Chairs and Seats
Chronology : 1750-1759 1920 1979
set of four Ming huanghuali armchairs
2015 SOLD for $ 9.7M including premium by Christie's
narrated in 2019 before Christie's sale of another set (see below)
Highly appreciated by the Ming, the huanghuali is a hardwood that enables to create furniture with bold shapes. Its color varies from reddish brown to golden yellow while its grains may display seductive pseudo-figurative patterns.
A set of eight Ming seats in huanghuali would be the holy grail for a collector. I do not know if such a wonder remains in private hands and the submultiples, four and two, are much in demand. The consistency of colors and grains ensures the homogeneity of a group. The virtuosity of the craftsman is also considered.
The almost square back with the top rail in the form of a yoke or of an official's hat is the guanmaoyi. A set of four folding armless chairs was sold for £ 5.3M including premium by Bonhams on November 9, 2017 over a lower estimate of £ 150K. A pair with arms was sold by Sotheby's on March 23, 2011 for $ 2.77M including premium over a lower estimate of $ 200K.
The quanyi, designating a chair with a circular back, is also known as the horseshoe-back armchair. The best craftsmen round the circle by reducing the number of elements of the crest rail, obtaining a rigidity which also makes it possible to optimize the stretchers. Despite an apparent lightness, their seats are strong.
On March 17, 2015, Christie's dispersed the Ellsworth collection. The bidders recognized the best qualities of a quanyi in the group of four that constituted the lot 41. Moreover the other two pairs that would make it possible to constitute a set of eight were identified in the catalog. Lot 41 was sold for $ 9.7M including premium over a lower estimate of $ 800K.
Another homogeneous set of four quanyi in huanghuali from the Ming period passed at Christie's on September 13, 2019, lot 878, from a lower estimate of $ 800K.
Qing - The Lacquer Throne
2019 SOLD for £ 6.1M including premium
On May 14 in London, Christie's sells a wide lacquered armchair, lot 60 estimated £ 800K. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
This large piece of furniture is very finely chiseled on all its surfaces except of course on the seat proper, with a depth of lacquer that required 100 to 150 layers. In an extreme refinement, three colors were used, a classic cinnabar red for the surface and ochre and green in under-layers revealed by the carving.
With its opulence and dimensions, 111 cm high, 115 cm wide and 86 cm deep, this chair is an imperial throne. Its figures include nine five-clawed imperial dragons who pursue the flaming pearl in the clouds. The back side adds other auspices including bats and a pair of fish.
This type of throne was executed during the Qing dynasty, mainly during the reign of Qianlong. The imperial archives record during the ninth year of the reign, 1744 CE, the commission of a lacquered dragon throne which was attributed to a small palace used as an intimate theater lodge in the imperial city. This information does not allow an identification with the piece to be sold but it shows that these fragile furnitures were not ceremonial thrones.
The catalog of the next sale quotes in reference a similar Qing throne, probably earlier. Its lacquer consisted of red, black and green layers on a brown background and contained gold inclusions. This lot was sold for HK $ 13.8M including premium by Christie's on May 29, 2007.
1750 Queen Anne Footstool from Philadelphia
2008 SOLD for $ 5.2M including premium by Sotheby's
narrated in 2021
A footstool 40 cm high made ca 1750 in Philadelphia was sold by Sotheby's on September 26, 2008 for $ 5.2M including premium from a lower estimate of $ 200K, lot 117. Made in walnut, it displays a dark rich possibly original surface and has been reupholstered in a period correct fabric.
It has all the Queen Anne features including the paneled foot pads. The serpentine shape of the seat rail is unique of its kind in colonial and world furniture.
1765 The Dundas Suite by Chippendale
2008 SOLD for £ 2.3M including premium by Christie's
narrated in 2018 before the auction of two sofas by Christie's (see below)
The new baronet buys and arranges several sumptuous residences, thus giving work to all the best British architects and cabinetmakers of his time. He does not refuse any style as long as it is luxurious and he highly appreciates the Palladian architecture and the decorative art of the Gobelins.
Dundas acquires in London a mansion very strategically located in Arlington Street in the business district. To enlarge this house to his taste he calls on the architect Robert Adam who was a great connoisseur of ancient architecture after a long stay in Rome. To ensure the most perfect harmony between architecture and furnishing, he commissions Adam to design the furniture.
The drawings of the sofas and armchairs were made by Adam for Dundas in July 1764. They have been preserved. The manufacture of these seats and of several other pieces of furniture is ordered to Thomas Chippendale. The designs of the Adam seats are similar to a figure prepared in 1759 by Chippendale and included in the third issue of his Director in 1762.
Chippendale's suite of seats made in 1765 for Arlington Street's great room is composed of two pairs of sofas and eight armchairs sculpted in an abundant style inspired by reliefs of Roman sarcophagi including sphinges and griffins. The set was separated in 1934.
The two pairs of sofas have a different width. An example 252 cm wide was sold for £ 2.17M including premium by Christie's on June 18, 2008, lot 5. It had retained traces of its original gilding. It is illustrated in the tweet below. In the same sale a pair of armchairs from the same suite was sold for £ 2.3M including premium, lot 4.
The pair of shorter 218 cm sofas was dissociated in 1997. These two pieces listed as separate lots passed at Christie's on July 5, 2018.
Qianlong - The Zitan Throne
2009 SOLD 86 MHK$ including premium
The emperors of Ming and Qing dynasties enjoyed a rare wood, the zitan (tzu-t'an in the old spelling), which allowed a very fine carving. The throne for sale by Sotheby's in Hong Kong on October 8 is a wide seat (1.40 m) with motifs of the usual symbol of the Chinese Empire, the Dragon. It dates from the Qianlong period and is estimated 20 MHK$, lot 1645.
This wooden throne, although rare and prestigious, will not compare with the throne that adorned the Hall of Supreme Harmony in the Forbidden City in Beijing. Also decorated with dragons, it was made of white marble and jade.
POST SALE COMMENT
Imperial Chinese pieces get a huge prestige at auction. There are a score of recent examples. But no furniture is more prestigious than a throne: the result, 86 MHK$ including premium, is remarkable.
Here is this exceptional lot, shared after the sale by Art Market Monitor.
<1920 Yves Saint-Laurent in an Armchair ... made by Eileen Gray
2009 SOLD 21.9 M€ including premium
It is a seat only 61 cm high. The sitting height is normal, but the back is small. It is large (91 cm), making it a comfortable chair. The press release from Christie's describes it as a Dragon armchair, certainly for the sculptures of its armrests. For this seat dating from about 1920-1922, prepare 2.5 million €.
In the work of Eileen Gray, other seats have generated one of the most remarkable results of auctions in recent years. On June 1, 2005 in Paris, Camard sold a set of six armchairs à la Sirène, for a total of nearly 9 million € charges included. Sold separately, these six lots were eventually divided between two buyers. They had belonged to Damia, the music hall singer woman with whom Eileen had a love affair. From a very different model from the chair of the Saint-Laurent collection, their sculpture of the women fish was enhanced by an open back.
Eileen Gray was renowned for the luxurious finish of her lacquered furniture.
The sale will be held at the Grand Palais in Paris from 23 to 25 February. It is jointly organized by Christie's and Pierre Bergé et Associés.
POST SALE COMMENT
This seat had it all. We imagine it perfectly in the middle of the living room of Yves Saint-Laurent, a famous person. It may equally be regarded as a work of art or as a piece of furniture.
Christie's has presented it as one of the top lots in the sale, from the first press release last September. The estimate probably took into account the results obtained at Drouot on the armchairs à la Sirène, remembered in my article above. Cautiously, the estimate had been made a little lower (2 M €) in the catalog than in the first releases.
As I have already written, the current crisis of confidence affects the sellers, not the buyers.
The chair of Yves Saint-Laurent by Eileen Gray was sold € 21.9 million including premium.
The low resolution image below is shared by Wikimedia for fair use :
1929 Waiting for the Maharaja
2011 SOLD for € 2.86M including premium by Christie's
2019 SOLD for $ 2.4M including premium
The Exposition des Arts décoratifs in Paris in 1925 opens new paths for luxury. The creators amend traditional furniture with new forms, search the world for the most splendid materials and desire to confront the legendary wealth of India.
In the following year, one of the richest Hindu rulers, the Maharaja of Indore, resigns after a scandal. His son and successor, aged 18, is assisted by a regency council. While waiting to exercise his responsibilities, he travels Europe. His name is His Highness Maharajadhira Raj Rajeshwar Sawai Shri Yeshwantra II Holkar XIV Bahadur.
The young man is passionate about modernism and wants to furnish an avant-garde residence of which he entrusts the design to Eckart Muthesius. All the Parisian designers expect to be his suppliers.
At the Salon des Artistes Décorateurs in 1929, Ruhlmann exhibits an important suite of furniture under the title of Studio-Chambre du Prince Héritier d'un Vice-roi des Indes, which leaves no doubt about the identity of the targeted client. His innovations are the use of black lacquer and chrome-plated bronze, and the replacement of the base of several pieces of furniture by curved end metal bars similar to a pair of skis.
The Maharaja visits the exhibition but his advisers, Roché and Muthesius, do not rush. Among the Ruhlmann furniture in this Salon, he orders only a copy of the desk with its armchair and some bookshelves. This partial disavowal is to the delight of the president of the Artistes Décorateurs, Prime Minister André Tardieu, who buys several original pieces. The Bureau Tardieu accompanied by its armchair was sold for € 2.3M including premium by Christie's on March 29, 2011.
This furniture has been the subject of ingenious designs in terms of functionality. The chaise longue aux skis offers four possible backrest inclinations and an electric heating of the footrest. The lounge chair of the Studio-Chambre is the only complete copy of this model, so being one of Ruhlmann's rarest productions. The only other known example, incomplete, is not localized.
Ruhlmann was well informed : the young prince really needed such a chair. He chose Charlotte Perriand's model.
The Ruhlmann chaise longue aux skis was sold for € 2.86M including premium by Christie's in 2011 in the same sale as the Bureau Tardieu. Its ban of shipping outside of France was canceled in 2013. It will be sold by Sotheby's in New York on December 11, lot 26. Targeted at $ 2M in the article published by the auction house on September 26, its lower estimate is announced at $ 1.5M in the catalog.
We are honored to announce ‘Modern Masters: Chefs-D’œuvre D’une Collection Privée‘, an auction this December in #NYC that will present a superlative collection of art and design by top European masters. Learn more about two exceptional highlights: https://t.co/Ek5nDdr37h pic.twitter.com/YuIV8zT4xe— Sotheby's (@Sothebys) September 26, 2019
1976 A Flock of Seats in a Barn
2012 SOLD 5.7 M$ including premium
He designed a small bench in wood and aluminum, covered with wool, with four feet. All furniture manufacturers run their models in multiple copies: Lalanne standardizes the quantity to 24. Thus was born his flock of life size sheep, worthy of the best ideas of surrealism but in an extreme simplicity of interpretation.
The set is funny. Sheep are actually in two models: with head held high, and headless. This is a clear invitation to leave the pieces together : headless animals are considered occupied to graze within the group, protected by the external figures.
The owner of a herd gets a modifiable furniture of wide area and high friendliness where guests can sit, lie, hang their hat.
On November 14 in New York at Christie's, a flock of 24 seats is estimated $ 4M, in the evening sale of post-war and contemporary art. Here is the link to the catalog.
This set had been purchased in 1976 by an American couple to fill a barn. These clients have devised a clever refinement: one sheep, and only one, is in black wool, to anticipate the case where a guest would like to be on his own!
POST SALE COMMENT
This lot is certainly one of the most complete sets of Lalanne sheep: $ 5.7 million including premium.
1979 Moutons de Pierre by Lalanne
2011 SOLD for $ 7.5M including premium by Christie's
narrated in 2020
Throughout his career, Lalanne reissues his sheep. The first series, coated with real wool, are called the Moutons de Laine. Here are some results for this variant :
A pair dated 1969 was sold for € 1.57M including premium by Sotheby's on November 21, 2017, lot 38.
A flock made in 1968-1969 of five sheep and nine ottomans was sold for € 1.75M including premium by Christie's on December 4, 2012, lot 22.
A complete herd of seven white sheep, one black sheep and sixteen ottomans, whose provenance history begins in 1976, was sold for $ 5.7M including premium by Christie's on November 14, 2012, lot 43.
Success gives rise to new variants : the ram, the ewe, the lamb. The Mouton de Pierre appears in 1979 for use in the garden. It is in epoxy concrete and bronze, without wheels and without wool. It is first edited in 250 numbered units, later in small series of replicas.
A homogeneous group of ten Moutons de Pierre from the first edition was sold for $ 7.5M including premium by Christie's on December 17, 2011, lot 303, from a lower estimate of $ 600K.
1990 A Social Breakthrough in a Lounge
2015 SOLD for £ 2.43M including premium
Australians love surfing. Newson appreciates that the manufacturing techniques of the surfboards may be used for more complex and modern structures. The shape is achieved by covering the foam with fiberglass. Then comes the finish.
The sculptor Newson wishes a metallic finish. After various tests in his garden in Sydney, he manages to keep the convex and concave curves of the cast by hammering sheets of aluminum joined by many blind rivets. The texture is similar to an aircraft fuselage. The new model in 1988 is named Lockheed lounge without the involvement of that industrial company.
The Lockheed Lounge is abstract art applied to furniture, with unprecedented materials and techniques. In 1990, ten units plus four artist's proofs are edited, bringing their figure to a final fifteen.
We do not sit on a Lockheed lounge but may recline on it for a social activity. The new Madame Récamier is the entertainer Madonna. A Lockheed Lounge appears sporadically in 1993 in the video Rain, a song from her highly successful Erotica album. Newson's chair becomes an icon of contemporary lifestyle.
The 1988 prototype was sold for $ 2.1 million including premium by Phillips on May 13, 2010. The 10/10 unit from the 1990 edition is estimated £ 1.5M, for sale by the same auction house on April 28 in London, lot 226.