Henri Chwast Collection. Sotheby’s unveils a collection hidden for 30 years
Paris.- On 20 October, Sotheby’s will unveil a remarkable collection built up over more than twenty years by Henri Chwast, with all the ingredients of a major collection. The works, carefully chosen for their exceptional quality, make up a perfectly consistent ensemble. Their rarity, prestigious provenance and the dialogue created between them establish it as one of those truly legendary Art Deco collections.
During the 1970’s, Henri Chwast started collecting works of the 1920’s period. Patiently and meticulously, he acquired iconic works by the major artists of Art Deco, mainly Jean Dunand, Eileen Gray, Clément Rousseau and Pierre Chareau. This connoisseur with a highly specific taste limited his collection to a small number of works, focusing on the crucial, the ground-breaking and the unique. The selection constituted by Henri Chwast's discerning eye is a perfect illustration of aesthetic explorations during the 1920’s: a mix of luxury and modernity. Through his choices, Chwast established himself as a trail-blazer who, in the 1970’s, fully realised the importance of creations from this period, and sought to capture their essence.
This collection is striking for the majestic quality of each work. It also provides an overview of the founding figures of Art Deco. Firstly, we can mention the most active patrons of their time, such as Madame Agnès, Madame Labourdette and the Maharajah of Indore. Secondly, the most influential artists in the collection include Eileen Gray, the 20th century's one of the most prominent women designers. And lastly, the pieces have been through the hands of the movement's greatest advocates: the Galerie du Luxembourg (the legendary Art Deco gallery), Félix Marcilhac, Alain Lesieutre, Maria de Beyrie, Bob and Cheska Vallois and Karl Lagerfeld.
All these masterpieces were housed in a family environment reflecting the collector's discreet personality. This rare and precious group of nearly 50 lots, kept for thirty years, remains decidedly modern. In October, Sotheby's invites you to discover this collection, now appearing on the market for the first time.
The sale includes seven works by Jean Dunand. The eggshell and black, red and brown lacquered mantelpiece from 1926 is a unique example. Its top with its Cubist-style geometrical decoration illustrates the essential aesthetic lines of Art Deco. The fact that the mantelpiece also comes from the Labourdette collection and the Galerie du Luxembourg makes it a distinctly iconic piece from this period (estimate: €200,000-300,000).
Two lacquer wood armchairs, one with a curved, the other with a canted back, were chosen as genuine works of art. They are a fine illustration of Henri Chwast's preference for collecting rather than creating an interior design (estimate: €80,000-120,000 each).
The 1926 portrait of Madame Agnès, a customer, collector and close friend of Jean Dunand, features a wide and varied range of the techniques used by the artist in a Cubist style: coloured lacquer, eggshell, ivory, gold and silver threads. This wealth of colours and materials is a genuine tour de force by Jean Dunand, who produced one of his finest portraits here (estimate: €100,000-150,000).
This sale puts the spotlight on Eileen Gray, an artist who appears rarely on the market, with two pieces of legendary provenance. This unique pine and lacquer vase from circa 1920, contrasting the roughness of an uprooted wood with the refinement of an orangey-brown lacquer, reveal all the artist's genius (estimate: €250,000-350,000). The vase comes from the famous collection of Madame Labourdette, wife of the celebrated coachbuilder Jean-Henri Labourdette. Like the mantelpiece by Jean Dunand, it can be seen in a vintage photograph of the Labourdettes' drawing room.
Collectors are sure to admire the ebonised oak, sycamore and ivory table/desk designed by Eileen Gray between 1919 and 1922, presented in the 1979/1980 exhibition dedicated to her at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. To date, we know of only two black-coloured examples, one of which she kept in her own collection. While the materials used (ebonised oak, sycamore and ivory) make it an exceptional piece of furniture, the detail of the two side drawers opening like a fan provide a highly original note that breaks up the clean lines of the table (estimate: €250,000-350,000).
Three works by this artist feature in the sale. With Macassar ebony, kingwood and green and white galuchat inlaid with mother-of-pearl and ivory, Rousseau made play with the most exquisite materials to create this extremely refined chest. The sunburst motif combined with the luxury materials makes it an icon of Art Deco (estimate: €250,000-350,000).
We also find five iconic works by Pierre Chareau, including a remarkable 'MB405' and 'SN3', a rosewood and iron desk and its stool, produced circa 1926. It was exhibited at the Salon d’Automne in Paris when it was first created, and later at the Centre Georges Pompidou in the 1979 Paris-Moscou exhibition. Its pure lines are enhanced by the combination of iron and rosewood (estimate: €200,000-300,000).
Fascinated by light, Pierre Chareau designed numerous lamp models, five of which appear in the sale. The collection contains two different landmark versions of the "Religieuse" lamp, with the two possible forms of base: one curved, the other rolled (estimate: €300,000-500,000 each). They will be sold with two "Mask" lamps and a pair of wall lamps.
Other lamps, this time by René Herbst (estimate: €15,000-20,000) and Jacques Le Chevallier & René Koechlin (estimate: €10,000-15,000) will also feature in the sale.
Paintings and sculptures
A few pictures round off this firmly Art Deco-inspired collection, including the legendary portrait of HRH the Maharajah of Indore by Bernard Boutet de Monvel (estimate: €200,000-300,000). The Maharajah was a prominent figure in the 1920’s artistic milieu, and the artist painted his portrait twice. One version achieved the record price of €2,499,000 at the Boutet de Monvel sale at Sotheby’s in April 2016.
Other works from the beginning of the 20th century are found in this collection, including a pastel on paper by Alphonse Mucha, Le Chevalier Malheur m'a percé de sa lance, 1896 (estimate: €30,000-50,000).
The collection also contains a number of sculptures, notably Alexander Archipenko's 1915 Femme assise se coiffant les cheveux (estimate: €50,000-70,000).
Auction: Thursday 20 October 2016 at 7 p.m.
Exhibition: 15, 17, 18 and 19 October 2016