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Collectors' focus: post-war design is dominated by French and Italian designers, and the likes of Prouve, Perriand and Mollino command the highest prices. Recent times have seen collectors turning to the next generation, and investing in the stars of the future.

For over 10 years the market in post-war design has been dominated by the three big names--Jean Royere, Jean Prouve, and Charlotte Perriand. But as prices for these French designers reach the high-water mark, collectors are turning to French and Italian designers of the next generation--among them Pierre Paulin, his sometime colleague Roger Tallon (designer of the TGV), and three of today's auction-room stars--Claude and Francois-Xavier Lalanne, and Maria Pergay. In June, Elysee, a tubular steel and upholstered salon suite designed by Pierre Paulin (1927-2009) in 1974, achieved an unexpected 60,750 [euro] at Sotheby's Paris (estimate 8,00010,000 [euro]). In the same sale, Claude Lalanne's (b. 1924) bronze and brass armchair Crocodile I from 1972 sold for 1.4m [euro], soaring above its estimate of 150,000 [euro]-200,000 [euro].

Simon Andrews, Christie's specialist in 20th-century decorative art and design, suggests that both France and Italy 'delivered excellence with every decade of the 20th century. They share an aesthetic of quality, precision and forward-looking design.' Italy, in particular, 'has been emphatic in every era and across categories--great furniture, great lighting, great glass, great textiles.' In both countries designers were often also architects, working closely with interior decorators and clients to create pieces for specific architectural projects. This rich historical context enhances both the charisma and the price of each object. 'It is still possible to source pieces from the '50s that come directly from their original context,' Mr Andrews says. Later figures--Maria Pergay (b. 1930) and the Lalannes--have also often worked closely on specific projects with architects and designers.

In its 20th Century Decorative Arts sale on 23 October, Christie's London offers the dining suite from the Casa Cattaneo in Turin, designed in 1953 by Carlo Mollino (1905-73). The auction includes two oak dining tables and 10 chairs (Fig. 1), and the collection is estimated at 500,000 [pounds sterling]-700,000 [pounds sterling]. Alongside Mollino, whose work is now mostly in museums or private collections, work by Gio Ponti (1891-1979) is highly sought after, the best unique pieces, especially those he designed for villas in South America, achieving up to $100,000. A unique pair of armchairs, dated around 1950, from an important private commission, sold for $92,500 on an estimate of $60,000-$80,000 at Phillips de Pury New York last December (Fig. 3); Ponti's massproduced pieces, however, fetch far less. Other names on the rise include Joe Colombo, Alessandro Mendini, Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni, and the provocatively surrealist Florentine Archizoom Associati. Erik Mtillendorff of 88 Gallery adds Franco Albini, Ignazio Gardella, Max Ingrand and Ico Parisi. He says: 'Provenance is now very important. And the first question is: "Who is it by?" So the whole market is name-driven.' Many of Mr Mfillendorff's clients are interior designers and architects, serving collectors on the East and West Coast of America, but he also has buyers from India, a few Hong Kong Chinese, and several Russians. For the redoubtable Rossella Colombari, herself a collector, what is clear is that 'every time, collectors want the best quality of the best designers. The middle market is very low.' While undoubtedly the most sought-after designers are Gio Ponti and Ico Parisi, she also exhibits Colombo, Mendini and Ettore Sottsass. She is bringing a 1950 Stadera desk by Albini to PAD London (see preview on pp. 32-36), and a Sottsass ceramic.



Jean-David Botella, a Paris-based dealer, says that Diego Giacometti (1902-85), the younger brother of Alberto, is also sought after--his Homage a Bocklin console sold at Sotheby's New York last November for $1.3m against an estimate of $300,000-$500,000. He is bringing 25 mirrors by the French designer Line Vautrin (1913-97) to PAD London (one sold in June at Sotheby's Paris for 36,750 [euro]), along with a black lacquered screen by Frangois-Xavier Lalanne (1927-2008; price on application). Meanwhile Paris gallerist Pierre Passebon comments: 'Italian designers are more popular now. This is led by the American collectors. The importance of the Italians is reflected in the fact that Ronald Lauder collects them.'

In terms of post-war French design, Prouve (1901-84), Royere (1902-81), Perriand (1903-99), and the Swiss Pierre deanneret (1896-1967) are the most sought after, and have been for some time. As Paris dealer Jacques Lacoste, a specialist in Royere, puts it: 'The iconic pieces from Perriand are the wall-mounted shelves--a nice set can fetch 250,000 [euro]. As for Royere, his Liane wall lights are simple, strong, abstract, organic. For me, they are the strongest lights of the 20th century [Fig. 2]. Only around 25 were ever made--they can fetch up to 300,000 [euro].' Francois Laffanour of Galerie Downtown, a Prouve and Perriand specialist, notes, however, that as the European market has eased, the market in general has become much more international: 'The main clients are Asian and South American.' Alexander Payne, worldwide director of design at Phillips de Pury, states: 'People continue to collect the greats, but there is more of an interest in the '70s and '80s and other areas of French design--[in designers such as] Pierre Guariche, Joseph-Andre Motte and Pierre Paulin.'

The playful and surrealistic Lalannes are an exceptional story of their own. Exhibited originally by the great Greek collector and gallerist Alexandre Iolas, they have been represented since the mid-2000s by fine art dealers Paul Kasmin in New York and Ben Brown in London. Originally collected, according to Ben Brown, by 'the French haute couture crowd and French aristocracy', the Yves Saint Laurent sale at Christie's Paris in 2009 found them a new, younger audience. This three-day, much-publicised auction saw Francois-Xavier's Bar 'YSL', a sculptural drinks cabinet dating from 1965, sell for a record 2.7m [euro]. In the same sale, Claude Lalanne's mirrors framed by twisted bronze branches set another record at 1.8m [euro].

Finally, Demisch Danant in New York and Paris have been exhibiting work produced between the years 1957 and 1964 by the likes of doseph-Andre Motte, Renf-Jean Caillette, and Antoine Philippon and dacqueline Lecoq. Exhibitions such as 'Mobi Boom' at Les Arts D6coratifs in Paris in 2010 have boosted recognition of these designers, but their prices are still in the ascendancy. 'The highest prices are definitely under $100,000,' states Suzanne Demisch. 'An iconic Tripod chair by Motte might fetch $35,000 or $40,000.' The gallery also mounted a Maria Pergay retrospective in dune, presenting work from the last five decades. 'Her market is on a strong upward spiral,' comments Ms Demisch.

1 Dining suite for the Casa Cattaneo, Turin, 1953
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Author:Crichton-Miller, Emma
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Oct 1, 2012
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