One of life’s small pleasures for me is beautifully engraved stationery and I love monograms. So browsing auction catalogues featuring old letters is a real pleasure because one inevitably comes across some beautiful examples of the stationery engraver’s art, such as these Russian Imperial monograms (Christie’s Russian Works of Art, New York 15th April 2013) where literally no expense has been spared in their production, using multiple colours (each colour requires the paper to be stamped with a different die or a masked die – it is a very difficult and specialised skill when done by hand) and exquisite composition of the letters.

I thought posting some Russian examples was fairly apt given the famous Imperial tradition of giving a jewelled Easter Egg made by Faberge around this time of year.

Russian Imperial Monogram 3

 

Russian Imperial Monograms

Russian Imperial Monogram 2

February is my least favourite month. I DO honour St Valentine and my beau will likely receive a card and a small gift (OK so admittedly I do fall occasionally for a little bit of commercialised schmaltz) but the sight of Easter eggs, bunnies and baskets proliferating in the shops fills me with barely-concealable irritation (akin to my thoughts on Christmas decorations going on sale in July) but really, February in London is somewhat dismal. Aside from the retail horror aforementioned, the grey fills me with gloom and frankly if I could live somewhere else from January to March I would.

However, had this dream been realised, I should be jetting back to Blighty about now in anticipation of a new blockbuster exhibition opening at Tate. Lichtenstein: A Retrospective could not have been scheduled more perfectly to bring welcome joy to a soupy London day.

I believe my first encounter with the artist’s work (sadly never the artist, he died in 1997) was I think at the age of 11 when I visited POP ART at the Royal Academy on a school trip. If memory serves, they had a Lichtenstein or two in the show, but sadly I can’t remember which one(s) OR indeed if I wanted to see one so much that I dreamt it and it became a memory… research into this matter will ensue I promise… but whatever moment in time I first beheld the large (huge when you’re 11) canvas, screaming with energy and primary colours all brought to order by the strong black lines and seemingly countless rows of seemingly countless dots endlessly repeating… it was a moment of awe and early appreciation for this body of work which has become among the most recognisable in all modern art. I am by no means an art historian, but the repeating dots theme has put me in mind of Kusama and her dotty takeover of Louis Vuitton in 2012.

Lichtenstein at Christies

Those wishing to own a tiny but very attractive piece from the artist’s own hand need only look to Christie’s sale in London on the 13th February… a really lovely artist’s study is coming to the market estimate £700,000-£1m.

Lichtenstein: A Retrospective opens in London on 21st February. 

Smoking Ciphers…

05/12/2012

Edward VII Cipher Variant

I saw this interesting variant on Edward VII’s cipher, applied as a gold and enamel mount on a cigarette box coming up at Christies on the 9th December. ‘Harewood – The Attic Sale’ is at Christies in South Kensington and there are some really lovely lots, including another presentation cigarette box featuring Edward VII’s son’s cipher when Prince of Wales – the letter E surrounded by a garter with the familiar ostrich feather plumes.

Of course of particular interest for me is that this cigarette box was given by the chap who abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson. I wonder if they themselves ever took a cigarette from this box at Harewood House…  Somehow I doubt such chic persons ever smoked anything other than their own tobacco blends and had a stash with them at all times carried in the most elegant of accessories, as a cigarette case by Faberge owned by King Edward VII personally and enamelled in his racing colours sold today (also from Harewood House) for £313,250.

Edward Prince of Wales cipher

Oooh Lalique…

31/10/2012

I have a quiet yearning to own a piece of 1920’s Lalique, perhaps because the objects his studio created epitomise the Deco era so completely, and in such luminous fashion.

I have been fortunate to see Lalique on a rather grand scale in a private residence. The master bathroom was, astonishingly, almost completely made of Lalique glass panels which had been bought in an auction in the 1970s and stored in crates for some 30 years. Brought together into this discreet room, with some contemporary glass mirrors and sublime modern lighting, the luminosity and milky translucence of the glass was simply enchanting. One panel, comprising nine smaller panels making up the image of swimming Japanese Koi was simply a masterpiece of this art form and will for me remain one of the loveliest things I have had the pleasure of seeing.

Such rare finds as this are too dreamy to even imagine, so instead I can hope to acquire something from Christie’s upcoming sale of Lalique in London on 13th November. Top of my list is this gorgeous Gui Vase, designed in the 1920, estimate £700-£900.

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Another beautiful lot is the Bammako vase, 1934, estimate £500-£700.

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It was a huge treat this week to attend a breakfast private view of the astoundingly brilliant Hollywood Costume exhibition at the V&A.

The charismatic Senior Curator Deborah Nadoolman Landis told the assembled group that the exhibition comprised 130 costumes, on loan to the museum from 60 different lenders, which is a huge number and presents a logistical nightmare for the team to pull off. But pull it off they have, and with great style.

Ms. Nadoolman Landis is a charming and warmly steely person who invited guests to “come up and bother me” with questions as they walked the exhibition space, and true to her word she could not have been more generous with her time. I can well imagine lenders being both inspired to contribute their prized possessions to the show, and utterly in fear of saying no to this formidable and engaging lady.

Visually this exhibition is one of the best produced I’ve ever seen. Projection screens bring the old two dimensional captions to life, and video interviews with such luminaries as Merryl Streep and Robert De Niro bring the costume and its context within the movies to the fore. The exhibition explores the relationship between costume and character as well as the technical skill and unbelievable attention to detail of the costume designer.

The objects themselves will resonate profoundly with all-comers, whether they adore Audrey Hepburn’s Givenchy Little Black Dress from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Darth Vader’s terrifying polished black armour from Star Wars or more currently a Tom Ford dinner suit made for Daniel Craig’s Bond in Casino Royale. One can scarcely believe how tiny Natalie Portman’s tutu from Black Swan is, and the final exhibit in the show, several million dollars worth of dress worn by Marilyn Monroe, is an absolutely perfect high note to end on, appearing as it does alongside the ruby slippers worn by Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.

For the V&A, this is an absolute triumph. I urge you to book tickets whilst you still can as the show has broken all the pre-sale ticket records and is sure to be an enormous hit.

Festival Fever…

14/10/2012

This past week London became the bright star around which many an arts patron fell into orbit for the festivals that are Frieze (London and Masters) and PAD, the Pavilion of Art & Design in Berkeley Square. I was fortunate to enjoy both, and in doing so clean overlooked the fact that the past week was also London Cocktail Week, which I missed to my great sorrow. Next year the dates will be etched into my agenda.

Many a tempting object came onto the radar, not least two astonishing Lalanne consoles at PAD, the cost of which I dread to think. The Lalannes’ studio was patronized by the obsessively chic master of taste Yves Saint Laurent, who decorated an entire room in his famous Paris apartment with bespoke Lalanne mirrors . I know not if he owned any of the bronze alligator furnishings, but whether or not he did these are without doubt my favourite objects in the fair. They reminded me of Saint Laurent’s apartment and the huge sale of his collection not so long ago.

Paul Kasmin Gallery New York

Seeing these consoles at the show reminded me that I really must order the beautiful book of photographs of Yves Saint Laurent’s Paris home. He was in every sense a maximalist, but arranged the multitude of objects in each room is such an extraordinary way as to create a harmonious ambience filled with interest. The image below is of a sitting room in the apartment, showing two gorgeous Leger works hung above a sofa. I also love the chairs in the foreground for their Art Deco lines. Extraordinary in every sense, this interior is so inspiring.

Very few brands could pull off such an engaging and creative marketing coup. Hermes, the French luxury house known the world over for its exquisite goods nestled in orange boxes has curated a fabulous exhibition behind the Royal Academy in Piccadilly.

Ascending the staircase, past a customised Citroen CV motor car, one’s eye is drawn up to a classical Greek marble statue with a white Kelly bag hung cheekily and irreverently over her arm. Once inside, the House takes you on a journey through its long history, with vintage pieces from their archive lending weight and provenance to the assertion which is clearly being made; we are so successful because our products are the very best. The noteworthy clientele is highlighted by such items as a sporran and a document case commissioned and owned by Edward VIII, and a driving hat worn by his consort Wallis Simpson.  Early in the exhibition one enters a room in which two master craftspeople from the factory sit and make the individual elements of one of the iconic house bags, working leather with heated tools and making the difficult task look like simplicity itself.

The absolute highlight for me is a light installation, created around a desk, upon which sit items familiar to all…. a diary, clock, photograph frame, pencil case. The light plays upon the desk, projecting writing onto the diary as if written by an invisible hand, drawing swirls and motifs and dancing. The light highlights individual objects in turn, bringing them to life and reminding the viewer that there is beauty in everyday objects and magic in those of such exceptional and exquisite quality. This really highlights for me the idea of buying little but buying well – the diary that lasts for decades of daily use, or the pencil case you could use for a lifetime and then gift to an artistic child to be used for another lifetime.

Hermes is powerful proof if such were needed of the value of craftsmanship and quality. Christies for example is holding a sale entitled Elegance; Handbags on 30th May in South Kensington, a sale almost exclusively of Hermes bags from the 1950s to the present day.  Hermes is notoriously expensive, but how many luxury items can be resold in this way after a lifetime of enjoyment and use? That is surely the very definition of value for money.

After visiting the exhibition I made a beeline for the bar at Cecconi’s just across the street from Burlington House, where one can take in the buzz of Mayfair’s dealmakers, fashion shoppers and ladies-who-lunch over a glass of prosecco. The spring salad of quails’ eggs, artichokes and salmon with some braised octopus on the side was the perfect accompaniment to a relaxed perusal of the latest Hermes house magazine and a luxury daydream. The bread should come with a warning; the selection of three different types is so delicious I ate the entire basket and dish of olive oil without shame. Heaven.