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…


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…


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.


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


Ancient Beauty…


Photo: Christies

Calling upon my vague knowledge of ancient Egyptian history, I am reminded that before the famous king Tutankhamun came to the throne for his brief reign, Egypt had been through an enormously distressing period of religious and civil upheaval due to the beliefs of his forebears and particularly of his father Akhenaten and his queen Nefertiti. Akhenaten’s reign was characterised by an aesthetic shift which caused his court artists to depict royal persons and others with accentuated and elongated limbs and facial features, and some have speculated that this was due to his own genetic deformity or disfiguration caused by an illness. But whatever the reasons and to spare you a boring history lecture about the Amarna period, the resulting artworks are astonishing in their ethereal beauty and none more so than this absolutely masterful representation of the King in a tiny glass inlay, less than 5cm high.

Christies is handling the sale of the remains of the Groppi Collection of ancient glass which comes to market in London at the end of April, and the catalogue is well worth reviewing online for a dose of truly inspiring works. The inlay above is lot 29 and estimated between £80,000 – £120,000.

The Groppi Collection
26th April 2012, Christies London.  

A note for diaries everywhere is the news from Christies New York that they will be hosting one of the most anticipated sales to come up for decades… the late Elizabeth Taylor’s jewels will be sold over two days; the most magnificent and important at a gala evening sale on 13th December and the main body of the collection on 14th December in two sessions.

The jewels comprise only part of a wider collection which is to be sold and events will run from 3rd – 16th December with sales in categories ranging from haute couture, memoribilia & costume, and the decorative arts. Christies will tour objects around the major capital cities, giving fans and collectors alike the opportunity to study and appreciate some of the wonderful objects which embellished her illustrious life.  Some proceeds will go to the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, benefiting HIV&AIDS charities around the world.

Elizabeth Taylor’s love affair with jewellery is well documented and I am looking forward to learning more about the items which will come to market and the stories behind them. In a fitting tribute to a truly glittering career, this sale is sure to be an absolute blockbuster.

Photo of Elizabeth Taylor Courtesy MPTV Images / Christie’s

Last year I posted about art I would like to own (in a parallel and vastly richer universe) and this post is no exception, but excitingly this upcoming sale at Christies (again…!) contains a noteworthy Picasso which has been donated anonymously to the University of Sydney with specific instructions for the university to dispose of it and use the funds to invest in transformative healthcare research. Such a generous donation is newsworthy enough, but the painting in question is an exceptional piece not seen in public since being shown at MoMA in 1939. Jeune Fille Endormie (1935) was formerly owned by Walter P. Chrysler Jr, the American collector and philanthropist who knew Picasso personally and was a big collector of his work.

The auction house writes:

“Pablo Picasso’s lyrical portraits of Marie-Thèrése Walter from the first half of the 1930s are considered one of the greatest pinnacles of his career, and by extension, of modern art. Completed and signed on 3 February 1935, Jeune fille endormie shows Marie-Thèrése sleeping, the theme of the most intimate and lyrical of these portraits. That intimacy is driven home by the composition, which is tightly focussed on the sleeper’s head: it dominates the canvas, appearing only slightly larger than life size, giving a sense of the artist’s highly subjective perspective while gazing upon his sleeping lover. Picasso plunges his viewer into his own charmed world. The swooping, sinuous curves convey a rich sensuality, with the artist himself vicariously enjoying the curves of her body by extension, through the proxy of his paintbrush. This is lent all the more impact by the rich, glowing colours that suffuse this canvas, an incandescent palette that is itself celebratory.

If I were fortunate enough to be bidding in this sale, I would go for broke on this one knowing that the money I had spent was going to be used for such important and possibly revolutionary work in the field of healthcare. Who knows what discoveries await as a result of this funding.

However, I would be torn as for the money spent on the Picasso (£9m-£12m) I could easily get two absolute beauties by another favourite artist of mine, Fernand Leger. Both these paintings put me in mind of my all-time favourite painting, Le Moteur, which was included in the Rene Gaffe sale in 2001 to benefit UNICEF.

The first, Composition, was painted in 1928 and has been privately owned by a French collector since 1976. Coming to market with an estimate of £600,000-£900,000 it seems a bargain.

The second, Le Drapeau, dates from 1919, just after the first world war in which Leger fought. I especially love this work for its mechanical elegance and the colours of the tricolore. Estimated at £2.8m-£4m, this painting is going into my fantasy gallery for sure.

Christies Impressionist / Modern Evening Sale
21st June 2011

All images from