Important Design

Important Design

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 206. A Unique "Sculpture Front" Cabinet.

Property from the Estate of Gabriele and Robert Lee

Paul Evans

A Unique "Sculpture Front" Cabinet

Auction Closed

December 8, 09:48 PM GMT


180,000 - 240,000 USD

Lot Details


Property from the Estate of Gabriele and Robert Lee

Paul Evans

A Unique "Sculpture Front" Cabinet


with a floor base executed by Dorsey Reading, circa 2005

executed by Paul Evans Studio, New Hope, Pennsylvania

lacquered, gilt and painted steel, brass, slate, painted wood, felt

signed PAUL EVANS and dated 64

33½ x 98¼ x 23¼ in. (85.1 x 249.5 x 59.1 cm)

Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner, circa 1964
Todd Merrill and Julie V. Iovine, Modern Americana: Studio Furniture from High Craft to High Glam, New York, 2008, pp. 98-99 (for a related example)
Jeffrey Head, Paul Evans: Designer & Sculptor, Atglen, PA, 2012, pp. 40-41 and 47-49 (for related examples)
Constance Kimmerle, ed., Paul Evans: Crossing Boundaries and Crafting Modernism, exh. cat., Doylestown, PA, 2014, pp. 162-163 (for a related example)

The work of iconic American Studio artist and designer Paul Evans (1931-1987) tells a unique story about art, industry and progress in America. Born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, the son of an English teacher and a painter, Evans sought training from a number of different art institutions in the early 1950s, including Philadelphia Textile Institute, Rochester Institute of Technology, and finally Cranbrook Academy in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. He was educated in the post-World War II era: a period ripe for change and innovation that would shape his artistic vision.

The conditions of this moment in history created the perfect environment for the values of the American Studio movement to flourish. The mass-production of the 1920s and 1930s was rejected in favor of a return to handmade crafts rooted in history. From Cranbrook, Evans settled in New Hope, Pennsylvania, and gained notoriety for his forged metal works that captured the essence of the American Studio movement in his own distinct vocabulary. Evans thrived within New Hope’s vibrant artistic community where he regularly crossed paths and traded ideas with influential artists and designers such as Harry Bertoia, George Nakashima, and Philip Lloyd Powell. His work escalated in complexity, beginning with copper chests and evolving into ambitious sculptural design works.  

Evans’ patrons tended to be much like him: ordinary people from the surrounding area who had a deep appreciation for the incredible skill and labor required to realize his unique aesthetic. To keep up with demand, Evans hired numerous workers to sustain his production and allow him to focus on designing. His studio was a wild arena of fire, acid and metal, but the culture was progressive and inclusive: at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, Evans employed a fully integrated team of skilled artisans. He succeeded in bringing an entrepreneurial spirit to his work that did not sacrifice artistry and encouraged daring improvisation and collaboration. This success is owed to Evans’ economical approach to production: by exploring variations on aesthetic themes, Evans and his team could execute myriad custom works at scale.

The “Sculpture Front” series presented endless opportunities for variation by Evans and his team. In this series, Evans conceived numerous decorative devices which were explored within individual compartments covering the exterior of a case piece, usually a sideboard and sometimes a vertical cabinet or wall panel. The aesthetic is brutalist and raw, with gnarled, forged steel surfaces covered in polychrome like a metal impasto. The overall effect is sharp and rough, but the Sculpture Front theme also has a preciousness to it with each miniature sculpture in its respective niche like a jewel. This iconic series reveals the influence of Cubism, Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art of the 1960s on Evans’ work and is undoubtedly the artist’s magnum opus.

Only 40 miles away from Evans’ studio in New Hope, Gabriele and Robert Lee were leading an engaged artistic life in Philadelphia. As an interior designer, it is no surprise that Mrs. Lee would have come in contact with Evans’ work, and in 1964 she and her husband acquired the present lot, which is an extraordinary example of one of the artist’s most celebrated forms. Their acquisition of this important work as Evans entered the height of his career speaks to the Lees’ visionary collecting and deep engagement with art of the period.