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Trapunto takes quilting into the third dimension

Trapunto work highlights this Italian 17th-century textile that sold as a panel for $550 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2019 at Michaan’s Auctions. Image courtesy of Michaan’s Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Trapunto an Italian word that means “to quilt” or “embroider” takes the fine art of quilting to a higher level. Since the 13th century in Italy, textile artists have employed the trapunto technique – with includes the use of excess soft material – to highlight certain areas of a quilt’s pattern.

Trapunto literally takes quilting into a third dimension. Padding a quilt trapunto-style makes its colors more vibrant, its patterns more mesmerizing, and imbues the whole design with a tactile quality that goes beyond what a standard quilt can offer.

The three-dimensional effect of trapunto quilting is strong in this early 19th century white-on-white quilt. It sold for $2,500 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2021 at John McInnis Auctioneers, LLC. Image courtesy of John McInnis Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

When the trapunto method is used, sewn flowers seem to emerge from the stitched garden, and stars, moons, and cloud patterns appear more lifelike. The final result is still as cozy and as inviting as a traditional quilt, but it renders a greater depth of feeling when your hands and eyes pass over its raised curves, peaks and valleys.

How It’s Done

The process of trapunto is a form of quilting, but instead of the traditional three flat layers (the stitched pattern of fabric on top; the batting (stuffing), or middle cushion of fabric; and the backing that ties it all together), the batting is increased to produce a raised surface in select parts of the pattern or motif. FaveQuilts.com says that trapunto “…patterns are intricate and visually stunning, utilizing the texture of the pattern instead of fabric color to make the design pop. Thick yarn or cotton is stuffed into the shape between the top and the batting using a needle. This puffs up the shape, giving the quilt a three-dimensional texture.”

This set of seven Japanese silk fabric trapunto scenes depicting traditional artisans at work sold for $2,100 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2021 at Converse Auctions. Image courtesy of Converse Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Trapunto quilts are not uniform in technique or production, however. Subtle distinctions can help pinpoint the specific type of needlework and period in which a piece was made.

Provençal and Boutis Quilting

Provençal quilting relies on only two layers of cloth, with no wadding in between; the stitching alone yields the final pattern or motif instead of uniting separate pieces of material to create a pattern, as in traditional quilting. The stitches in Provençal quilting are placed closer together to form smaller spaces or channels into which rolled yarn is inserted with a special needle called a “boutis” to form the raised surface.

This process of trapunto is called pique marseillais and was developed in the early 18th century in Marseilles, in the Provençal region of France.

This late 19th-century example of boutis quilting sold for $625 plus the buyer’s premium at Copake Auctions in January 2021. Image courtesy of Copake Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Boutis quilting is another type of trapunto from the Marseilles region of France. It is similar to the Provençal technique, but it dates to the 19th century. It involves two layers of cloth and requires the addition of stuffing after the running stitch has been completed.

An early 19th-century corded whitework quilted bedcover sold for $200 plus the buyer’s premium at Augusta Auctions in May 2021. Image courtesy of Augusta Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Corded Quilting 

The corded quilting technique is similar to boutis quilting, except the trapunto effect is created with a very thick thread or cord that is inserted between a double outline of thread (called stipling) from the back. This so-called “cording” is also used to frame, separate and create individual patterns within the quilt itself. It produces a heavier relief effect than the softer, more pliable yarn used in boutis quilting.

Sailor’s woolworks

While not necessarily considered trapunto in its usual definition, woolworks are forms of needlework or embroidery enhanced with layers of yarn that creates the same visual effect as trapunto.

A Victorian British sailor knitted this ‘woolie’ circa 1880 with trapunto roses, thistles and royal crown. It realized $1,250 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2020 at Rafael Osona Auctions. Image courtesy of Rafael Osona Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

During the age of sailing ships, from 1830 to 1920 or so, sailors needed to spend their considerable downtime on long voyages in pursuits other than card-playing and roughhousing. Repairing sails, nets and their own clothing made sailors competent with a needle and thread, so, not surprisingly, they created woolworks or embroidered images of their ship to pass the time. The image of an embroidered ship would feature a buildup of yarn that made it seem as if it was under full sail not unlike trapunto, except the yarn was not hidden by a top layer of material.

During the First World War, soldiers in the trenches employed the same technique to create detailed needlework of flags, pocket pillows, and an embroidered form of souvenir with a place for a photograph that featured the distinctive trapunto effect. These “woolies,” as they are called, are a distinctive collectible category that reflects different levels of artistic talent and expertise.

What Collectors Look For

A textile expert can determine the age of trapunto work by looking directly at the weave of the yarn of the main fabric. An “S” weave has the twist of the yarn going upward from right to left (a detail that predominates in wool and cotton before 1865); a “Z” twist is the opposite, going from left to right (a style that prevailed after 1865).

Colors, motifs, patterns, and manufacturing techniques also play key roles in distinguishing vintage trapunto pieces from more contemporary textiles.

Not Just Quilts

Although trapunto is mostly associated with quilts, examples of the technique appear at auction in the forms of vintage clothing, decorative boxes, and artworks, as well as in military uniforms, drapery, furniture, accessories such as purses, and even on footwear.

A 17th-century bridal box decorated with trapunto and trimmed in silver braid sold for $1,500 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2018 at Willis Henry Auctions, Inc. Image courtesy of Willis Henry Auctions Inc., and LiveAuctioneers

The three-dimensional effect of trapunto adds elegance to simple embroidery that takes time to master. The story inherent in its patterns and colors represents a personal history that keeps you warm and connects one generation to the next; trapunto throws that history into sharp relief.

Raise a glass to the jolly Toby jug

A circa-1937 Royal Doulton character jug known as Black-Haired Clown realized $7,750 plus the buyer’s premium in 2019. Image courtesy of Lion and Unicorn and Live Auctioneers

Toby Jugs are small ceramic drinking vessels that depict fictional, historic or generic characters in full figure and high relief. They originated in mid-18th century Staffordshire, England, an area rich in clay and other natural resources. Early designs feature merry old souls dressed in the standard men’s outfit of the day: frock coat, breeches, waistcoat, and tricorn hat. Invariably, they are shown holding jugs of foamy stingo, a strong, locally-brewed bitter ale. Because the jugs symbolized mirth and merriness, their tubby, bubbly images also graced British inn, pub and tavern signs.

A late 18th-century English pearlware Toby jug sold for $1,500 plus the buyer’s premium in 2010. Image courtesy of Brunk Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

The identity of the Toby who gave Toby Jugs their name remains unclear. Some believe it references Sir Toby Belch, a spirited character in Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night. Others say it likely acknowledges a legendary local tippler named Toby Philpot. Supporting the latter theory is a rollicking 1761 drinking song that celebrates the transformation of Philpot’s mortal ashes into a jug: 

Dear Sir this brown jug, which now foams with mild ale, 

Out of which I now drink to sweet Kate of the vale, 

Was once Toby Philpot, a thirsty old soul,

As e’er crack’d a bottle or fathom’d a bowl. 

Clothing depicted on early Toby Jugs reflected the typical attire of the day. As times changed, so did the porcelain materials and methods of production. Pale, delicate creamware Toby jugs gave way to blue-tinged pearlware and brighter Prattware versions. Agateware Tobys, featuring alluring marble-like surfaces, and brown, salt-glazed stoneware treacle Tobys, their glazes resembling the sticky byproduct of sugar refining Americans know as molasses, were also popular.

A circa-1800 English pearlware Sailor Toby Jug realized £700 ($969) plus the buyer’s premium in 2014. Image courtesy Dreweatts Donnington Priory and LiveAuctioneers

Designs varied as well. So-called “ordinary” Tobys grasp their knees, hug jugs, puff pipes, or balance on barrels, and some of the bases feature inscriptions, such as ‘’Good Ale is Made for the Use of Men so fill Ould Tobe Once Again.” Another subgroup of Toby Jugs reflects common professions and pastimes of 18th-century British life: sailor, squire, snuff taker, parson, and collier. Still another iteration, Martha Gunn Tobys, immortalize a strong, stalwart Englishwoman who gained fame from her operation of a seashore bathing machine called a ‘dipper.’ 

Some Toby jugs can be purchased quite inexpensively. An early 19th-century Staffordshire Martha Gunn Toby Jug sold for CA$75 plus the buyer’s premium in 2021. Image courtesy Waddington’s Auctioneers and Appraisers and LiveAuctioneers

 

As Toby Jug popularity soared, French potters riffed on the form by creating delicate faience models glistening with tin-oxide glaze. Potters in Portugal, Britain, Germany, Australia, and America subsequently contributed bright lead-glazed majolica models. In addition to popular, political, and literary types such as the barrister, the Quaker, and the lady with a fan, many Toby Jugs portray droll characters based on well-known songs and stories. 

A circa-1900 French faience Snuff Taker Toby jug achieved $150 plus the buyer’s premium in 2009. Image courtesy Skinner and LiveAuctioneers

In the mid-1800s, Royal Doulton, a leading British producer of porcelain, introduced its own spin on the Toby Jug: character jugs. Instead of featuring seated or standing full figures, the Royal Doulton character jugs depict just heads and shoulders. Initially, these bust-form jugs portrayed Lord Nelson, a British naval hero, as well as zippy tipplers astride barrels marked XX. Other Doulton Tobys portrayed famed literary, political, and popular characters, from Geoffrey Chaucer and Charles Dickens to Theodore Roosevelt and Charlie Chaplin.

During the 20th century, more than 200 potteries, including Sarreguemines, Royal Bayreuth, Royal Worcester and Wedgwood, produced a variety of Toby and Toby-like jugs. Shorter & Son alone introduced more than 100 types, including traditional favorites such as Old King Cole, Old Father Neptune, and Long John Silver. 

In the 1930s, Royal Doulton introduced their first modern character jug. It resembled John Barleycorn, the British personification of malt liquor. Old Charley, honoring watchmen who kept law and order, joined him, followed by scores more. All told, the company created more than 600 Toby and character jugs. In addition, Doulton produced limited numbers of novel Toby derivatives such as tobacco jars, match-stands, music boxes, bookends, decanters and candlesticks. 

Toby and character jug production thrived through the 1980s, with independent artists and innovative potteries issuing a range of appealing models. Many celebrate literary heroes such as Robin Hood and Robinson Crusoe. Others welcomed the 21st century with more up-to-date pop-culture and historical figures, among them Paul McCartney, Marilyn Monroe, Barack Obama and Tweety Bird. While the shapes and styles of Toby jugs have changed, they have lost none of their appeal. Collectors are likely to chase them for centuries to come.

Jasper52 to hold Exquisite Decorative Arts sale, Sept. 1

Decorative arts objects represent the pinnacle of luxury. There’s something inherently decadent about buying something that serves no purpose except to sit there in a corner or on a shelf and look pretty. That’s it, that’s it’s job – to look pretty, and to make you happy.

On September 1, starting at 7 pm Eastern time, Jasper52 will hold an 141-lot sale of Exquisite Decorative Arts.

Michel Decoux, ‘Hunter With Bow Chasing Two Deer,’ circa 1918, est. $9,000-$11,000

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

RUBY GLASS: A RHAPSODY IN RED

Circa-1700 gold ruby glass perfume bottle, French or German, with 14K gold stopper. Sold for $650 plus the buyer’s premium in 2015. Image courtesy of Brunk Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

According to legend, ruby-red glass was discovered when a noble tossed a gold coin into a batch of molten glass. In reality, it probably happened when glassworkers unintentionally contaminated batches with traces of gold residue or gold nanoparticles that were components of silver additives.

The earliest known ruby glass vessels date from the late Roman Empire and rival the beauty of intricately carved gems. Yet their appeal along with the secret of their creation faded within a century.

More than a millennium passed before the quest for ruby glass was taken up anew. Antonio Neri, a 16th-century Florentine glassmaker, experimented with magnesium oxide and copper, a red pigment used for cathedral windows. Further investigation revealed that when clear molten glass is imbued with gold salts (known as chlorides) and re-heated, it assumes a range of jewel-like pink-to-red hues. Better still, the amount of gold needed for even the darkest, deepest red is infinitestimal.

Ruby glass perfume bottle with gold painted highlights. Sold for $4,500 plus the buyer’s premium in 2020. Image courtesy of Dan Morphy Auctions and Live Auctioneers

The first European to produce large, evenly-colored, deep red vessels was Johann Kunckel, a 17th-century glassmaker, chemist, and “alchymist,” which is an archaic spelling for “alchemist.” Alchymists had long sought the fabled Philosopher’s Stone, a transparent, glossy red substance deemed essential for transmuting base metals into gold. For hunters of the Philosopher’s Stone, discovering how to create gold ruby glass was not only highly significant, it was wondrous.

Gold ruby glass masterpieces created under Brandenburg patronage feature an extensive amount of cut decoration, such as arches and pointed leaves carved into the glass or features that stand out, dramatically, in relief. The Corning Glass website states, “Seldom has cut decoration been so organically modeled, seemingly floating on the surface.” By the early 1700s, nearly every central European sovereign owned several costly, finely crafted ruby glass goblets, footed beakers, and tankards.

Steuben art glass dresser or vanity jar with Cerise Ruby design and butterfly lid. Sold for $220 plus the buyer’s premium in 2011. Image courtesy of Auctions Neapolitan and LiveAuctioneers

Around the same time, glassworkers in southern Germany were creating simpler, less masterly red-raspberry-hued vessels in forms such as bottles, boxes, and bowls. Many were assembled from gilded-metal mounts and glass components, and some served a dual purpose. For example, certain plates and saucers, when flipped, resembled covers. Beakers were made that looked like bowls, and knobs often formed finials or sections of glassware stems. While the provenance of Southern German ruby glass remains elusive, their uniform appearance suggests a single source.

Bohemian ruby glass epergne (centerpiece). Sold for $4,000 plus the buyer’s premium in 2015. Image courtesy of Austin Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

Interest in gold ruby glassware waned by the early 1800s. However, decades later, Friedrich Egermann, a Bohemian glass decorator, discovered that copper additives would stain glass surfaces a deep red. Sales of ruby glass made with copper soared. Because these pieces were inexpensive enough for mass production but had the appearance of gold ruby glass, they eventually dominated the European market.

Victorian tea warmer with scenic dark ruby glass insert in metal frame. Sold for $400 plus the buyer’s premium in 2021. Image courtesy of Woody Auction LLC and LiveAuctioneers

This variety of ruby glass was most fashionable during the Victorian era. After wine-colored wine glasses, decanters, and chandeliers studded with tiny ruby glass drops were featured at London’s 1851 Crystal Palace Exhibition, scores of prosperous homeowners graced their parlors with ruby glass candy bowls, vases and table lamps. Collectors sought ruby glass ground jugs, hinged boxes and tea warmers featuring stylized white enamel paintings of children at play. Others focused on delicate gold-painted ruby glass jars, cologne bottles and vanity sets.

Cranberry-to-clear glass dinner bell attributed to Dorflinger. Sold for $3,000 plus buyer’s premium in 2014. Image courtesy of DuMouchelles and LiveAuctioneers

By the mid-1800s, ruby glass was becoming popular across America, where it was known as cranberry glass. Through 1915, the Dorflinger Glass Company, based in Brooklyn, New York, created popular pattern-cut dinner bells, punch cups, cigar jars and whiskey jugs. The Indiana Glass Company produced ruby-stained and cranberry-to-clear crystal pitchers, tumblers, sherbets, goblets, serving ware and glassware. Soon after, the Fenton Art Glass Company of West Virginia introduced eye-pleasing red wine coolers, decanters and candy dishes, as well as opulent opalescent bowls, compotes, table lamps and epergnes (centerpieces). Steuben Glass, located in Corning, New York, produced fanciful ruby glass ewers, “candy-caned” vanity jars, majestic vases, lamps and more.

Twenty-first century artisans rely on selenium and rare earth elements rather than gold for making ruby glass. But their beguiling hues, ranging from pale pink to blazing red, continue to fire the imagination.

Jasper52 opens cabinet of curiosities, with a French twist, July 13

When the last dessert course had been served, and the servants finished delivering digestifs and cigars, lucky male guests of centuries past might be invited to view their esteemed host’s cabinet of curiosity.

While it might be a literal single cabinet, the richer and high-ranking the host was, the more likely it was to be a room full of cabinets displaying wondrous objects and oddities from around the world. Marquee items might include religious relics; antiquities; meteorites, shells, tusks, skeletons, semi-precious stones, and other natural history items; automata; tribal artifacts and other ethnographic objects; automata; books; works of art; and taxidermy, some of it clearly dubious. Anything that inspired delight and envy could earn a place in a cabinet of curiosity, but if it was rare, expensive, and advertised the intellect and superiority of its owner, all the better.

On July 13, starting at 7 pm Eastern time, Jasper52 will host a French Cabinet de Curiosite sale, featuring 152 lots of things you didn’t know you wanted until they popped up on your screen.

1950 Jean Picart Le Doux silkscreened cotton tapestry, estimated at $1,000-$1,200

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Micromosaics: Fine art, piece by tiny piece

An 18K gold micromosaic pendant with gemstones sold for $2,500 plus the buyer’s premium in 2015. Image courtesy of Hampton Estate Auction and LiveAuctioneers

It is the tallest dome in the world. At nearly 450 feet high, the Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican is awash in color with scenes depicting the 2,000-year-old history of the Catholic church. Near the top, the Latin inscription proclaims, “…upon this rock, I will build my church,” which is ironic, considering that the entire interior dome is decorated in small, colorful stones.

These scenes carefully crafted from stone are so intricate that from below, they appear to be highly detailed paintings, yet they are not. They are mosaics, or more precisely, micromosaics. Large stones that once formed Roman roads are now small stones which, ironically enough, feature in the works of the church the Romans persecuted.

This micromosaic parure, or suite of matching jewelry, sold for nearly $2,100 plus the buyer’s premium in 2019. Image courtesy of Dawsons Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

How a Mosaic Begins

Arranging large stones to form a functioning roadway, building or walkway is a civil-engineering technique that dates back to early Mesopotamia, now Iraq, about 5,500 years ago. In fact, the earliest stone road that still exists lies in Gaza and dates to at least 4,500 years ago. It may have been used to transport blocks of limestone that became part of the Egyptian pyramids.

Arranging stone pieces to form mosaic artworks is also ancient in origin and was prevalent throughout the ancient Greek, Roman and even early Mayan periods. The difference is in the size of the stones and how they are arranged.

Mosaic creators differentiate their patterns with color. The colors come from different types of cut stone, glass, ceramic and even enamel. Cut small and usually square, each piece, called a tessera (plural: tesserae), is painstakingly fitted together on a setting bed of plaster or cement, one piece at a time. The work is destined for installation within an outline brushed on a harder, more permanent surface, such as a wall, ceiling, column, fountain or indoor floor. The more elaborate the mosaic, the more prominently it was placed. Mosaics were status symbols when they were new. Today, they are considered national treasures and are not generally licensed to be bought or sold on the open market.

This brooch of a white dove on a blue background bears the maker’s mark of Fortunato Pio Castellani, one of the most renowned Roman micromosaic artists of the 19th century. It sold for $1,100 plus the buyer’s premium in 2015. Image courtesy of Alex Cooper and LiveAuctioneers

Mosaics Go Micro

When the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica was completed in the early 17th century, it created its own vapor clouds that eventually made it difficult to maintain its original paintings and frescoes. In the late 16th century, under the pontificate of Pope Gregory XIII, each painting and fresco was replaced via a new process that relied on long, thin, colorful segments of highly durable glass (smalti) cut into small, almost microscopic squares (filati) and placed, one by one, to recreate each masterpiece in a mosaic pattern.

The Vatican Mosaic Studio has maintained the intricate micromosaics in museum-quality condition since 1578. The studio continues to recreate paintings and images using a palette of some 28,000 separate smalti filati colors to produce micromosaic art as gifts for heads of state, for restoration projects at the Vatican, and for sale to pilgrims from around the world.

In works like this vintage floral brooch, pieces of pietra dura are cut to fit a particular shape. It sold for $60 plus the buyer’s premium in 2015.
Image courtesy of Cordier Auctions & Appraisals and LiveAuctioneers

The Grand Tour

Micromosaic art was resurrected in the late 18th century but was channeled into the creation of a more compact array of wearable jewelry and smaller decorative items, rather than large murals intended for public buildings. The artistic technique reemerged at precisely the right time.

From the 17th- to the late-19th century, the Grand Tour was a rite of passage for many privileged sons and daughters of the British upper class, in particular. The canonical Grand Tour itinerary included visits to Paris, Venice, and particularly Rome. The schedule of museum tours, concerts and cultural introductions led to a trade in beautiful, highly detailed micromosaic jewelry depicting many of the sites the young travelers might have visited. Micromosaics became a favorite keepsake of the Grand Tour experience, with each image of tessarae so fine up to 5,000 small pieces per square inch that they were regarded as works of art on a smaller scale.

These souvenir pieces weren’t just executed in small tesserae, but also in pietra dura, a phrase that translates as “hard stone.” Not unlike stained-glass art, pietra dura jewelry featured different shades of stone carved and shaved to fit together into delicate images of flowers, animals or historic architecture, usually set against a black background. The pietra dura style began in 16th century Florence using polished stones such as agate, mother of pearl, lapis lazuli, jasper, and other colored, sometimes semi-precious stones, and can almost be compared to marquetry, as each piece is tightly fitted without the use of grout or other cement to secure it.

Another standard Grand Tour souvenir, particularly during the Victorian era, was a parure: a set of intricate matching jewelry, usually consisted of a necklace, earrings, brooch, bracelet and, at times, a tiara, all in micromosaic, and all packaged in a fancy clamshell box.

The Artists Collectors Look For

Collectors are drawn to micromosaic pieces with tessarae so fine, they look almost like paintings from afar. Fortunato Pio Castellani, one of the early micromosaic artisans of the late 18th century, specialized in reproducing images of ancient Etruscan archeological finds. His makers mark is a mirrored “C” in a lozenge shape and also the word “Castellani” inside a raised rectangle.

Collectors also appreciate the works of Giacomo Raffaelli, who helped pioneer early micromosaics when he set up his shop in Rome in 1775. His signature style consisted of setting square tessarae in rows to create an image of limited color and design.

Michelangelo Barberi was known for the immensely fine micromosaics he created for many royal courts and the Tsar of Russia. Domenico Moglia, Antonio Aguatti, Luigi Cavaliere Moglia, Filippo Puglieschi, and Luigi Podio are also among the prominent artists of the late-18th and 19th century whose work is found at auction.

The Golden Age of micromosaics lasted until about 1870, when the tourist trade supplanted the Grand Tour. Micromosaics took on a more noticeably cruder look after that point, with larger stone tessarae replacing the finer artistic approach of the late-18th and early 19th centuries. Such works possess limited collector or auction appeal.

In addition to wearable jewelry, fine micromosaics can be found on elaborate snuff boxes, tabletops, panels and plaques, which were originally sold as souvenirs. The Victoria & Albert Museum’s Arthur and Rosalinde Gilbert Collection is one of the largest collections of micromosaics in the world, named for the collector Sir Arthur Gilbert, who coined the term “micromosaic” in the 1940s to describe the delicate art.

LALIQUE VASES: A BLOOMING MARKET

Left, a Perruches (Parakeets) Lalique vase in deep amber and white stained intaglio, which sold for £14,000 plus the buyer’s premium at Lyon & Turnbull in April 2021. Right, the same Lalique vase design in cased opalescent and blue stained intaglio realized £20,000 plus the buyer’s premium in the same auction.
Images courtesy of Lyon & Turnbull and LiveAuctioneers.

Vases were important to Rene Lalique. From the French artisan-entrepreneur’s earliest attempts at the form, which date to the late 19th century, until his passing in 1945, he created 200 vase designs – a staggeringly large number. Whether the volume of Lalique vase designs reflected a genuine enthusiasm for the decorative flower-holders isn’t clear, but Lalique did grasp some basic, vital facts about them.

“He was aware of the circuit of World’s Fairs and exhibitions. I think he realized vases, and particularly, experimentation with vase bodies, got him additions to his fan base and more press,” said Jill Fenichell, a furniture and decorative arts appraiser at Michaan’s Auctions in Alameda, California. “Vases did that [i.e., captured attention] better than centerpiece bowls. Vases allowed him to play with surfaces in a very sculptural way.”

There was another truth that Lalique, being a sharp businessman, could not ignore: the public definitely wanted vases. “Lalique made a lot of them, and they were always good sellers,” said Nicholas Dawes, Vice President of Special Collections at Heritage Auctions in Dallas. “Vases were a mass-market thing, and a very big part of his production.”

Now decades and even centuries old, many Lalique vases literally qualify as antiques, and yet they look as if they could have been made last week. “Lalique was clever enough to produce timeless designs with ongoing appeal,” said Joy McCall, a Senior Specialist of Decorative Arts at the British auction house Lyon & Turnbull. “Vases have universal appeal, and there’s such a breadth of design. Few people would turn down a Lalique vase.”

This cased butterscotch and white stained molded Archers Lalique vase sold for £11,000 plus the buyer’s premium at Lyon & Turnbull in April 2021.
Image courtesy of Lyon & Turnbull and LiveAuctioneers.

In April 2021, McCall curated Lyon & Turnbull’s first all-Lalique sale, with a lineup that included several vases, and was pleasantly surprised by the result. “Definitely, things [in the Lalique market] come in and out of fashion, but ultimately, people love colored vases,” she said. “I would have said the market was slightly softer for large, colored vases, but the sale proved me wrong. Overall, there was a steady interest in the pieces. It’s a nice, reliable market that has proved itself over the decades.”

Dawes noted: “Vintage Lalique, in general, is underpriced, and can only go up. That applies to every single thing, including Lalique vases. The supply is not getting any bigger, and the demand is getting bigger. We’re getting demand from Asia, which we didn’t have before, and it’s enormous. You only need four or five people to decide to buy one, and the market goes nuts.”

An amber-colored Tortues (Turtles) Lalique vase sold for $39,000 plus the buyer’s premium at A.B. Levy’s in February 2015.
Image courtesy of A.B. Levy’s and LiveAuctioneers.

Like Dawes, Albert Levy of A.B. Levy’s, Palm Beach, Florida, knows that phenomenon well, and has had the pleasure of watching it elevate Lalique vase lots offered at his auction house. In February 2015, he sold an amber Tortues (Turtles) amber-colored Lalique vase for $39,000 plus the buyer’s premium. It rocketed past its $15,000-$25,000 estimate to achieve the sum. “The quality of that vase was outstanding, and the color was outstanding,” Levy said, recalling the sale. “You don’t find a duplicate to that too often.”

This frosted glass Nadica Lalique vase earned $125,000 plus the buyer’s premium at A.B. Levy’s in February 2015.
Image courtesy of A.B. Levy’s and LiveAuctioneers.

Elsewhere in the lineup of that 2015 A.B. Levy’s auction was a frosted glass Nadica Lalique vase that earned a hammer price of $125,000 against an estimate of $60,000-$90,000. A Nepalese king had ordered it directly from Lalique, but Levy believes that while its provenance “didn’t hurt,” it didn’t play much of a role, either, instead crediting the robust result to the vase’s rarity and the crispness of its high-relief decorations. “I had it once in my life, and never again. It’s very special, very rare, a great piece,” he said.

David Rago of Rago Arts and Auction in Lambertville, New Jersey, also saw success with a scarce Lalique vase design. In October 2015, his eponymous auction house sold a Cluny Lalique vase for $100,000 plus the buyer’s premium against an estimate of $80,000-$100,000.

In October 2015, Rago Arts and Auction Center sold a Cluny Lalique vase for $100,000 plus buyer’s premium.
Image courtesy of Rago Arts and Auction Center and LiveAuctioneers.

The vase is regarded as a triumph in Art Deco design,” he said. “It’s Rene Lalique’s interpretation of the mythical Gorgon, Medusa. It combines a clean and simple form with the sophistication of the bronze snake handles and the incorporated masques on either side to depict the Medusa motif in a way we’ve not seen before. And ignoring bronze stands made just to set a vase on, a Lalique commercial production vase incorporating bronze in the design is always going to be a rarity. There are only two models known, the similar Senlis vase with leaf handles being the other one.”

An opalescent Bacchantes Lalique vase realized $42,500 plus the buyer’s premium at Michaan’s Auctions.
Image courtesy of Michaan’s Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Though strongly colored Lalique vases find favor with collectors, clear, opalescent, and frosted examples, such as the Nadica and the Cluny, can perform just as well or better. Fenichell wasn’t present at Michaan’s in June 2013 when it offered an opalescent Bacchantes Lalique vase that romped past its $15,000-$20,000 estimate to sell for $42,500 plus the buyer’s premium, but she researched the sale and provided insight. The vase was discovered in a garage, and the Michaan’s representative who first saw it recalled knowing right away that it was something special. Fenichell said that its powerful auction performance was driven by the stenciled “R LALIQUE FRANCE” signature on the vessel. “It was all in caps, with no dot visible, all in pretty big lettering. That’s unusual and early,” she said, meaning that the appearance of the signature places the vase’s creation closer in time to the 1927 debut of the popular Bacchantes design.

An example of a Tourbillons Lalique vase, clear with black enamel, sold for $35,000 plus buyer’s premium at Heritage Auctions.
Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

A different mostly-clear Lalique vase, sold at Heritage in November 2011, shows the master at what might be his most experimental. The Tourbillons vase, decorated with black enamel, challenges the physics of glassmaking itself. “There’s extreme variation in the thickness of the glass,” Dawes said. “When you make a vessel like this, the glass is molten and cools down. As it cools, it shrinks. If you have different thicknesses of glass, it might split apart. In all the Tourbillons, the thing is kind of fighting with itself. It’s an agonizing process of cooling down, but that’s what makes it great, and that’s part of the beauty of it.” He added, “The word ‘tourbillon’ means ‘whirlwind.’ It embodies that.” The example Heritage offered in 2011 sold for $35,000 plus buyer’s premium.

In November 2017, Heritage Auctions sold a Borromee Lalique vase in a deep blue hue for $32,000 plus the buyer’s premium.
Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Good designs and gorgeous colors attract collectors, but a Lalique vase that perfectly marries its subject with its hue beats them both. In November 2017, Heritage had a Borromee Lalique vase, decorated with peacocks, in a mesmerizing shade of deep blue. It strutted away with $32,000, plus the buyer’s premium. Dawes holds it up as an example of Lalique’s multi-faceted talents. “All Lalique vases have a name,” he said. “Some are obvious, and a lot are place names. Some are places Lalique visited himself, or read about, or wanted to romanticize. This is one of them. I believe I’m right in saying that Borromee [The Borromean Islands] is inhabited by peacocks. He’s got them all over the vase. The French for ‘peacock’ is ‘paon.’ He could have called it that, but he didn’t. That’s indicative. It’s all about marketing, and Lalique was very good at that.”

Rago is confident that the market for pieces from Lalique’s lifetime, vases included, will remain strong. “I once remarked to a Lalique dealer friend that Lalique was like Roseville pottery, but with another zero on the price tag,” he said. “I was being funny, though the comment is not without some level of merit. These are produced in multiples, fixed designs, usually offered in different colors or patinas or both, making them something of a collectible. That all said and at this point I’ve seen and handled enough of the work, over a long enough period of time the quality level pre-war was so consistently high. The control of production seems to have been very attentive to the evenness of the finished product, since I’ve not really seen any seconds. The molding is crisp, the colors even throughout. I think, in many ways, without reducing the import of the work by calling it a ‘collectible,’ it is really the perfect glass to collect. There is no mistaking the importance of that factory, which Suzanne and I visited a few years back. I think, especially with prices below the high point of that market 15 years ago, Lalique will prove durable.”

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Exquisite decorative arts tantalize bidders in Apr 21 sale

Making your living spaces better and more pleasant is a reliable recipe for happiness. Jasper52’s upcoming Exquisite Decorative Arts will help you start cooking. Kicking off at 7 pm on April 21, the auction includes 345 lots of lighting, tableware, sculpture, and other decorative objects that will delight you and capture your attention.

Creeping leopard bronze, estimated at $800-$1,000

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

HOW TO LIVE LIKE JEEVES AND WOOSTER

Let’s get one thing straight right away: the world of Reginald Jeeves and Bertram “Bertie” Wilberforce Wooster is as fantastical as Middle Earth or Westeros. Sure, P.G. Wodehouse (which is pronounced “Woodhouse”) set the stories in England and New York in an ambiguous time that evidently falls between the world wars, so they can claim connections to places that actually exist. But Jeeves, the uber-competent valet to the well-heeled Bertie Wooster, had might as well be an elf or a dragon. A man of his skill and intellect finding satisfaction in serving a young, proudly idle Englishman whose greatest accomplishment seems to be making and breaking engagements to at least a quarter of the high-born daughters in his circle? Unbelievable.

Jeeves’s loyalty to Wooster, along with Wodehouse’s peerless writing, drives the enduring appeal of the stories. When the wizards who adapted them for the Jeeves and Wooster television series in the late 1980s and early 1990s, they tackled the task of translating the luxurious lives of Wooster and his friends into fittings and furnishings. They succeeded admirably. The only thing that eclipsed the achievement was their recruiting of the British comedians Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry to play the title characters. The television show, and not the books, were front of mind when rummaging the archives for auction results that evoke the early 20th-century backdrops the beloved Wodehouse characters moved through. With a friendly “What Ho,” we invite you to enjoy this collection of sold lots* that call to mind the rarified realm of Jeeves and Wooster.

Tea Time

Spode bone china service in Sheffield pattern

How does Bertie Wooster take his tea? According to the television series, the answer is “in bed.” Several episodes picture him sipping his morning cuppa as he converses, muses, and schemes with Jeeves. The eagle-eyed author of the Look Back & Hanker blog identified the teacup Hugh Laurie holds in the first episode of the first series as belonging to Spode’s Sheffield pattern. In 2004, Auctions by the Bay offered a service in the long-running bone china pattern that included 13 teacups and 14 saucers. It sold for $850.

Shaken and Stirred: A Toast to Simplicity

George V silver cocktail shaker by Herbert Edward

Jeeves can’t stand sartorial crimes, and he judges Wooster guilty with some regularity. When he carries home a jacket or a hat that’s a little bit non-traditional (and why shouldn’t he—what’s the point of being absurdly rich if you can’t be eccentric?), Jeeves reacts as if Wooster had announced an intention to stride out of his apartment in an outfit comprised of a mink stole, hip waders, and a dickie. If panic roils Jeeves, he never shows it. He solves the problem by rescuing Wooster and his friends from the scrape du jour and banishes the offending item from his master’s wardrobe as payment. This is a somewhat long-winded way of saying just as Jeeves doesn’t tolerate fads in men’s clothing, he doesn’t tolerate it in barware, either. No way would he deign to prepare Wooster’s nightly tipple in a novelty cocktail shaker shaped like a penguin or a zeppelin or even a set of golf clubs. He relies on a plain but elegant silver cocktail shaker of the sort offered at Elstob & Elstob in January 2021. Dating to circa 1923, it was designed by Herbert Edward and commanded £950, or about $1,300.

Art Deco Tech

Pye Type 25 English portable radio, 1928

Wooster is young and wealthy and surrounds himself with the best of his era. For him, that means decorating his apartments in Art Deco style. Contrast his digs with the vaguely Edwardian feel of the interiors of his club and the imposing Victorian rooms of the country homes of his assorted aunts, and the difference is immediate and unmistakable. The Wooster of the television show unreservedly lives in the now; it so happens that “now” is decades ago to the viewer. Wooster owns a radio, or as he would have called it, a “wireless,” and it looks as good as it sounds. It’s placed between the writing desk and the piano in his London apartment, and it appears to be a circa-1928 Type 25 portable radio by Pye. Auction Team Breker sold one in 2015 for €240, or about $300.

Thrones for Drones

Arts & Crafts English leather club chairs

Wooster is a member of good standing in the Drones Club, which is named in honor of male bees that perform no work. It provides a haven for Wooster and a place where characters from P.G. Wodehouse’s assorted literary universes meet. The interiors assembled for the adaption of Jeeves and Wooster look exactly as one would expect—coffered ceilings and lots of cozy spaces finished with dark woods. Of course, a club requires club chairs. The Drones Club certainly doesn’t lack them, and the animated opening credits of the show depict a few Drones luxuriating in the embrace of just such a chair. This set of circa-1930 Arts & Crafts English leather club chairs isn’t a perfect match for those shown on screen—they have a little too much decoration—but they otherwise look the part. Offered at Treadway Toomey Auctions in May 2006, they sold for $3,250 against an estimate of $1,500 to $1,800.

The Country Life

Diana the huntress bronze

A fair amount of the action of the Jeeves and Wooster television series takes place at the country homes of Wooster’s friends and family. Being English, virtually all of them keep spectacular gardens as a matter of national pride. A bronze of Diana, goddess of the hunt, reaching back to grab an arrow from her quiver appears on the grounds of Chuffnell Hall, the retreat of Lord Chuffnell, or as Wooster knows him, “Chuffy.” Ahlers & Ogletree Auction Gallery sold a similar-looking statue in November 2017 for $10,000 against an estimate of $3,000 to $5,000.

In All Things, Be Prepared

Louis Vuitton & Christofle cocktail set

The television adaptation establishes early in its run that Wooster’s liquid intake largely alternates between tea and booze. Both must continue to flow no matter where he and his manservant are, be it at home or out in the boondocks of the Home Counties. Jeeves equips himself for this eventuality with a travel cocktail set that permits him to mix drinks from the “boot,” or trunk, of a car. An undated Louis Vuitton & Christofle cocktail set, nested in a black leather case, was offered by Abell Auction in December 2011, and while not of British manufacture, would not have been rebuffed, either by Jeeves or Wooster. French made, it’s the product of two impeccable firms that represent the best of the best. It sold for $3,250 against an estimate of $3,000 to $4,000.

Direct from the Source

English silver cow creamer, 19th c, stamped BH

Want to delight a Jeeves and Wooster superfan? Give them an antique silver cow creamer. The adventures of this jaunty piece of hollowware dominate one of the best-loved Jeeves and Wooster stories, The Code of the Woosters. It starts with Wooster’s Aunt Dahlia enlisting him to sneer at an antique cow creamer and accelerates hilariously from there. Looking at LiveAuctioneers’ archives yields several good results for silver cow creamers, with demand driven at least in part by Wodehouse fans. A 19th-century English example sold by Pook & Pook in December 2011 for $650 against an estimate of $150 to $250. Canonically, the cow creamer is supposed to date from the 18th century, but the friendly little silver bovine with its pert curling tail doubling as a handle looks much like the one showcased in the television series.

Clothes Make the Man

[Wodehouse, P.G.], Tweed Waistcoat from the 1989 Jeeves

At least one happy bidder out there can embrace the idea of living like Jeeves and Wooster almost literally. A May 2020 Freeman’s auction of a P.G. Wodehouse collection included a tweed waistcoat supplied by Angels & Bermans that was actually worn by Stephen Fry in his portrayal of Jeeves for the television series in 1989. Estimated at $100 to $150, it sold for $350. We hope the winner was on the larger end of the menswear spectrum as Fry stands six feet, five inches tall.

As of April 2021, Jeeves and Wooster is not streaming on any platforms, but it’s easy to immerse oneself in the deeply likable duo’s world by reading or rereading P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster books. HP at Plumtopia, a site for Wodehouse admirers, composed a reading list for the series. Click to view it.

To learn about Jeeves and Wooster’s backgrounds, visit Look Back & Hanker’s blog post.

 

 

Jasper52 presents exquisite decorative arts March 31

Admirers of the decorative arts will want to mark calendars for Jasper52’s upcoming auction beginning 7 p.m. Eastern March 31. Indulge your table, mantel, garden and more with this diverse array of antique to modern decorative objects. Exquisite vases, impressive dinnerware, and lovely bronze sculptures are among the unique treasures in this sale.

Jumping hare, bronze, Belgium, late 20th century, $400-$500. Image courtesy Jasper52

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.