Published: June 4, 2019
Review by Greg Smith
LAMBERTVILLE, N.J. – A parade of design-forward thinking from the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries crossed the block with more than 700 lots in Rago’s three-section design sale May 18-19. The sale, split between early Twentieth Century Design, Modern Design and Modern Ceramics and Glass, would finish square between the estimates at $3.38 million. More than 1,500 bidders competed in the auction, with more than 80 percent of them bidding online.
Speaking with Antiques and The Arts Weekly following the sale, David Rago, partner and auctioneer, thought the auction finished on track. “I think the sale did mostly as expected,” he said. “There were somewhat more unsold lots than I would have thought – I think our sell-through rate was about 78 percent and we’re usually over 80 percent – but some of the best lots more than compensated. What they say about the best of the best retaining its value certainly appears to be true.”
The top of the sale was ruled by an Egyptian-style Art Deco silvered bronze and marble Cobra console table with mirror made by Albert Cheuret (French, 1884-1966) that sold at $193,750. The model was exhibited at the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris.
Rago said he knows of only three Cobra console tables, this one included. A similar example sans mirror was sold at Christie’s in 2009 from the collection of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé.
Though Cheuret is one of the most celebrated French Art Deco designers, the strong result is indicative of a masterpiece in the genre, which has been largely beleaguered by soft prices.
“Cheuret’s legacy is one shrouded in mystery, as there is precious little known about the life and career of the man responsible for some of the most beautifully made designs of the Art Deco period,” Rago said. “He left behind a relatively small body of work characterized by impeccable craftsmanship and luxurious materials that have stood the test of time and remain avidly sought-after by discerning collectors around the world.”
Also rising into the six figures was late American furniture artist Wendell Castle’s 2013 unique stack-laminated and carved ash chair, “Tell The Trees,” which sold at $175,000.
“Castle was best known for his stacked-laminate work from the 1960s and because it was such a labor-intensive process he abandoned it for decades,” Rago said. “The later versions were made with the assistance of a machine – he showed it to me once and was very proud of it – which allowed him to revisit the technique and become more expressive with his designs. There is a futuristic quality to them, so much so that he deemphasized the wood by painting it black.”
Dollar for dollar, Rago’s Modern Design section performed the strongest, hooking over half of the sale total with a little over one-third of the lots ($1.8 million, 240 lots).
Notable here were four lots from New Hope furniture craftsman George Nakashima that hailed from two consignors – each with a table and cabinet. From a single collection came a 1974 triple sliding door cabinet in Persian walnut, which would best its $35,000 high estimate to sell at $63,125; while a Minguren II dining table in Persian walnut, rosewood and walnut sold between the marks at $50,000. From the University of Pittsburgh, office of the director of Physical Plant, came the other two: a sliding door wall case with a later-made base in Persian walnut and walnut, which took $48,875; and a “Dean’s Desk” or console table with single-slab top in figured English walnut that sold at $40,625.
Also of note was a Jean Puiforcat 278-piece sterling silver Biarritz flatware set which took above estimate at $53,125; a Paul Evans early Loop cabinet, circa 1960s, in verdigris-patinated copper, bronzed and enameled steel with a slate top that brought $43,750; and another cabinet by Evans, this one consigned from the original owners, circa the 1970s, and made of bronze resin with a slate top, sold for $30,000. Two groupings of Pierre Jeanneret V-leg chairs from the Chandigarh administrative buildings would do well: a group of eight caned chairs doubled estimate to hit $40,625, while a group of six leather examples brought $30,000; and a Harry Bertoia 73-inch-high Sonambient sculpture from the 1970s sold at $32,500.
Two contemporary makers rose to notable heights, including a 2012 unique Vine chandelier from Jeff Zimmerman, which sold at $35,000. A 2013 unique Hex stool from the Haas Brothers in brass tile wound up at $21,250. It was a good day on the secondary market for New York City gallery R & Company, which represents both designers.
Modern Ceramics and Glass
Legendary Italian glassblower Lino Tagliapietra (b 1934) captured five of the top eight lots in this 134-lot section, which grossed $512,375.
At the top was Tagliapietra’s 2006 Mandara blown glass vessel with a partial inciso and battuto surface, 36 inches high, that sold for $46,875. It was followed by a 29-inch-high Makah vessel, circa 2006, $38,750; a Fuji vessel, circa 2012, $21,250; a 29½-inch-high Angel Tear, circa 2010, $18,750; a Hamburg vessel, circa 2016, $11,875; and a Stromboli vessel, made in 2006, $10,000.
Other notable results include the large lighting sculpture “Nude with Fence of Jewels” by contemporary artist Dan Dailey, which doubled the $15,000 high estimate to land at $31,250. “Jerusalem Cylinder #5,” a 1999 blown glass and applied glass crystal sculpture from Dale Chihuly, measuring 32½ inches high, sold at $20,000. From William Morris came “Petroglyph Vessel,” a 1988 blown glass vase that sold at $16,250.
The only ceramic work in the section’s top ten also came from the only female or deceased artist in the group, “Shadowy Napkin Holder,” a glazed earthenware work from Betty Woodman (1930-2018). It measured 17 inches high and sold at $11,875.
“Contemporary glass always does well in our sales,” Rago said. “Suzanne [Perrault] knows the material and the collectors, and prices things at levels that pretty much assure active bidding. As in the past, it was a great way to end the weekend.”
Early Twentieth Century Design
Settling in at $1,068,000 with 333-plus lots, the early Twentieth Century Design section of the sale put forth some of the most interesting lots of the weekend. This was largely bolstered by 56 lots of work by French artist René Buthaud (1886-1986) that hailed from the collection of Stephen and Joan Engel.
The auction’s catalog noted that the Engels went to France in the 1980s, when Buthaud would have been in his nineties, to visit the artist and his gallerist Michel Fortin. After Buthaud died in 1986 and his art passed along to Fortin, the Engels would wait three years to purchase from him all of the lots offered in Rago’s sale.
René Buthaud trained at the École des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux from 1903 to 1907 before studying at the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris until 1913. The artist studied engraving and painting, and he would go on to win numerous prizes in those mediums. After returning to Bordeaux following World War I, Buthaud took up ceramics, the medium in which he would gain career notoriety.
The Engels’ lots were significant from an artistic and process viewpoint. While there were indeed 13 lots of ceramics in the collection, many of the lots on offer were studies – both drawings and paintings – which means they fell outside of the artist’s established secondary market.
Still, collectors found them desirable.
“The Buthaud collection was risky because there was so little market precedent,” Rago said. “And we were very pleased there.”
The top of the collection came in the form of a 91½-by-59¾-inch pastel and charcoal on linen-backed paper depicting Venus and Neptune, which sold at $9,375. The auctioneer thought it was likely a study for a verre églomisé panel.
Right behind was an actual verre églomisé panel from the artist featuring a nude woman with hat and a flower garland, which sold at $9,375.
In 1937, Buthaud was commissioned to design four massive vases for Bordeaux’s Stade Chaban-Delmas (then called the Stade du Parc Lescure), all of which still stand at the stadium today. The studies for these vases number to 12, with one in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, two in private collections, and the other nine for sale here. The gouache, charcoal and graphite on fabric-backed paper works would sell from $3,000 to $7,500, and all sold.
Two Buthaud earthenware sculptures in one lot, both female heads from the neck up, one glazed with a bow in her hair and the other unglazed with a garland, measured 10 inches high and would sell for $6,875.
Other notable works from this section included a Tiffany Studios Old English heraldic table lamp that sold at $36,250. Rago noted that the lamp was exceptional in condition and quality, though the subject matter with the shields is not traditional for the typical Tiffany collector.
A pierced sterling silver and enamel-decorated dessert dish from Charles R. Ashbee (1863-1942) of the Guild of Handicraft went out at $21,250, a record for the maker at Rago. The piece featured chased and enamel-decorated roses, violets and daffodils to its base. When asked if he can recall selling a better example from the maker, Rago said, “We’ve sold a fair amount of Ashbee over the years, but this was the best we’d handled.”
The firm’s next banner design sale will take place in September.
For additional information, www.ragoarts.com or 609-397-9374.
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