20th century French design leads Phillips' New York auction
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20th century French design leads Phillips' New York auction
Jean Prouvé, "Direction" armchair, model no. 352, circal 1951. Estimate: $70,000 -$90,000. Image courtesy of Phillips.

NEW YORK, NY.- Phillips announced highlights from the New York Design auction, taking place on 9 June. Featuring nearly 100 lots, the sale brings together rare and important works of 20th and 21st century design, appealing to collectors of all backgrounds. Highlights from the sale will be on view at Phillips’ Park Avenue galleries from 22-25 May, followed by the full sale exhibition in Southampton from 5-8 June.

Cordelia Lembo, Head of Design, New York, said, “As we host live auctions of Design across New York, Hong Kong, and London this June, we are proud to bring our international community such a breadth of material, spanning geography and taste. The New York sale brings 20th century French Design to the fore with works by Giacometti, Pompon, and Rateau leading the sale, but with American works figuring prominently, as well. We’re delighted to offer a wonderful selection of ceramics in the sale, with some remarkable pieces by Doyle Lane, John Mason, Andrew Lord, Lucie Rie, and Kathy Butterly, which have all seen a great deal of enthusiasm from collectors in the lead-up to our sale.”

Andirons by Alberto Giacometti are extraordinarily rare and leading the sale is a set of the Parallélépipédique model, which are even more so. To date, among the ten andirons recorded in the online Alberto Giacometti database, this set constitutes the only example of this model. These andirons are the product of an artistic collaboration between Giacometti and the interior designer Jean-Michel Frank, who beginning in the late 1920s, engaged the sculptor to create original objects that seamlessly accented his exacting, pitch-perfect interiors. The designer and artist shared an aesthetic that favored simplified forms and rough textures, as evidenced by the present lot which is composed of two elongated parallelograms whose uneven golden surfaces evoke the qualities of an excavated prehistoric sculpture. Alberto Giacometti’s involvement with Jean-Michel Frank had the benefit of expanding his network of collectors beyond the circle of Surrealist artists he associated with in the 1930s. The Parallélépipédique andirons recall, in particular, several of Giacometti’s geometrically-inclined works from this period, such as the tall obelisk and cone-shaped sculptures documented by Brassaï in a photograph of the artist’s studio in 1932.

With this being the first time this Giacometti lamp is coming to market, the "Grecque" table lamp, tall model brings together three illustrious figures of 20th century design: the sculptor Alberto Giacometti, the French ensemblier Jean-Michel Frank, and the American interior decorator Frances Elkins. Although Frank was always the aesthetic driving force in his creative projects, he forged collaborations with artists including Christian Bérard, Salvador Dalí, and—of course— Alberto Giacometti. Elkins was an American interior designer who established her practice in Monterrey, California and by the late 1920s, she was buying Frank and Giacometti furnishings for her earliest clients, including the present lot, becoming renowned for her ability to deftly mix antiques with modern furnishings—especially French Art Deco. It is not surprising that the discrete elegance of the Grecque model appealed to American tastes—it epitomizes the best of French Art Deco by being at once rooted firmly in history, but also undeniably modern in its reductive abstraction. The present lamp hails from the prestigious Elkins-designed residence of Hester Hyde Griffin. It has remained a treasured part of the family’s collection since it was acquired in 1937.

In 1922, François Pompon unveiled his monumental plaster sculpture Ours blanc at the Salon d’Automne to great fanfare. Though underrecognized at the time—despite being well into the second half of his career—the work afforded Pompon critical acclaim and financial independence. Over the next eleven years the artist would go on to create variations—in form, size, and materials—of his iconic bear. The Ours blanc sculpture that is featured as a highlight of the June Design is artist’s proof 1, for the model in bronze of this size, and was cast by C. Valsuani Foundry, the leading foundry in Paris which executed the works of Pompon and other masters of early 20th century sculpture.

At the turn of the 20th century, Armand-Albert Rateau traveled from France to the sites of eighteenth-century archaeological excavations in Pompeii, Italy. This moment, coupled with the excitement over the opening of Tutankhamen’s tomb, resulted in his ultimate taste for classical antiquity that would later make his name in the 1920s. The ornamental ashtray included in the June sale is a strong illustration of Rateau’s innovative style combining classical art and embellished creatures. It is fitting, then, that the present model ashtray was displayed at the 1925 Exposition Universelle in Paris and subsequently at The Metropolitan Museum of Art's 1926 exhibition of decorative arts from the exposition.

Among the highlights of the auction is Marc Newson’s Alufelt Chair, a rippling ribbon of metal designed and released in a limited edition in 1993. Produced at the pinnacle of his achievement in metal fabrication, when Newson had discovered the means to transform aluminum into virtually anything he could envision, the Alufelt Chair finds the designer exalting this malleable material in its most honest format: the two dimensional plane of industrially produced sheet metal. The Alufelt Chair perfectly exemplifies the artist’s oeuvre and has only been offered at auction twice since its creation nearly three decades ago.

Three works by Maria Pergay from an important French collection will also be on offer, including her “Tapis Volant” (Flying Carpet) daybed, “Saturn” table, and “Pouf Vague” (Wave) bench.

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