Art deco is unarguably one of the most enduring styles to emerge from the 20th century, so the discovery in Paris of a collection of original works by some of the period’s most revered designers will cause a frisson of excitement – especially as these authentic masterpieces are being auctioned at Sotheby’s Paris (viewing from November 17 to 20; auction on November 21).
The collection was assembled by fashion retailer Henri Chwast (who created the first fashion concept store in Paris under the brand name Mérédith) between the 1970s and the 1990s, at a time when only connoisseurs sought out such pieces. He had a remarkable eye for choosing groundbreaking work, which resulted in a collection of great quality and rarity that includes legendary names such as Eileen Gray, Jean Dunand, Carlo Bugatti and Pierre Chareau.
“This is a jewel of a collection,” says Cécile Verdier, senior director, co-worldwide head of 20th-century design at Sotheby’s. “Every single piece is important. Viewed together, this small group traces the development from art deco to modernism between 1920 and 1927. Henri Chwast focused on acquiring pieces by just a handful of names – all giants in their field.”
Work by Irish designer Eileen Gray rarely appears at auction, so the inclusion of two pieces in this sale will thrill collectors. The ebonised oak, sycamore and ivory desk (estimated at €250,000-€350,000), designed between 1919 and 1922, featured in an exhibition dedicated to her work at the V&A and the Museum of Modern Art in 1979/80, while the pine and lacquer vase (€250,000-€350,000), created around 1920, comes from renowned collector Madame Labourdette.
The full nearly 50-lot sale contains eight works by Jean Dunand, including two lacquered wooden armchairs (€80,000-€120,000 each, first picture) that crisply reveal art deco’s geometric appeal, while his handsome lacquered metal and eggshell vase (€70,000-€100,000), dating from around 1920, typifies its monochrome style.
Pierre Chareau is represented by a slim, elegant rosewood and iron desk with stool (€200,000-€300,000), created around 1926, which was originally exhibited at the Salon d’Automne in Paris, while lighting by the designer includes two landmark versions of the soaring mahogany and alabaster Religieuse lamp (€300,000-€500,000 each).
Carlo Bugatti’s signed pair of partially painted vellum and metal Cobra chairs (€100,000-€150,000) date from 1902, and Clément Rousseau’s chest of drawers (€250,000-€350,000) in Macassar ebony, kingwood and green-and-white galuchat inlaid with mother-of-pearl and ivory feature an art deco sunburst motif.