The Modern Made sale held by Lyon & Turnbull
at the Mall Galleries on October 28 included 23 pieces of 1930s furniture by Summers from a collector who has long championed his work.
Gerald Summers and his partner Marjorie Butcher opened their London shop, Makers of Simple Furniture, in 1931. For a decade, until the firms closed with the onset of the Second World War, Simple Furniture produced more than 200 designs conceived in the modernist creed as furniture for the concrete age. The emphasis was very much on function, modern materials, and machine methods of manufacture. Having worked as an apprentice within the aviation industry, Summers had seen the benefits of birch plywood that could be versatile, strong and cheap but also avant garde. He sold his furniture to forward-thinking members of the British public through department stores and furnishing shops in London, such as Heals.
Like so much of British inter-war design, Summers work was largely forgotten by the market until the advent of the 21st century. Summers reputations in particular had paled in comparison with contemporaries such as Marcel Breuer or Alvar Aalto who worked in much the same medium. However, increasingly today he is seen as a pioneer and his works the precursor to the ubiquitous moulded plywood chairs made later in the century by Charles and Ray Eames.
Martha Deese, an authority on Gerald Summers who provided the introduction to the catalogue, will publish a book on Simple Furniture next year.
The collection included a fine example of Summers best-known design, his armchair c.1933-34 made form a single sheet of birch plywood. Summers had the ingenious vision to try and construct a chair that would require no joins and create very little waste, relying instead on simple incisions and mould bending. The example here was purchased new by the Oxford artist Juliette May Lucille Edwards (1909-2011) and acquired by the vendor from her estate in 2011. It was estimated at £7000-9000 but sold for £25,200.
Another piece with a provenance to its original owner is as a set of three nesting tables c.1935 sold at £6,930. These came by descent from Cecil Handisyde (b.1908), one of a team of architects who designed the Lansbury Estate in Tower Hamlets, London. The first phase of building was undertaken as the 'live architecture' element of the 1951 Festival of Britain exhibition.
A stained ash plywood and brass trolley c.1936 is Summers' only documented design for Isokon, the design firm founded by Jack Pritchard and Welles Coates. Both Isokon and Simple Furniture used the same birch plywood manufacturer Venesta in their furniture making. Although a series of copies have been produced this century, only 20 or so original trolleys were thought to have been made before plywood became difficult to source with the onset of the Second World War. A similar piece (perhaps this one) featured in the Bent Wood and Metal Furniture 1850-1946 exhibition organised by The American Federation of Arts which travelled to nine institutions around the US in the 1980s. Estimated at £12,000-18,000, it sold for £35,200.
Another particularly rare piece is a Type P chair. With legs formed from single strips of bent plywood, which rise to form the back supports. The Italian architect and designer Carlo Mollino created a pair of plywood chairs for the Casa Cattaneo using a similar technique two decades later. This is believed to be the only example of this chair to exist, though it is known that two were originally produced. It was described in the Makers of Simple Furniture advertising as: "Suitable for occasional or dining use. Constructed of selected birch and finished in clear polish". The Type P chair sold for £22,680.
Collectively the Summers lots made over £205,000 with bidders and buyers from the UK, America and China. The vendor declared the results I have for many years sung the praises of this great British designer. This body of work whilst including only a fraction of his 200 designs, has given a voice to Gerald Summers and hope that it will encourage debate and much deserved greater inclusion in the history of the Modernist movement.
STUDIO CERAMIC STARS
The Modern Made sale, a format that blends together art and objects from progressive design movements of the past century, was also memorable for a fine array of studio wares by post-war and contemporary women potters. Foremost among these was a signature vase by Kenyan born ceramicist Dame Magdalene Odundo (b.1950) whose work now enjoys the sort of financial rewards shared only by a small handful of post-war studio potters. The 27.5cm high Untitled Vessel from 1986, painstakingly fashioned in the burnished and carbonised terracotta that is Odundos signature medium, assumes an asymmetrical form evocative of the human body. It was acquired by the vendor at auction more than 25 years ago at a time when the market was in relative infancy. Here, estimated at a modest £10,000-15,000, it sold for a mighty £225,000. This was the second highest price paid for the potter who holds the auction record for a work by any living ceramic artist. A simpler form by Odundo, a burnished and carbonised terracotta bowl, sold for £31,450. It had formed part of the Royal College of Art Degree Show, London, 1982 where it was acquired by the current vendor.
The Anglo-Japanese potter Akiko Hirai (b.1970) is among the more admired of the current generation of contemporary ceramicists, blending Japanese and British pottery techniques results in her celebrated, asymmetrical natural forms. The sale included 12 lots from across her career that began in London at the turn of the 21st century. They range from a group of 12 Morandi stoneware bottles (so-called as they mirror the bottles and jars used by Italian artist Giorgio Morandi in his still life paintings) sold at £3,528 to a series of the grogged stoneware vessels inspired by the Korean pots that shock and surprise with their rugged surfaces and ash glazes. A 48cm Moon jar bought by the vendor at the exhibition Akiko Hirai: In Praise of Shadows at The Scottish Gallery, Edinburgh in 2017 took £6,930.
A footed bowl with a pale blue glaze by the doyenne of the medium Dame Lucie Rie (1902-95) sold at £9,450. Displaying a mastery of form and glaze, it is part of a collection of studio pottery assembled in the 1980s that specialist Philip Smith first travelled to see at the end of lockdown. At the equivalent sale earlier this year, two particularly fine bowls from the same source made substantial sums - one in pink with a turquoise banding, sgraffito design and a bronzed rim brought £57,500 while the other in a vibrant jade green made £50,000.
GLASGOW SCHOOL LEADS DESIGN SINCE 1860
The Modern Made sale was just part of Lyon & Turnbulls four-part £2.65million series of Design-related sales that began in Edinburgh on October 12 with the Design since 1860 catalogue. Key proponents of the Glasgow School dominated. One of the highlights was a stunning Glasgow School collar, embroidered by the celebrated artist Ann Macbeth (1875-1948) which realised £11,970. This collar, shown worn by Macbeth in a contemporary photograph of circa 1900 was found by the keen-eyed vendor in a box of fabric at a Glasgow market and instantly stood out for its quality. An inspiring artist, teacher and womens rights activist, Macbeth was the most talented student of Jessie Newbery who ran the embroidery department at the Glasgow School of Art. Her striking embroideries and accessories in the Glasgow style were a regular feature in The Studio with this collar illustrated in the magazines 1908 edition and later shown as part of The Crafts Exhibition, Old Bluecoat School, Liverpool, 1912. Detachable collars and cuffs, that added colour to the plainest outfits, were frequently used by the embroiderers of the Glasgow School of Art.
Leading the sale was a dark-stained and waxed oak ladderback chair with original drop-in rush seat designed by the architect and polymath Charles Rennie Mackintosh for Catherine Cranstons Argyle Street tearooms in 1898. It was the second time the Glasgow architect and entrepreneur had worked together. Used at one end of the Luncheon Room about 20 chairs of this robust design appear in contemporary photographs, of which five are known to survive. Estimated at £8000-12,000, it sold at £32,700.
A writing desk designed by the artist trebled hopes to realise £30,200. Now converted to a table, the lattice form pedestal once formed the base of a four-person desk made by Frances Smith for the Ladies' Rest Room at Miss Cranston's Ingram Street Tearoom in 1909. It had been purchased by the owner in around 1960. John Mackie, Head of Sale, has a long-standing interest in Mackintoshs work and is member of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society and a trustee of the Willow Tearooms regeneration project in Glasgow.
Gavin Morton and GK Robertson are well regarded for their high-quality hand-knotted Arts & Crafts carpets, made by Alexander Morton and Company. The example here, that came for sale from the collection of the late Sir Richard Shepherd, MP, was worked across an ivory field with bold palmettes and stiff leaves in tones of blue, green and pastel. Measuring 6.52 x 3.35m, it was admired both for its scale and condition and took £24,444.
Lalique glass led by Joy McCall and Travel & Vintage Posters conducted in partnership with specialists Tomkinson Churcher captivated specialist collectors and casual furnishers alike at the Mall Galleries on October 27.
A particularly rare piece of Lalique in this biannual offering was the so-called Caravelle table centrepiece in clear and frosted glass sold at £75,200. The design, centred by a 17th century style man-of-war gunship, was first produced in 1931 (the galleon is an emblem on the coat of arms of Paris) but this piece was one of three created for the visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1938. To complement the gift of a large dinner service featuring seagulls, a series of 13 gulls in flight (three on the front, 10 to the reverse) were added. Only two other examples are known to exist the example in the Royal Collection and another version held in the Musée Lalique.
The other top lots of the sale were the Chrysanthéme vase and cover in clear, frosted and sepia stained glass on carved stained walnut base at £18,900, and the rare Vigne Cave à Liqueurs at £18,900 a lockable nickel-plated tantalus with three clear and frosted bottles.
Joy McCall said, the sale attracted good international interest but the UK yielded the most participants with much of the action coming from online bidders She added that the department is now looking forward to offering a single-owner collection of Lalique in February.
TRAVEL IN STYLE WITH VINTAGE POSTERS AUCTION
It was a classic Scottish scene for LNER that topped the 50 lots of vintage posters, offered at The Mall Galleries in partnership with specialists Tomkinson Churcher, selling for £12,600. Over the Forth to the North from 1928 depicts the iconic railway bridge that, crossing the Forth estuary in Scotland, had the worlds longest span when it opened in 1890. Henry George Gawthorn's bold Art Deco style scene in shades of blue conveys the industrial aesthetic and structural impact of this remarkable feat of engineering.
Another Art Deco travel sheet, this time created in 1926 for Imperial Airways, depicted a large passenger bi-plane enroute across the Channel to France. Deigned by Dorothy Braddell (1889-1981), a British writer and designer of kitchens and domestic appliances, this rare poster sold for £5,292.