Published: October 20, 2020
Review by W.A. Demers, Photos Courtesy Stair Galleries
HUDSON, N.Y. – On October 8, Stair offered selections from the collection of Mr and Mrs John Gutfreund’s iconic Fifth Avenue apartment. John Gutfreund (1929-2016), American banker, businessman and investor, served as the chief executive officer at Salomon Brothers, an investment bank that gained prominence in the 1980s. The Gutfreunds’ home was decorated by the “King of Wall Street’s” second wife Susan in consultation with Henri Samuel, one of the pre-eminent designers of the Twentieth Century who was known as the master of the French interior. No doubt reflecting all of this, a French Art Deco verre églomisé mirror brought a robust $88,560, against an $800-$1,200 estimate. The 51-by-44-inch mirror had been by repute acquired from Galerie Darenberg, Louvres des Antiquaires in Paris in the 1980s. Sale curator Muffie Cunningham, the firm’s director of decorative arts, said the mirror was won by a European bidder.
Stair prides itself on selling interesting things from interesting people with a unique, sophisticated twist. The firm presents focused, curated sales offering traditional furniture; decorative arts; Twentieth Century, Modern and contemporary fine art; Americana; porcelain and more. The Gutfreund sale clearly fit the profile, presenting more than 350 lots exhibiting the couple’s taste and design acumen. “The market clearly responded to a well-curated sale of unusual items and good quality,” said Cunningham. “Their duplex apartment was exceptionally glamorous. They entertained a lot and were well regarded in the social set.”
Hammer price for the sale, excluding buyer’s premium, was $831,200 and it posted a 98 percent sell-through. More than 1,000 registered bidders participated, with 41 percent of the auction selling to phone bidders, 52 percent going to online bidders. As one can note from the prices realized below, the majority of the sale (220 lots) sold above the high estimate.
A modern botanical-decorated cabinet designed by Josef Frank (1885-1967) decorated with “Flora” printed paper over the mahogany cabinet went out at $57,600 to a private collector. Finely crafted, this model was designed in 1937 and continues to be relevant today. This piece was originally located in the Gutfreunds’ country home, Murray House, Villanova, Penn., which was sold in 2019. Retailed by Svenskt Tenn, Stockholm, Sweden, the cabinet opens to three shelves and is raised on mahogany trestle legs joined by a stretcher. Exhibition history for the 55¼-by-46-by-17-inch cabinet included “Color and Comfort: Swedish Modern Design” at the Cleveland Museum of Art, February 17, 2019-February 9, 2020.
Modestly estimated at $150/250, a lot including Sacheverell Sitwell’s and Roger Madol’s Album de Redouté achieved $39,975. A bound book, the album was published by Collins in 1954, was signed by the authors on the justification and numbered 176 or 250, in a paper-covered slipcase; it was offered together with Geoffrey Grigson’s and Handasyde Buchanan’s Thornton’s Temple of Flora, a bound book, published by Collins in 1951 and signed by both authors on the justification and numbered 126 of 250, in paper-covered slipcase. The lot further included E. P. Ventenant’s Jardin de La Maison, published by the author in 1803, with reproductions after Redouté, leather bound and paper board; as well as Sacheverell Sitwell’s and Wilfrid Blunt’s Great Flower Books 1700-1900, bound and published by Collins, 1956, signed by both authors on the justification, copy 79 of 295; Sacheverell Sitwell’s and James Russell’s Old Garden Roses, published by Collins in 1955; and Elizabeth Cameron’s Flowers, six reproductions, all signed in pencil and variously numbered from the edition of 350 in a silk and velvet portfolio.
Fetching $36,900, more than seven times the high estimate, was a set of 20 Directoire-style painted dining chairs likely manufactured in the first quarter of the Twentieth Century, while a large French Art Deco white painted tub chair, in the manner of Süe et Mare, 37 by 28 by 24 inches, more than tripled its expectation, bid to $23,370.
A Louis XVI-style white painted and parcel-gilt console fitted with a marble top and a plinth brought $17,220 against an estimate of $2/4,000. Before the Gutfreunds acquired it, the 32¾-by-54-by-25½-inch console had been in the collection of Hubert de Givenchy, Paris.
Purchased directly from the artist, a chic R&Y Augousti parchment and shagreen low table with a label R&Y Augousti, Paris and fitted with three drawers on each side took $16,640, a fivefold increase over the high estimate for the 18-by-55-by-27¾-inch piece.
There was considerable fine art offered in the sale, including several lots of William Stuart Thornton (b 1946) botanicals. Sixteen pressed botanicals on paper, all signed with initials “WST,” variously dated and inscribed, realized $16,640. And ten Thornton pressed botanicals on paper, all 18¾ by 12 inches in frames, earned $14,080.
Prices given, excepting the sale total, include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house.
Up next at Stair are European furniture, decorative and fine art on October 28 and the private collection of Jane Wrightsman on October 29. For information, www.stairgalleries.com or 518-751-1000.
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