Fair and Auction Report Card: September
Has September gone gonzo for contemporary art? I’ve long associated the summer-fall bridge month with the Biennale des Antiquaires, the biennial Gallic decorative arts bash and celebration of le grand goût (as well as 20th century French design and haute joaillerie). But this is the off year. Often that would mean a re-focus to Florence and its “International Biennial Antiques Fair,” but no luck. This autumn Firenze falls in October, opening October 1 and closing October 9.
So we’re left with is a roster of contemporary art fairs far and wide. There’s the 11th Lyon Biennale of Contemporary Art (September 15-December 31); the 4th Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art (September 23-October 30), the 5th edition of SH Contemporary, China’s largest art fair (September 7-10), the 15th Shanghai Art Fair (September 14-18, which this year had its first-ever pavilion devoted to North American galleries—ca-ching!), the 12th Istanbul Biennial (September 17-November 13), as well as the launch of Art Beat Istanbul, September 14-18); the launch edition of (e)merge art fair (September 22-25), a scrapper newcomer in Washington, D.C; New York’s fall edition of the Affordable Art Fair (September 21-25), the second edition of the Marrakech Art Fair (September 30-October 3).
Might this attenuation mean a contemporary market in overdrive? Not my bailiwick, but Anders Petterson weighs in with “Is Art Still a Safe Bet for Investors?” in The Art Newspaper, and Andrew Russeth weighs in “Welcome to Art Market Boom 2.0” in The New York Observer.
But in terms of decorative arts succor this month, that must be sought in the salerooms of auction houses. Two single-owner sales (noted below) raise my paddle in particularly.
September 13-14-15: The Cowdray Sale: Works of Art from Cowdray Park and Dunecht House, At Cowdray Park, West Sussex, U.K.
September 15, Living Contemporary, Wright auctions, Chicago.
September 16-October 30: Beyond Limits, Chatsworth, U.K.
September 19-20-21: Palais Abbatial de Royaumont-Exposition au Palais Abbatial de Royaumont, Christie’s Paris. Auction results.
Ever wonder what the Louis XVII style would be like, at least architecturally? Perhaps it would be embodied by the Palais Abbatial de Royaumont, or the Abbey Palace of Royaumont. So posited the late, great tastemaker and interior designer Emilio Terry, who revered the elegantly paired-down palace, calling it the world’s best example of “Louis XVII,” the eastethic direction he thought France would have taken had it not been for that social, political and cultural speed bump also known as the French Revolution (which, among many things, yielded the Empire style … merci Napoleon).
Designed for Louis XVI’s chaplain, the Abbot of Balivière in the last decade of that ill-fated king’s reign, the architect was Louis Le Masson, a protégé of the renowned neo-classicist architect Claude-Nicolas Ledoux. Le Masson’s design draws directly from the work of the seminal Italian 16th-century neo-classicist architect Andrea Palladio, specifically his Villa Rotunda.
Following the Revolution the property passed to a series of owners, until, in 1923, it was bought by the Baron and Baroness Fould-Springer, who formed the nucleus and bulk of the collection on the Christie’s block.
Now listen up. Why single-owner sales are so fascinating is they’re not just about the stuff, nor are they just about a single person’s or family’s perspective. They’re also about history, gossip, cultural values, money (macro economics and personal finances), as well as imagination.
Let’s break down the Fould-Springers. The Foulds were one of 19th-century France’s great industrial and financial dynasties (Achille Fould was Napoleon III’s Minister of Finance). The Springers were equally powerful Austrian industrialists and financiers (they “created” the French yeast industry in 1872, but one example of how their interests were trans-continental).
The Fould-Springers made the palace their primary residence (then, as Nathaniel de Rothschild notes in the catalog, one could zip quickly into Paris within 45 minutes, the roads free of le gridlock), and decorated primarily with neo-classical pieces. Le tout Paris came to their palatial parties—Proust among them. During World War II, the property remained unmolested and German-free, courtesy of one of the Fould-Springer’s sons-in-law, a Spaniard who flew that neutral country’s flag over the estate.
Following the War, the Palais entered a quieter time, lived in primarily by the aging Baroness and her son. Eventually it passed to grandson Nathaniel de Rothschild (yes, another storied name in industry and finance), who is the discreet seller.
The collection’s highlights include both Louis XVI and Empire pieces. Among the most high profile are a c. 1800 table attributed to famed bronzier Pierre-Philippe Thomire, with rails and feet cast completely in bronze and in the Egyptian style, and a Louis XVI cabinet reusing earlier Boulle marquetry panels and richly decorated with ormolu mounts by Parisian cabinet maker Joseph Baumhauer.
Lovely lovelies to be sure. But equally beautiful (and edifying) are the in situ photographs of the pieces in the palace—which make the catalog a keeper for the bookshelf. Inspiring, to say the least.
September 22: 500 Years Decorative Arts Europe, Christie’s London.
September 27: Design, Phillips de Pury, London. The auction house claims the sale will offer the most important group of Modernist ceramics ever to appear at auction.
September 28: The Contents of the St. Lucian Property of Lord Glenconner, Bonhams, London. Auction results.
Completely different in tone and taste from the Fould-Springer Collection is that of Lord Glenconner, the bon vivant and businessman who put Mustique on the Jet Set map and had famously terrific parties attended by bosom buds such as Princess Margaret, Mick Jagger, Carolina Herrera, and, well, the list goes on and on.
For much of his life, which spanned well over seven decades (1926-2010), the 3rd Baron Glenconner (born the Honorable Colin Tennant) collected. What he collected, however, varied greatly. He was a very early admirer of painter Lucien Freund, at one point owning 15 of his works (one a portrait of himself). He adored Scottish pottery, building a superlative collection of Wemyss (he also collected Chinese porcelain). Same for Indian furniture and jewelry. Perhaps the through line of all his various collections was he bought them when they were not in fashion.
Writer Nicholas Courtney (who has a biography on Lord Glenconner coming out next year) explains in the catalog’s introduction that “In all, Colin built three remarkable houses. He began with a house in Tite Street in London that was dubbed the most important to be build in the 1960s. Oliver Messel, originally known for his theater sets, designed his ‘Indian’ palace in Mustique that gave ample scope to display his Indian treasures, such as a Mogul temple in the grounds, and a silver bed. For Beau House in St. Lucia, which he completed for his eightieth birthday party, he had bought a complete monastery in Gujarat and built the house of Barbados coral blocks around the carved wooden pillars, doors, window surrounds and shutters.”
Pieces from his previous residences were also brought to Beau House (including incredible sconces by French designer Janine Janet)—the contents of which comprise this sale. The catalog yields the same kind of nostalgic pleasure that photographer Slim Aarons captured in his snaps of the privileged, pedigreed and powerful.
September 28: Important American Furniture, Folk Art & Decorative Arts, Christie’s New York.
September 29: Property from the Collection of Edward P. Evans, Sotheby’s New York.
September 30: Important Mobilier, Sculptures et Objets d’Art, Sotheby’s Paris.
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