April 30, 2012



During “Islamic Week” in London in mid-April, Sotheby’s and Christie’s offered art from the Muslim world, but Phillips de Pury Company went its own way, holding a design sale. The bit of counter-programming paid off, and the auction resulted in the firm’s highest total for the category. The 211-lot sale on Apr. 26, 2012, totaled £4,658,800, or $7.5 million (£1 = $1.62) with 79 percent of the lots selling. The results just topped the house’s own December design sales in New York, which brought $7.1 million. Results are given here in dollars.

The session lacked a million-dollar lot like the pair of Emile Jacques Ruhlmann armchairs that boosted the December sale, though the star Art Deco ébéniste took three of the top ten prices. A lacquered wood desk from 1932 sold for $392,730 and a handsome pair of leather armchairs brought $216,917, both within presale estimates. A pair of cylindrical Tournicol side tables on pedestal bases, looking rather alien and fashioned of Ruhlmann’s favored Macassar ebony, were sold for $197,380 above a high estimate of $146,500. The price is nearly double what the pair brought at auction in 2004, when they sold at Christie’s New York for $89,625.

The record was set for a design work by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe when a severely reductionist steel and glass Tugendhat coffee table, the only known example of the MR 150/3 model, sold for $351,641. The table, along with a pair of chairs and light fixtures also on offer, were designed for the architect’s Tugendhat Villa, Czechoslovakia, built during 1928-30.

The three Mies lots (which could be ordered from a catalogue) were originally purchased for a house designed around 1929 by the Zurich-based architect Louise “Lux” Guyer, one of the first women to open her own architectural practice in Switzerland. Though the chairs failed to find a buyer (est. $97,600-$146,500) and the lights sold within presale estimates for $10,000, the table far exceeded expectations, soaring above the presale $80,000 estimate. A cube wood stool by another legend of modern architecture, Le Corbusier, went for $74,000 (est. $14,600-$22,700).

Several other records were set. A plush neo-Baroque wood armchair with hand-painted upholstery by the Italian designer Alessandro Mendini, who is celebrated for ritually burning one of his chair designs in 1975 for the cover of Casabella, sold for $148,500, a new record for the artist. The chair had sold less than two years ago at Bonhams for $58,600. Buyers at Phillips passed on several other Mendini lots, including a restyled “Wassily” chair and a Memphis-style mirror.

Similarly, a tufted wool chair on four rounded wood legs by architect Martin Olsen — it looks a little like a fabric-covered sports car seat mounted for the parlor — sold for $52,825 against a high estimate of $11,395. Elsewhere in the auction, the appropriately named Z Desk — a pair of z-shaped legs, with a tabletop resting across them –by the Italian minimalist designer Gabriella Crespi from 1974 brought $60,600 (est. $14,000-$22,000).

The sale’s top lot was Diego Giacometti’s patinated bronze bookshelf that has the craggy surface for which both Giacometti brothers are well known. Minimalist in design save for a pair of owl finials mounted to the rear vertical supports, the shelf sold within presale estimates for $584,719. One of the younger Giacometti’s best-known works — a bronze ostrich carrying a real ostrich egg — sold for $95,800.

All 25 lots by the revered British potter Lucie Rie found buyers. Bowls were particularly coveted, with one “knitted” bowl fetching $22,300 (est. $4,800-$6,500), and another footed bowl with pale green glaze and a metallic rim fetching $64,000 (est. $22,800-$29,000). Four lidded ceramic vessels by Edmund de Waal all were sold, too, for between $7,000 and $18,000.

This week, all eyes are on the Impressionist and modern art sales in New York, where Sotheby’s is expecting to sell a pastel version of Edvard Munch’s The Scream for upwards of $80 million. Whatever its final price, the sale has already made global news.

Prices given here include the auction-house commission of 25 percent of the first ÂŁ25,000, 20 percent of the next ÂŁ25,000 to ÂŁ500,000, and 12 percent of the rest.

For complete, illustrated results, see Artnet’s signature Fine Art Auctions Report.

JESSICA MIZRACHI is a decorative arts specialist who writes on the art market.

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