Monday, 15 April 2013

Dear Diary... Empirical

Christie's Interiors sales are a brilliant way to decorate an interior with a unique piece at an affordable price. You never know what curiosity or treasure might surface at auction. The lots for sale range from quality antique furniture and decorative objects to Old Master paintings,  contemporary prints and Asian and Islamic art and design. At more affordable prices than specialised sales, you may just bag yourself a bargain while finding a truly special piece.

These late 19th century gilt and patinated bronze three-light wall-appliques are fantastic things. In empire style, the dull black patination of the snakes is at contrast with the bright, shiny eagles heads in gilt - providing a depth of field which would not be present should the whole piece be gilded. The sinew of a serpents head and tail moulds together three candleholders cast with scales in seamless formation. The pair are amongst the higher quality and priced pieces from the Interiors sales and sold at auction in March this year for £5,625 including buyer's premium, against an estimate of £1,500-2,000 (Sale 8524, lot 182).

The clean design is typical of the French Empire style, popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Empire style employed the Directoire movement's early 19th century Neo-classical simplicity. Taking the virtues of balance and harmony from the Roman Empire, which had been rediscovered a hundred years earlier, the ostentation of Rococo was left behind. As Rococo came to be associated with monarchical excess, the Empire style became the style of the people: an aesthetic liberated from ornamentation found harmony and sobriety is its designs. 

Reflecting the political shift in 19th century France from Monarchical rule to a Republic, this style of simple classicism took its name from the rule of Napoleon I in the First French Empire. 

Another pair of Empire style wall-appliques that sold in a Christie's Interiors auction are the lovely duo pictured above. Again a patinated serpent is the central feature. This time the snakes entwine a slender stem, spiralling upward to greet a pineapple finial from which twin garlands unfurl. Such a lovely pair of lighting were a steal at £625 in May last year (sale 6027).

For the same price, a fabulous twin-light wall applique, also early 20th century and Empire style, sold at the European Furniture, Works of Arts, Tapestries and Carpets sale at Christie's South Kensington in September 2006. A precursor to the Interiors auction model, these sales included some very nice objects without the pictures, Asian art and contextualised interior sale view. We would do anything to get our hands on a gilt peacock such as this beauty (sale 4960). With proud feathers, shimmering gold and fine modelling she was well worth the £600 paid for her. We'll be keeping our eye on the South Kensington sales this year. Christie's hold around 10 a year so hopefully a peacock or serpent will strut and shimmy their way into through the glass doors of the Curiosity Cabinet.

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