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Eileen Gray's Dragons' Chair Sold at Auction

Eileen Gray's Dragons' Chair Sold at Auction

Eileen Gray's Dragons' Chair Sold at Auction

Previously Owned by YSL, The Chair Breaks World-Record Furniture Bid

The chair became the unexpected star of the show as Yves Saint Laurent's partner brought the pair's trove of art and furniture to Christie's in Paris.

That it’s a commonplace is no consolation: great artists are often celebrated more by posterity than by their peers. The sad fact was once again confirmed this week in Paris. Though Irish-born architect/designer Eileen Gray’s lacquer work was admired by European connoisseurs prior to her to her death in 1976, her buildings and Modernist furniture went largely unknown until after her demise. At an auction that saw a Picasso fail to reach its reserve price, the world-record bid of €21.9 million ($28.3 million) that bagged her one-off Fauteuil aux Dragons (or Dragons’ Chair) at the Grand Palais last week has finally brought Gray the recognition her work deserves.

Yves Saint Lauren’s Old Fauteuil

The price fetched was perhaps not owing solely to the designer's genius, however. That the chair made part of a collection of artwork and furniture owned by the late French fashion designer Yves Saint Lauren and his partner, Pierre Berge, no doubt afforded the piece a cachet it wouldn’t have otherwise possessed. The pair had accumulated a nonpareil collection of masterpieces which furnished their Parisian pads at rue de Babylone and rue Bonaparte. The collection – which also featured pieces by Picasso, Matisse and Mondrain – brought a total of €400 million. A sum that is to go to Aids research and a number of other charities.

Chair Reaches Six-Times More Than Expected

Created between 1917 and 1919 when Gray was attending Art school in London, the chair was sold originally to Suzanne Talbot, Gray’s first patron. Standing a stumpy twenty-four inches high and upholstered – according to the auction’s catalogue – in "lacquered brownish orange and silver brown leather”, the piece has an unconventional beauty and awkward charm. Rather like a later Gray piece, the Bibdendum chair, the seat and back-rest are generously stuffed.

It takes its name from its wooden armrests, which are in the shape of a pair of attenuated dragons. If the chair's cushions are a little too tumescent for later Modernist sensibilities, the intricate white on black lacquer work of the dragons' eyes and fine detailing of the dragons' bodies hold a timeless appeal. The auctioneer had expected the piece to fetch in the region of $3.4 to $4.7 million. That it reached six-times that figure is owning, according to one art dealer, to a set of circumstances that meant the chair was brought to the market at a particularly propitious time.

Furniture a Safe Financial Bet

He said the world economic meltdown together with the chair being one of a kind meant this piece in particular was very attractive to the super wealthy and "long-standing collectors who know that you buy [art] in the teeth of a crisis" The man who originally sold the piece to Saint Lauren, Cheska Vallois, was the successful bidder. He was believed to be bidding on behalf of an anonymous bidder.

© Christopher Wilson

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Added by:  Wilson

Date:  4th Mar 09

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