A taste for Rock­e­feller

Love or loathe the con­tents, the sale of a per­sonal col­lec­tion was full of in­trigue

Country Life Every Week - - Art Market - Huon Mal­lalieu

What a ter­ri­ble thing was the Rock­e­feller Pi­casso. the 61in by 26in Fil­lette à la cor­beille fleurie (Fig 3) aroused strongly dif­fer­ing emo­tions in its view­ers. David Rock­e­feller ev­i­dently loved it; his wife, Peggy, loathed it: she in­sisted that it be kept away from her sight. Most peo­ple I asked about it shared her dis­taste, but I found one who thought it beau­ti­ful. Ini­tially, at least, its ear­li­est own­ers, Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo, re­acted like the Rock­e­fellers, he for and she against.

Ugly was the word that came to my mind and not just from ‘Me­tooish­ness’, although that may have played a part be­cause of the sad back story. the very young model was, in­deed, a flow­erseller, known as Linda la Bou­quetière, but she also sold her body and, from her drugged and dis­eased look, is un­likely to have lived long. the body, es­pe­cially the arm, seemed to me to be weakly painted, but the poor, bruised face with its dead eyes was mas­terly—and aw­ful.

De­spite the pub­lic­ity and pre­sale world tour, the price echoed the am­biva­lence of the mar­ket; $115 mil­lion (£85,770,450) is a large sum, but it was ap­par­ently at the bot­tom of the es­ti­mate. On the other hand, the $9,875,000 (£7,406,250) paid for Ti­gre jouant avec une tortue (Fig 2) by Eugène Delacroix (1798– 1863) was at the top of the es­ti­mate and I would have been far hap­pier to have it on my wall. When his first tiger sub­ject was ex­hib­ited in the 1831 Sa­lon, to­gether with his Lib­erté guidant le pe­u­ple, a critic noted that ‘this sin­gu­lar artist has never painted a man who re­sem­bled a man as closely as his tiger re­sem­bles a tiger’, which is only a lit­tle un­fair.

Delacroix was fas­ci­nated by big cats through­out his ca­reer and the 17¾in by 24½in Rock­e­feller paint­ing was a late ex­am­ple, be­ing dated 1862. the sub­ject is gen­tler than ear­lier lion and tiger pictures, sug­gest­ing cu­rios­ity rather than vi­o­lence, although the pos­si­bil­ity of fe­line vi­o­lence is there, too. his friends recog­nised his affin­ity with the beasts; as théophile Gaultier put it: ‘he knew how to soften his fe­ro­cious mask with a smile full of ur­ban­ity. he was mel­low, soft as vel­vet, se­duc­tive as one of those tigers whose ex­tra­or­di­nary sup­ple grace he ex­celled in paint­ing.’

although Delacroix was a leader of the Ro­man­tic re­ac­tion against Napoleonic Clas­si­cism, whether through his recog­nised fa­ther or his pro­tec­tor and pu­ta­tive pro­gen­i­tor, tal­leyrand, he was per­son­ally a prod­uct of the Im­pe­rial pe­riod. a fine ex­am­ple of that Clas­si­cal taste was seen in the de­sign and dec­o­ra­tion of the Rock­e­fellers’ Sèvres ‘Marly Rouge’ porce­lain part­dessert ser­vice (Fig 1) made for Napoleon in 1809.

the 20 pieces, in­clud­ing plates, bowls, com­potes and an ice pail, were painted with flow­ers and but­ter­flies on iron-red and sky-blue grounds, with del­i­cate gild­ing. there were ele­phant­head han­dles, dol­phin sup­ports and, on a pair of oval sauce tureens, finials mod­elled as ea­gle chicks break­ing out of their

eggshells. The $250,000 es­ti­mate was left far be­hind in a price of $1,812,500 (£1,359,375).

A phe­nom­e­non of the Rock­e­feller sales was the huge sums peo­ple were happy to pay for things that would not nor­mally have at­tracted much at­ten­tion. There was an el­e­ment of sou­venir hunt­ing here. More im­por­tantly, how­ever, the $832,573,469 (£619 mil­lion) raised by the 1,500 ob­jects —all of which sold—in 10 on­line and three phys­i­cal auc­tions was to go to phil­an­thropic causes nom­i­nated by the Rock­e­fellers.

One no­table in­stance was a mod­ern 217-piece Mot­ta­hedeh porce­lain to­bacco-leaf part din­ner ser­vice (Fig 6), orig­i­nally made for sale at the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Mu­seum of Art and most re­cently sold with the Safra Col­lec­tion in 2011, when it made $16,250. Now it soared away to $912,500 (£684,375).

What might a 15ft-long, fourpedestal Re­gency ma­hogany din­ing ta­ble have made in a good Lon­don sale? Here, it reached $468,500 (£351,375) against a $50,000 es­ti­mate. More re­mark­able yet was an English in­laid and painted sat­in­wood and ama­ranth side ta­ble from the late 19th or early 20th cen­tury and ‘in­cor­po­rat­ing ear­lier el­e­ments’ (Fig 4), which was es­ti­mated to just $8,000 and took $300,000 (£225,000).

A sim­i­lar mis­match between the $6,000 es­ti­mate and $243,750 (£182,812) price paid was for a pair of late-18th- or early-19th­cen­tury East Anglian wal­nu­tand-ash arm­chairs (Fig 5) with at­trac­tive ser­pen­tine crest­ing rails, pierced wheel-form splats and curv­ing arm sup­ports.

It would be in­ter­est­ing to know what a top-ofthe-range wicker picnic ham­per with set­tings for 12 peo­ple (Fig 7) would cost new at Asprey of Bond Street. By no means cheap, one would as­sume, but could it match the $212,500 (£159,375) paid here? One might guess a fig­ure closer to the $10,000 es­ti­mate.

This one, re­tailed in about 1986, had an ex­tra in that it had been a gift from Has­san II of Morocco, whose mono­gram ap­peared on many pieces. The var­i­ous el­e­ments were nat­u­rally made by the best sup­pli­ers: San­der­son for the antler and stain­less-steel flat­ware, Christofle for a sil­ver-plated sugar caster, ruby glass tum­blers by St Louis and a Li­mo­ges din­ner ser­vice cre­ated by Bernar­daud.

Next week Fairs to come

Fig 2: Ti­gre jouant avec une tortue by Eugène Delacroix, who had an affin­ity with big cats. $9,875,000

Fig 1: Sèvres ser­vice made for Napoleon in 1809. $1,812,500

Fig 3: Fil­lette à la cor­beille fleurie by Pi­casso. $115 mil­lion

Fig 6 above: Mot­ta­hedeh to­bacco-leaf part din­ner ser­vice. $912,500. Fig 7 right: Twelve-piece wicker picnic ham­per, a gift from Has­san II of Morocco. $212,500

Fig 5: Pair of East Anglian wal­nut-an­dash arm­chairs with ser­pen­tine crest­ing rails. $243,750

Fig 4: In­laid sat­in­wood and ama­ranth side ta­ble. $300,000

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.