On 17 December 2009 at 2pm, Sotheby’s New York will hold its bi-annual sale of Important 20th Century Design beginning with works from the Art & Crafts, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and American Modern movements, and concluding with Mid-Century and Contemporary design. Highlighting the sale is an offering of 25 lots collected by Stephen Gray, one of the foremost authorities on the Arts and Crafts movement. The Important Tiffany auction will follow at approximately 3:30pm and features a top caliber range of objects representing the diverse disciplines of Tiffany Studios. These auctions will be preceded by the estate of Robert Isabell at 10am and together the three sales will offer 294 lots with an estimate of $7.7/11 million.
James Zemaitis, Senior Vice President and Director of Sotheby’s 20th Century Design Department, noted, “In our sale of Important 20th Century Design, to complement the postwar and contemporary collection of the late Robert Isabell, we have constructed a catalogue that focuses primarily on pre-war modernism and all of its different schools, from Harvey Ellis to Gerrit Rietveld to Le Corbusier. Our Tiffany sale continues our emphasis on tightly-edited selections of the absolute best works available, whether it is extremely rare archival photographs or the most stunning window to appear on the market in a decade.”
Widely regarded as a connoisseur in the field of American Arts & Crafts, Stephen Gray first began collecting in 1976 when he purchased a weekend house in Columbia County, New York. He “wanted to furnish it in a way that was compatible with the architectural history of the area.” Through diligent research of the original trade material, Gray refined his collection over the last thirty years to represent the very best in furniture, lighting, ceramics, metalwork and woodcut prints. The Collection, with an emphasis on the earliest production years of Gustav Stickley was recently celebrated at the Wadsworth Atheneum in an exhibition entitled At Home with “Gustav Stickley: American Arts & Crafts from the Steven Gray Collection”. The majority of works presented during the exhibition are included in the sale. Highlights include a ‘Two-Door Bookcase’ (Lot 222, est. $28/36,000) and “Tokio” ‘Plant Stand’ (Lot 213, est. $40/60,000) by Gustav Stickley, ‘Ceramic Vessels’ by Marblehead Pottery and Overbeck Pottery, and a wood block print entitled “Garden Flowers” by Edna Boies Hopkins (lot 206, est. $12/18,000).
Other Arts and Crafts highlights include An Important Prototype ‘Hall Chair’ by Charles Rohlfs, circa 1897-1899 (lot 226, est. $50/70,000). The ‘Hall Chair’ form is one of the most iconic designs of Charles Rohlfs, and this prototype conveys the form beautifully but also incorporates distinguishing elements that shed light on Rohlfs’ design process. This chair presents a rare opportunity for a public or private collection to acquire an object that is at the center of Rohlfs’ oeuvre but features unique details that would appeal to the most discriminating connoisseur. Several lots of Harvey Ellis designs features An important and rare “Desk”, circa 1903 (lot 231, est. $150/200,000). In the spring of 1903, Gustav Stickley hired a talented architect by the name of Harvey Ellis to execute designs for his Craftsman Workshops. Ellis designed a unique line of furniture distinguished by lighter, sophisticated lines and inlaid decoration articulated in copper, pewter and contrasting woods. Although Ellis died in January 1904, only seven months after joining Stickley, his new designs left an enduring legacy on Stickley’s repertoire, which evolved to incorporate lighter structural forms. The iconic desk offered here, along with the ‘Rocking Chair’ (lot 232, est. $15/20,000) and superb and rare ‘Armchair’ (lot 233, est. $60/80,000), exemplifies the harmony and refinement emblematic in Ellis’ limited oeuvre.
An offering of designs by Gerrit Thomas Rietveld includes the sale’s cover lot, a rare ‘Rood Blauew Stoel’ (Red Blue Chair) est. $200/300,000 (lot 240). This chair is an icon of early modern design and represents one of the first explorations of the De Stijl art movement in three dimensions. The sale also includes a pair of “Zig-Zag” Chairs (lot 242, est. $20/30,000) from the Jesse family, which Gerrit Rietveld had given them to show his appreciation for hiding him from the Germany army at the end of WWII.
An exciting group of American Modernist material includes An Extremely Rare Centrepiece Bowl by Eliel Saarinen, circa 1929 (lot 259, est. $35/45,000). For the eleventh installation of The Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition series entitled “The Architect and the Industrial Arts in 1929”, Eliel Saarinen designed a dining room, which marked the emergence of more modern sensibilities in his work. The focal point of the room was a large silver proto-type bowl surrounded by four place settings. The present lot was part of a limited commercial design based on the silver bowl featured in the 1929 exhibition. Offered in three sizes, the present lot is the smallest measuring 11 inches in diameter. Only three other examples of this bowl are presently known to exist, including examples in the Cranbrook Museum of Art and the John C. Waddell Collection. Also included is a ‘Collection of Twelve American Modernist Microphones’, circa 1925-1946 and consigned by a New York collector, which represents a definitive survey of the form (lot 252, est. $25/35,000). Each pieces remains in its original condition and comes together with its original floor stand.
The December sale also boasts an extremely rare offering of Ten Panels from the “Birth of Aphrodite” Mural from the Grand Salon of the S.S. Normandie by Jean Dupas, son of a Bordeaux sea captain (lot 270, est. $200/300,000). Normandie’s Dupas panels have long been revered as the holy grail for Art Deco and ocean liner collectors alike. Dupas painted each mural on the reverse of glass using a technique called églomisé which meant that highlights traditionally final adornments, had to proceed the layering in of back painting. Needless to say it was a demanding and time consuming process for each of the 4 panels which were over 32 feet in height. The theme of the works blended classical mythology with maritime history and was featured in the Normandie Grand Salon. Each mural was essentially a mosaic assembled from dozens of glass panels anchored by bronze brackets at their corners, a composite of which was, in a sense, the mural’s salvation allowing the works to be removed piecemeal from Normandie before her fatal fire in February 1942. The ten lots included in the sale enjoy the irreplaceable advantage of pictorial contiguity originating from the
mural’s topmost level with mast, riggings, bellying sails and fluttering pennants of a seventeenth-century warship juxtaposed against a lowering Breton sky. A second session of designs by Tiffany Studios will be offered at approximately 3:30pm which will include lamps, a window, glass, a painting, small metal works and ephemera. Among the highlights is “Oriental Poppy” Floor Lamp (lot 427, est. $500/800,000) a “Laburnum” Table Lamp (lot 434, est. $350/500,000), and a “Salamander” Table Lamp (lot 428, est. $300/500,000). Considered one of the studios masterworks, A Unique “Pebble” Window (lot 423, est. $250/350,000) will also be offered. The window presumably served Tiffany Studios through the years as a prototype that was neither sold nor duplicated; its function showed potential clients the infinite aesthetic reach of the studios inter-disciplinary skills.