French Design Sales: November 2019
The collectible design market continues to generate strong interest, but in a competitive market, only the exceptional pieces hit the high notes.
19th and 26th November 2019, Paris
THE AVID APPETITE for twentieth-century pieces by Diego Giacometti and Charlotte Perriand was confirmed by the strong results realised during November’s sales in Paris. Similarly, the buoyancy of the collectible contemporary design market was illustrated by the record set for Maarten Baas at Sotheby’s.
Christie’s pipped Sotheby’s overall, generating a total of €9.1m on 19th November versus €8.2 at Sotheby’s one week later, with Artcurial – the same date as Christie’s – trailing behind with €3.9m.
Marrying the decorative arts with modern design, the Christie’s sale, with 85% of lots sold, was the most successful of its kind in Paris. The top lot was Claude Lalanne’s ‘Trône de Pauline’ (1990-2004) – a throne-like chair with a poetic, vegetal design and Gingko leaf back. Hot on the heels of the Sotheby’s Lalanne sale in October, it reached €454,000.
The delicate bronze furniture by Diego Giacometti, Alberto Giacometti‘s younger brother – which performed even better at Sotheby’s – ignited augmented interest. “It’s very chic, is closely related to the decorative arts and one doesn’t get bored of it,” Flavien Gaillard, head of the sale, said of the sinuous stools (€394,000) and armchairs (€328,000) from the 1950s-1980s. They were shown alongside his brother’s sculptural, patinated terracotta ‘Bilboquet’ lamp (1939), made for the Buenos Aires house of French interior designer Jean-Michel Frank, which fetched €298,000. The latter was part of several lots from the Austral university hospital, Buenos Aires, that were sold for charity.
Perriand’s ‘Tunisie’ bookcase (1952), realised in Jean Prouvé’s atelier, soared to €225,000 and was acquired by an American collector whose adviser flew over to view it. A similar piece is in the Perriand exhibition at the Fondation Louis Vuitton. With shelves in white, black, red and yellow atop a long desk, it was conceived to furnish the residencies of Tunisian students at the Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris. “The client had had it for 25 years and it was in good condition whereas a lot of Perriand’s pieces from students’ rooms were painted or modified over time,” Gaillard remarked.
The furniture designed by Perriand and Pierre Jeanneret in 1950 for the Pluet family’s seaside house in Brittany, achieving €402,125, garnered appeal – despite weathering over time – as they had remained in the family. “Collectors understood the Pluet collection’s authentic spirit and were looking for pieces with a real story behind them,” Gaillard said about their provenance.
Two other pieces stood out. One was a two-seat bench, sold for €225,000, that the Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí designed for the crypt of the church Colònia Güell in Barcelona in around 1898-1917. Made from eucalyptus and wrought iron and inspired by the Gothic period, it was one of 20 such benches. The other was a maquette of the ‘L’Arbre Cubiste’ by Jan and Joël Martel. The brothers created four versions of the Cubist, concrete-leaved palm tree for the garden by Robert Mallet-Stevens at the International Exhibition in Paris in 1925. The maquette, generating €168,750, is one of three: another belongs to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
While contemporary design barely featured as Christie’s tends to propose it in London, one inclusion was Hervé Van Der Straeten’s ‘Épines’ table. Created for the opening of his Parisian gallery in 1999, the elegant table with thorny brass legs – a unique piece – fetched €31,250.
Generating half of its €16.2m result in May, the Sotheby’s sale – of which 80% of lots sold – created a panorama of the twentieth-century, decorative arts and collectible design market.
The top lot was a pair of bronze, patinated ‘Aux Grenouilles’ console tables (around 1980), each with two glass tops and corners adorned with small frogs, by Diego Giacometti. Sold for €804,500, they were fresh to the market, its previous owner having acquired them from the artist. Giacometti similarly decorated the arms of a pair of armchairs with lions (1982), which fetched €516,500. “His work seduces because of its singular, creative universe, full of poetry, fantasy and animal representation,” Florent Jeanniard, Sotheby’s department head, said.
The biggest surprise was a 1930s dressing table and armchair by Maison Jansen flying past its €6,000-8,000 estimate to €552,500. Made from chromium-plated metal and opaline glass, the Art Deco ensemble, with subtle detailing and refined geometry, once belonged to the collection of Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel and furnished her retirement villa, La Pausa, on the Côte d’Azur.
On the contemporary front, Baas’s ‘Grandmother Clock’ (2013), produced by Carpenters Workshop Gallery in 2013, was the top ticket, fetching €262,500, versus a €100,000-150,000 estimate. The sculptural work shows a video inside the clock’s face of the artist drawing the time, then effacing the minute hand and starting again one minute later. [A short film of Maarten Baas discussing the concept behind his clock is shown at the end of this article]
The Campana brothers’ ‘Banquette Armchair’ (2002), fashioned from cuddly toys of animals – lions, tigers, crocodiles, dolphins – also went for more than double its estimate, reaching €56,250. The armchair is more sculpture than seating, as sitting on the piece would flatten the toys.
Other examples of sculptural furniture included Jeroen Verhoeven’s asymmetrical ‘Lectori Salutem’ desk (2010) in polished stainless steel, €75,000, and Ron Arad’s mirror-polished aluminium, unique coffee table from the ‘B.O.O.P.’ (Blown Out Of Proportion) series, 1998. Characterised by its audacious, wavy form, the latter fetched €43,750.
A fairly magical piece was Shiro Kuramata’s ‘Blue Champagne’ side table (1989), sold for €47,500. With pink aluminium lines inside transparent acrylic legs and a blue glass table-top, it beautifully combines colours and materials. Meanwhile, Andrea Branzi’s ‘Piccolo Albero Bookcase’ (2000), produced by Design Gallery Milano, containing an alder tree inside a metal bookcase – a reflection on man’s relationship to nature – sold for €42,500.
“Buyers from more than 40 countries participate in our [design] sales and, while the market is mainly European and American, there’s also the arrival of Asian [collectors] seeking quality objects,” Jeanniard said.
Artcurial’s exquisitely presented sale, of which 91% of lots sold, had two triumphs. One was Perriand’s ‘Bahut’ sideboard (1962), inspired by Japan and produced by Galerie Steph Simon, that was acquired by an Asian collector for €443,000. A similar piece is showcased in Perriand’s exhibition at the Fondation Louis Vuitton.
The second was Jean Royère’s unique suspension with 20 lamps, ‘Maison d’Iran’ (1969), that was made for the apartment of the director of the Maison d’Iran – the Iranian student residency – at the Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris. It sold for €281,800, far exceeding the €120,000-180,000 estimate. “It’s not only an event for the market but for the history of art as it was not known about before,” Emmanuel Berard, department director, says. He adds that the piece was removed from the Maison d’Iran 15 years ago as the room was affected by asbestos and will be transformed into a meeting room.
Other successes included a set of five ‘Démontable’ chairs (1950), model 300, by Jean Prouvé in lime green lacquered metal and plywood that fetched €182,000; a bronze-and-copper chandelier with seven lamps, ‘Structure végetale’ (around 2000), by Claude Lalanne that sold for €101,400; and two low organic wooden tables by Belgian designer Ado Chale, from 1994 and circa 2000, that made €93,600 and €80,600 respectively.
The contemporary pieces that performed well expressed a diversity of creative expression, from Hubert Le Gall’s ‘Anthémis’ (1998) dresser, made of wood with bronze flowers adorning its four sides (€96,200) to Maria Pergay’s graceful ‘Tapis Volant’ from 1967/1968 (€78,000).
Particularly special were the recent lighting creations by Ingo Maurer, the German designer who died in October. “Artcurial sold his personal collection of lighting in 2005 and he consigned these pieces to us in the summer, so they appeared on the market for the first time,” Berard said. Among the creations was a unique installation, ‘Humblies’ (2014), comprising variously sized lamps made of sheets of copper-and-gold leafed paper on a copper table, fetching €48,100.
At Artcurial’s Italian design sale, with 75% sell-through (on the same day as the main sale), the top lot was a mahogany easel by the architect Carlo Scarpa (around 1950), selling for €97,500. Next came Studio B.B.P.R.’s two identical ceiling lamps, model 2045/b (1968/1969) – like planetary constellations with numerous circular lamps – that generated €91,000 and €84,500. Yet with several unsold lots by the prolific Gio Ponti, Ettore Sottsass, Max Ingrand and Gino Sarfatti, the sale revealed how, in this competitive market, only the exceptional pieces hit the high notes.