SALES IN PARIS – THE LAFOND COLLECTION: A RAREFIED array of pharmacy jars formed the basis of the former Louis Lafond Collection presented at Briest on June 4. Lafond (1880-1950) was a practising chemist whose unremarkable personal history epitomises that of the dedicated, middle-class, often anonymous buying public that continues to flourish in France and, especially, at the Hôtel Drouot.
Lafond was born in Dol in northern Brittany but moved to Paris in 1910 after completing his studies, buying a pharmacy in Rue de Mont-Louis, near Père Lachaise cemetery in north-east Paris. Three years later he started a family then, after the interlude of World War I – when he served as a stretcher-bearer – he completed a doctoral thesis on La Dynastie des Helvétius and joined the Amis de Sèvres and Société d’Histoire de la Pharmacie.
With his social and academic credentials established and his professional career thriving, Lafond was ready to indulge his true passion: buying pharmacy jars.
Within a few years he was hooked, noting on February 26 1934 that he left a commission bid that was illimitée (open-ended) but grew scared “when I saw bidding clear 700 and 800 francs”.
With boldness and discretion his guiding principles – Lafond attended sales but left the bidding to a crieur he had primed beforehand – Lafond must have been a tough nut for other bidders to crack. Yet behind the determination lay an almost childish embarrassment (perhaps prompted by heated words from Madame) about the lengths he would go to satisfy his collecting yen. For instance, he felt so guilty about splashing out on that jar in February 1934 that he “hid it for two or three months,” even though he must have been itching to give it pride of place in the dining-room.
Such periods of self-doubt, however, never lasted long. “I have had every reason to be proud of daring to offer myself such a piece”, he wrote about his jar, telling fellow-collectors to buy at auction “without worrying about advice from others, or what the family might say.”
It was not clear whether the jar Lafond bought in 1934 was present at the Briest sale. But Lafond was a meticulous man and many lots came with a catalogue footnote stipulating the date and often place of purchase.
One of the first items Lafond ever acquired must have been two blue and white Nevers drug jars or “pots canon” (c.1800), each around 73/4in (19.5cm) tall and in indifferent repair that he bought on May 22 1925. They sold here short of estimate for €600 (£390).
Lafond’s collection took in not just French faience pharmaceutical wares but also those from other European countries, culminating in a 83/4in (22cm) tall maiolica Castelli urn (c.1540) he bought from a Madame Recher in Paris on October 17 1941. This had two twisted blue handles and polychrome Orsini-Colonna-type decoration featuring a crew-cut profiled male bust. Described as “of fine quality”, it sold well over estimate for €58,000 (£37,400).
The sale’s top price of €66,000 (£42,600), just over top-estimate, rewarded a pair of large albarelli, 141/2in (37cm) tall, from Faenza or Pesaro (1480-1510) with polychrome “Gothic floral” decoration above and below the inscriptions Citra-Condita and Meloni-Conditi; the former jar had a crack, while the flower patterning on the latter was embellished with “peacock feather” motifs. Both jars had a hole bored for electric wiring. Albarelli of similar design can be found in the British Museum and the Renaissance Musuem at Ecouen near Paris.
A Castelli albarello (c.1700) attributed to Francesco or Carlo Antonio Grüe, 143/4in (37.5cm) tall, with a polychrome Madonna and Child topped by two crown-bearing angels and flanked by various flowers, above the inscription THERIACA in capital letters, sold over estimate for €20,000 (£12,900), as did a Venetian spherical vase (c.1570) from the workshop of Maestro Demenigo, 11in (28cm) tall, with a large medallion featuring an elegant female bust on one side and a smaller medallion with a white-bearded male on the other, above the inscription s-de-lupii.
An 18th century Savona ensemble of two bottles and albarello, 71/2in (19cm) tall, each featuring the cross-topped IHS monogram and signed Jacques Bosellij (Giacomo Boselli), tripled hopes on €13,000 (£8390).
Spanish highlights were a pair of 17th/18th century Talavera jars 101/4in (26cm) tall, bought in October 1938, when they were considered to hail from Alcora; they each lacked inscriptions and featured an expressive wader-bird. Bidding reached €4800 (£3100).
Leading Lafond’s French drug jars was a Nevers wet drug jar or chevrette, 81/4in (21cm) tall, bought in February 1936. This had ‘Persian’-style leaf decoration in green, ochre and manganese, and the inscription O-Rosat beneath the spout. Despite minor damage to the spout, this was in “very good condition” and “of the greatest rarity.” Bidding reached a double-estimate €14,000 (£9030).
A Rouen chevrette (c.1740) with cover, 101/2in (26.5cm) tall, which Lafond acquired in 1934, was probably not the prize jar he bought in February of that year and kept hidden away for a couple of months; it sold on low-estimate for €3800 (£2450).
A restored blue and white 18th century covered jar from central France (Clermont-Ferrand?), 21in (54cm) tall with twisted handles and the inscription Theriaque, trebled hopes on €4500 (£2900), and a pair of jars from the St-Jean du Désert pottery near Marseille, 151/4in (39cm) tall with blue and manganese Rider decor, took a low-estimate €12,000 (£740).
Although ceramics dominated the 300-lot sale, Lafond’s pharmaceutical collection ranged from glassware – two square, 18th century German jars 31/4in (8cm) tall, with polychrome enamel decor, sold well on €4000 (£2580) – to pestles and mortars. A large 18th century mortar in lignum vitae, 14in (36cm) tall, accompanied by two pestles, climbed to €2900 (£1870); and a turned ivory mortar (c.1700), 71/2in (19cm) tall, with a (restored) pestle 91/2in (24cm) long, sold just short of hopes for €4000 (£2580).
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