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Posts tagged ‘Decorative Arts’

Re-Opening the Renwick and the Morning After

The quiet child of the Smithsonian family of museums re-opened this November with a surprisingly bold statement.  The aptly named Wonder exhibit is well worth a visit for its truly impressive installation pieces.  While I’m happy to have the Renwick Gallery back, this re-birthday party feels overly flashy, just a bit narcissistic, and certainly out of character for a museum dedicated to decorative arts.  While an entertaining show, I am left wondering about the future of this museum and the potential for a reinvented purpose.

Renwick Gallery facade

The “new” Renwick Gallery at dusk

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Gilded Age Decorative Arts: Chicago’s Driehaus Museum

front entry Driehaus Museum

Magnificant marble front entrance to the Driehaus Museum

Nothing captures the artistic spirit of an era like a historic home.  Through a coherent assemblage of architectural elements, furniture, and decor, you can get an absolute understanding of a period’s design principles.  I recently visited the Driehaus Museum in Chicago which presents within its luxurious rooms the evolving American decorative arts of the Gilded Age.  This mansion is also a startlingly beautiful oasis in the modern business center of Chicago and definitely worth a visit!

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Auction Day 2: The Sale

The Skinner European and Decorative Arts auction spanned two days.  I watched some live and overall it was quite calm and orderly.  Bidders in the room came and went but usually there were only a dozen or so active at one time.  Some were clearly some “professionals” (antique shop owners? interior designers?) but there were also “private citizens” like me.  There were 8-12 employees on the phone with buyers.  Another two were handing all the active on-line bidding.  With 1300+ lots, things moved at a pretty good pace but I followed along without a problem.

It was interesting listening to the bidding volley back and forth.  Here was one of my favorite exchanges from the auctioneer:

“So we’ll open at $700.  $700 where?”

“$2100 online”

“(Laughing) $2100 is even better.  Do I have $2200?

Lot 3, Fine Yellow Gold, Cloisonne Enamel, and Stone-mounted Carved Rock Crystal Bowl (Photo: Skinner, Inc.)

Sadly, I wasn’t present for the most exciting item of the auction: a carved crystal bowl with a gold, enamel and stone base.  It was a delicate piece and had an auction estimate of $8-10, 000.  It sold for $201,450 including the buyer’s premium!  That’s incredible!  Other items going above their estimates included a 18th century French screen, a 19th century wooden Dionysius copy (which I presume is a rarity), and a painted porcelain plaque.  There were also many items that sold below their estimates so patience would have really paid off if you were looking to buy.

Lot 1127, Portrait of a Lady and Her Maid (Photo: Skinner, Inc.)

I was happy with one of the predictions I made during the preview session.  I really liked the early Spanish colonial Portrait of a Lady and Her Maid.  It was detailed and had a dark palate characteristic of its era.  There was also a wonderful naivete to it as evidenced by the woman’s face, upheld arm and her awkward position in a very non-linear chair.  This was a beautiful piece of folk art and I knew the $300-500 estimate was too low.

Lot 590, Georges Doussot's La Plage en Ete (Photo: Skinner, Inc.)

Of course, there always has to be the “one that got away” and in this case it was a lovely Impressionistic French beach scene from 1964.  I loved the bold colors, the composition and that you could still see the bare tan canvas since it wasn’t completely painted in.  Doussot’s style started out more somber and eventually became very cartoonist and child-like so this painting was a great treat.  I had bid more aggressively for another item and so I missed out on this one.

The good news is, I did buy a painting!  (If you recall, I left conservative bids on four items.)  I am really happy with it and the final auction price.  I am currently enjoying it on my wall!  Maybe I’ll write about it soon once I can do some more research on the piece and the artist.  Overall I had a great time at the auction and would recommend it to anyone with interest in art, history or the antiques industry!

Art Auction Day 1: Previews

I’ve always envisioned that down the road I would be able to own some antiques and pieces of art.  If you look around, you can find affordable decorative pieces for not much more than modern equivalents made in China from the home decor big box stores.

As part of my quest, I have started going to art and antique auctions.  It is standard practice for an auction to hold “preview” sessions beforehand so that interested buyers can inspect pieces up close.  These viewings are in many ways like visiting a museum with a very eclectic collection but are also way more hands-on since you are allowed to open drawers, turn over statues and handle objects (carefully of course).  Even if you are not a very serious buyer, visiting an auction preview can be a lot of fun.This past weekend, there was a European Furniture and Decorative Arts auction at Skinner in Boston.  Overall I was impressed with the diversity of items offered.  There were painted porcelain vases, chandeliers,  gilded mirrors, loads of tortoise shell boxes and delicate glass pieces in addition to the usual dressers and paintings.  You can flip through the catalog online or view each individual item here.

Lot 1004, Grand Tour Micromosaic Plaque (Photo: Skinner Inc.)

One of the obvious highlights of the show was a micromosaic depicting Rome.  It was less than a foot in length but incredibly detailed.  Examining it really closely, I still couldn’t believe it was constructed of inlay.  It would have been difficult to execute even if it were a painting.  Clearly the craftsmanship made this a rare and spectacular work of art.  The subject matter was not as unique as I saw several 19th-20th century “grand tour” art examples including oils, watercolors and bronzes all with the obvious beach, castle and ruins included.  Having just seen the whole range of tourist art in Greece, it’s funny to think that people have always wanted and continue to pick up souvenirs when they travel abroad.

Lot 1253, Bronze of a Classical Muse (Photo: Skinner Inc.)

One piece that I really loved was a bronze Classical Muse by French sculptor Albert Ernest Carrier-Belleuse (1827-1887).  I liked the figure’s pose and her elegant, detailed costume.  At over a foot tall and two feet wide, it is a pretty substantial work of art and was probably more than I was looking for right now.

I did find four items that I was interested in buying and left bids. My art budget is pretty low right now, so my bids were all under the auction estimates.  If I won, then great, I would have bought a really nice piece of art and if not, there would be future auctions.  I also left bids rather than bid live to make sure I didn’t get carried away!

Stay tuned to see how the auction went and how I did….

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