In what has been described as “the largest single transaction to ever occur in the field of decorative arts”, California Bay Area auctioneers Michaan’s have purchased, for sale, an unparalleled collection of Tiffany and other Art Nouveau works of art.
A portion of the massive multi-million dollar collection, titled
Treasures of Louis C. Tiffany from the Garden Museum, Japan, will
be sold in Alameda on November 17, with a second sale of French Art
Nouveau masterworks held in association with Sotheby's
Paris in the spring.
The Garden Museum Collection was formed by real estate magnate
Takeo Horiuchi. Already a prolific collector of Art Nouveau, since
the early 1990s he has been advised in his purchases (both at
auction and from private collections) by Alastair Duncan, the
author, dealer and decorative arts consultant.
The two men met in 1992 when an exhibition which Duncan curated,
The Masterworks of Louis Comfort Tiffany, travelled to
Japan. Mr Duncan later catalogued the 600-plus pieces owned by Mr
Horiuchi in the 1999 coffee table book Louis C. Tiffany Garden
The fear that an earthquake may one day destroy his beloved
glass collection apparently lay behind Mr Horiuchi's decision to
sell earlier this year.
The museum, sited first in his native Nagoya and later in the
town of Matsue on the Sea of Japan, has been closed in recent years
pending relocation to the foot of Mount Fuji where it was hoped
visitor numbers would improve.
However, the seismology forecast published by the Japanese
government in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami that led to
the meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear plant in 2011 predicted three
quakes in the region in the near future.
When Mr Horiuchi decided to sell the collection as a whole, Mr
Duncan notified his long time friend Allen Michaan, proprietor of
the mid-size West Coast auctioneers Michaan's.
Aware that bigger beasts more accustomed to major transactions of
this kind were circling, Mr Michaan worked quickly to assemble a
group of private investors to make the deal on his own.
It was the owner's desire to sell in a single private
transaction rather than go through the auction process: he chose to
keep only a group of Tiffany religious windows to be mounted in a
wedding chapel at Mount Fuji. Mr Michaan was able to use copies of
the catalogue to impress potential investors. "So which pieces are
you buying?" asked one associate as he flicked through its 640
pages. "All of it!" he replied. A contract with Mr Horiuchi was
signed on March 24.
Allen Michaan would not be drawn on how much he and his
investors paid for the collection, but he called the acquisition
"the largest single transaction to ever occur in the world of
decorative arts" and predicted it would "elevate Michaan's Auctions
from a well-known, fast-growing national player on the antiques and
art scene to an entirely new international level".
There are a total of 380 pieces of Tiffany in the collection
that will be sold in a number of ways.
The global estimate for the November sale alone - numbering 150
lots of Tiffany including lamps, windows (including two by Frank
Lloyd Wright), vases, paintings, enamels and mosaics - stands at
Other pieces will be offered privately (some have already sold)
while Mr Michaan, himself a Tiffany collector of 30 years, hopes to
keep the Garden Museum collection of 38 pieces of L.C. Tiffany
jewellery together with a single sale to an institution.
He has, however, taken the decision to consign the substantial
holdings of French Art Nouveau for sale at Sotheby's Paris where,
he believes, it will find its best market.
Important pieces of Gallé furniture - some of which will be
coming to the open market for the first time - as well as numerous
objects by Réné Lalique, Louis Majorelle and their contemporaries
are currently in transit. A showpiece sale is planned for
Antiques Trade Gazette is the weekly bible of the fine art and antiques industry. Read articles like this every week in the Antiques Trade Gazette or ATG app. Click here to subscribe today.