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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.

Stilnovo: lighting the way in the atomic age

NEW YORK – Stilnovo, an innovative design company based in Milan, Italy, has created fine, functional lighting since 1947. Inspired by the historic Stilnovo, “new style,” Italian poetic movement associated with Dante Alighieri (c.1265–1321), its creations merge ingenuity with grace. Each elegant piece, produced with specialized technology, high-quality materials and extraordinary attention to detail, epitomizes the traditional Italian aesthetic. Each is a work of art.

Pair of Large Stilnovo Sconces Model B4917: brass, enameled metal, marked, 24 x 17 ½in (disk) x 8.5in, Italy, realized $4,250 + buyer’s premium in 2021. Image courtesy Palm Beach Modern Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Stilnovo ornamental chandeliers come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Through the 1960s, many, reflecting developments of the emerging atomic age, featured optimistic, out-of-this-world Sputnik-inspired designs. Many are stark constellations, featuring multiple, angular pinpoints of light radiating from tiny sunlike spheres. Some, their arms widely arched, look like daddy-longlegs spiders. Others, larger and lusher, feature ovoid “tulip” bulbs on gently curved arms. Particularly dramatic ones feature handfuls of brass tubes or numerous glass orbs mounted on round, geometric or freeform branched frames.

“Whatever their style,” explains Rico Baca, vice president of Palm Beach Modern Auctions, “clean lines and functional designs make Stilnovo’s chandeliers easy to place throughout the home, in hallways, living rooms or dining rooms. Since multi-arm chandeliers in brass, glass and enameled metal are particularly popular with designers and high-end collectors,” he adds, “these vibrant, vintage pieces always garner attention and top prices at auction.”

Stilnovo floor lamp: marble, painted metal, brass, blown glass,160 cm, 1960s, realized €1,400 ($1,459) + buyer’s premium in 2016. Image courtesy Wannenes and LiveAuctioneers

Stilnovo’s simple, circular ceiling pendant lights, produced in a rainbow of colors, are perennially popular. So are their stunning, variously shaped, old-new wall sconces – lighting fixtures that once held candles or oil lamps.

The company’s superbly designed floor lamps are not only enduring favorites, but also endearing conversation-pieces. To some, for example, the enamel, chromed Spider Task lamp resembles its name – an eight-legged anthropoid gracefully sweeping through the air. To others, however, it evokes a spare, splendid, hovering water bird.

Valigia desk lamp: enameled steel, Ettore Sottsass, 14 x 15 x 9in, 1977, Italy, realized $550 + buyer’s premium in 2017. Image courtesy Billings and LiveAuctioneers

Danilo and Corrado Aroldi’s unique white, black, yellow, or silver Periscopio (Periscope) Floor Lamp (1967), on the other hand, faithfully replicates its namesake. Its thick, vertical, lacquered aluminum tube body is topped by a flexible, black rubber joint that focuses its spotlight-eye both vertically and horizontally.

Scores of other Stilnovo floor lamps feature amusing, candy-colored, adjustable glass cones emerging from single, spindly stems. Others feature tiny, playful, bright “balloons” emerging from extending multiple stems.  And some Stilnovos, amusingly angling out at both ends,  resemble casual clutches of pick-up sticks.

Stilnovo Sputnik Chandelier, red cones on 17 arms, circa 1950, Italy, realized $850 + buyer’s premium in 2016. Image courtesy Louis J. Dianni, LLC and LiveAuctioneers

Stilnovo table lamps are no less innovative. Unlike earlier pieces, however, many can be attributed to specific designers. The Topo Table Lamp (1970) by Joe Colombo, for example, features double-jointed, adjustable, angled arms in a number of variations. Some, worked in shiny metal from tip to toe, are versatile clamp-ons. Others, lacquered in bright, primary shades, are securely anchored to thick, winding chrome or matte-black circular bases.

Stilnovo Periscopio (Periscope) Floor Lamp, enameled metal and rubber, 72in folded, Danilo and Corrado Aroldi, 1972, realized £280 ($366) in 2020. Image courtesy Lyon & Turnbull and LiveAuctioneers

Some Stilnovo table lamps are more intriguing yet. The rare, white plastic, cowl shaped Lucetta (1974) by Cini Boeri, through a simple change of position, offers two different lighting effects. The Valigia Lamp (1977), designed by architect Ettore Sottsass, features a bold, curved sheet metal body above four sturdy, surprisingly high, enameled steel tube legs. In addition to its telltale size, handle and overall rectangular shape, the name of this iconic work reveals its ironic inspiration. Valigia translates to English as suitcase.

Spider Task Lamp: enameled, chromed metal and Bakelite, manufacturers label, 46 x 5½ x 36in, shade: 2 x 4 x 9in, 1960s, Italy, realized $650 + buyer’s premium in 2018. Image courtesy
Rago Arts and Auction Center and LiveAuctioneers

Stilnovo lighting – delicate or dramatic, simple or sophisticated – preserves its timeless charm from one generation to the next. As Baca explains, “Stilnovo epitomizes some of the best qualities of Italian lighting design: innovative high-style that is also firmly grounded in functionality. Moreover, Stilnovo has evolved with current design trends, retaining their signature style although the materials and forms have changed over the decades.”

Cloisonné and its enameled cousins

It may only be glass dust baked into colorful decoration today, but cloisonné art defined royalty from its earliest period some 3,000 years ago. Today, that royal privilege is a common everyday auction favorite.

Around the third century B.C., the art of cloisonné featured gems and multicolored stones that were ground to perfectly to fit within thick, solid gold, wire soldered to a base metal and separated into compartments (cloisons) to complete a design, usually religious in nature. With the use of gems, only the wealthiest, mostly royal households, could commission these intricate and delicate works of expressive art.

This pair of late 19th century Meiji cloisonné vases shows the detail enamel work of land and waterscapes featuring colorful floral and geometric design throughout and a collector favorite in style and design that sold for $850 + the buyer’s premium in 2016. Image courtesy of Hill Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

Slowly over time, the use of cut precious gems and stones to create cloisonné was eventually substituted with powdered or fragments of clear or opaque glass fired onto metal at high temperature becoming routine sometime around 14th century Europe. This method still shone like the earlier cut stones but made cloisonné art more accessible especially as decorative household items or worn as jewelry.

However, while cloisonné is enameling, not all enameling is cloisonné. While the use of powdered glass is constant, the manner that it is artistically applied differs.

Cloisonné

In the simplest way to describe it, the art of cloisonné is arranging thin metal walls along a pattern etched onto a metal base, usually gold. These individual cells, called cloisons, are then filled with powdered glass, either colored or clear, to the top of the thin metal walls and fired at high temperature to form a vitreous glaze known as hardened enamel. Once cooled, the surface is brushed with soft cloth creating a mirrored, glossy surface that brings out a striking colorful portrait or artistic pattern. By the 12th century, Western Europe had moved on from this technique in favor of a more detailed and creative style called champlevé.

Unlike cloisonné that uses thin wires to separate colors, patterns in champlevé are incised directly into a heavier metal such as copper and only the incision is filled with enamel and fired like this 19th century Russian silver box that sold for $600 (without buyer’s premium) in 2012. 
Image courtesy of Charles A. Whitaker Auction Co. and LiveAuctioneers

Champlevé

While cloisonné is achieved by inserting thin metal walls from which the design is created, the art of champlevé instead carves out the design directly onto a thicker metal surface, usually copper or other hard metals. The powdered glass is inserted into the carved metal up to the top of the metal surface and fired at high temperature to create a detailed pattern or decorative design. Even more artistic refinement was achieved through the process known as basse-taille.

Basse-taille

It would be difficult to distinguish champlevé from basse-taille, (meaning ‘low cut’) without a closer examination. Both rely on etching a complete pattern or design directly onto a hard metal surface with enamel filling in the carved pattern and fired at a high temperature. The difference between the two techniques, though, is that while champlevé has only one thickness of carving, basse-taille has at least one other carving that is below the thickness of the first. Using clear or translucent colored enamel interchangeably, the different layers produce a more three-dimensional look and feel to the final design, especially when used on a gold or silver base. The total effect of color, brightness and design was a skill that few could master and fell out of favor after the Renaissance.

In this Chinese example of plique-a-jour bowl the process starts out similar to cloisonné, but the metal base is removed to create a visually stunning stained glass effect that Tiffany was famous for. Image courtesy of Aspire Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Plique-à-jour

Up to now, creating an enameled work of art required the process to be on a metal base. However, in 14th century France and Italy, the metal base was no longer found necessary. The process of plique-à-jour (meaning ‘light of day’) was more akin to stained glass in that metal strips form a pattern on a metal base, the glass powder is added to create the pattern, then the underlying metal base is removed. But instead of cut glass pieces to form a pattern like stained glass, the colored enamel allows light to shine through. The foremost artists of plique-à-jour enameling were Rene Lalique, Louis Comfort Tiffany and Peter Carl Faberge.

What Collectors Look For

There are other artistic forms of enameling such as niello (a black inlay on gold and silver), guilloché (repetitive patterns), gripoix (poured glass), taille d’épargne (black enamel tracing), en résille (enamel on rock crystal or glass) and damascening (inlay similar to the look of damask silk) each with a special artistic use of fired ground opaque, opalescent and transparent glass. Most have their origins in early history such as niello while others, like guilloché, can now be created mechanically.

While other examples of enamel are colorful and opalescent, niello is a dark inlay made from a mixture of sulphur, copper, silver and lead. When added to a base of gold and silver produces a dramatic contrast of light and dark similar to this 1915 Longines rose gold and silver pocket watch that sold for $250 + the buyer’s premium in 2015. Image courtesy of Hindman and LiveAuctioneers

Enameling, though, has been featured throughout the ancient world from Arabia to Europe usually as a regional artistic expression and mostly as a decorative display on cups, saucers, vases, religious objects, small boxes, personal jewelry, tableware and even decorative clocks. But there are differences to look for.

Chinese cloisonné, for example, has a smoother finish around the rims while Japanese cloisonné has more of a mottled feel like an orange peel. Tap the bottom. If it is not metallic (usually copper) then it isn’t authentic cloisonné and it is the Japanese cloisonné from the late 19th and early 20th centuries that are prized at auction for their sophistication and deep color.

The difference in style from cloisonné to champlevé and basse taille is another example. Cloisonné usually covers the entire metal surface while the others do not. Yet, champlevé and basse taille are somewhat similar until viewed closely to see the differences in the height of the cuts made into the metal itself; champlevé usually has only one level while basse taille has more.

Yet, with all the differences in style and technique of enameling whether vintage or historic, it is a matter of personal preference that will determine what collectors prize the most.

And while there is much to learn from each technique, once the differences are made clear, identifying each style becomes a most satisfying collecting experience filled with color, light and thousands of years of history.

Finally

Enameling in any form is an ancient artistic process originally intended as a visible display of wealth and sophistication for early royalty. Whether cloisonné, champlevé or any other variations of sleek, colorful and vintage enamelware will make any collector look and feel like royalty, too.

Tureens offer a feast of artistry

NEW YORK – Humans have eaten soup for thousands of years but have served them from tureens for only a few hundred. Dinnerware designers elevated the large covered serving bowl into the form dubbed the tureen in the early 18th century and quickly understood its potential as an artistic showpiece. Hosting a dinner party is known as entertaining, after all, and serving soup from a vessel festooned with maidens, cherubs, cornucopias, garlands, painted landscape scenes and other expensive, labor-intensive frippery that enchants and holds the eye certainly counts as entertaining.

It’s not clear who invented the tureen, or where, but it probably emerged from France, a nation that loves its soups. The origin of the word has not been pinned down, but it could come from “terrine,” a covered container used for making the dish of the same name.

Tureens debuted in an era when soup was traditionally the first course on a menu. Ladling that soup from a fabulous-looking tureen set the tone for the evening: This is an elegant experience, and you and a select few others have been invited to share it. As dinner parties evolved, it became standard for hosts to offer two contrasting soups—for example, a dark-colored, heavy game meat soup as well as a lighter, more broth-like one. That meant dinner party hosts had to own at least two tureens, doubling the opportunities to dazzle their guests and show off their wealth.

Chinese export goose tureen. Image courtesy of Freeman’s and LiveAuctioneers

Some tureens were ornamented with animals, such as ducks, rabbits or deer. The appearance of a bird or beast on the outside might signal what food is inside, but not always. Freeman’s sold a circa 1760s Qianlong period Chinese export porcelain tureen shaped like a goose, but the odds are it never held a soup or other dish made from the bird. In all likelihood, it was meant purely as eye candy. Standing just over a foot high, it’s exquisitely painted and sculpted. The unknown artisans went to the trouble of articulating the goose’s wingtips and lifting them away from its body, and they explicitly modeled its tucked-in feet rather than painting them on or leaving them out entirely.

People love figurative tureens now as much as they did in the 18th century. Freeman’s sold the porcelain goose, which would have been a specialty item when new, for $50,000. “Novelty forms are always very popular because not as many are available,” says Ben Farina, head of Asian arts at Freeman’s. “For collectors, they’re not only rare forms, but a bit of sculpture. When they’re not being used, they can sit on a sideboard as decoration.”

The Chinese export porcelain goose tureen Freeman’s offered was single, but other examples dating to the same period have come with identical mates. Farina cannot confirm whether the goose once had a gander. “It’s not impossible. It would make some sense if it was a large service, but I don’t want to say,” he said. “Sometimes you do see pairs together. Whether they started life together is another question.”

Minton majolica bunny tureen. Image courtesy of Strawser Auction Group and LiveAuctioneers

Farina also suggested that animal-form tureens might recall the medieval practice of carrying whole roasted birds or wild boar into a dining hall to the delight of the guests. “I think these tureens were entertaining pieces, showpieces carried into the hall in front of the diners,” he says.

The talented staff at Minton, an English majolica producer active during Victorian times, created several pieces they called tureens, though the vessels don’t seem to be designed to hold soup. One of Minton’s most beloved pieces, a game tureen decorated with depictions of the heads of rabbits and ducks, has earned the nickname “the Bunny tureen.”

Minton majolica fish tureen. Image courtesy of Strawser Auction Group and LiveAuctioneers

Michael Strawser of Strawser Auction Group has handled five Bunny tureens in the last 30 years and auctioned one dating to 1878 for $22,000. Strawser also sold an equally rare Minton fish tureen, featuring a clever lemon-shaped handle, from 1876 for $15,500.

Minton certainly recognized how the tureen form could make a superlative canvas for its artisans. “Minton is famous for the crispness of the painting,” Strawser says. “With other companies, you see the painting run from one section to another. Here, there’s a lot of extra detail, such as showing the actual hair on the rabbits.”

When Jean Puiforcat tackled the tureen, he stripped it down while keeping its opulence. The fourth-generation French silversmith knew that an abundance of decorative flourishes on a piece of silver holloware could conceal any number of flaws. His circa 1925 silver tureen and stand is spectacular in its simplicity. He and his clients lived in the time of Art Deco, and he streamlined the serving piece accordingly. The luxury is in the quality of the craftsmanship—Puiforcat didn’t need to hide his silversmithing mistakes, because he didn’t make any—and in accents fashioned from semiprecious stones.

Puiforcat silver tureen and stand. Image courtesy of Millea Bros. and LiveAuctioneers

“This is a really fine example of what he’s known for. It’s iconic Art Deco, and it’s as much a sculptural object as a functional one,” says David Halpern of Millea Bros, speaking of the 1925 Puiforcat tureen and stand that the auction house sold for $35,000 in 2016. “It’s clean, but it’s not so reductionist that it doesn’t have intricacy to it.”

Halpern affirms that the fact of its being a tureen helped push the bidding to almost twice the high estimate of $12,000 to $18,000. “What part of a table service is going to be this large and complex?” he asks. “Tureens are very suited to being monumental and important.”

While he can’t confirm whether the winner of the Puiforcat tureen has since used it to serve guests, Halpern says people continue to buy and use tureens, even if they might not use them in precisely the same ways as past generations did: “I think they buy them because they’re beautiful, and they think, “Won’t it be fun to trot out at a dinner party?’ People are going to want to get together and socialize. They want to make a point of saying ‘We are together and we are celebrating.’”

Textile auction Feb. 18 features many Grenfell mats

Jasper52’s online auction of American quilts and textiles on Thursday, Feb. 18, features an amazing collection of nearly 90 vintage quilts as well as 42 handmade Grenfell mats from eastern Canada.

Grenfell mat or rug, 1930s, cotton and silk, 32½ x 42in. Estimate $5,500-$7,000. Jasper52 image

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Colorful decorative art offered in online auction Jan. 20

Jasper52 will conduct another Exquisite Decorative Art auction on Wednesday, Jan. 20. More than 200 lots of high-quality glass, metalware, figurines, pottery and porcelain objects will be offered.

Blown glass vase, mid-century modern, 2.6in high x 10in in diameter. Estimate: $120-
$150. Jasper52 image

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Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Jasper52 auction heavy into French sterling silver Jan. 13

French sterling silver abounds in an Exquisite Decorative Arts online auction that Jasper52 will conduct on Wednesday, Jan. 13. Two magnificent Louis XVI-style tea/coffee sets are offered as well as several large sets of flatware.

Louis XVI sterling silver tea/coffee set by Puiforcat, eight pieces, 1850-1899. Reserve: $24,549; estimate: $29,000-$35,000.

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.