Autumn Design Sales round-up 2019
Sales were strong across the board, with many pieces outperforming their estimates – but the Sotheby’s Les Lalanne sale in Paris smashed all expectations.
FOR COLLECTORS AROUND the world, autumn is significant as the season when the big international design sales take place. It is the chance to take the pulse of international, collectible design – a young market that still has traction to impress.
The top lots of Christie’s Design sale were the René Lalique ‘Fruits’ chandelier (1913), which sold for £317,250 against an estimate of £80,000 – £120,000; a Lalique ‘Oranges’ table (1931), which sold for £162,500 (estimate £60,000 – £80,000); and Gerrit Thomas Rietveld’s ‘Elling’ sideboard (part of the Housden collection and designed in 1919) which sold for £125,000, more than doubling its low estimate of £50,000.
Equally impressive was the high price achieved for the ‘Etoile’ mirror by Hervé Van der Straeten (2003), a unique piece that achieved £106,250 – more than three times the lowest estimate of £30,000 – £50,000. European Head of Design, Jeremy Morrison, points out that Van der Straeten is an internationally recognised designer, “This specific piece was particularly of note as it was unique. It has come directly out of the home of the collector who commissioned it, and has never appeared in the market before.”
For devotees of her work it was also gratifying to see a pair of table lamps (2003) by Hélène de Saint Lager nearly quadruple their lowest estimate of £8,000 – £12,000 by achieving £30,000.
Morrison says that for both 20th and 21st century pieces, the same factors come into play, “Private clients are interested in the standard collecting criteria such as designer, provenance, condition and rarity. The visual impact is equally important. Almost all the items purchased in our design sales are bought by people to put in their homes, to live with and enjoy, so bidding for a work is a deeply personal response.”
This might also explain why hand-crafted rugs also performed strongly, echoing a burgeoning appreciation for fine craft skills. Take, for example, the Barbro Nilsson ‘Salerno blå’ carpet (1948), hand-woven by Märta Måås-Fjetterström, which realised £45,000 against an estimate of £15,000 – £20,000.
In all, the Design sale totalled £3,840,875 and was preceded by the Thinking Italian Design sale, which surpassed that result with a total of £4,138,250. This included rare and unique works by many of the leading architects and designers who shaped the Italian identity, such as Carlo Mollino, Gio Ponti, Gino Sarfatti and Piero Fornasetti. Highlights included a world record for a work of 20th century Italian glass: a rare ‘Bosco di Betulle’ vase by Artisti Barovier dating from 1914 – 1919, which sold for £707,250 (estimate £400,000 – £600,000).
THE PHILLIPS SALE almost perfectly matched Christie’s result with a total of £3,847,500. This included a world auction record for a rare, illuminated drinks cabinet, circa 1933, by Pietro Chiesa, which made £287,500 (estimate £70,000 – £90,000). Other important 20th century Italian pieces also out-performed their estimates, including a unique prototype of a folding coffee table, circa 1951, by Gio Ponti, which made £100,000 (estimate £30,000 – £50,000). Domenico Raimondo, Head of Design, Europe and Senior International Specialist says that Italian design continues to present opportunities of discovery, “For example, with Ponti we come across new models and prototypes that are completely unknown and yet also in line with his evolution and way of thinking, showing the trajectory of his design. Italy offers such a variety of lexicon that it allows every sale to present something that completely takes the public by surprise.”
Twenty-first century design performed well, as with ‘Bone’ armchair (2008) by Joris Laarman, which sold for £237,500 against an estimate of £180,00 – £220,000. Raimondo says that the radical innovation of ‘Bone’ is what makes this piece so desirable, “This work marks a radical shift in the possibilities of design. Laarman made use of a biologically-inspired algorithm to create the 3D mould, which he then used to cast the chair.”
Other contemporary luminaries held their ground well, as with ‘Arc’ table by Norman Foster (2015), which broke his previous auction record selling for £16,250 (estimate £10,000 – £15,000); and Rick Owens’ ‘Stag’ bench (2006) which sold for £18,750 against an estimate of £5,000 – £7,000.
However, many 20th century talents stayed well within the perimeters of their estimates, notably Ettore Sottsass, Maria Pergay and Line Vautrin. Raimondo believes that Sottsass may have suffered from a market that relies more on gut instinct and decorating than expertise, “We expect Sottsass to garner more interest as people develop an understanding of his relevance. At Phillips, we are in a position where we can test the market and develop it.”
THE BIG NEWS at Sotheby’s was the decision not to hold a design sale in London at all. Instead all energies were focused on the Paris sale of ‘L’Univers Lalanne’, the personal collection of Claude and François-Xavier Lalanne from their home and studio in Ury. Sotheby’s showcased this in London and New York as well as Paris, with the clear intention of bringing in buyers from across the globe. With a sale total of a staggering €91,338,713 it would be fair to say they smashed all expectations. Most lots made at least two to three times the estimates, with some reaching dizzying numbers.
The very first lot, ‘Pomme Moyenne’ (2007), by Claude Lalanne set the tone, selling for €516,500 (estimate €80,000 – €120,000). A ‘chandelier’ (2018) by Claude Lalanne went for €1,452,500 over an estimate of €200,000 – €300,000, while a signature ‘Choupatte, Très Grand’ (2012) achieved €2,172,500 (estimate €150,000 – €200,000). Works by François-Xavier were no less popular, with even small pieces such as ‘Teeny Bell’ (2005) achieving €40,000 against an estimate of €5,000 – €7,000. Interest in his fine art proved equally impressive: ‘Sauterelle’, an oil dating from 1967, was estimated at €1,500 – €2,000, but sold for a jaw-dropping €93,750.
Even simple household effects from Ury were snapped up by collectors eager to own a piece of the life of Les Lalanne. Take the simple wooden stand that would ordinarily have cost €100 – €150, which sold for €4,375; or the low coffee table that was estimated at €350 – €400, but which sold for €13,750. The fact is that this was a unique sale celebrating a unique couple who worked alongside each other for five decades. Try as we did, we could not raise anyone at Sotheby’s for comment. Suspect they are lying down in a darkened room recovering from all the excitement.