June 22, 2009 | A dozen pieces of fresh-to-market art deco furniture came up for auction last month, with a puzzling tale of origin for new owners to unravel.
The consignor to the May 17 sale, at Burchard Galleries in St. Petersburg, Fla., inherited them from a cosmopolitan friend named Gertrude Maud Goldsmith (1894-1990), along with a saga involving misogynist discrimination and aristocratic family tragedy. Goldsmith designed most of the pieces in 1927, while on staff at Paris cabinetmakers Saddier et Ses Fils. She experimented with Saddier's typical luxurious materials, like tiger maple and zebrawood, for an eclectic group including etageres shaped like half-ziggurats, chairs with ovoid or sharply faceted sides, and a wall unit with dramatic crisscrossing metal supports for shelves and a fall-front desk.
June 10, 2009 | "Summer Hours," a new indie French film and critical hit of the season, written and directed by Olivier Assayas, makes antiques into movie stars. The plot hinges on a dozen circa-1900 masterworks, including furniture by Louis Majorelle and Josef Hoffmann, glass and ceramic vases by Félix Bracquemond and Atelier d'Auteuil, and paintings by Camille Corot and Odilon Redon. They belong, in Assayas's telling, to Hélène Marly, a widow in her late 70s, who inherited them from her famous uncle (and possibly incestuous lover), Paul Berthier, a post-Impressionist painter. (He's fictional, unlike other artists and artisans mentioned in the movie.) After Hélène's death, her three widely scattered children—daughter Adrienne is played by Juliette Binoche—regretfully sell off her crumbling stuccoed country house and disperse the collection through sales or donations to the Musée d'Orsay. It may sound arcanely dry, but the gorgeously photographed movie explores French intergenerational conflic…» More
May 27, 2009 | George Washington Maher (1864-1926) based his long architectural career on what he called "motif rhythm theory." In designing scores of houses around the Midwest, the Chicago architect gave each building its own distinctive floral pattern; hollyhocks, thistles, or lilies, modeled after local flowers, coursed through everything from the column capitals to the glass-mosaic fireplaces (such as the one illustrated below from the Patricia J. King House in Chicago, currently on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art). His office, which he established in 1888 after a brief stint working with Frank Lloyd Wright, also incorporated retro classical details—colonnettes, arched openings—into quintessential Prairie School elements such as low hip roofs, long eaves, and buff-brick walls.
Although his quirky gesamtkunstwerke are less well known than those of contemporaries like Wright and Louis Sullivan, museums with significant Prairie School holdings are now embracing Maher (pronoun…» More
by Émile Jacques Ruhlmann (1879-1933), 1926. Macassar ebony, amaranth, and ivory. Metropolitan Museum of Art. By Cynthia Drayton» View All