a century of cutting-edge international design under the spotlight at strauss & co

A century of cutting-edge international design under the spotlight at Strauss & Co

6 Oct 2021

Strauss & Co’s decorative arts department is delighted to announce details of its catalogue for the company’s forthcoming live virtual auction on Monday 10 October 2021, including a standalone session of period-defining modern and contemporary furniture.

Titled 20th and 21st-Century Design, this highly focused session will include collectable furniture pieces by celebrated figures such as Marcel Breuer, Charles and Ray Eames, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Gerrit Rietveld, Eero Saarinen and Philippe Starck.

Notable highlights from 20th and 21st-Century Design include a set of six black lacquer Tulip chairs with accompanying Tulip table by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen (estimate R45 000 – 55 000). An icon of mid-century modernism, the Tulip chair features an aluminium and fiberglass construction. These contemporary materials are in stark contrast to the steel-frame seating conceived by architect-designers Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer, all of whom are represented by pieces in the catalogue.

“The designers featured in 20th and 21st-Century Design have changed the way that we look at chairs,” says Sophie-Louise Froehlich, a decorative arts specialist at Strauss & Co. “In the catalogue accompanying the sale the furniture is clearly split into each designer and era. The progression of materials used throughout this time is evident, from plywood, tubular steel to plastic.”

The 59 lots in 20th and 21st-Century Design collectively represent the largest-ever consignment of modern and contemporary furniture to come to market in South Africa. The bulk of these collectable pieces are derived from two single-owner collections and feature excellent provenance. The largest consignor was a German collector whose extensive holdings include Art Deco silverware and furnishings, notably a French Art Deco palisander cabinet André Fréchet (estimate R30 000 – 40 000), as well as rugs by German artist Karl Suess.

Sophie-Louise Fröhlich will discuss the various lots in this much-anticipated session with Strauss & Co’s senior specialist and head curator Wilhelm van Rensburg in a livestreamed webinar, scheduled to take place on Wednesday, 6 October at 6pm. Their talk will cover a century of design and designers.

Strauss & Co will begin its public offering with a general session of decorative arts. The catalogue features an excellent consignment of classical art and objet from China and Japan, fine silverware, exquisite jewellery, as well as furniture pieces from the Cape, Europe and India. This general session commences on Monday, 10 October 2021 at 10am, and is followed at 2pm by 20th and 21st-Century Design.

An impressive large carved Chinese giltwood figural group of the Four Heavenly Kings (estimate R300 000 – 400 000) leads the catalogue of Oriental works of art in the catalogue. Other noteworthy pieces include a massive Japanese blue and white vase painted with a panel of a hawk (estimate R25 000 – 30 000) and pair of matching Japanese cloisonné vases with wisteria, peonies and flowering blooms (estimate R80 000 – 100 000). Both pieces date from the Meiji period (1868-1912).

The jewellery highlights include a 1970s Cartier turquoise and gold brooch modelled as a hummingbird  (estimate R60 000 – 80 000). The piece was originally presented as a gift from a South African naval commodore to his wife. Other well-known marques represented in the catalogue include Bulgari’s B.ZERO 1 ceramic and gold ring (estimate R15 000 – 20 000) a silver cuff by Kurt Jobst (estimate R5 000 – 7 000). Also of interest to collectors is the claw-set dress ring featuring a large emerald surrounded by 16 old-cut diamonds (estimate R20 000 – 25 000) and Italian diamond-set spectacle chain with 17 tubeset round diamonds (estimate R15 000 – 18 000).

Strauss & Co is synonymous with silver through the pioneering research of the company’s founder, Stephan Welz. This sale features two noteworthy pieces representing contrasting artisanal traditions. English silversmith James Le Bas successfully established himself in Dublin, where he produced the four-piece Victorian silver entrée dishes (estimate R120 000 – 150 000) on sale. The delicately adorned Cape silver teapot by Gerhardus Lotter, of the well-known Lotter family of Cape silversmiths, forms part of a succinct consignment of Cape silverware (estimate R100 000 – 120 000).

The furniture consignment is particularly strong throughout the two sessions. In the session preceding 20th and 21st-Century Design, earlier traditions of European design are represented in the form of a 17th-century Antwerp rosewood cabinet (estimate R200 000 – 300 000) and later 18th-century Italian inlaid walnut secretaire cabinet (estimate R120 000 – 150 000). The catalogue also includes a George II giltwood and marble-topped console table (estimate R60 000 – 80 000) formerly owned by a great-grandson of English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

A white marble bust of Apollo by 19th-century Florentine sculptor Pietro Bazzanti (estimate R90 000 – 120 000) is one of two figural busts to appear in the catalogue of historical furniture. “We normally see these on the European markets, so we are very pleased to offer two fine examples in Cape Town,” says Sophie-Louise Fröhlich.

Notable historical pieces in 20th and 21st-Century Design include a set of eight black-stained chairs and dining table with additional decorated sideboard by Charles Rennie Mackintosh (estimate R40 000 – 60 000). A Scottish proponent of art nouveau and art deco, Mackintosh’s work presaged the linear simplification of Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona chair and Marcel Breuer’s tubular steel-framed Wassily chair, both from the 1920s.

Strauss & Co is pleased to offer a pair of Wassily chairs with an Italian manufacturer’s label (estimate R9 000 – 12 000), a salesroom rarity, as well as two contrasting lots of Van der Rohe’s Barcelona chairs in grey and black leather (estimate R15 000 – 20 000 each). Other architect pieces in the catalogue include Le Corbusier’s trim LC3-line of settees (estimate R30 000 – 40 000) and armchairs (estimate R20 000 – 25 000), as well as a pair of E1027 glass and chrome tables by Irish architect Eileen Gray (estimate R15 000 – 20 000).

Important post-war lots include two examples of Charles and Ray Eames’s moulded plywood lounge chair and ottoman (estimate R25 000 – 30 000 each). These celebrated pieces of mid-century modernism drew on technical advances with bent plywood manufacture developed by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. Other noteworthy pieces include the Action Office roll-top desk designed by George Nielson for Herman Miller (estimate R25 000 – 30 000) and a set of four French painted steel armchairs designed by Mathieu Matégot  (estimate R40 000 – 60 000), both from the 1960s.

Strauss & Co invites the public to view its impeccable decorative arts consignment at a pre-sale exhibition in Brickfield Canvas at 35 Brickfield Road, Woodstock, Cape Town. This preview exhibition, which also includes selections from its art catalogue, runs from 4 to 9 October, with viewing between 10am and 5pm. The exhibition closes on Sunday 10 October, with limited viewing between 10am and 1pm.