Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Sculpture and Decorative Art sales at Sotheby's & Christie's

Picture: Christie's
London's major auction houses have recently started collecting together the highest-priced lots across a number of specialist categories into stand-alone sales. Christie's has The Exceptional Sale and Sotheby's has Treasures. I think it's a shame, because it means the sculpture and furniture sales are denuded of the best lots; expensive bling is brought together for the convenience of global gazillionaires who don't want to be delayed by trifling sub-£100k lots, regardless of their merits. In these sales there's always a scattering of ostentatious pieces that I heartily dislike, together with some really great things that would grace any museum collection.
Picture: Christie's

My choice from these sales would be a bronze Rape of a Sabine by Giambologna illustrated above, estimated at £3m - £5m at Christie's. You can't appreciate it from the picture, but the quality is outstanding. I wonder how it will do; there are several enthusiastic and deep-pocketed collectors of major bronzes, and ones this good rarely appear on the open market. Another bronze in the same sale is also from a Giambologna model, but its execution is attributed to Susini (the default attribution for bronzes not quite good enough to be by Giambologna, £600k - £1m). It's very good, but suffers comparison with the Giambologna. The ancient Egyptian Sekhemka statue looks much better in real life than in photographs - an outstanding sculpture, tragically deaccessioned by gross philistines in Northampton who don't think it's relevant for them (£4m - £6m, pictured top). 
A pair of armchairs by Nicolas Hertaut are among the most important menuiserie at auction in recent years (£400k - £600k), but I was most excited to see the dining chairs from Lansdowne House, a masterpiece designed by Robert Adam. The chairs were sold in 1806, and the dining room itself was stripped out and is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, sold off after Westminster Council ordered demolition of half the house so they could build a road. I do hope the Met buys the chairs, although few museums make a priority of decorative arts these days, alas. The Met recently hired a decorative arts curator who professed not to like the decorative arts.
Picture: Sotheby's
At Sotheby's, the best lot is one that shouldn't be sold. This Roman Aphrodite (£4m - £6m) is taken from one of the greatest neoclassical rooms in the world, the entrance hall to Syon House, designed by Robert Adam. The room rather than the object is pictured above, because that's the only context where it should be seen. This sale saddens me even more than the Northampton museum deaccession. Boycott the Northumberland sale and buy this wonderful neoclassical sculpture of The Campbell Sisters by Bartolini instead, a snip at its estimate of £300k - £500k. I know it well from its time on loan to the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh. This kind of sculpture is under-appreciated today, but really high quality and very beautiful. There are some good pieces of modest English furniture that I like, including Georgian hall benches at £250k - £400k. One piece I didn't care for was this pair of console tables, despite their tremendously important provenance. The gilt mounts are attributed to Thomire, the name of choice for high-quality French neoclassical gilt bronze furniture mounts and other knick-knacks. But these mounts don't look especially good, and the Thomire attribution seems especially ambitious to me.

1 comment:

  1. So are we going to let cash strapped councils sell off all that they don't own to balance their budgets?