Fans of French furniture are flocking to Christie's New York this week for the sale of the collection of Frederick P. Victoria & Son, whose clients included such legendary arbiters of taste as Elsie de Wolfe, the Windsors, Jacqueline Kennedy and Hubert de Givenchy. Tony Victoria sold his father's establishment on East 55th Street in January and the contents go under the hammer on Thursday, May 27.
"What sets the Victoria mix of 18th-century French and Continental furnishings apart is a distinctive eclecticism," observes Christie's specialist William Stafford while pointing to a pair of Italian polychromed mirrors à la chinoiserie. Each of the mirrors, which are really overdoor panels, is topped an elaborate ornament consisting of a gilded bust under a pagoda with bell tassels. The body of each piece features a rural scene with a pair of Chinese men hauling a bamboo framed mirror, all surrounded by fretwork. The overdoors may be from the Palermo Villa Favorita, built by the King of Naples in the 1780s. Reflecting such a noble heritage, the estimate is $250,000-$350,000. Overall, the sale is expected to take in $1.8 million-$2.2 million.
Clocks packed with ormolu were a mainstay of Victoria & Son. Of special note is a unique cartel clock of monumental proportions topped by a Grecian urn, military uniforms, flags and the ubiquitous putti. Because of its rarity, the clock is expected to bring $70,000-$100,000. Other clocks come in such amusing guises as a blackamoor sporting a bow and arrow with the clock face on his chest. A Directoire example is modeled on a pendulum with its sunburst face designed to be read from either side. "For the horological connoisseur, the clock is a landmark piece," says Stafford.
Victoria was also known for his assortment of French chairs. Beyond the expected Louis XV and XVI examples is a "chaise d'amour," a "fauteuil à raser" for shaving and one for coiffure. To have three specialized chairs in a single sale is highly unusual, according to Stafford.
The sleeper of the sale is bound to be the very first lot, a Louis XIV ormolu and boulle marquetry pedestal dating from 1715. Estimated at $3,000-$5,000, the diminutive stand is perfect for displaying a Renaissance bronze and will probably be snatched up by a sophisticated collector for a five-figure amount.
Who else will be bidding on such novelties? Victoria clients, of course and decorators en masse. Alberto Pinto, who sold off his household effects at Sotheby's for a cool $6.3 million in March, is said to be interested. Right now, he's handling the David Koch apartment. Plus, Paris dealer Maurice Segoura was spotted looking over the pickings.
Sadly, the Christie's auction also tells a tale of the shrinking world of decorative arts dealers.
"Fifteen years ago, the neighboring blocks were packed with dealers," says Tony Victoria, who received an offer he could not resist on the firm's five-story premises. Yet, in the fall he plans to open a new business -- possibly devoted to decorator smalls -- thereby beginning a new chapter as a dealer.
BROOK S. MASON writes on Old Masters and the decorative arts.