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One of the Most Important Works of American Furniture to Come to Auction will Be Offered by Sotheby's
The Pratt Desk and Chair by Greene & Greene. Photo: Sotheby's.

NEW YORK, NY.- Sotheby’s 16 December auction of Important 20th Century Design in New York is led by the Pratt Desk and Chair by Greene & Greene, the most important work created by the architects and an icon of American furniture. The Desk and Chair is from the Pratt House, the fifth and final of Charles and Henry Greene’s ‘Ultimate Bungalows’ that made them among the most important architects of the 20th century. The masterwork embodies the architects’ style at their pinnacle, and set what became a 15-year auction record for Greene & Greene in 1985 when it was purchased by the present owner. The Pratt Desk will be on exhibition in Sotheby’s New York galleries beginning 11 December, and is estimated in the region of $4 million*.

“We are honored to offer a work of this magnitude,” said Jodi Pollack, Director of Sotheby’s 20th Century Design Department. “Nothing like the Pratt Desk has come to market in the last 25 years. The importance of this offering is a combination of the Desk’s extraordinary workmanship, freshness to the market, and condition. Since 1985, it has remained in one of the most important private collections of American fine and decorative arts.”

Brothers Charles and Henry Greene, who founded the architecture firm Greene & Greene in 1894, rank among the most important American architects of the 20th century. Inspired by their training in woodwork, metalwork and architecture, as well as their passion for Chinese and Japanese design, the Greenes’ bungalow-style houses stand as icons of the Arts & Crafts Movement, marrying livability and fine design in their unparalleled constructions. Due to its enveloping, luxurious quality, the Greenes’ work was noted in the journal of Charles Robert Ashbee in his tour of the United States in 1908-09: “I think C. Sumner Greene’s work beautiful; among the best there is in this country. Like Lloyd Wright the spell of Japan is upon him, like Lloyd Wright he feels the beauty and makes magic out of the horizontal line, but there is in his work more tenderness, more subtlety, more self-effacement than in Wright’s work, and it is more refined and has more repose.”

The Greenes designed and built five ‘Ultimate Bungalows’ at the pinnacle of their careers; larger-scale residences such as the Gamble, Blacker and Thorsen Houses that showcased their mature style. The Pratt House, otherwise known as Casa Barranca, was the fifth and final of the Ultimate Bungalows. It was commissioned in 1908 as a winter home for Charles M. Pratt, son of the cofounder of Standard Oil, and his wife Mary Seamoor Morris, daughter of the governor of Connecticut and a college acquaintance of Mrs. Blacker and Mrs. Thorsen.

As in the other Ultimate Bungalows, the furniture for the Pratt House was custom designed, site-specific and superbly constructed by Greene & Greene’s master cabinetmaker, Peter Hall. Designed for the living room, the Desk is a tour-de-force that stands today as the most important piece of furniture the architects created. The work embodies the Greenes’ defining design principles, with a purity of proportion, form and line that is balanced by sumptuous textural enrichments. Hand-carved wood inlays on the exterior of the Desk articulate gnarled oak trees in bas relief, inspired by the surrounding landscape of the Ojai valley. This anthropomorphic depiction of the live oak represents a high water mark in the history of inlay. Undulating lines of precious silver inlay enhance the drawer pulls–a motif echoed in the fretting of the Chair’s back and stretchers.

The contents of the Pratt House were disassembled in 1985. A majority of the furniture was offered at auction the same year by Christie’s, where the Desk set a record for a work by Greene & Greene at auction that held for 15 years. Sotheby’s set the current record for Greene & Greene in 2006 with a Dining Suite that sold for $2.1 million. The Pratt Desk and Chair have remained in a private collection since 1985.

*Estimate does not include buyer’s premium

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