November 2, 2009 | One of the surprises of the huge Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé sale this past February was the splendid selection of objets de vertu the two men had gathered for their twentieth-century Kunstkammer.
The way in which this assemblage contravened recent trends in collecting was on my mind as I waited to see the London dealer David Lavender, whose lifework has been hunting for rare, beautiful, and precious objects. Lavender has a worldwide clientele seduced, not I suspect just by his knowledge and love of the quality and rarity of the objects in which he deals, but also because of the personal attention he offers his clients, most of whom he counts among his friends. He has been doing it a long, long time. "Sixty-three years ago I went to work in an antiques shop belonging to a friend of my father," he says. "I swept the floors. I made the tea, and I worked there for four years. That," he says proudly, "was my one and only job working for somebody else."
In 1950 he started on his own, with very little money to play with. "I wandered all over England and Scotland, making a lot of friends and buying all sorts of things: glass, Chinese and English porcelain, paintings. Things cost very little in those days," he remembers.
Eventually he decided he ought to specialize. At school his best subjects had been history and English literature so he went for portrait miniatures, fine jewels, snuffboxes, and what he describes as other "objects with a history." He has specialized in these kinds of things ever since.
Portrait miniatures? "Yes, I chose them because they encompass a tremendous amount of history, which really interests me. So many of the subjects are literary personages, politicians who made history, or royalty, and I can say without exaggeration that we have probably had more things of historical significance than anyone else in the trade."
His first great discovery of a portrait miniature came about fifty years ago when he was offered an eighteenth-century likeness of Henry Howard, the twelfth Earl of Suffolk. He paid £25 for it, put it in a sale and it brought £600. "A few years later I bought it back," he remembers. "I think I sold it three times!"
February 26, 2009 |
Attending the historic three-day series of sales of the collection of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé was always going to be an extraordinary experience. And it was. Imagine queues lasting five hours for the public preview, which saw over 30,000 people waiting to get in. In the rain. Imagine holding a huge sale with an audience of 1500 under the bright green ironwork and soaring glass domes of the Grand Palais. There was, indeed, a sense of being in a parallel universe. Outside, the bleak economic climate. Inside, cold, (we all had to wear scarves) but the outlook was bright.
First, the inaugural impressionist and modern evening sale on Monday night, which kicked off the sale of the century: the top lot was Yves Saint Laurent's favourite painting, the 1911 Matisse hymn to the joy of life, colour, and pattern, Les couscous, tapis bleu et rose, which reached a spectacular 35.9 million euros against a high estimate of 18 million euros. And the Brancusi! The African tribal-influenced Madame L.R., which had been in Fernand Leger's collection, reached 29.1 million, against a high estimate of 15 million euros. And so it went on; record after record, high estimate ceilings being smashed almost as a matter of routine.
[Compiled by Claudia J. Nahson, Morris and Eva Feld Curator at the Jewish Museum, New York. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazin» View All