Sotheby’s New York 20th Century Design Sale Takes Over $19 Million

A week of 20th Century Design sales at Sotheby’s New York concluded, bringing in excess of $19 million. This represents the highest total for a week of Design sales at Sotheby’s New York since December 2003, achieved with less than one third of the total number of lots on offer. The week was led by an auction of nine masterworks by Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann, an original interior of furniture that had been in storage for nearly a quarter of a century. The sale brought $6,618,100, more than double its pre-sale high estimate.

16 December 2010
Ruhlmann: An Important Interior
The day began with a blockbuster sale of a rare interior of furniture by Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann, the legendary French Art Deco atelier. The nine masterworks on offer achieved $6,618,100 in total, more than double the pre-sale high estimate of $2.5 million*. The salesroom saw spirited bidding from an international audience both in the room and by phone on every lot in the sale. This competition drove the top lot, one of the two “Ventru” Sideboards offered, to $1,516,100, more than six times the high estimate (pictured right). Together with its pair, which represent numbers two and three of the model produced by the atelier in 1929, the two lots brought $2,688,600. Additional highlights from the sale included a “Vuillerme” Dining Table and a Set of Twelve “Cannelée” Dining Chairs that sold for $986,500 and $886,500 respectively, both more than double their high estimates.

The sale represents the first time in over ten years that such a complete interior of works by Ruhlmann has been offered at auction. Even more remarkable is the archive of documents preserved by the family that outlines the history of the commission. Correspondence with the atelier traces the customizing of each work, bills of sale and original certificates signed by Ruhlmann. The works, originally commissioned by an American family, have been in storage for nearly a quarter of a century. As a result, they remain in mostly original condition and finish, a prized trait among collectors that contributed to today’s incredible result.

Important 20th Century Design
Immediately following the Ruhlmann auction was the sale of Important 20th Century Design, which brought $6,939,401 in total. The sale was led by two rare works by René Lalique from Property from an Important Midwestern Collection. A Highly Important “Figure Femme et Guirlande de Fleurs” Statuette, which sold for $602,500, is a unique work molded directly on a silver centerpiece from the London exhibitions of Lalique’s works that he organized in 1903 and 1905. A Highly Important “Baies de Cornouiller” Vase by Lalique from the same Midwestern Collection achieved $494,500, in excess of the high estimate.

Continuing the momentum for earlier in the morning, additional works by Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann continued to perform well. A Pair of “Comfortable Redhead” Armchairs brought $410,500 and a “Bloch” Armchair sold for $146,500, both well in excess of their high estimates. Another highlight of the sale was A Rare “Calla Lily” Vase by Teco Art Pottery, whose $314,500 price set a new auction record for Teco, more than five times the previous one.

Important Tiffany
The afternoon auction of Important Tiffany gave a strong finish to the day. The sale achieved $5,583,375 in total, well in excess of the pre-sale high estimate of $3.6 million, and was more than 87% sold by lot. The auction was led by An Important and Rare “Grape” Table Lamp that brought $1,202,500, more than double its high estimate. The lamp was last offered at auction at Sotheby’s predecessor

Sotheby Park Bernet in 1980. Among the other highlights that far exceeded their estimates were A Superb “Laburnum” Table Lamp and An Important and Rare “Landscape” Floor Lamp that both sold for $842,500, as well as A “Daffodil” Table Lamp that achieved $512,500, more than seven times its high estimate.

14 December 2010
Fusion: Contemporary Art and Design
The week of sales began with an inaugural auction of Fusion; Contemporary Art and Design that brought $4,911,186, within the pre-sale estimate. The sale featured works that blurred the distinction between fine art and design, a phenomenon that has been a driving force in visual culture since World War II, and represented a unique collaboration between Sotheby’s Contemporary Art and 20th Century Design departments. Some of the works that best illustrate this theme include a Desk and Pair of Chairs by Donald Judd from the Collection of Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen that sold for $98,500, a Pair of Granite Chairs by sculptor and performance artist Scott Burton that achieved $104,500, and an iconic “Half Dollar Chair” by designer Johnny Swing that brought $65,000.

*Pre-sale estimates do not include buyer’s premium

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