Update: The Art Deco silver tureen by Jean Puiforcat sold for $16,250.
What you see: An Art Deco silver tureen with cover by Jean Puiforcat. Christie’s estimates it at $10,000 to $15,000.
The expert: Jill Waddell, vice president and senior specialist in Christie’s silver department.
Who was Jean Puiforcat? He really is the one who brought Art Deco silver to the forefront, but the Puiforcat name–he’s fourth generation. He was born into a well-established family silver firm.
How is “Puiforcat” pronounced? Pwee-fo-cah.
What style of silver tureen would have been more standard in 1925, when Jean Puiforcat designed the one we see here? The late 19th century Beaux Arts style was more typical–shaped circular, oval, or rectangular pieces. You see a lot of grape vines and acanthus leaves.
So a more typical silver tureen design of the period would be fussier-looking, and more loaded with decorations? Yes, it would.
Would silver be a more conservative form of decorative art? Is it less likely to reflect the trends of the day? I wouldn’t really say that. It can be the first to show new artistic movements, because [old silver pieces in outdated styles] can be melted down. You see movements represented in silver five years before [they appear in] furniture, because silver can be melted down and reshaped.
In poking around, I noticed a quote on the Wikipedia page for Jean Puiforcat that calls him “the most important French Art Deco silversmith”. Do you agree with that statement? Maybe it takes it a little too far. He was the most well-known and most renowned Art Deco silversmith. The statement is a little bold, but mostly accurate.
Can we quantify how prolific Jean Puiforcat was, as opposed to earlier and later generations of Puiforcats? It’s really tricky. Jean Puiforcat uses the same hallmark–[that of] Emile Puiforcat–which has been used since the 19th century. Jean Puiforcat is responsible for introducing Art Deco, but he didn’t design everything himself, and he certainly didn’t hammer out the silver. There was a team behind him. It’s hard to determine what to ascribe to Jean Puiforcat unless it’s documented in literature. He probably wasn’t responsible for a single design from A to Z. It was more like [the studio of ] Louis Comfort Tiffany. He sketched it out, and another took it and finished the product, but he was the one credited with the design.
If a Puiforcat design in silver has an Art Deco look, is it reasonable to attribute it to Jean Puiforcat? A fair amount, but how many [designs] were put into large-scale production, we don’t know. But Puiforcat didn’t put all its eggs into one basket. Art Deco was a new style that took time to catch on. A good portion of their customers were looking to buy traditional flatware and dishes similar to what their mothers and grandmothers had. With Art Deco pieces, Puiforcat was saying, “You know we’re good and we have quality products, but look what we can do with forward-thinking design.” And it was. Puiforcat used jade with this piece. [With others] they also used rose quartz, rock crystal, and stone materials. Puiforcat took it up to another level of luxury.
Where was Jean Puiforcat in his career in 1925, when he designs this Art Deco silver tureen with cover? He was 28 years old, and grew up in the firm. He’s young, he’s got lots of ideas, he’s got forward-thinking friends, he’s got a good eye, and he understands the material, but he’s not so tied to a staid, established design.
Was Jean Puiforcat leading the family firm at that point? That I’m not sure.
But he would have been in the family business, with an eye toward taking over someday? And an eye toward modernizing it.
Is this Art Deco silver tureen with cover typical or atypical of Jean Puiforcat’s work? I’d say it’s pretty typical of the work that we see from him at that time. It’s geometric, streamlined, and simple, with an elegant silhouette, and it incorporates elegant materials.
I understand that Jean Puiforcat created the silver tureen with cover for the 1925 Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs et industriels modernes, aka the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts, which was held in Paris and later credited with launching Art Deco design. How did Jean Puiforcat come to be involved in the show? Was he invited? Did he win a competition? The fair was established for decorative art. [Word went out to all that] You’ve got to have modern ideas to promote and you have to adhere to that. If you’re willing to push forward, you can participate. Jean Puiforcat was responsible for taking on that tangent and putting Puiforcat on the map for Art Deco.
Do those lines on the Art Deco silver tureen and its cover have a specific name? They’re called radiating lobes. It’s pretty typical of his work from the time.
And I understand that while this Art Deco silver tureen design appeared in the Puiforcat display at the 1925 exhibition, we can’t confirm that this individual example was on view? We know the design was exhibited at the exhibition, but we don’t think this particular piece went there. The display was rotated. Things that didn’t sell well were probably moved out.
So the Puiforcat firm was also selling silver pieces directly to visitors to the 1925 Paris exhibition? Yes, people were purchasing.
And Jean Puiforcat would have put the Art Deco silver tureen with cover into production? Yes, it was put into production with different variants on it. The following lot has a glass body. It’s a different variant on the same design.
Do we have any idea how many of these Art Deco silver tureens that Puiforcat made? No idea, but they don’t pop up all that often. I see a lot of trays and platters, but I don’t see a lot of tureens.
Would the Art Deco silver tureen have been a top-of-the-line model? Might that explain its scarcity? It certainly would have been a top-of-the-line piece. It wouldn’t have a jade handle if it wasn’t a top-of-the-line piece.
Do we know how people reacted to this Jean Puiforcat Art Deco silver tureen at the time? Was it shocking? I’m sure some people were there [at the 1925 Paris exhibition] to gawk, but it probably also attracted a lot of like-minded people. The tureen probably would have been pretty shocking, and probably would have been super-modern, and probably did what they expected it to do. It showed people who were familiar with Puiforcat quality and design just how far they could take it.
In the context of a dinner service, a tureen is a splashy item–not literally a centerpiece, but meant to be spectacular to look at. How does Jean Puiforcat carry forward that tradition in this piece? It was intended to live on a sideboard or in a glass cabinet, where it could be seen. It was not going to live in the butler’s pantry. Why keep it locked away?
So, it’s very much a showpiece. My catalogs ten years ago are nothing like my catalogs now. The population of buyers has shifted. They don’t want things that will live in the butler’s pantry. They want things that can live in a room as sculpture, and not necessarily in the dining room. They want things that are fun, that have character, that will draw the eye over to them. This tureen is exactly what people are looking for right now.
It looks like it could have been made last week. It’s a shockingly modern design for 1925. It looks modern today, and it proved to be timeless.
What can we tell, just by looking, about how difficult this Art Deco silver tureen might have been to make? I don’t think it was terribly difficult to make. Simplifying the design and getting the proportions right was probably more difficult. It’s a pretty plain form. What do you do to make it elegant and forward-thinking without it being boring and plain? You have to get rid of the motifs you’ve been using over and over, throw all that out, and start fresh, but keep it modern and elegant, and keep the same level of craftsmanship.
And its simplicity gives the silversmith fewer places to hide. You can’t bury a mistake under a decorative vine or sprig of leaves. The design proves how good you are. You’re probably right. There’s no room to hide a flaw.
What is the Art Deco silver tureen like in person? It’s really elegant, and it’s a nice size. I don’t think it had a matching ladle, because there’s no insert in [the lip for a ladle rest], but you could use it for soup. It’s lovely, and it’s a manageable size.
The size–does that reflect Art Deco as well? The move away from grand houses with dozens of servants and toward entertaining in smaller spaces? This is more intimate. It would be perfect in a Paris or a New York apartment.
What is it like to handle the Art Deco silver tureen? It feels nice, and has a nice weight to it. The jade handle feels really nice in the hand. You can feel the quality in it. It feels luxurious.
What condition is the Art Deco silver tureen in? What sorts of issues do you tend to see with tureens of this type? This is in very nice condition. The issues we tend to see are scratches to the interior, and bruises and bumps to the side.
Would this Jean Puiforcat Art Deco silver tureen and the variant in lot 14 have been consigned by the same person? Yes. I don’t believe they were meant as a set.
Why will this piece stick in your memory? I really like the jade. The inclusion of jade is an interesting way of incorporating color. I don’t see a lot of color in my silver world. It’s a nice way of elevating the tureen.
How to bid: The Jean Puiforcat Art Deco silver tureen with cover is lot 13 in The Collector: English & European 18th & 19th Century Furniture, Ceramics, Silver & Works of Art, an online sale taking place at Christie’s between April 28, 2020 and May 7, 2020.
Image is courtesy of Christie’s.
Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.