Commissioned by the French publisher Jacques Damase for a children’s book that was never published, these original brush-and-ink sketches by the master couturier Yves Saint Laurent (exhibited by the Gloucestershire-based gallery 3 Details) are both playful and enchanting.
There’s renewed buzz around the designer’s virtuosic talents,
as collectors vie for rare vintage pieces, says Virginia Blackburn
When someone asked my father the secret of his work.
he replied: The imagination.” says Barnaba Fornasetti, son of illustrious designer Piero Fornasetti.“ As a child he drew and painted constantly. He covered the walls of his bedroom with trompe l”oeil decoration: on the ceiling were hot-air balloons and strange ﬂying machines
drifting through delicate clouds; on the walls dreamlike women appeared at painted windows. framed by classical columns, with other architectural elements and exotic birds everywhere.” Born in Milan in 1913 to an accountant father and German mother,
Piero’s whimsical designs quickly attracted attention. “He created a world of his own,” says Liliane Fawcett. owner of London design gallery Themes & Variations, which opened in 1984 with a Fornasetti exhibition. ‘He was prolific. moving from black and white cityscapes to animals and musical instruments.” By the 1960s. some 11.000 bore his signature, and when he died in 1988 Barnaba took the reins. reproducing his father’s original designs as well as coming up with new ones. Yet while modem-day Fornasetti continues to intrigue, it is the vintage pieces that command the highest prices ranging from a couple of hundred pounds for coasters and plates to six ﬁgures for the most exalted items of furniture.
“Serious collectors go for vintage,” says Fawcett, “especially idiosyncratic no-longer—produced pieces. The patination is slightly different, as older pieces have slightly yellowed over time.” Fawcett currently has two from the 19505: a Trellis cabinet (£14,000) with a subtle trompe l’oeil wicker effect, and a 1954 Musical Instruments screen (£18,500) with
classic black and white illustrations on a wooden background and a Roman wall on the reverse. Fawcett’s gallery is named after one of Fomasetti’s most popular ranges: the monochrome Tema e Variazioni series featuring the face of Italian opera singer Lina Cavalieri. The design appears in 350 variations, among them plates, glasses. paperweights and Candlesticks. Cheshire-based Holly Johnson Antiques has a large selection of vintage plates at around £450 each.
Fornasetti’s illustrations became engravings that were then recreated via a print transfer. “He did something incredibly new,” says dealer Peter Woodward , owner of Wiltshire-based 3Details, “and that was to impress a ﬂat 2D image onto a 3D surface. The basis of all his work is really printmaking.” Woodward cites the Casa con Colonne black and white architectural design of the 1950s as a prime example, which he
currently has on an umbrella holder (£1,650) produced in 1999.
As Fornasetti’s work evolved, he began playing with the Piranesi architectural form, the highlight of which was the Architettural trumeau. This iconic piece is a tall trompe l‘oeil bureau (its shape designed by GioPonti), inspired by architectural prints of the 17th and
18th centuries. The 1951 prototype is housed in the V&A and only around 40 were produced in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, making early examples highly sought after. Holly Johnson Antiques currently has one, dating from 1959, for £140,000 (as well as a modern version at £45,000).
The trumeau can also be found in other less well-known designs; Panoplie, for example, merges garlands of leaves, fruit and flowers with musical instruments and opens onto a lute-playing musician. Christie’s sold a rare 1951 gold-on-black one for £47,500 (over an estimate of £25,000 to £35,000) in October, while Johnson has a c1955 gold-on-ivory example, one of just 15 produced, for £140,000.
“Fornasetti works in just about any interior — modern, minimal, Georgian or Victorian,” says Johnson, who is also drawn to his more colourful creations. A 2006 Moro chair (£6,000) by Atelier Fornasetti, for example, takes the form of a torso clad in a turban and cloak, while a 1960 umbrella stand (£3,000) shows a vibrant scene of two dogs nestling together on a tapestry-covered chair. Johnson’s passion for the designer has even been adopted by her parents, whose collection spans several properties: their Georgian house in Cheshire, an apartment in Spain and ski chalets in Les Gets, France. “I’ve got half-a-dozen serious pieces, as well as smaller ones like bookends,” says John Johnson, chairman of Fircroft, a recruitment service for the oil and gas industries. “My most unusual is a 30ft sideboard covered in old map charts. It’s a complete one-off. But it’s our Architettura trumeau that always arouses the most attention. As an engineer, I’m drawn to the architectural quality of the designs.” Collector Mike Fisher, creative director of Chelsea-based architecture and interior design practice Studio Indigo, is similarly taken. “I bought my first piece seven years ago – a chest of drawers decorated with the facade of a Palladian building.” He now has 10 pieces, which have cost between £2,000 and £70,000, including a Leopardo chest of drawers showing a camouﬂaged golden-coloured cat (a 1980s pair is available for £61,829 through Pamono). “I prefer Fornasetti’s
earlier designs and group items together from different periods, along with midcentury and contemporary furniture. I also love animals, so my umbrella stands are decorated with Afghan hounds and spaniels.” Every dog may have its day. but Fomasetti’s success seems here to stay. +
Written by Virginia Blackburn
For those that missed it, by popular demand here is the complete article published in World of Interiors October 2016 edition.
The article records the discovery, acquisition and reflections upon the Chrystiane Charles’ collection of drawings, photographs, sculptures and ephemera.
© The Condé Nast Publications
Text: Timothy Brittain-Catlin. Photography: Tim Beddow
The artist and dealer Peter Woodward knew
that the sale was going to be amazing, but he had no idea what
a revelation it actually would be. He had already opened his
stand at the Battersea Decorative Antiques and Textiles Fair
last October when he spotted an advertisement in La Gazette
Drouot, where French dealers read about upcoming auctions.
The very next day there was to be a viewing prior to a sale in
Paris, a vente judiciaire organised by the state to dispose of
assets for death duties, comprising the contents of Galerie
Chrystiane Charles. He dropped everything — his sister rush-
ing over to look after his pitch – and took the Eurostar. And
what he found when he arrived was breathtaking.
Peter knew Chrystiane Charles as an important designer
of lamps and furniture; she had married into the Maison
Charles family of craftsmen in the 1960s and played an in-
creasing role in the company until her retirement 20 years
later. Over time he had collected and sold examples of her
work, mostly her lamps based on ﬂower or fruit forms –
numbered bespoke models that never seemed to go out of
fashion. After leaving the ﬁrm, Chrystiane opened a gallery
on the rue Bonaparte – where Eileen Gray had lived for 70
years — and this was the collection that was now for sale. The
catalogue listed a vast quantity of covetable items but, as
Peter was among the ﬁrst to arrive for the viewing at the Hotel
Drouot, he could also peer into a further 50 cases that had
been added to the sale at the last moment. In these were
plaster maquettes, castings, prototypes and much else that
began to reveal just how signiﬁcant Chrystiane had been as a
designer, and the extent of her inﬂuence in a company that
had already forged a reputation for quality and originality.
Maison Charles was a family business founded by Ernest
Charles in 1908. He began by taking over a company that
specialised in lighting and high-quality bronze casting, and
was succeeded by his eldest son, Emile Albert; Emile’s broth-
er Pierre joined in 1932. In the interwar period the ﬁrm made
high—quality Art Deco lamps and fumiture, and was known
for a time as Charles Freres. Their work was bespoke: each
piece was made to commission for private clients, decora-
tors and architects, marked with the company name and
given a model number in the catalogue.
Emile’s sons Jean and Jacques, both trained interior de-
signers, signed up to the firm in the 1950s. Then, when Jean
married Chrystiane, the style began to change: the company
launched its ‘Végétal’ range, with table lamps and sconces
based on the forms of fruits and leaves. The pineapple, pine-
cone and corncob became especially well known and sought
after. From 1971 Chrystiane became the company’s artistic
director and, eventually, its president, managing its output
until her retirement when the baton passed to a further gen-
eration, her architect son Laurent.
Peter, the only British dealer at the sale, left Paris with 34
lots, including much that had been in those mysterious, un-
catalogued cases and a large quantity of items by Chrystiane
Charles herself; her drawing archive alone consisted of
more than 2,000 sketches in 36 folios. Once he had been
through them all, he could begin to put together a fascinat-
ing portrait of Chrystiane and the role she had played at the
firm. The point at which she took over was signalled by the
fact that many of the objects were now individually signed
and marked with a unique number, so that their exact prov-
enance and date could be established.
One of the most intriguing aspects he uncovered was the
way she worked. She had been trained as a sculptor, but from
the maquettes, many of them of leaf forms, Peter could see
that she built a metal armature that she covered with fabric
soaked in plaster, rather than modelling in clay. Thus, when
she reworked an existing catalogue piece — an Art Deco or
Neoclassical form, perhaps – for a new client, she approached
it in a quite different, more ﬂuid way. Peter also learned how
designs could reach a chrysalis stage and then be abandoned
as Chrystiane moved on to a new idea.
This reworking of classical pieces for different customers
and as fashions change is the hallmark of a great design house,
and is what kept Maison Charles at the peak of its powers
for decades: the secret lies in the subtle way in which new
skills and a revived artistic temperament can reinterpret a
popular design. Throughout the 20th century, design houses
were bought or amalgamated — after all, that was how Ernest
Charles had created the ﬁrm in the ﬁrst place – and each time
it happened, a new archive, and thus a new artistic language,
was incorporated into the oeuvre. Maison Charles had
bought up a rival company, Maison Paul Fargette, in the 1960’s,
and it is clear to Peter that Chrystiane had studied the Fargette
collection of drawings and photographs and incorporated
some of its designs into the Charles catalogue.
Thus the 34 lots tell a comprehensive story not only of
one remarkable designer but also about how the best inte-
rior design firms stayed at the top of their game; how it was
that they were never wrong-footed by the revolutions in
modern fashion, from Neoclassical to Art Deco and Space-
Age, and eventually from Chrystiane’s fruity free-form to
Laurent’s retro-futurism. These designers intimately knew
the past they were building on, and never compromised the
quality of the craftsmanship; furthermore, by working and
planning over decades, they could also establish a long-term
vision for their company. Indeed, since the sale of Maison
Charles in 2001, its new owner, Michael Wagner, has again
reshaped its inheritance.
And so it happened that Peter’s hurried trip to Paris cast
fresh light on a venerable story. Peter will share his discov-
eries by digitising the drawings and photographs for web
access; furthermore, he will offer Chrystiane Charles’s plas-
ter maquettes, tools, bronzes and prototypes, and some of
the drawings, for sale at the Lapada show in September, along
with other Maison Charles lamps and furniture .
Peter Woodward (07900 688330; 3details.com) is at Lapada Art and
Antiques Fair, Berkeley Square, London W1, 13-18 Sept. For opening
times, ring 020 7823 3511, or visit lapadalondon.com
There are some dealers (and some collectors, come to that)
whose names one would rather not find in a provenance, but
others add vastly to an object’s value. One of the latter is Roger
Warner. He died in 2008 and closed his shop in Burford,
Oxfordshire, more than 20 years before that, but his reputation
will long outlive him. With a discerning eye for quality, he fostered
the appreciation of the naive and quirky as well as ﬁne pieces of
furniture and works of art, perhaps by forgotten minor masters.
One such was the carver and cabinet maker Matthias Lock, or
Locke, whose dates are unknown, but who was in business from
1746, working with Chippendale on the plates for The Director
(1754), as well as on his own Rococo designs for ornaments and
tables, before being converted to neo-Classicism by the Adams.
At the autumn Decorative Fair in the Battersea Park Marquee
from September 27 to October 2, Peter Woodward, an artist and
antique dealer who trades as 3details from the Blanchard Collective,
near Marlborough, Wiltshire, will offer a nearly 6ft-high Rococo mirror
(Fig 6) in Lock’s manner of about 1750, which comes
with Roger Warner’s retail label. It is flamboyantly carved in pine,
and has the remains of its gilded gesso, although it has been alt-
ered and reassembled during its history. The price will be £15,000.
Market News: A suitcase full of Dine
A once-in-a-lifetime haul of Jim Dine artworks goes on sale while Fairground art comes under the spotlight as Colin Gleadell rounds up this week’s art market news
SEPTEMBER 16, 2014 07:30
The contents of a suitcase full of artworks by American artist Jim Dine, found in a dustbin in upmarket Chester Square, in London’s Belgravia, in 1970, is to go on sale at the Lapada Art & Antiques fair in nearby Berkeley Square next week. The case was rescued by the artist’s then landlady, Princess Sylvia Guirey and put into storage, where it stayed until 2012 when it was rediscovered and purchased by antiques dealer Peter Woodward.
“This collection is a once-in-a-lifetime find,” says Woodward. “It allows us to look behind the scenes, not at finished works on gallery walls, but at Dine’s working practices, his thought processes and his life in a wider sense.”
Departing from some of the styles and subjects that characterise Dine’s earlier output, the works – mainly working sketches for print blocks – represent a turning point in the artist’s career, moving towards the quieter more controlled techniques seen in the Sixties and Seventies. Included is an initialled sketch believed to be a working drawing relating to Dine’s infamous London exhibition at the Robert Fraser Gallery in 1966 which was raided by police who deemed the artworks “indecent”.
There will also be photographs, letters and postcards, poems and manuscripts personally dedicated to Dine from poets Adrian Henri and Ron Padgett, as well as objects such as used brushes and pencils. The suitcase and its contents are to be offered for £100,000.