 35,000). At Sotheby’s in New York City on November 18, 1994, it had sold for $17,250. According to catalog notes, in 1924 the well-known silk manufacturers Cheney Brothers, New York City, offered Edgar Brandt his most prestigious American commission, the design of the first three floors of the silk company’s new headquarters at the Madison Belmont Building (Madison Avenue and 34th Street) and its showrooms. The Cheney company’s artistic director, Henry Creange, who knew of Brandt’s work from his trips to Paris, hired Brandt to design a showroom to display a new fabric line, “Prints Ferronnerie,” inspired by Brandt’s designs. Brandt created fanciful wrought-iron trees for draping Cheney Brothers’ silks. No two trees were the same.

This rare suspension seat designed by Pierre Chareau (1883-1950), circa 1925, model EF 928, iron, 78¾" x 90½" x 36 5/8", sold to an absentee bidder for $305,000 (est. $50,000/80,000). According to the catalog, this design was first exhibited at the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes. It is one of three versions known to have been produced. One was for the model French embassy lounge at the exposition, one was for the Comte de Noailles’s roof terrace at his villa in Hyères (1927), and one was for Hélène Bernheim’s apartment (circa 1927).

Claude Lalanne (b. 1924) pair of appliques, designed 1992, gilt bronze and galvanized copper, 23½" and 24" high, stamped “CL Lalanne 1/1d Gp 2000” and “CL Lalanne 1/1g Gp 2000,” sold for $93,750 (est. $25,000/35,000).


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

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