PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT NEW YORK ESTATE
Ex. Collection: W.H. Vanderbilt, 640 5th Avenue, New York
Ex. Collection: Brig. Gen. Cornelius Vanderbilt, sold Parke-Bernet, New York, May 18-19th 1945, lot 347
Anonymous sale, Parke-Bernet, New York, May 6th 1972, lot 16
Gazette des Beaux-Arts, no. 139, vol. XXIV, 1 January 1868, p.76.
Auguste Luchet, L'art industriel à l'Exposition universelle de 1867 : mobilier, vêtement, aliments, Librairie international: Paris, 1868, p. 336.
Claire Jones, Sculptors and Design Reform in France 1848–1895, Ashgate, 2014, pp.66-77 for a discussion on the relationship between F. Barbedienne and L.C. Sevin
The sculpteur-ornameniste Louis-Constant Sevin joined Ferdinand Barbedienne’s firm in 1855 and executed over two thousand designs for the company before his death in 1888. Barbedienne spared no expense in allowing Sevin to realise his artistic potential, and, as well as receiving commissions from European nobility and royalty, the foundry produced a number of masterpieces to be exhibited at the Great Exhibitions. Intended to captivate the public and demonstrate the superiority of the firm’s design and execution, these pieces were an expression of Barbedienne’s desire to create the very highest forms of industrial art. The extraordinary scale of the cloisonné enamel on this cabinet is testament to Sevin’s vision and admiration for the technique, and the skill of the craftsman who made it – likely firing each panel up to ten times to build up the vitreous enamel within the cloisons. The Moorish-inspired design epitomises the prevailing 19th century fascination for exoticism and new and colourful patterns expressed in works such as Owen Jones’ Plans, Details and Sections of the Alhambra (1836-45), and his Grammar of Ornament published in 1856.
Described by Auguste Luchet in 1868 as: ‘… an oriental cabinet all in cloisonné enamel, an immense thing and superior to all that has been attempted until now’, this cabinet was one of the most impressive pieces displayed by Barbedienne at the 1867 Paris exhibition. Having won three medals at the London 1862 exhibition, Barbedienne was a non-contestant in 1867 as he was a member and speaker of the jury - though his stand was clearly much admired. He was made officer of the Légion d’Honneur the same year.
William H. Vanderbilt and 640 Park Avenue, New York
The ambition and grandeur of the interiors of William H. Vanderbilt’s mansion at 640 Fifth Avenue, New York, were unsurpassed during America’s gilded age. The Vanderbilt commission at Fifth avenue was Christien Herter’s last great interior project, and included all manner of revival styles – Renaissance, Moorish, Chinese, Japanese and Pompeian; the exotic woods, minerals, mother of pearl and semi-precious stones that adorned the architecture and furniture of the interiors were spectacular. Vanderbilt took especial interest in the undertaking, visiting almost daily and supervising the work in the Herter Brothers shops. Furniture or interior elements that Herter could not produce were subcontracted to other firms and designers. Christian Herter collaborated with Barbedienne who supplied several pieces to the Herter Brothers for their American clients. For Vanderbilt’s Fifth Avenue mansion these included a pair of cabinets inset with Limoges enamel plaques by Louis-Alfred Serre, and an opaque champlevé enamel and gilt bronze clock garniture now in the Khalili Collection.
Vanderbilt and other members of his family visited Barbedienne’s atelier on June 10, 1880, with their art agent, George A. Lucas. The cabinet was delivered to his mansion shortly after, where it was installed in the drawing-room, with carved ivory figures displayed in the niches within. The cabinet was described by the art critic Earl Shinn [under the pseudonym Edward Strahan] in Mr. Vanderbilt's House and Collection as “a tour-de-force and a curiosity”; he goes on to say, “Barbedienne’s stupendous traceries in enamel look more like champlevé than cloisonné, on a very close inspection; rather as if the spaces between the colors had been dug out, leaving the delicate divisions standing like a honeycomb of gold; but however his wizard familiar permits him to do it, the Paris bronze-founder turns out a cabinet that is a perfection of taste… this singular casket… is one of the greatest triumphs of headstrong and unnecessary ingenuity which French cleverness has effected”.
The whereabouts of the table on which the cabinet stood in William Vanderbilt’s drawing room is uncertain, though Shinn does mention the table as being by the same maker, which indicates the two may have been originally conceived as a set.
William H. Vanderbilt died in 1885, only three years after the first reception celebrating his collection and completion of the interiors. At his death he left the collection to his heirs rather than create a public art gallery, though he did provide a large endowment and the intention was to create a new museum to rival the British Museum. This did not materialize, and the collection was eventually dispersed by family descendants. The mansion was demolished in 1945 after many of the valuable paintings and other contents (including the present lot), were auctioned by Parke-Bernet Galleries at the behest of Grace Vanderbilt, wife of Brig. Gen. Cornelius Vanderbilt III.
Thanks to Dr. Claire Jones for her assistance in confirming this lot was indeed exhibited at the 1867 Paris Exposition.
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