Champ Soleil: The Russell B. Aitken Collections
The last in the series of sales from the collections of Mr. Russell B. Aitken, this sale may be the most personal of all. Including the contents of his Newport summer home, Champ Soleil, and his New York studio, this sale follows on the recent success of the previous Aitken collections which ranged from duck decoys to African art to the paintings and bronzes by N. C. Wyeth, Remington and Barye.
Champ Soleil, built in the late 1920's by the architects Polhemus and Coffin for the Drexel family, is a classic Newport 'cottage.' It is located near the end of famed Bellevue Avenue, across the street from W. K. and Alva Vanderbilt's iconic Marble House, with the other neighboring estates originally housing the Astors, Dukes and Belmonts. Set within almost 6 acres of parkland, the gardens -- perhaps to compensate for a lack of ocean frontage - are magnificent, with the ancient lindens and beech trees incorporated into Umberto Innocenti's elegant terraces and outbuildings designed in the 1940's. The center of the garden, however, was Mr. Aitken's famous croquet lawn, the scene of so many well-known -- and hard fought -- matches and parties. While Champ Soleil's Norman style facade is severe and classic, the interiors, including 18th century Parisian paneling, are warm and full -- reflecting the decades and incredible variety of Aitken's collecting.
As a hunter, artist and collector of sporting and African art, Russell Aitken was a legendary figure. However, less is known of his appreciation for fine 18th and 19th century furniture, sculpture, porcelain and other European decorative arts. Some of the Louis XV and Louis XVI giltwood consoles are, perhaps, the most magnificent pieces in the sale (lots 24 and 173). And a nearly life-size 18th century carved and antler-mounted Central European stag is, perhaps, one of the most unusual (lot 212). Another lot that combines Mr. Aitken's love of animals and 18th century decorative arts are the German giltwood wall-trophies depicting a bound stag and a bound chamois (lot 211). In addition, there are many examples of fine Louis XV and Louis XVI period commodes, bureaux plats and seating furniture by Cresson, Tilliard, Lelarge, Gourdin and others - many also boasting impressive provenances. The English furniture in the collection is best represented by a pair of carved George II mahogany library armchairs from the workshop of Giles Grendey, their size and bold carving make them dramatic examples of mid-Georgian design and craftsmanship (lot 119).
Furniture, however, only forms a portion of the contents of Mr. Aitken's collections, as there are large numbers of important sculpture, porcelain, silver, carpets, books, old master paintings and drawings and Asian art also included in the sale.
Two of the more personal lots in the sale were actually made by Russell B. Aitken and his first wife Annie Laurie Aitken -- and both are glamorous representations of American Art Deco. While Russell Aitken was a celebrated ceramic sculptor, the great enamel Warrior panels, designed and fired himself in 1935 (at the time the largest enamel panels fired) are arguably his masterpiece (lot 192). Annie Laurie Aitken, also an accomplished sculptor, modeled and poured the bronze herself in a Brooklyn foundry several years earlier for her dramatic bronze of a Woman and Dolphin of 1932 (lot 194).