Pagoda Paris, 48, rue de Courcelles, Paris.

- On a recent trip to Paris, I had the opportunity to visit a piece of old China. Tucked away in the heart of the city, just off Boulevard Haussmann, sits a hidden gem.

It was a sunny winter’s day and the sun was low in the sky, casting the lower part of the building in shade. The upper floor however, was bathed in the soft glow of the winter sun, and it was evident why in Chinese, the building was called the Tongge, The Crimson Pavilion.

The former gallery of C.T. Loo.

More commonly known as the Pagoda Paris, the building stands like a mirage between the Hausmanian blocks that line the streets of the French capital. The original Louis-Philippe style townhouse at 48, rue de Courcelles was purchased in 1925 by Chinese art dealer Loo Ching-tsai, better known as C.T. Loo.  Mr. Loo hired French architect Fernand Bloch to transform the townhouse into the Pagoda, to serve as both Mr Loo’s gallery and residence. After three years of redesign and renovations, the Pagoda held its grand opening in 1928.

(left) Two terracotta figures of bodhisattva, China, Yuan Dynasty, 14th Century, sold 15th December 2011, Sotheby’s Paris, for 54,750 euro. (right) lot 168, an important archaic bronze wine vessel (Hu), eastern Zhou Dynasty, sold 11th & 12th September 2012, Sotheby’s New York, for $1,300,000.

Mr. Loo was one of the world’s foremost Chinese art dealers in the early twentieth century. Originally setting up in Paris in 1908 under the name Lai-Yuan & Co., and opening a gallery in New York in 1915, Mr. Loo introduced early Chinese art, such as archaic bronzes and jade, and sculpture, to Western European and North American collectors, who had until that time mostly concentrated on porcelains and later jades. Well-known collectors, such as J. P. Morgan, Alfred Pillsbury, J.C. Nichols Sr. and Henry Clay Frick numbered among his clients, and Mr. Loo was behind many of the pieces that form the Chinese collection in the Freer Gallery in Washington, D.C. 

(Left) The spiral wood staircase. (center) Gilt-lacquered panel walls. (right) Details of the railing finials.

Comprising six floors, the building has a spiral wood staircase, wood elevator, hardwood floors, gilt-lacquered paneled walls, latticed windows, an Indian carved wood galleria, and an art deco glass ceiling, as well as a basement which used to be the Chinese stone sculpture gallery.

(left) Indian carved wood galleria on the top floor. (right) Art Deco glass ceiling on the top floor.
After Mr. Loo’s passing in 1957, his descendants took over his business and continued running the gallery at the Pagoda. However, as their inventory sold, it became increasingly difficult to acquire new pieces due to restrictive international import regulations. Eventually, they put the Pagoda up for sale. In 2010 the Pagoda was purchased by a French private investor and is now under the direction of Jacqueline Baroness von Hammerstein-Loxten. The building has been updated and given new life as an art and events center.

The basement which used to be the Chinese stone sculpture gallery and library.

While I was visiting, the inaugural exhibition, Asia in Vogue was ongoing. The exhibition centered on the theme of textiles and costumes and included Qing dynasty robes, embroideries, shoes for bound feet, and contemporary Asian artwork inspired by textiles and costumes in mediums as varied as ceramic shards, buttons, stainless steel, and pencil shavings.

(top left) Qing dynasty lady’s jacket
Top Center: Steel Wire Cheongsam by Man Fung Yi (born 1968). (top right) Painting by Peng Wei (born 1974)
. (bottom left) Button art by Ran Hwang (born 1960)
. (bottom center) Photograph by Kimiko Yoshida (born 1963)
. (bottom right) Detail of Ran Hwang’s button art.

The name C.T. Loo still has currency among collectors today, as a C.T. Loo provenance points to a certain pedigree and gives pieces a certain aura and desirability. Some of our recent and upcoming sales have included pieces that once came from C.T. Loo.

Lots with C.T. Loo provenance sold 22nd march 2011, Sotheby’s New York. (top left) lot 189,  a bronze lamp, Warring States Period / Western Han Dynasty,  sold for $62,500. 
(top center) lot 261 a white marble torso of a bodhisattva, Northern Qi Dynasty, sold for $21,250.
(top right) lot 270 a stone head of a Luohan, Song Dynasty,  sold for $158,500. (bottom left) lot 271 a polychrome pottery figure of a seated Luohan, late Ming Dynasty, sold for $80,500. (bottom right) lot 272 a polychrome pottery figure of a seated Luohan late Ming Dynasty, sold for $104,500.

The C.T. Loo ‘pedigree’ is so desirable in fact that C.T. Loo provenance is known to have been faked in order to allow pieces to escape closer scrutiny. Two lots with alleged C.T. Loo provenance had to be withdrawn recently from an English auction house for this reason.

The Pagoda is today marketed as the perfect link between East and West. To me, it is also a link between now and then. It had its heyday at a time when Chinese art was gaining ascendancy in the West. At that time, it was Western buyers who were fueling the market, with dealers such as C.T. Loo stoking the flames. Today, with the reinvention of the Pagoda, the world is again seeing the ascent of Chinese art, this time with buyers from Asia leading the charge.

(left) Chinese art dealer C.T. Loo. (right) Upcoming lot with C.T. Loo provenance, Lot 469, A large painting of a Meiren, Qing Dynasty, estimate $60,000-90,000., to be offered 19th & 20th March 2013, Sotheby’s New York.