RECORD: A Unique Paul Evans Piece Sparked Cabinet Fever at Rago in January 2017

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What you see: A unique vertical cabinet made by Paul Evans, featuring steel, 23 karat gold leaf, brass, and enameled finish. It stands just over seven feet tall, about four feet wide, and about 18 inches deep. It sold for $382,000 against a $140,000 to $160,000 estimate at Rago Auctions in January 2017, an auction record for Evans.

Who is Paul Evans? He was an American studio furniture maker based in New Hope, Pennsylvania. He was best known for furniture with distinctive, elaborate, sculpted metal fronts. He died in 1987, at 55.

This cabinet is a custom commission. How often did Evans accept commissions? “I haven’t heard of a lot of them,” says David Rago of Rago Auctions. “Custom commissions were often made to scale for certain interiors with only so much wall space or ceiling height. This is one of the few where [the commissioner] said, ‘I don’t like the other stuff you do, I want something like this.’ Paul Evans probably didn’t like to be told what to do. That’s probably why you don’t see many.”

The cabinet came directly from the person who commissioned it to your auction house. How rare is that? “Not as rare as you might think,” he says. “One of the reasons we get the prices we get [for Evans], is because we get them from the owners.”

Are the opportunities to receive Paul Evans consignments direct from original buyers drying up? “Not for us. Not yet,” Rago says. “He made furniture into the 1980s.”

Why did this Paul Evans cabinet do so well? “One, it was a one-of-a-kind bench-made piece. Two, it was consigned by the original owner, who worked with Paul Evans to get it made. Three, it’s a vertical cabinet, and most of these are horizontal,” he says. “Four, this is big, a big two-door vertical cabinet, so it has scale. Six, the New York Times highlighted this piece with a story titled Is This Cabinet Worth $500,000? That was a bit of a problem for me–I didn’t want people to think they had to spend $500,000 or they shouldn’t bother to bid. And the market was in a good place. People spend a lot of money on great things. There’s a lot of wealth in America.”

Were you surprised when it broke the auction record? “I thought it had potential, but I didn’t want to jinx it. I didn’t want to go there,” Rago says. “I was surprised it broke the record by that much. To break it by almost $100,000 is really unusual.”

Prior to the January 2017 Rago sale, the Paul Evans record seemed to change every six or eight months or 12 months, by $5,000 here and $10,000 there. Why do you think his auction record has been so volatile? “The more accepted Paul Evans becomes as an important, high-end designer, the more tastes change to accept other designs of his,” he says, adding that the cabinet is “A hybridized piece. It’s a little bit of a sculpture front, and a little bit of a wavy front. He put in a little of this and a little of that and he came up with a bench-made masterpiece.”

What does it feel like to have founded the auction house that set the record for Paul Evans furniture? “There’s probably one person on the planet who’s seen more Paul Evans than I have, and that’s Dorsey Reading, and he made the stuff. I grew up here. Some people say I’m geographically blessed as far as New Hope Modernism is concerned,” Rago says. “I have a lot of gratitude. It’s an honor for me to do this for a living. I started as a flea market three miles from here in 1977. To survive so long–this cabinet wasn’t made when I was at the flea market. It was made two miles from here. To do this, and handle stuff like this–I feel a bit of Jersey pride in that.”

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Image is courtesy of Rago Arts and Auctions.

 

UPDATE: Grotto Fabulous: Christie’s Has a Pair of 19th Century Venetian Lobster Chairs That Could Sell for $15,000

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Update: The Venetian lobster-form chairs sold for $7,500.

What you see: A pair of late 19th century Venetian lobster-form hinged chairs attributed to the manufacturer Pauly Et Cie. Christie’s estimates that they will sell for $10,000 to $15,000.

Lobster-form chairs? Well, they’re European-made, so technically, they’re langoustine-form chairs. But the American family who consigned them to Christie’s calls them lobster chairs, and they look lobster-y enough, don’t they?

Lobster-form chairs? This was a thing in late 19th-century Venice? Yes, it was a thing, but it wasn’t limited to chairs that resembled tasty crustaceans. “It’s a wonderful interpretation of grotto furniture,” says Casey Rogers, specialist head of 19th century furniture and sculpture for Christie’s. “Grotto furniture was created for an affluent clientele who were creating pleasure palaces with folly rooms, such as a grotto room.” A grotto room would resemble a grotto–a pretty little artificial cave decorated with shells, coral, and nautical things. Only select guests were allowed in to these showpiece spaces. “They weren’t public,” Rogers says. “They were a bit of a secret. They were certainly meant to be a feast for the eye.”

So subtlety was never the goal here? “Grotto rooms were meant for… you wouldn’t go halfway,” Rogers says. “You would take it to the max and make sure every surface evoked the theme.”

Are the chairs comfortable? “Would I spend the afternoon on one? Probably not,” she says, noting that they have padded seats, and the padding can be replaced with still more comfortable material. “But they’re fine for sitting for a cup of tea, or a short meeting. They’re certainly not like a lounge chair.”

How often do chairs like these come to auction? Not often. In 2008, Christie’s London sold a single hinged crab-form chair, from the same general time period and attributed to the same maker, for £11,875, or just over $22,000, against an estimate of £8,000 to £12,000 ($16,000 to $24,000).

How to bid: The lobster-form chairs are lot 195 in the Opulence sale taking place at Christie’s New York on April 13.

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Image is courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd. 2017

 

UPDATE: Albert Paley’s Alluring Coffee Table Commands $8,125 at Freeman’s

Albert Paley “Coffee Table

Update: The Albert Paley coffee table sold for $8,125.

What you see: A coffee table created in 1991 by American sculptor Albert Paley. It is estimated at $8,000 to $12,000.

Who is Albert Paley? He is one of the world’s foremost metal sculptors. He might be best known for the Portal Gates that he created for the Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. He’s made about 50 coffee tables to date.

What makes this coffee table a powerful example of Paley’s work? “What people find appealing about Paley is he takes metal and makes it feel like flowing drapery,” says Tim Andreadis, department head for 20th century design at Freeman’s. “He bends and manipulates it like fabric, or pulled taffy. It’s inviting, and yet sort of curious. A lot goes into controlling the metal and getting it to look the way he wants.”

What else makes the Paley coffee table stand out? “If you took the glass top off it, you’d think it was a really beautiful sculpture, and you wouldn’t question it,” says Andreadis. “That’s what’s so great about Paley–the combination of art, craft, technique, and design, all melded together to create pieces that are unique. It could look amazing in a Silicon Valley tech executive’s home, with edgy contemporary pieces, or something a bit more traditional.”

Who is Jeffrey Kaplan? Did he commission the table directly from Paley? Kaplan, a retired lawyer, placed the coffee table in the living room of his Washington, D.C. apartment. He bought it from a gallery in the city and kept the receipts. (The winning bidder will receive copies of the paperwork.)

How to bid: The Albert Paley coffee table is lot 450 in 1,000 Years of Collecting: The Jeffrey M. Kaplan Collection on April 6 at Freeman’s auction house in Philadelphia.

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Image courtesy of Freeman’s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UPDATE: Christie’s Sells a Chinese Zitan Bed with Bodacious Legs for $3.6 Million

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Update: Christie’s sold the 18th century Chinese Luohan bed for $3.6 million.

What you see: An 18th century Chinese Luohan bed, made from Zitan wood, estimated at $2 million to $3 million. (A Luohan is someone who is enlightened, but has yet to become a Buddha.) Though it’s at least three centuries old, the three-rail bed is as sleek and as modern-looking as anything you’d find in a Holly Hunt showroom.

What is Zitan wood? It’s a dense, slow-growing Chinese hardwood that was prized by the wealthy, and by scholars. It has a tight wood grain and a wine-purple color.

It’s called a “bed”, but did its 18th century Chinese owners use it like a bed? It might have had pillows on it, and owners and guests might have napped on it, but the bed served as an indoor-outdoor couch, according to Christie’s specialist Michelle Cheng: “It’s so expensive, it would have been used for various activities throughout the day–sitting on it to look at antiques, discuss poetry, and contemplate scenery.” Servants would have moved the heavy bed around at the bidding of its owner.

What else made this bed a status symbol with the Chinese elite? “Zitan wood is a prestigious, luxurious material, and the carver had to waste a lot of it to get to this form,” Cheng says.

What sets the bed apart from other Chinese furnishings of the time? “It’s unusual for the dramatic curve of the legs, and their sheer chunkiness,” Cheng says. “It seems like they can’t support the bed, they’re so curved. They are bodacious legs.”

Why is the bed estimated at $2 million to $3 million? “This is a great example of the type, and the quality of the material is extremely high,” Cheng says. “And it’s a very elegant object. It’s really stunning. When you stand in front of it, you’re overcome by its subtle quietness.”

How to bid: The bed is lot 643 in The Marie Theresa L. Virata Collection of Asian Art: A Family Legacy, which takes place at Christie’s New York on March 16, 2017.

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Image is courtesy of Christie’s.