10 questions to ask when buying Art Deco

10 questions to ask when buying Art Deco

As the Design sales approach in New York, specialist Carina Villinger draws up an essential checklist for buying wisely

1. Has the piece been restored?

Condition is very important to establish the value of a work. You should inquire as to what, when and how a piece has been restored as this can dramatically impact the value. Some collectors prefer a piece to show signs of its age and life, which can be perfectly appropriate and enhance the aura of a piece.


2. Does it require restoration?

Jean-Michel Frank (1895-1941), A pair of club chairs, 1939. Oak, with original leather upholstery. Estimate: $150,000-200,000. These chairs are offered in the Design sale on 18 December at Christie's New York

An insensitive restoration, on the other hand, can greatly detract from the beauty of a piece. For example, original leather will most likely show signs of age and use, but at its best it will have acquired a lovely patina. I remember looking at at a beautiful Jean-Michel Frank armchair and the unevenness of colour of the leather and the minor stains only added to the appeal of the piece.


3. What’s the provenance?

The piece may not have any significant provenance, but if it does, it will round out its history. If it has been owned by a museum it can positively influence the value as many collectors like to know that a work has this kind of stamp of outside approval.


4. Was it owned by a famous collector?

Gustave Miklos (1888-1967), Sculpture Lumineuse, pièce unique, 1924. Sold for: €445,500 ($473,930) on 23 November 2015

There are certain people who signal a certain quality, such as Jacques Doucet, the French fashion designer and leading collector of Art Deco. Anything from his collection, such as the piece above, represents a particular quality. Yves Saint-Laurent is another who had a great collection, one that famously came to market in 2009.


5. Was it in the personal collection of the artist who made it?

If it was, it suggests that even its maker felt that there was something special about it.


6. Does it appear in literature — either new or old?

Armand Albert Rateau (1882-1938), Table basse aux oiseaux, 1924. Sold for: €1,665,500 ($2,140,500) on 23 May 2013

Check if the piece has been illustrated and documented in period or later literature, such as the piece above. This can be a good way to find out more about the work and period it was designed in, and the context in which it was conceived. I find it fascinating to be able to see the works in magazines and interiors from the time they were made. It shows exactly how these pieces were treated and viewed.


7. Has it featured in exhibitions?

Albert Cheuret (1884-1966), A chandelier, circa 1925. Patinated bronze, alabaster. Estimate: $60,000-80,000. This piece is offered in the Masterworks of 20th Century Design: An Important Private New York Collection sale on 17 December at Christie's New York

If the piece you are considering has been included in an exhibition, it can boost its value. Why? Because it confirms its part in the dialogue of design history.


8. Is it a good example of its type?

Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) for Jean-Michel Frank (1895-1941), An ‘Etoile’ table lamp, designed 1936, cast by Diego Giacometti (1902-1985). Bronze with green patina. Sold for: $93,750 on 10 June 2015

If your work is not a unique piece, familiarise yourself with other examples of the same model — it’s a great way to educate the eye. Almost every work from the Art Deco period is handcrafted by highly skilled craftsmen and no two pieces will be alike, even if they are the same model. For example, we sold two versions of the ‘Etoiles’ lamp by Alberto Giacometti. The casting and patina were different for each and that’s what makes each piece exciting.


9. Is it unique or one of several?

Jean Dunand (1877-1942), ‘Woman bathing’, a panel, 1930. Partially incised lacquered wood, gold leaf. Estimate: $300,000-400,000. This piece is offered in the Masterworks of 20th Century Design: An Important Private New York Collection sale on 17 December at Christie's New York

If a work is unique and a great example of an artist’s work, it will add to the value. We have a wonderful panel by Jean Dunand in our upcoming sale (above). It’s the only one of its kind but it is so typical of his work that it stands out.


10. Is the piece important within the particular artist’s body of work?

Francis Carco (1886-1958), Jésus-la-Caille. Illustré de gravures originales d’auguste brouet. Paris: Éditions de l’Estampe, 1925. Sold for: €46,600 ($67,229) on 11 May 2011

Compare the piece you are looking at with other work by the artist. Ask yourself where this particular piece ranks aesthetically in the artist’s work. It can be a great way to gain a better understanding of a particular piece and also see how varied the works from this period can be.

For example, Jean- Michel Frank did everything from table lamps to entire rooms. It’s a vast range of work but each piece shows the spirit of the artist at work. Rose Adler, who is best known for her bookbindings, was less prolific but the refinement of her work is just as vivid. By getting to know the individual’s work you can immerse yourself in the period through them.

Main image at top: Pierre Chareau (1883-1950). An 'MF 1050' armchair, circa 1924. Rosewood, nickel-plated metal, leather upholstery. Estimate: $100,000-150,000. This piece is offered in Masterworks of 20th Century Design: An Important Private New York Collection on 17 December at Christie’s in New York


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