Discoveries: Important Sculpture and Design

Discoveries: Important Sculpture and Design

T he following lots show a few of the varied and wide-ranging examples of sculpture recently consigned to Sotheby's by clients who used our Online Pricing Platform this year. Here we take a closer look at some of the lots.

These extraordinary carved wood panels are two of the finest works by Aubert Parent ever to have appeared on the art market. Dated 1779, the year Parent first exhibited at the Paris Salon, they are two of the sculptor’s earliest works, executed just two years after his first major achievement, the relief dedicated and presented to King Louis XVI in 1777. The present panels are dedicated to François Marie Ménage de Pressigny (circa 1733-1794), Fermier Général (tax collector) to Louis XVI, whose collection included Les hasards heureux de l’escarpolette (The Swing) by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, one of the defining masterpieces of French 18th century painting. The Ménage de Pressigny panels, which have been in the same English private collection for almost a century, are preserved in near perfect condition and in their original frames. They embody the visual language of the French court under Louis XVI. With their abundance of virtuoso carved flowers, decorative motifs and royal symbols, they are the quintessence of French taste in the middle of the 18th century.

Francois-Xavier Lalanne and his wife Claude, known collectively as Les Lalanne, were one of the most dynamic art couples of the 20th century. Courted by Surrealists and celebrities alike, their distinctive blend of fine and decorative arts, which was based on naturalistic forms, has made their work highly prized by contemporary collectors. This pigeon table lamp was acquired directly from Galerie Artcurial in 1999 for €8,000 and has been in the same family ever since. In a booming market, that is still a remarkable rise in value.

During the three decades of Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ remarkable career, he redirected and invigorated the course of American sculpture away from a worn-out neo-classical aesthetic to a lively, naturalistic style, while also ardently promoting the nationalistic concept of an American school of sculpture flourishing on American shores. An artist of exceptional talent, Saint-Gaudens was born in Dublin, the son of a French father and an Irish mother. When he was an infant, his family emigrated to New York, where as a teenager he became apprenticed to a stone cutter, going on to study art in Paris and Rome before returning to the States.

The Head of Victory derives from one of several studies Saint-Gaudens made for the striding, windblown allegorical figure on his monument (1892–1903) to the Civil War general William Sherman at the southeast corner of Manhattan’s Central Park. While this version of the head differs from the one he ultimately used for the monumental figure, it shares that figure’s dual symbolism, emphasized by the Greek words inscribed on the base: NIKE–EIPHNH (Victory–Peace). This particular bronze was from a private collection in Bristol, England, but Sotheby's considered it important enough to ship to New York for an American Art sale

With the notable provenance from the collections of Martha Baird Rockefeller and more recently Chiquita Astor, the significance of this large-scale flower is reflected in its high purchase price from Fabergé’s St Petersburg branch in 1913. The scratched inventory number on the rock crystal vase corresponds to a Fabergé flower purchased for 800 rubles on 1 May 1913. This purchase was divided four ways between members of the Imperial family: Grand Duke Andrei Vladimirovich: Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich; Grand Duchess Victoria Feodorovna; and Grand Duke Boris Vladimirovich. The most likely recipient of this gift would have been the Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, who owned the most significant collection of Faberge flowers at this time.

Employing a range of artists across Fabergé’s workshop, from stonecutters to gem-setters, flowers such as the present apple blossom are a lasting testimony to the diversity and ingenuity of Fabergé and its thoughtful use of precious materials. The present model is apparently the only known extant study of apple blossom, the closest corollary being that in the collection of the Queen’s Own Worcestershire Hussars.

The process of making these flowers, from the cutting of the vase in rock crystal to the setting of the rose-cut diamonds at the centre of each blossom, was a lengthy and thoughtful one. The way in which the blossoms relate to one another in scale and position is perfectly balanced by the movement in the carving of its nephrite leaves.

This large and impressive 19th century bronze was executed by Arthur Waagen. Born at Memel in Prussia, he was a German `Animalier’ and Orientalist figurative sculptor. Early in his career he moved to Paris where he settled permanently to pursue his career as a sculptor. Inspired by the trend for the Oriental, he exhibited several works with North African themes at the Paris Salon in the 1860s. The Animalier bronze market was at its peak in the 1980s and 1990s but larger and visually impressive examples still sell well.

The Sluggard is one of the iconic masterpieces of 19th century British sculpture. Lord Leighton's Sluggard was first exhibited as a clay sketch at the Royal Academy in 1886 and was conceived as the pendant to the artist's earlier masterpiece, An Athlete struggling with a Python, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1877. The Sluggard was inspired by the languid stretching of Leighton's muscular male model Giuseppe Valona after a long sitting. Leighton rapidly captured the pose in clay and thus created one of the masterpieces of Victorian sculpture, inspiring a generation of artists who became known as the `New-Sculpture movement’. It has been described as 'a symbol of the art of sculpture, liberated by Leighton, flexing itself for renewed activity after a long time in the shackles of convention' (Benedict Read, Apollo, op. cit., p. 68). The bronze editions were produced by Arthur Leslie Collie and cast by Singer. Casts which bear both the Collie and Singer inscriptions, such as the present, very fine example are believed to date to circa 1896-1900.

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