By Isabelle Bresset, director of the Furniture and Works of Art department
Is the Furniture and works of art market still relevant?
Isabelle Bresset: Against all odds and despite the change in fashion and of our way of life the market is showing remarkable signs of resistance in the light of the most recent results of the furniture and works of art sales. The market has outperformed in an environment entangled with the fake issues though. Spared from the speculative trends it enjoys a sound stability fuelled with good surprises when one makes the right choices. Moreover it is likely that our values, habits and way of life are going to be affected by the current crisis. Our craving for excellent craftsmanship and astounding and glamourous unique pieces may be triggered.
Where does this strength come from?
IB: Sculpture and precious works of art have been leading the market with the highest prices for the last few years and furniture has remained healthily stable. 18th century decorative arts and especially French decorative arts have set the standard for excellence, luxury and “art de vivre”. Their reputation flourished during the 17th century epitomised by Versailles. Behind the scene are working a large network of “marchands-merciers” – antique dealers and influencers of that time - , ornemanists, architects and all sorts of craftsmen are promoting the French sophistication, selling their luxury products and creations to clients from all over Europe.
Can one still expect good surprises in the future?
IB: Since the beginning of the millenium,18th furniture and works of art lost their lustre with the viral and unprecedented interest in 20th century furniture, design and contemporary decorative arts. Nevertheless some pieces more discreetly reach high levels.
For example, in 2019, Artcurial sold a bronze figure of Architecture after Giambologna (1529 -1608) more than €3,7m. A pair of silver candlesticks from the Orloff service made by the renown silversmith Jacques Nicolas Roettiers (1736-1788) ordered by the Russian Empress Catherine II in 1769 reached €182.000; a rare Louis XVI ormolu automaton clock and a Regence marquetry commode by Thomas Hache (1664-1747), famous member of a first class French dynasty of cabinet-makers in Grenoble that has been highly coveted by collectors for years, was sold for the same amount.
Surely one swallow does not make a summer. And one can also find unique piece of incomparable charm and quality at fair prices. Below €5.000 you could have acquired at auction at Artcurial a lovely pair of Louis XV stools, an elegant pair of Louis XVI ormolu candlesticks, a magnificent pair of Italian rococo giltwood console table with rocaille scrolls and foliage to powerfully ornate one’s interiors. And Wunderkammers’ lovers could also have gone home with an exquisite Augsbourg marquetry cabinet.
What criteria should be followed?
IB: Today, period, quality, name of the cabinet maker or the craftsman, use are not the only criteria when you buy furniture and works of art. New collectors set new standards To some extent the decorative impact, condition and glamour take the lead. Some 19th century pieces reach levels that older pieces would never dream to achieve. Provenance can drive people crazy. Royal and aristocratic provenances, milestone collections make the headlines but some others give prestige and reinforce the choice. In 2018 the late and already missed Francois Tajan sold a small Louis XV tulipwood bureau plat for the astronomic amount of €140.000. It used to decorate a suite called the Chanel suite at the Ritz hotel. If Coco Chanel ever saw it is another question…so provenance if it may assert authenticity and taste it may also be a misleading ally.
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