Traditional decorative arts sales, a fixture on the London auction scene since the pioneering sales of the 1970s, have recently begun to slip in favour of the new zeitgeist of Post-war and Contemporary.
For the firms that continue to champion the equally daring design movements of the 19th and early 20th century, that means opportunity.
Lyon & Turnbull (25% buyer’s premium) is among those making a strong pitch for your business in this attractive piece of art market real estate. That includes new staff (former Christie’s specialist Joy McCall), new sale formats (biannual sales devoted to Lalique) and a double-header of autumn sales (Modern Made auction at The Mall Galleries in London on October 23 followed by Decorative Arts: Design since 1860 auction in Edinburgh on November 2-3).
The £1.7m generated across these sister sales was aided by two stellar examples of Scottish Art Nouveau: a bedside cabinet designed c.1916 by Charles Rennie Mackintosh for the Northampton home of Wenman Bassett Lowke and Francis Macdonald McNair’s 1903 design for the cover of Das Eigenkleid Der Frau (Women’s Own Dress). As reported in last week’s News pages (ATG No 2467), these sold way over expectations to bring £200,000 and £100,000 respectively.
Strong Dresser results
Since selling the Andrew McIntosh Patrick collection in 2005, L&T has carved an equally strong niche selling the metalwork of Christopher Dresser (1834-1904).
Here a 5in (13.5cm) high spherical form electroplated teapot with an angular ebony handle commanded £10,000. This design appears alongside the inscription 1 gill teapot 2278/ Designed by Dr Dresser in the James Dixon ‘Calculation Books’ from 1879-83. In addition to maker’s marks and Dresser’s facsimile signature is a lozenge registration mark for 1880.
In 2005 the auction house sold a three-piece tea set to this design for £14,500 and in 2017 took £12,000 for a teapot made in silver with a presentation inscription to the 6th Duke of Portland.
Another powerful Aesthetic movement design, an ebonised birch occasional table with incised and gilded decoration designed by EW Godwin, sold at £14,000 (estimate £2000-3000). Godwin’s design for this piece appears marked Coffee Table in an interior setting in one of his line drawings created for the 1877 brochure Art Furniture issued by the manufacturer William Watt. However, the quality of construction and the incised gilding suggests the superior cabinet-making skills of a firm such as Gillows & Co – another of Godwin’s employers.
A ruby lustre two-tile panel of galleons and sea creatures by William De Morgan, c.1890, made £4800 while another textbook object from the Arts & Crafts movement, an oak centre table designed by Philip Webb (1831-1915) for Morris and Co, sold for £11,000.
The table with a circular quartersawn top and its signature six ring-turned legs with corresponding stretchers is similar to another at Standen, the Arts & Crafts house Webb designed in 1891. Some have made more – closer to the top of the market in 2004 L&T sold a larger example in mahogany for £31,000 – but the example in the Paul Reeves sale (February 2019) was a more modest £6500.
A rare extra-size Tudric pewter and abalone clock design, c.1900, by Archibald Knox (1864-1933) was the top-estimated lot in the sale. It got away at the lower end of a £20,000- £25,000 guide.
Knox’s designs for Liberty & Co are very well documented. However, this 10in (25cm) model – a minimalist form thought to have been inspired by the Celtic standing stones of Knox’s native Isle of Man – is usually seen in a much smaller size of just over 6in (16cm) high (an example of which sold here at £4000). Knox is known to have produced a small number of extra-sized clocks during his Liberty period and it may be that this rare example was produced as a special commission.
The epitome of 1930s glamour, a cocktail set by the German cutler JA Henckels fashioned as an aircraft brought a punchy £12,500 (estimate £3000-5000). The 15 or so component parts of the nickelplated steel set – marked DRGM (Deutsche Reichs Gebrauchs Muster) – include a pair of spirit flasks that form the wings, a cocktail shaker (the fuselage) plus four interlocking beakers, a funnel and four spoons and a corkscrew. With the shaker fully assembled it measured 13in (32cm) long, larger than the more common 9in (23cm) version but smaller than a unique 18in (46cm) example made for an exhibition in 1927 which made close to $50,000 at Phillips New York in 2001.
Striking a chord
Design since 1860 had followed Modern Made. The multi-discipline sale of modern and contemporary art, design and craft posted £800,000, striking a chord with clients for whom 2020 has been a year to focus on the home. “At this difficult moment, some collectors do have extra disposable income and more time to devote to their passion,” said head of Modern and Post-war art and design Philip Smith.
Textiles designed by William Scott, Henry Moore, Edward Bawden, Elizabeth Frink and John Piper were included in the sale.
This section was led by a rare block-printed silk and linen bedspread made to a design by Percy Wyndham Lewis. Dating from c.1914, it was probably made at the shortlived Rebel Art Centre – the offshoot of the Omega Workshops set up by Lewis after disagreements with the Bloomsbury set. The vibrant design of repeating animal motifs and bands of pastel colour is known from a number of other similar pieces sold at auction in the past decade.
A 2ft 3in x 23in (68 x 58cm) panel offered as part of the Paul Reeves ‘Textiles As Art’ sale collection at L&T in 2017 took £8200 while an avant garde dressing gown, sold by Philip Smith when working at Mallams in 2017, took a punchy £29,000. In relative terms, this 8ft 4in x 5ft 11in (2.55 x 1.8m) bed cover appeared good value at £9500 (estimate £2000-3000).
A cake plate from the Pink Glove tea service designed by Salvador Dalí on a visit to London in 1936 sold for £3800. The unique service, made by Royal Crown Derby, was commissioned by the poet, artist and collector Edward James for his extraordinary Surrealist house Monkton.
Correspondence between James and the decorating firm Green and Abbott mentions the ‘Pink Glove tea set’ alongside Dalí’s famous Lobster telephone and Mae West Lips sofa.
The set, bought by dealer John Jesse at Christie’s in 1986, was subsequently split with this 9in (23cm) diameter plate now one of only a few pieces in private hands.
British studio ceramics punctuated the catalogue from beginning to end. Works by all of the major practitioners of the movement were included topped by Dame Lucie Rie’s 4½in (11cm) wide footed bowl with bands of pink and turquoise, c.1979, at £12,000 and Hans Coper’s textbook Hourglass stoneware form layered with white porcelain slip, c.1972, at £28,000. Both pieces, bought by the vendor’s family directly from the artists’ studios, improved markedly on expectations.
Post-war silver and jewellery – led by a textbook set of eight textured and gilt wine goblets by Stuart Devlin (London 1969) sold at £3400 – included a pair of silver drop earrings with the maker’s mark JAD for Alan Davie (1920-2014).
Although primarily considered a painter, through the 1940s-50s Davie was also renowned as an avantgarde jewellery designer. Selling his wares through shops such Aspreys and Harrods, he made the jewellery worn by Vivien Leigh in the 1945 film Anthony and Cleopatra and went on to exhibit his work at the groundbreaking International Exhibition of Modern Jewellery, organised by the Company of Goldsmiths and the V&A in 1961.
This pair of earrings, inspired by pre-Columbian goldwork, were given to the vendor in 1955 at which time Davie was teaching on the Design course at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London. They sold at £2800 (estimate £300-500).
Wendy Ramshaw (1939-2018) is another artist-jeweller championed by these sales since their inception in 2018. Among her most recognised designs is the Orbits series of nickel alloy and resin necklaces – the example here purchased from The Crafts Council Shop at the V&A in 1990 by Alan and Pat Firth, the Yorkshire couple whose modest bungalow in Leeds was a shrine to a £1m collection of British studio pottery and crafts.
When sold by Adam Partridge in 2015 it had made £3000: this time around the hammer fell at £2400.