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Artnet Design

by Brook S. Mason
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Veteran Brit art-fair organizers Brian and Anna Haughton have unveiled the latest installment of their Fine Art & Antique Dealers Show, Oct 21-27, 2011, at the Park Avenue Armory. Jam packed with over 50 dealers and crammed with haute antiques, the fair boasts dealers of the grand 18th-century English kind like Ronald Phillips Ltd. and Apter-Fredericks. Fewer fine art dealers are on hand compared to years past, though Agnew’s remains in the stable.

Now in its 23rd iteration, the event is also serving up 20th-century design. Featured at the booth of Greenwich Village dealers Maison Gerard are three pairs of églomisé (gold and silver leaf under glass) screens by Jean Dupas (1882-1964). Each is a stunning five feet wide, and comes from the French luxury liner SS Normandie.

“Heavily subsidized by the French government which upped the ante in recruiting artists and interior designers, the Normandie with its Grand Salon was the epitome of chic,” said Benoist Drut of Maison Gerard. The screens cost $160,000 a pair, or just a shade under a tidy $500,000 for all three sets.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art installed a Despais panel in its former bar, but that triumph of Art Deco is now ensconced in the museum's design galleries.

Also well worth eyeballing is perhaps the most divine set of cut glass jeroboam decanters imaginable, at Ronald Phillips. They date from 1770 and are priced at $72,000, that is, minus the silver coasters. Possibly totally unique, the decanters are well worth the price tag.

Also at Phillips is a monumental 18th-century gilded and carved fireplace surround in the chinoiserie style, priced at over $1 million. That mantel creation by the great carver Matthias Locke, who worked for Thomas Chippendale should end up in a tobacco-lacquered loft as ultimate home of the century.

The organic crowd should swoon over a pair of 1870 glass cases filled with stuffed game birds at Mallett. They cost $48,000, far less than a minor contemporary painting of no note whatsoever.

The crowd at the vernissage seemed considerably thinner than in years past. Perhaps the socialite X-Ray crowd is finally dying off. Buckets of hors d’oeuvres were left over -- always a sign of collectors moving on to other nighty nighttime events.

Even so, plenty of sales were racked up as usual. These include a Mughal jade and jewel-encrusted dagger at Samina for $65,000, bought by a museum in the Middle East. A very timely sale, as our own Met Museum has just opened its luxurious new galleries for "art of the Arab Lands."

Also scooped up were a fierce Rembrandt Bugatti (1884-1916) bronze panther in prowling stance at the London Sladmore Galleries, priced in the mid six figures and going to a private collector. Maison Gerard had a veritable plethora of design sales, too.  

And at the Manhattan Ariadne Galleries, “seven collectors competed for a Roman bronze foot,” according to Torkom Demirjian, who heads up Ariadne. He also sold a pair of Frankish silver fibulas, 5th-6th century AD, for a handsome $150,000. “The fair is not over yet,” proclaimed Demirjian.

BROOK S. MASON is U.S. correspondent for the Art Newspaper, and also writes for the Financial Times and other publications.