Thursday - 30 October 2014

California auctioneers pull off record Art Nouveau coup

10 September 2012Written by Roland Arkell

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 Museum Collection.

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 $14m-18m.

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 February.

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