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Hammer highlights

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DECEMBER is traditionally one time of the year when the major auction houses in New York have always offered selections of Decorative Arts (Nouveau, Arts & Crafts, Deco and increasingly post-war Design).

These events are preceded by sales in Paris, another auction centre for this kind of material.

Plenty was on offer to tempt the enthusiast from the ever-popular Tiffany to Gallé glass, key pieces by Deco and inter-war designerdecorators to modern favourites. And there were also two New York sales dedicated to 20th century Italian (Venetian) glass, a field which is gaining in strength.

Our brief review here, however, concentrates on work by five wellknown names across the decades: the sculpture of Rembrandt Bugatti, who died a century ago in 1916; pieces by French design favourites François- Xavier and Claude Lalanne; the pared-down modernism of Eileen Gray and the Art Deco luxury of André Groult.

Rembrandt Bugatti

The animalier sculpture of Rembrandt Bugatti (1884-1916) is on something of a roll at the moment. The sculptor, who was the son of designer Carlo and brother of Ettore Bugatti, creator of the eponymous racing cars, famously spent many hours observing live animals in the Paris and Antwerp zoos.

There he created his lively renditions of exotic and domestic animals, often modelling directly in clay on site.

His sculpture spawned a whole school of animalier followers and has always been admired. Appropriately in a year that celebrates the centenary of his untimely death aged just 32, recent auctions in Paris have provided ample opportunities to test that demand for his work.

The most striking illustration came from Crait & Muller’s auction at Drouot on December 2 where a study of a giant anteater, a 1909 model, set a new record for the sculptor’s work in France at €1.2m (£1m).

But before this, on November 22, an entire centenary sale devoted to a menagerie of 17 Bugatti’s bronzes took place in Christie’s Paris rooms. All the bronzes had been lost-wax cast at the well-regarded Hébrard Foundry.

Among those who have long admired Bugatti’s talent is the actor Alain Delon, a dozen of whose pieces were included in this centenary auction giving the sale added celebrity status.

In the event it was Bugatti’s big cats that commandeered most of the top priced slots.

Topping the bill was a panther with paw extended to pat a ball at €800,000 (£666,667). Two standing leopards, a model of c.1913, signed and numbered 5, made €750,000 (£625,000) and two panthers, one of which is licking its front paw, a model of 1905, also signed and numbered 3, realised €660,000 (£550,000). Both of these came from Delon’s collection and were acquired at auction in New York and Paris in 1997 and 1989 respectively.

One high priced figural exception – and another Delon piece – was the figure of a young girl pictured left.

Later at one of the last sales held at Drouot in 2016 on December 16, Jean-Marc Delvaux’s mixeddiscipline auction featured another big cat, an 11 x 2ft (28 x 60cm) Hébrard lost-wax cast of c.1911 of a walking puma numbered 6. It sold at €310,000 (£258,340).

Eileen Gray

Furnishings by the pioneering Deco and Modernist designer Eileen Gray are virtually always sure-fire winners whenever they come to market.

The November sales produced several notable examples. Two came from the 52-lot Art Deco collection of Henri Chwast offered in two Sotheby’s auctions in Paris and London on November 21 and 22.

One was a unique vase of 1920 from the collection of Jean Henri- Labourdette, in pine and lacquerwork (Gray’s speciality) which six bidders contested to €1.2m (£1m) in the Paris sale. The other was a glass topped table/desk in ebonised oak and sycamore from 1919-22 that made £820,000 in London.

Both these were multi-estimate prices as was the €1m (£833,335) paid in Christie’s Paris Design sale, also on November 22, for a Lit Persan, (Persian Bed) of 1924.

Three versions of this bed are known, lacquered in different colours and documented as having been produced from c.1922.

Christie’s bed, in lacquer and gold leaf, had the advantage of a full provenance, having been purchased in 1924 by the actress-turned-fashiondesigner Marthe Régnier whose third husband was Henri de Rothschild.

Regnier is recorded as having paid FFr6500 for it at Gray’s own Galerie Desmet. It remained in the family until 1974, when it is thought to have sold at auction in Caen, where it was acquired by the great aunt of the vendor.

Another well provenanced piece by Eileen Gray featured in Phillips’ evening sale of Design in New York on December 13. This was a red laquered wood brick screen composed of a series of movable panels. The design dates from 1922-23 but this was a late creation from 1973, acquired directly from Gray by French interior designer Andre Putman. It realised $390,000 (£300,000).

Les Lalannes

Works by Claude and François-Xavier Lalanne continue to provide some of the top prices in Design auctions on both sides of the Atlantic (as well as carrying hefty retail price tags in the galleries).

Last year’s final crop of auctions in Paris and New York featured a virtual flock of sheep in epoxy stone as well as other assorted examples of the couple’s inspired but quirky designs.

Six-figure sums for Francois Xavier’s sheep were paid in both cities but the top Lalanne prices in this round were for works by Claude.

At Sotheby’s sale in Paris on November 22 her lifesize bronze Caroline Enceinte, a 1985 cast from a series of eight of a model created in 1969 featuring a pregnant woman’s body topped by a cabbage ‘head’, realised €250,000 (£208,335).

And on the same day at Christie’s Paris, €220,000 (£183,335) was paid for a gilt-bronze low Gingko table of 2011. Designed as a series of large overlapping leaves supported on outsplayed legs, it is signed and numbered 4 from an edition of 8 and measures 5ft 3in (1.6m) wide.

André Groult

While Mid-century and Post-war work is an increasingly lucrative area in the high-flying Design stakes, pieces from earlier eras can still turn heads and command significant prices if they are rare and stylish.

One example was a piece that epitomised the luxury and exclusivity of the Deco era, proved to be the top lot of the day in Sotheby’s December 14 Design sale in New York.

The creation of designer-decorator André Groult, it takes the form of a 4ft 3in (1.3m) wide classic commode in mahogany which Groult has covered in his trademark galuchat (shagreen), here dyed green and applied with mounts in amazonite, marble and silvered bronze. Groult’s design was executed by Adolphe Chanaux, one of the best-known cabinet-makers of the Deco era.

This particular model was made for an American client a few years after Groult created a version covered in cream shagreen as part of a suite of ‘bedroom furniture for a lady’. It was produced for the landmark Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes of 1925 which gave the Art Deco movement its name.

Sotheby’s commode had been acquired by the vendor from the de Lorenzo Gallery in New York. Before this it featured in the prestigious collection of Claude and Simone Dray sold by Christie’s in 2006 when it realised €1.1m (then £759,000), a figure which presumably provided the basis for the $700,000-$1m estimate this time. Last December it just tipped over that sum at $1.2m (£923,075).

Buyer’s premiums: Sotheby’s, Christie’s

and Phillips 25/20/12%; Crait & Muller

26% inc VAT; Jean-Marc Delvaux 25.2%

inc VAT.