Design in Dialogue: Classic Forms Across the Decades

Launch Slideshow

On 29 March Sotheby’s will present Design, offering an array of design objects spanning the 20th Century. The sale is comprised of chapters devoted to such artistic movements as Arts and Crafts, Tiffany Studios, Austrian Modernism, European Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and Contemporary design. Highlights include an exquisite “Peony” Table Lamp by Tiffany Studios, a suite of Jean-Théodore Dupas panels from the S.S. Normandie, and iconic contemporary designs by Franz West, Tord Boontje and Studio Job. Also featured in this auction are dedicated sections of French Art Glass from an important Midwest collection and a comprehensive selection of Italian Glass. Here we have paired modern classics with their postwar counterparts to demonstrate the shared dialogue of innovation over the course of the 20th century. —Dan Tolson

New York | 29 March

Design in Dialogue: Classic Forms Across the Decades

  • (Left) Tiffany Studios, "Tel-El-Amarna” Vase. Estimate $6,000–8,000. (Right) Dale Chihuly, "Venetian" Vase. Estimate $5,000–7,000.
    This Egyptian-inspired “Tel Amarna” motif displays a vibrant green body and modern-looking decoration. In Dale Chihuly’s vase, the contradiction between its fragile material and the ultra-dynamic creates a captivating tension.

  • (Above) Josef Albers "Mexican" Chair Estimate $4,000–6,000. (Below) Arne Norell, Pair of "Ari” Chairs. Estimate $6,000–8,000.
    Albers’s “Mexican” chairs were inspired by the butaque, a vernacular chair introduced by the Spanish, who had themselves adapted it from even earlier Mediterranean models. Albers produced this chair while he was teaching at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, as he found that this compact design was particularly suited to dormitory living. Designed in 1966, Arne Norell’s low-slung chair is also a classic. Combining a steel frame and leather, it was named Show Piece of the Year by the British Furniture Manufacturers Association in 1973, two years after the designer’s death.

  • (Above) Martin Brothers, Fish Sculpture. Estimate $2,000–3,000. (Below) Ken Scott, Two Fish, Model No. 11061 and 11065. Estimate $2,000–3,000.
    The four Martin brothers considered themselves artists and each of their creations, such as this handcrafted fish, is unique. Early pioneers of the English Studio Pottery movement, they invented a distinctive salt-glazed stoneware, notable for its subdued colour palette of brown, blues, greens and grey.  The two fish sculptures on the bottom were designed by painter and fashion designer Ken Scott for Venini. Inspired by Scott’s famous “A Fish is a Fish” textile design, they epitomize Venini’s playful and luminous design from the 1960s, when many artists worked for the company.

  • (Left) Georges Flamand, Wall Plaque Estimate $4,000–6,000. (Right) Harry Bertoia, Untitled. Estimate $3,000–5,000.
    This delicate, shell-shaped wall plaque, inset with mother-of-pearl, combines two major sources of inspiration for French Art Nouveau: women and nature. While Bertoia found his inspiration in nature, he also looked to abstract art, particularly the expressive, spontaneous and graphic works of Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee. This inspiration is evident in his sculptures, which show his radical experimentation with contours, materials and textures.

  • (Left) Émile Gallé, An Important Cabinet from the Gallé Family Collection. Estimate $30,000–50,000. (Right) George Nakashima, Cabinet. Estimate $30,000–50,000.
    This extraordinary cabinet comes from the family of Emile Gallé, through his grandson Jean de Bourgogne. It is an adaptation of Gallé’s celebrated “Epis de Blé” cabinet and masterfully combines superb bronze work with outstanding marquetry. Designed by George Nakashima and executed by his daughter, Mira, this “Bahut,” cabinet displays a complex figuring of the wood in perfect harmony with the form of the piece, which is determined by the natural shape of the wood.

  • (Left) An American "Iris, Lily and Cattail” Window. Estimate $20,000–30,000. (Right) Dale Chihuly, "Venetian” Vase. Estimate $12,000–18,000.
    Inspired by the work of Tiffany Studios, this “Iris, Lily and Cattail” leaded glass window depicts a lyrical, aquatic scene, using a fully saturated and artistic selection of glass. Chihuly was among the first American glass blowers to work in Murano, Italy.  Upon his return to the US, he energised the Studio Glass Movement. His work takes inspiration from boyhood memories of nature and his mother’s garden. In the present “Venetian” vase, the intense colors beautifully complement the sculptural quality of the work.

  • (Above) René Herbst, Four Chairs from the Apartment of René Herbst, Paris. Estimate $8,000–12,000. (Below) Franz West, Two "Onkel-Stühle” Chairs. Estimate $20,000–30,000.
    Trained as an architect, René Herbst was one of the first French designers to use steel in furniture and to have his simple and functional designs mass-produced. He was one of the founding members of UAM (Union des Artistes Modernes) in 1929, which aimed to create a distinct style based on form and function. These avant-garde chairs display a minimalist, modern and very elegant design.  In the mid-1970s, Franz West turned away from the traditional notion that sculpture should be seen but not touched. He created his Passstücke (“Adaptive”) abstract forms made from plaster, wire and other materials with no other obvious purpose than to provoke a physical response from the viewer. By the late 1980s, West was producing chairs and familiar domestic objects not necessarily intended for practical use, all exploring the relation between the artwork and the body and blurring the boundaries between design and sculpture.

  • (Left) Carlo Bugatti Side Chair. Estimate $8,000–12,000. (Right) Tord Boontje, "Rough And Ready” Chair. Estimate $1,500–2,000.
    Carlo Bugatti, the father of sculptor Rembrandt Bugatti and automobile constructor Ettore Bugatti, developed a distinct style, combining the asymmetry of Art Nouveau with a North African and Islamic influence, and using parchment, metal inlays, and decorative stamped copper discs, such as in the present chair. Tord Boontje’s “Rough and Ready” collection is made from salvaged or recycled materials wood, fabric and other commonplace materials. Boontje’s studio has described them as having “a sense of incompleteness, a feeling that things might change. They are utilitarian works which acknowledge the beauty of imperfection and offer an alternative to slick objects.”     


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