quinta-feira, 30 de abril de 2015


Rateau's Commission For the Duchess de Alba to be Sold at Christie's Paris

In researching my previous post on Eileen Gray and her retrospective at the Centre Pompidou, I thought of planning a trip to Paris. I did a little digging considering the upcoming auctions I could take-in....and I am glad I did.  Christie's has announced that they will be selling Armand-Albert Rateau pieces from my favorite of his commissions, the private apartments of the Duchess of Alba, doña María del Rosario de Silva y Gurtubay (1900-1934), in the Liria Palace, Madrid. Commissioned between 1920-1921 by her husband, Jacobo Fitz-James Stuart y Falco (1878-1953), 17th Duke of Alba.
Duchess de Alba's Bathroom, Liria Palace, Madrid circa 1922  Image via Musee Des Arts Decoratifs, Paris
As faithful readers may notice, I have mentioned this room in a previous post and am simply ecstatic that I will be able to see some of these pieces in the flesh at long last.  According to the press release:
The House of Alba has decided to sell the Armand Albert Rateau furniture commissioned by the 17th Duke of Alba, don Jacobo Fitz-James Stuart in the early 1920s in France, in order to support the funding of its heritage and of its various palaces throughout Spain as well as supporting new projects for the family. This is part of a general reorganization undertaken by the House of Alba, as illustrated by the recent exhibition ‘El Legado Casa d’Alba’, the first ever organized in Madrid between December 2012-March 2013. These pieces of furniture are all that remain of a larger ensemble that no longer exists. They do not form part of the historic collection of the House of Alba nor do they relate to the history of Spain”, stated the House of Alba.
Duchess de Alba's Bathroom, Liria Palace, detail of niche  Image via Musee Des Arts Decoratifs, Paris
While exciting on many levels it settles a long scholarly debate, that this interior was in-fact dismantled at some point and no longer exists.  Hopefully the Christie's catalogue will shed more light on the details when it is issued.  According to Christie's expert Sonja Ganne the pieces consigned include:
Alba Commission Torcheres     Image via Christie's
Alba Torcheres, detail     Image via Christie's
  • Two green patinated bronze floor lamps "aux oiseau" offered as individual lots at €1,500,000-2,000,000 each.
Alba comission bronze and marble low table "aux oiseau"   Image via Musee Des Arts Decoratifs, Paris
  • A dark green patinated bronze and black marble low table "aux oiseau" at €1,500,000-2,000,000
Alba commission patinated bronze and marble dressing table Image via Musee des Arts Decoratifs , Paris
  • A deep green patinated bronze and black marble dressing table at €600,000-800,000
Alba commission carved giltwood and bronze adjustable daybed  Image via Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris
  • A carved giltwood and patinated bronze adjustable daybed at €400,000-600,000
Alba commission parcel gilt carved wood canapé "aux cols de cygne" Image via Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris
  •  A parcel gilt carved wood canapé "aux cols de cygne" at €200,000-300,000
Alba commission carved white marble bath tub Image via Musee des Arts Decortifs, Paris
  • A carved white marble bath tub at €150,000-200,000
The line-up is astonishing and I feel that the estimates are actually quite conservative given the rarity of Rateau's works and the fact that these pieces come directly from this original coveted commission.  The torcheres are the same model that were utilized in Jean Lanvin's bathroom (now in the Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris).  To my knowledge a torchere of this model has not been up at auction in the past few decades, if ever.
Rateau design for a floor lamp variation  Image via Fonds Rateau
Two similar and less ornate lamps were offered as successive lots at the Delorenzo tribute sale at Christie's New York in December 2010 achieving $842,500 and $1,142,500 respectively.
One of two Rateau lamps offered in the Delorenzo Sale at Christie's New York   Image via Christie's
A similar example was offered at Christie's Paris from the amazing sale of the Collection of Claude and Simone Dray in June of 2006, then making $1,302,782.
Related Rateau torchere from the Claude and Simone Dray sale, Christie's Paris  Image via Christie's

Also in the Dray sale was a slightly more elaborate version with an ivory switch...the rare variation was reflected in the price as it achieved a staggering $2,307,673.

Variant Rateau torchere from the Claude and Simone Dray sale, Christie's Paris  Image via Christie's
It is this variant nature and the rare Alba provenance that lead me to believe that the Alba torcheres will each soar past their estimates of €1,500,000-2,000,000.
Rateau design drawing for the table "aux oiseau"  Image via Fonds Rateau
Now on to the table "aux oiseau".  This is a model, that while rare, was a staple for well heeled Rateau clients most notably Jeanne Lanvin who had one in her bedroom.
Jean Lanvin's "table aux oiseau" at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris    Image via Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris
The last example at public auction was a variant of the Alba/Lanvin model with closer set, more arched birds centered by a flower and lacking the tray top opting for just the simple marble slab. 
Rateau "table aux oiseau" from the Claude and Simone Dray Sale, Christie's Paris  Image via Christie's
This table not surprisingly also came from the Christie's Paris Dray sale in 2006 where it achieved $2,601, 667.  It appears that the Dray table was presented at the booth of Galerie Vallois at the Biennale des Antiquaires in Paris this past September.  Again, with this price as a base line I feel that the Alba table will blow through its estimates of €1,500,000-2,000,000 given its rarity and provenance.
Rateau Design for a vanity table   Image via Fonds Rateau
Now the vanity table is a Rateau design icon that turns-up with and without the mirror.  Jeanne Lanvin had a variant in her Paris apartment (on view at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris) and one presently resides in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Rateu dressing table at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York  Image via Metmuseum.org
Rateau's variant dressing table for Jeanne Lanvin  Image via Musee des Arts Decortifs, Paris
The last example at auction once again came from the Collection of Claude and Simone Dray at Christie's Paris in June of 2006.  It realized a heady €1,916,000 against a seemingly conservative €500,000-700,000.
Rateau dressing table from the Dray Collection  Image via Christie's
With this in mind, once again the example from the Alba commission seems conservative at €600,000-800,000.
Rateau's adjustible daybed from the Alba commission shown in two positions  Image via Editions de L'Amateur
There is no comparable for the Alba daybed which makes sense as the literature suggests that it is unique.  The period images above show it in two positions and with its original ocelot fur upholstery.  Thankfully for us it was photographed more recently with both the head and foot in raised positions making it a more versatile curule form bench.
Rateau adjustible daybed shown with ends raised   Image via Editions de L'Amateur
Rateau's carved wood furniture typically does not reach the prices of his works in bronze. But, the fact that it comes from the Alba commission and is apparently a unique work, I expect bidders to completely ignore the sale estimates of €400,000-600,000.

UPDATE:  The catalogue is out and it has recently come to light that there are two examples of this daybed.  The example above in the cream upholstery was part of a Rateau exhibition at Delorenzo Gallery, New York in 1990.  Its present whereabouts are unknown...

Now onto the parcel giltwood canapé "aux cols de cygne".  There is not an auction precedent for this work to my knowledge and its rather historicist Empire style form seems right at an estimate of €200,000-300,000.  I still think that it will go well over the high estimate, but it is not the most highly prized work in the offering.  It is by no means a unique work, but I personally have not encountered one in in the flesh.  The Alba model appears to have been originally covered in a dark satin or dark short haired fur and the literature shows this period image of the same model covered in a light striped fur.
Rateau canape "aux cols de cygne"  Image via Fonds Rateau
In the period, the model was also seen at the 1925 Paris exposition where Rateau recreated the Alba bathroom at the Arnold Seligmann Gallery on the Place Vendome.  The example at the exhibition was covered in a striped fabric and had a minimally carved seat rail.
Rateau installation at Arnold Seligmann Gallery, Paris 1925   Image via Fonds Rateau
Last but not least we come to the tub.  It is a great object, but as with all site specific works and architectural elements it will prove to be a tough sell which is reflected in its relatively modest €150,000-250,000 estimate.  Hopefully it still has its sculptural bronze taps and spout as this will help.  However, at the end of the day, you need that special client who has a vision and is willing to design an entire room around this dreamy sunken tub.  This type of client can prove to be elusive and if the piece passes it will be hard to sell in a later auction stripped of its context.  But I will think good thoughts.
Alba commission carved white marble bath tub Image via Musee des Arts Decortifs, Paris
As a final thought, I mused over the press release's rather adamant stance that "these pieces of furniture are all that remain of a larger ensemble that no longer exists".  As you peer once more into the period images you notice a second pair of floor lamps, a bronze mounted alabaster floor vase, a small vanity chair and tabouret that are unaccounted for.  
Duchess de Alba's Bathroom, Liria Palace, Madrid circa 1922  Image via Musee Des Arts Decoratifs, Paris
Detail showing vanity chair    Image via Musee Des Arts Decoratifs, Paris   
Detail showing floor vase    Image via Musee Des Arts Decoratifs, Paris   
Detail image showing low stool/tabouret   Image via Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris
Who knows where these pieces are or if they will ever surface and don't get me started about the elaborately lacquered and painted walls.  If you look at the plan you see that it was a round room created by cleverly framing out a square room, thus creating concealed niches for the sink, w.c., closet, and an alternate exit/staff access.
Plan of the Duchess de Alba's bathroom.  Image via Fonds Rateau
For color images of this type of Rateau painted decoration see my previous post on the subject.  I plan to provide updated information as we learn more about the Alba consignment at Christie's.  Until next time--AR.

It has come to my attention that Galerie Vallois presented a canapé "aux cols de cygne" with a matching chair at the 2004 Paris Biennale des Antiquaires.  The pieces came from a group of works that were from the apartment of Jeanne Lanvin circa 1920.
Galerie Vallois Rateau Installation at the Paris Biennale des Antiquaires in 2004   Image via Galerie Vallois

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