NEW YORK, N.Y.-
Collectors of fine European decorative arts will have a rare chance to own treasures brought to the New World during the Gilded Age by titans of American business and philanthropy in Christie's
upcoming sale, The Gilded Age, 500 Years: Decorative Arts Europe, Including Oriental Carpets on November 22. Led by de-accessioned works from some of America‟s leading art and history museums, the sale features a rich and diverse selection of furniture, sculpture, works of art, tapestries, ceramics and carpets.
The last two decades of the 19th century and the first three of the 20th bracketed the rise of great American industrial fortunes. Newly minted millionaires such as Henry E. Huntington, William Tilden Blodgett, John L. Severance, William Andrews Clark, Sr., and Dr. Preston Pope Satterwhite, among others, sought to outfit their brand new mansions in Manhattan and industrial centers of the Midwest in the style of European nobility. At the same time, economic and political instability forced Europe‟s noble families to downsize, selling furniture and decorative arts made by the greatest artists and craftsmen of their times, sometimes entire rooms, as well as prized family heirlooms. Eventually, many of these collections were gifted to American museums.
Not all of these works support the museums‟ primary collections goals, however, and Christie‟s is pleased to help several museums sell the pieces that have been reviewed and formally de-accessioned in order to fund acquisitions of better-suited works. This sale includes items from more than a dozen of America‟s most-respected museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago; the Cleveland Museum of Art; the Corcoran Gallery of Art; the Harvard Art Museums; the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens; the Minneapolis Institute of Arts; the North Carolina Museum of Art; Louisville‟s Speed Art Museum; and Hartford‟s Wadsworth Atheneum.
Collectors in the Gilded Age were voracious, and the aesthetic of the period was wildly eclectic. The objects in this sale reflect the broad tastes of the original collectors, ranging from massive Italian walnut refectory tables and choir stalls to refined English 18th century mahogany card tables. Renaissance terracotta and plaster sculpture, majolica, Venetian enamels, German Medieval sculpture, Baroque bronzes and Isfahan carpets are available, as well as entire period rooms―of English Palladian and French Neoclassical design. The sale also includes many fine works from private collectors.
CLEVELAND MUSEUM OF ART HIGHLIGHTS
Cleveland, in the early 20th century, was a city that combined many of the great industrial fortunes of the country with a remarkable civic generosity and was home to superb collections. Some of the objects included in this sale from Property of the Cleveland Museum of Art Sold to Benefit Future Acquisitions were once owned by some of Cleveland‟s most sophisticated and celebrated collectors, including Elisabeth Severance Prentiss, Severance A. Millikin, William Tilden Blodgett and Salmon Portland Halle, among others. A highlight of the sale is an Italian gilt and polychrome-decorated terracotta relief of the Virgin and Child from the late 15th/early 16th century (estimate: $60,000-90,000). This relief, in the style of Benedetto Maiano, is most likely based on a lost marble composition that would have been be contemporaneous to the Virgin and Child on the unfinished 1491 Strozzi monument in Santa Maria Novella, Florence. Among the other 21 works are a white marble figure of a bacchante, a Hercules, a Pluto with Cerberus and various other mythological characters in bronze, marble, ebony, ivory and other material (estimates: from $500-18,000).
THE HUNTINGTON ART COLLECTIONS HIGHLIGHTS
The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens ranks among the finest of American art institutions, founded on a spectacular series of collections initiated by Henry E. Huntington (1850-1927), who made his fortune in the railroad and utility business. He launched his collecting career at the advanced age of 60 by acquiring books; then, following the guidance of art dealer Joseph Duveen, he and his wife assembled an outstanding collection of British and French paintings and 18th century decorative arts. The couple‟s taste was exemplary among America‟s new wealthy class.
Among the 26 lots in the group, Property from the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, Sold to Benefit the Art Acquisitions Fund, is an assembled George II carved pine room, circa 1730 and later (estimate: $40,000-60,000). This impressive room was acquired by Florence M. Quinn on behalf of the Huntington in order to display the collection of English furniture she donated to the museum, and was on public view from 1944-2005. Measuring 48 ft. x 27 ft., the room was assembled by the London dealer Alfred Charles Pembery in an age when many great houses were being demolished in Britain, using elements from three great 18th century interiors: Castle Hill, Devon; 19 Arlington Street, St. James‟s, London; and Grove House, Chiswick. Another George II-era piece is a figured walnut concertina-action games table, circa 1735 (estimate $30,000-50,000), with hipped, shell-carved cabriole legs and a leather-lined playing surface.
MINNEAPOLIS INSTITUTE OF ARTS HIGHLIGHTS
A French period room headlines the lots in Property from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Sold to Benefit the Acquisitions Funds. This splendid room is a Louis XVI pale-green and parcel-gilt paneled room circa 1780 and later (estimate: $50,000-100,000). Like so many period rooms acquired in the early 20th century, it creates a striking, harmonious whole with its elegant à lantique plaster lunettes of Bacchic festivities and crisply carved details. The room had previously belonged to the distinguished French actor Lucien Guitry (1860-1925), who spent much of his career in Russia and was a close friend of the composer Tchaikovsky.
Another highlight is a French oak coffer, circa 1500, probably from northern France (estimate: $10,000-20,000). This impressive oak coffer, the front embellished with elaborate panels of Gothic tracery, represents the last flourishing of the high-Gothic style in France from around 1500, before the nascent classical styles of the French Renaissance took hold from the 1530s onwards. Two closely related oak coffers are in the Cluny Museum, Paris.
SPEED ART MUSEUM (LOUISVILLE, KY) HIGHLIGHTS
The Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Ky., was founded by Mrs. Hattie Bishop Speed in 1925 and expanded enormously in 1940 when Louisville native Dr. Preston Pope Satterwhite made the first of his gifts that eventually numbered more than 500 works of art. Satterwhite‟s taste, a heady blend of Renaissance and Gothic styles, epitomized the Gilded Age, as he and fellow Medici-style collectors such as J.P. Morgan aimed to outdo the magnificence of the Renaissance princes, but in a way that borrowed from almost all periods.
Among the nearly 50 lots in Property from the Speed Art Museum, Sold to Benefit the Acquisitions Fund are a splendid commode, circa 1700, with rich marquetry ornamentation of flower-filled vases, rinceaux scrolling foliage and bearded grotesques, in the fashion of the Louis XIV period for painting in wood through marquetry (estimate: $40,000-60,000). Another lot is a pair of monumental (12-ft. tall) south European gilded wooden Solomonic columns from the late 17th/early 18th century, ornately covered with training grapevines (estimate: $10,000-20,000).
CORCORAN GALLERY OF ART HIGHLIGHTS
When mining magnate and U.S. Senator William Andrews Clark, Sr., died in 1925, he left to the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the entire contents of his Fifth Ave. mansion ― over 100 rooms filled with paintings, sculpture, tapestries and other European works of art. Within this group were 120 pieces of Italian Renaissance maiolica, many acquired in 1897 from the Berlin collector Oscar Hainauer. Dating from the 15th and 16th centuries, the Clark gift included a variety of pharmacy wares, dishes in various forms, useable objects such as inkstands, and sculpture, all from a seminal period in which the very best and most distinguished Italian ceramics were created.
The present selection of 20 pieces in the group, Property from the Corcoran Gallery of Art to Benefit the Acquisition Fund, are being de-accessioned either because a similar example remains or because it is unlikely that the piece will ever be exhibited. Examples are a Biblical charger from Urbino, circa 15801600, Patanazzi Workshop (estimate: $10,00015,000); a two-handled vase from Deruta, circa 15251550 (estimate: $15,00020,000) and an Istoriato Flask and Stopper from Urbino, circa 15451550, (estimate: $40,00060,000) painted by Francesco Durantino.
OTHER SALE HIGHLIGHTS INCLUDE
Among other lots in the sale The Gilded Age, 500 Years: Decorative Arts Europe, including Oriental Carpets are several rare works with fascinating provenances. A superb Louis XIV Biblical tapestry depicting The Vision of Ezekiel, 1660-1680, 11 ft. 7 in. square, (estimate: $200,000-300,000), was woven by Jean Lefebvre of Gobelins for Cardinal Mazarin. It was based on one of a set of 10 tapestries originally created for Pope Leo X for his state bed, after a cartoon by Tommaso Vincidor, a pupil of Raphael. The scene is based on the central section of a small painting in the Palazzo Pitti that is attributed to Raphael and assumed to have been painted in 1518.
A rare silk Polonaise carpet from Isfahan, in central Persia, circa 1600, 14 ft. 4 in. x 7 ft. 7 in. (estimate: $200,000-300,000) is one of two carpets belonging to the Polonaise group offered in this sale. The name derives from the discovery of the first such carpets in the collection of Count Czartoryski of Poland, their prevalence in his collection, as well as the presence of his family‟s coat of arms on the rugs. In fact, Polonaise rugs are Persian, and were presented by Shah Abbas and his court to foreign nobility as diplomatic gifts. Polonaise carpets are distinctive for incorporating traditional Islamic designs with European influences: simplified and enlarged floral vinery and arabesques and palmettes harmonized in a soft ethereal palette. They are also some of the rarest carpets from the classical period, with fewer than three hundred known examples, most of them in museum collections. The other is a smaller (6 ft. 7 in. x 4 ft. 8 in.) silk- and metal-thread Polonaise rug from the first quarter of the 17th century (estimate: $180,000-250,000).
From The Property of Robert H. & Clarice Smith is a pair of Italian gilt-copper-mounted glass pilgrim flasks, probably made in Venice in the 17th century, 16 in. high, 9 in. wide, 6 in. deep (estimate: $100,000-150,000). The dazzling metalwork of these sumptuous flasks represents the best of late Renaissance. The animated elements, such as the figural finials and lion masks, raise them above the level of utilitarian decorative art to a sculptural art. The form of the pilgrim flask‟ has its roots in the leather water flask carried by the pilgrim or traveller of the Middle Ages. Popular until the end of the 16th century, a revival of their manufacture took place in second half of the 17th century.