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Twentieth-century design sales in the US... Tiffany glass continues to climb

Twentieth-century decorative arts sales confirm prize prices for iconic furnishinings

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New York

When it comes to twentieth-century decorative arts market, that hodgepodge of Tiffany glass, tired Samuel Marx furnishings mixed in with the quixotic such as Joe Colombo’s pop chairs, is showing vast changes—stunning highs, new venues and some crashing disappointments (The Art Newspaper, No.81, May 1998, p.48).

For Christie’s, the 11 June sale total was an astonishing $8,096,775, the highest for a Spring sale in the department’s twenty-one year history.

Helping the sales figures climb was Tiffany glass. The star was a c.1910 Magnolia lamp, which soared to $992,500. The previous record for a Magnolia was in 1984 ($525,000).

Also of note was a rare Eileen Gray wood and painted parchment floor lamp somewhat de Stijl in design, it sold for $222,500. A surprising price was paid for a copper and mica Dick van Erp table lamp, about 1912. Estimated at $40,000-60,000, the lamp by the noted LA designer hit $156,500 and made a world record.

Considering the current vogue for fine French furnishings from the 1920s on, eight highly touted lots of ébène-de-macassar furniture by Pierre Chareau were bought in. Another disappointment was the lack of interest in Jean Michel Frank furnishings for the Llao-Llao Hotel in Argentina from 1939.

The first ever sale devoted solely to Piero Fornasetti, in Los Angeles, proved a winning move by Christie’s which, on 16 May, captured three world records. Fornasetti’s mass-produced objects with surreal trompe l’oeil graphic designs attracted the interest of museum curators and private buyers across the country as well as in Europe and Asia. In total, the sale brought in a surprising $823,911. Even a single umbrella stand achieved $2,990—but Fornasetti’s malachite printed bike failed to sell.

In a sudden shift of marketplace, Sotheby’s held its first major twentieth-century decorative arts sale in Chicago. While estimated at $592,000, it brought in only $243,000. However some handsome prices were achieved: $10,350 for a Barovier & Toso “oriente” glass bowl of 1940, and two Aureliano Toso “oriente” vases designed by Dino Martens in 1952 rose to $28,750. An Orrefors vase designed by Edvin Ohrstrom hit $20,700.

The afternoon sales contained twentieth-century furnishings and fine art and prints from Chagall to Oldenburg. According to Sotheby’s specialist Marcus Tremonto, “It just makes sense to show and sell works that complement each other, such as the Passiflora lamp by Poltronova with Pop art.” The Fornasetti prices achieved in Chicago matched those in LA; a four-panel screen from the 1950s brought $4,025, the same as in LA for a screen from the same period.

Strong prices were reached by a Vittorio Valabrega desk and chair, about 1932. While popular in both Italy and London, his work is barely known here; the heavy furnishing went for $9,200 against estimates of $8,000-10,000. Joe Colombo’s “Additional system” lounge chair of rectangular cushions went for $6,325 (estimate $3,000-5,000), but the earlier, more Deco-ish, pieces did even better. A set of four Charreauesque shagreen nesting tables made double their low estimate, $5,462, and a occasional table attributed to Alfred Ponteneuve jumped to $9,775 (estimate $5,000-7,000).

As always, furniture by Samuel Marx moves well in Chicago. His parchment and wood cabinet manufactured by Quigley went for $9,430 (estimate $5,000-7,000). But a rare Richard Meier dining room set made by Knoll was bought in. It had been estimated at $35,000-45,000.

In total, this part of the sale made $644,000, while it was expected to bring $834,000. “This is a young market, and we did get great prices for Marx”, concluded Mr Tremunto.

Phillips New York is emerging as a serious contender in twentieth-century sales with its new specialist Usha Subramaniam, formerly at Christie’s. Her 10 June sale, Phillips third twentieth-century sale, had an impressive number of star quality pieces such as a Frank Lloyd Wright aluminium and leather armchair for the Price Tower from 1952. Estimated at $8,000-12,000, the chair brought $16,100. Furniture by Eugene Prinz was prized, especially a chaste walnut commode, estimated at $12,000-18,000, which sold for $28,750. The most stylish lot, a single swirl of stainless steel making up a desk with chair for the Paris Peugot showroom in 1967, was by Max Ingrand and sold for $52,900. In total, the Phillips sale, estimated at $2,096,600-$2,790,100, made $1,1495,748 with a weak 55% sold by lot.

The uninspired, such as dull Gallé and Italian glass, just did not arouse any interest. “We will no longer carry middle and low end glass”, concluded Ms Subramaniam.

Continuing in the liner style at Christie’s East 9 June sale, the banner lot was pure Titanic—a cast iron flag and name plate from the doomed ship. Estimated at $50,000-70,000, the rusted pieces went for $79,500.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as ‘Tiffany glass continues to climb'

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