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THREE GENERATIONS OF PATRONAGE
'On the first Saturday of July 1938, more than two hundred liveried chauffeurs and seven hundred couture-clad and dinner-jacketed guests had set out from Paris to dance the night away at Lady Mendl's 'Circus Ball' at her Villa Trianon in the fabled town of Versailles. This fête was to christen the latest addition to her ever expanding pleasure dome: a vast ballroom of iron and glass whose interior was painted in festive circus-tent stripes and whose decor was so over-the-top that it flirted with surrealism. The supporting columns were sheathed in sheet-metal crafted to imitate leafy trees, banquettes were surmounted with sculptures of blackamoors sporting parasols, and the neo-rococo plasterwork fireplace was mounted to an antiqued-mirror-paved wall. Although Lady Mendl had made her name in America as the interior decorator Elsie de Wolfe, she was now too grand to decorate, even for herself, and had hired Stéphane Boudin, who had joined Jansen in 1923 and become its director thirteen years later, to do it for her. His career and the fortunes of the firm were soon to be greatly enhanced by Lady Mendl when she arranged for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor to engage them to decorate the couple's spectacular residence-in-exile, the Château de La Croë on the Cap d'Antibes - the first of three commissions executed for these ferocious style-setters. It was indubitably Lady Mendl who was instrumental in encouraging her friend Coco Chanel to use the firm to embellish her lair on the rue de Rivoli.' The golden age of Jansen had begun.
The March family was arguably the House of Jansen's most important and prolific client, for whom Stéphane Boudin, Pierre Delbée and Carlos Ortiz-Cabrera each worked over a period of more than 40 years. This Spanish banking dynasty had been founded by Juan March Ordinas (1880-1962) and it was he who commissioned the architect Luis Gutiérrez Soto to design a Renaissance-inspired Palazzo between 1939-44, in the centre of Palma de Mallorca. Situated between La Seo, Palma's breathtaking 14th Century Gothic Cathedral and its parliament building - visually representing the March family's iconic social and political standing in Spain - the Palau March commanded spectacular views over the island and out to the Mediterranean. Enriched with José-Maria Sert's celebrated murals, the Palace was designed as an architectural backdrop for the growing collection of works of art, much of which was vetted and arranged by Boudin himself.
When Boudin retired in 1967, it was Pierre Delbée who picked up the master's baton to become, in John Cornforth's words, 'the conductor for the well-trained symphony orchestra that was Jansen'. A brilliant draughtsman, charismatic, with piercing blue eyes and an inventive and spirited mind, Delbée was fascinated by the world of fantasy and whimsy, as well as by the magic of natural materials. His interiors often evoked the cabinets d'amateur depicted by Dutch artists of the Golden Age and he was not afraid to hang pictures towering four high, nor did he think twice about devising architectural niches or towering kunstkammer for turned ivory objects.
It was Bartolomé March Servera (1917-1998), the youngest son, a financier and philanthropist, who forged the enduring and brilliantly creative friendship with Delbée and Jansen. An avid collector who expanded and refined the family's collections to embrace manuscripts and maps, ivory kunstkammer and caskets, Old Master paintings and contemporary sculpture, Bartolomé employed both Delbée and, subsequently, Carlos Ortiz-Cabrera almost continuously throughout the 1960s and 1970s. As well as modernizing the interiors of Palau March, Maison Jansen remodelled Sa Torre Cega in Cala Ratjada, on the East side of Mallorca. Originally built in 1911 but given a Pop Art inspired modernist twist, the centrepiece was a Vassarely-esque trompe l'oeil convex or concave floor to the soaring two-storey vestibule. This dramatic, modernist aesthetic was carried through into the chic and whimsical bespoke furniture and contemporary sculpture, placed among Russell Page's landscaped gardens. In Madrid, Bartolomé March also commissioned Jansen to decorate the former Palacio Sotomayor. Here the focal point was the celebrated Library, influenced by the Napoleonic libraries at Malmaison and Compiègne and conceived to display scientific instruments and objets d'art interspersed amongst the seventeen thousand volumes of the Medinacelli library, deemed a Spanish national treasure. The swimming pool, contrastingly, echoed the famous Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.
This same collecting gene was inherited by Manolo March. The creation of Son Galcerán, drawing together both inherited and acquired works of art with a distinctive and unifying vision and great artistic flair, represents a continuation of this inspired aesthetic. Perched atop the plunging cliffs of the north coast of Mallorca, near to the literary enclave of Deia, Son Galcerán was originally owned and enlarged for the Archduke Louis Salvador of Austria (1847-1915). An explorer, writer and artist who first visited the island in 1867 and spent much of his life there, the Archduke was instrumental in preserving the untouched rural coastline and historic buildings of the North coast from the ravages of development and decay - and it is thanks to him that Sargent's watercolour of the coast is still very much the same today. At Son Galcerán, Manolo March realised his creative vision for a magical Summer retreat.
With grateful thanks and credit to Louis R. Bofferding and James Archer Abbot, whose published essays have been liberally drawn upon.