The present chair is one of only seven examples of this design known to be extant. The design was created by Rateau for New York financier George Blumenthal and his wife Florence for their lavish Manhattan townhouse located at 50 East 70th Street.
Rateau had first worked with the Blumenthals on a pre-war commission for the Maison Alavoine. A chance translantic re-union in November 1919 when Rateau was returning from a visit to New York, led to the creation of a suite of extraordinary furniture for the patio area of the indoor swimming pool at the Blumenthals' Manhattan home. (See period photograph on previous page.) The suite, designed to complement and enrich the aquatic imagery which decorated the walls, comprised a set of six 'Model 1793' armchairs (of which the present is one), two bronze and marble tables, and an alabaster and bronze lamp, each incorporating a variety of marine motifs.
Following the death of George Blumenthal in 1941, it is believed the Rateau furniture passed to a relative in Florida, and through this route, was acquired by Florida-based Smith Knudsen Inc., Interior Designs and Antiques, at an unknown date.
In February 1973, George W. Headley III purchased from Smith Knudsen "a Set of Bronze Furniture with Shell Motif signed A.A. Rateau" for $3500, and placed the four chairs in his fantastical rocaille grotto on the grounds of his farm in Lexington, Kentucky, now part of the Headley Whitney Museum.
The remaining two armchairs from the Blumenthals' original set of six found their way to New York and were offered by a prominent New York gallery in 1990. They were acquired by two private collectors, in whose collections they still remain.
The seventh known example of the 'Model 1793' design once belonged to Rateau's wife, and was included in an ensemble of works by Rateau featured in an exhibition of modern French Decorative Art from the Paris 1925 exhibition, held at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York in 1926. (George Blumenthal, then a trustee and later to become the museum's 7th President, was no doubt pleased to have another example of one of his own chairs showcased at such a prestigious event.) In 1938 Mme. Rateau gifted her chair to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.
Period photographs also record two apparent variants of the 'Blumenthal' design - one with an extra row of 'fish' elements in the back, the other with a straight "X" back brace, as opposed to the bowed "X" brace in the Blumenthal examples. (See contemporary photograph above, showing this latter apparent variant under construction in the bronze workshop at Rateau's Neuilly-Levallois studio.) No trace of these variants has been found.
The present chair is the last from the group of four acquired by George W. Headley in 1973 to be de-accessioned by the Headley Whitney Museum. The other three chairs have all been sold at auction by Christie's New York:
Important 20th Century Decorative Arts, December 10, 1998, lots 190 and 191 (two chairs).
Masterworks 1900 -2000, June 8, 2000, lot 225 (single chair).
Rateau's "Model 1793" chair is one of the truly iconic chairs of the 20th century. It encapsulates all that was sublime about the period and its greatest designers, many of whom, like Rateau, defy classification in the mainstream of Art Deco. Where Legrain, Coard and Gray looked to Africa for inspiration, Rateau turned instead to the glories of antiquity for his references, using that most noble of ancient materials, bronze. Yvonne Brunhammer, writing in the centenary exhibition catalogue for the Union Central des Arts Décoratifs in 1964, described the model thus:
"This armchair offers a new example of the influence of antiquity on a man (who) embodied rarely-associated qualities - a creative imagination, a love of beautiful materials and a sense of technical perfection. Rateau treated the armchair as would an aesthete and a sculptor."
cf. Franck Olivier-Vial and François Rateau, Armand Albert Rateau, 1992, pp.6 and 53, the model illustrated; p. 55 the Blumenthal swimming pool area with Rateau's furniture.
See also: Derek Ostergard, Art Deco Masterpieces, 1991, p.71, another 'Blumenthal' chair illustrated.
A.A. Rateau, exhibition catalogue DeLorenzo Gallery, New York, 1990, pp. 54 - 61, including period photo of a variant design reproduced page 56.
*This lot may be tax exempt from sales tax as set forth in the Sales Tax notice at the back of the catalogue.