Magnificent French Furniture, Objets d'Art & Tapestries
Unseen for Decades and In Pure, Untouched and Unrestored Condition, the Superb Wildenstein Collection Will Be Revealed at Christie's.
The Wildenstein Collection of Magnificent French Furniture and
Christie's King Street, 14 & 15 December 2005
London - Christie's announces the sale of the Wildenstein Collection of Magnificent French Furniture, Objets d'Art and Tapestries will take place in London on 14 and 15 December 2005. The sale of this vast collection, started at the turn of the century by Nathan and Laure Wildenstein and comprising more than 250 works of art, including an unprecedented dispersal of magnificent Boulle furniture, is estimated to realise over £14 million ($25 million).
The depth and range of the collection is as extraordinary as its impeccable, untouched condition. The majority of the works have remained undisturbed since their acquisition up to one hundred years ago at the turn of the 20th century and the collection has not been available, even to the cognoscenti, for either viewing or acquisition. Its appearance on the market is a true landmark event in the annals of French furniture collecting.
"After careful thought, Wildenstein has decided to sell the contents of the Hôtel de Wailly at 57, rue de la Boétie in Paris to create new facilities for housing the archives and research workrooms of the Wildenstein Institute, the world's leading publisher of catalogues raisonnés. While the works of art have great meaning for us, the property has not been used as a residence since the death of our grandfather, Georges Wildenstein, in 1963," said Alec and Guy Wildenstein. (Full family statement available.)
"This auction will be an important event in Christie's history and it is an honour for us to be entrusted with this highly significant sale", said François Curiel, Deputy Chairman of Christie's.
"It will provide a fascinating insight into a past era of collecting in France; the sale will be the crowning glory of the auction season in Fall 2005."
Charles Cator, International Director of Furniture at Christie's said: "For anyone passionate about French 18th century decorative arts, this collection is a treasure-trove beyond comparisona jewel chest of delights. The objects transport one back to the world of the late 19th and early 20th century, when Paris provided the stage for Nathan Wildenstein, Sir Richard Wallace, Calouste Gulbenkian and Comte Moïse de Camondo, a time when themarket was dominated by such great art collectors."
The remarkable ensemble is largely the creation of one manNathan Wildenstein (1851-1934). Hugely influential in the history of taste in the early 20th century, Nathan Wildenstein was the founder of the Wildenstein dynasty, which to this day represents more than a century of tradition, expertise and connoisseurship. This collection of French decorative arts was assembled with the same eye and understanding that launched the family as arguably the most influential art dealers of the 20th century.
From humble beginnings, Nathan's brilliant and incisive mind seized the opportunities unfolding at the turn of the 20th century. Based in Paris, and from 1905 at Hôtel de Wailly, 57, rue de la Boétie, Nathan swiftly expanded his operation to embrace both New York in 1902 and subsequently, London. The Wildenstein Collection essentially contributed to the creation of the sumptuous settings in which Nathan could best display and offer the Wildenstein paintings and sculpture. His wealthy clientele could feel at ease and envision how their interiors could benefit from the acquisition of the works they had come to view. The residence became the epicentre of the art trade. Nathan's wife, Laure Lévy, was closely involved in all aspects of the business as the private and the professional merged for the Wildensteins. Family history relates that she served the most wonderful tea every afternoon in the galleries to whoever was visiting, whether for business or pleasure.
While the majority of the Wildenstein Collection of furniture remained in Paris, some was transported to their other premises. Some major pieces went to New York to decorate the legendary gallery on East 64th Streetdesigned by Horace Trumbauer in 1931where the headquarters of the business remain to this day.
André-Charles Boulle The Great Genius of Innovation in Furniture
An incomparable array of furniture by the great genius of furniture making, André-Charles Boulle, includes three superb ormolu-mounted brass-inlaid ebony and tortoiseshell marquetry bureaux plats. The largest and earliest, a late Louis XIV example, was acquired from the Collection Kraemer on 17 October 1928 (estimate: £1,500,000-3,000,000). The second, dating to the Louis XV period, was from the Collection of Alfred Morrison at Fonthill and acquired at Christie's in 1927 (estimate: £250,000-400,000). The third, also a Louis XV and attributable to Boulle fils, is remarkably rare in that it retains its original cartonnier or filing cabinet surmounted by a sumptuous sculptural group displaying a clock by Enderlin which has one of the earliest rotating dials (estimate: £300,000-500,000). This latter example was acquired from the Collection of Eugene Foulc - whose Renaissance and Medieval Collection had also been sold by Nathan Wildenstein for over $1 million in 1931 to form the nucleus of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Further highlights from the grande galerie on the first floor of 57, rue de la Boétie include a matched pair of Louis XIV ormolu-mounted brass-inlaid tortoiseshell marquetry console tables by André-Charles Boulle acquired at the Jacques Helft sale in 1923 (estimate: £1,000,000-1,500,000) and a Louis XIV ormolu-mounted and boulle marquetry armoire attributed to André-Charles Boulle, acquired at the Seligmann sale in 1930 (estimate; £400,000-600,000).
The celebrated ébéniste André-Charles Boulle's (1642-1732) unparalleled fame rests upon his extraordinary technical virtuosity, his innovation in both technique and design, his brilliance as a sculptor and his love and inventive use of rare and exotic materials. Christened by his contemporaries as "the most skilful artisan in Paris," André-Charles Boulle's name is synonymous with the practice of veneering furniture with marquetry of tortoiseshell, pewter, and brass. Although he did not invent the technique, Boulle was its greatest practitioner and also lent his name to its common name: boulle work. Boulle also specialized in floral marquetry in both stained and naturally coloured wood. Many of his designs are illustrated in the famous book of engravings published in Paris around 1720. Boulle became a master before 1666, and in 1672 the King granted him the royal privilege of lodgings in the Palais du Louvre. In the same year, he achieved the title of cabinetmaker and sculptor to Louis XIV, King of France. This new title allowed him to produce furniture as well as works in gilt bronze such as chandeliers, wall-lights, and mounts.
Although strict guild rules usually prevented craftsmen from practicing two professions simultaneously, Boulle's favoured position allowed him protected status and exempted him from these statutes. The lasting legacy of André-Charles Boulle enjoyed a fashionable renaissance during the late Louis XV period, principally as a result of the brilliant career of the marchand Julliot.
Amongst the earliest examples of Julliot's oeuvre is a superb Louis XV ormolu-mounted table de milieu, signed and dated Julliot 1761, which reuses marquetry panels and legs executed by André-Charles Boulle himself (estimate: £250,000-400,000). This table was acquired from the legendary American heiress Lady Baillie of Leeds Castle, Kent. Also probably a Julliot commission are a pair of late Louis XV ormolu-mounted brass-inlaid ebony and tortoiseshell marquetry side cabinets originally acquired from the Léon Helft Collection in November 1912 (estimate: £600,000-1,000,000).
While the Boulle ensemble forms the summit of the Wildenstein Collection, there are also outstanding examples of both Louis XV and Louis XVI piecesnot just ébénisterie but also menuiserieas well as a sumptuous range of the most luxurious products of the bronzier and ciseleurdoreur.
A magnificent series of six pairs of Louis XVI candelabra illustrate the technical skill and creative brilliance of the period - each pair combining different materials and demonstrating mastery over a variety of techniques (estimate: £50,000-150,000). The superb pair of Louis XV ormolu-mounted celadon carp vases supplied by the marchand-mercier Lazare Duvaux is a particularly distinguished example of this famous and coveted model (estimate: £150,000-250,000).
Noble exponents of the Rococo style, this model features in the superb portrait of the Baron de Besenval by Danloux recently acquired by the National Gallery in London.
An extraordinary Louis XV ormolu-mounted Nautilus shell expresses the creative genius of the 18th century marchand-merciers. It was probably designed by Juste-Aurèle Meissonier, and came from the fabled collections of the Viennese Rothschilds through Rosenberg and Steibel (estimate:£100,000-200,000).
An unrivalled tour-de-force of French cabinet-making is a Louis XV ormolu-mounted tulipwood, amaranth and bois de bout marquetry secrétaire by Bernard II van Risenburgh, dit BVRB (estimate: £300,000-500,000), one of the most talented ébénistes of the Louis XV period. His work was particularly admired by the mistress of Louis XV, Madame de Pompadour, who purchased several works by him through Duvaux. Interestingly, the King purchased a secrétaire of precisely this model for Château de St Hubert in 1758. Three small marquetry tables by the ebeniste also form part of the collection.
One of the greatest treasures of the collection is a Louis XVI mahogany and yew-wood secrétaire stamped by Nicolas-Philippe Dussault, lavishly embellished with elaborate ormolu mounts and numerous Wedgwood plaques. It was undoubtedly the brainchild of that creative genius Dominique Daguerre, who enjoyed a monopoly over the import of Wedgwood plaques into France. Housed in the Salon Bleu, the secrétaire is superbly decorated and mounted with outstanding plaques (estimate: £800,000-£1,200,000). Amongst only five pieces ever published from this collection, this secrétaire was featured on the front cover of Charles Packer's celebrated 1956 publication, Paris Furniture.
Another masterpiece of Louis XVI cabinet-making is Jean-François Leleu's monumental secrétaire à abattant which relates directly to the monumental and architectural furniture created by Leleu for the Prince de Condé's Palais Bourbon, one of the great show places of the early neo-classical style (estimate: £250,000-400,000). The commode from the Palais Bourbon is now in the Louvre.
Further Royal masterpieces include the superb pair of Louis XVI giltwood console tables with beautiful granite tops, which are branded with various Royal inventory marks and numbers including the stamp of the Palais des Tuileries, where they were listed in the early 19th century (estimate: £250,000-400,000).
The marque au feu of another Royal château, Fontainebleau, can be seen on a wonderful late Louis XV ormolu-mounted marquetry commode attributed to Roger van der Cruse, dit Lacroix, which was supplied by the marchand Léonard Boudin for Fontainebleau in the 1770s (estimate: £70,000-100,000).