British actor Michael Caine’s collection of Art Nouveau, included in Sotheby’s sale of applied arts in London on 1 November, exceeded expectations when it sold for £472,503. The objects had decorated his former home in Los Angeles. He explained how he had hoped to squeeze the two collections together, “but there simply isn’t the room. I am sorry to part with the things we had when we lived in Los Angeles but I was concerned that the more fragile pieces could get damaged by being crammed in too tightly”.
In addition to buying modern British pictures (sold on 2 October), minor Impressionist paintings and drawings (sold on 23 October) and prints (offered on 6 December), Mr Caine was one of the first of the Hollywood set to begin collecting Art Nouveau and Art Deco pieces in the Sixties. At this time the market was still in its infancy and the pieces were not expensive. In the Seventies and Eighties there was a swell of interest in the period and a corresponding jump in prices, which peaked in the early Nineties. The seductive, glamorous, decorative style of both Art Nouveau and Art Deco had a particular appeal to those in the glitzy world of show-business. Barbara Streisand, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Liz Taylor and Joan Collins all decorated their West Coast homes with Art Nouveau and Deco pieces and dealer Don O’Neil set up his business in Beverly Hills, where he became known as Art Deco broker to the stars.
Michael Caine’s taste was wide ranging. He bought what caught his eye, rather than hunting down pieces with an academic determination. The sale included many excellent graphic works by Alphonse Mucha, Jules Chèret and Georges de Feure and one of the star lots of the graphics was a stage design by Erté for Aladdin. This is the largest work by the artist to appear on the market and it sold within estimate for £20,700. The Gallé glass was particularly fine: among the most sensitive pieces was a delicate symbolist vase decorated with marine elements inspired by a verse from Baudelaire, which sold for £21,850.
More showy and dramatic were the Tiffany lamp with its multicoloured iridescent glass shade, which made four times its estimate at £18,975, and a Lalique lamp, “L’Oiseau de Feu”, moulded with a mythological creature, half woman, half bird, which fetched £17,250.
The Caine connection certainly helped objects in the lower price range. Of more importance to serious collectors was the fact that the objects had been acquired in the Sixties and were therefore fresh to the market. The room was packed with competitive international bidding. Overall, the sale did not see such competitive bidding but totalled a healthy £1.5 million (including the Caine collection) and was seventy-seven percent sold. According to Sotheby’s expert Philippe Garner, it was the most buoyant sale since the late Eighties.
Although no special collection boosted the sale at Christie’s, London, on 31 October, it totalled £1.1 million, with high prices for furniture by Hector Guimard.