Great furniture, great art and stunning objects displayed in equally stunning presentations under the glass roof of the Grand Palais: The Paris Biennale des Antiquaires is simply irresistible to the connoisseur contingent of collectors, museum curators, gallery owners and dealers, decorators and their high-flying clients who have marked this year’s 26th Biennale—September 14 to 23—as an absolute must.
In addition to the lavish individual stands of the 121 exhibitors—including ten haute jewelers, 54 newcomers and 29 foreign dealers—the dramatic draw this year is the astonishing mise en scène signed by fashion visionary, peripatetic creative guru and longtime designer for Chanel and Fendi, the inimitable Karl Lagerfeld, for whom the Belle Epoque Grand Palais is almost a second home—his Chanel fashion-show backdrops here have ranged from polar icebergs to the interior of a luxurious private jet.
Inspired by the palatial interiors built for early 20th-century world’s fairs, and also by the city’s 19th-century glass-roofed shopping arcades, kaleidoscopic Karl devised an intrinsically Parisian scenography realized in collaboration with French designer René Bouchara.
The initial eye-catcher is a reproduction of an antique hot-air balloon tethered under the great dome, marking the “Rond-Point” of the “Champs-Elysées”, the central corridor that traverses the fair, from a metal silhouette of the Arc de Triomphe to a similar Concorde obelisk. The thoroughfare is lined with stands whose wood-framed glass storefront facades—in ten variations—are designed to offer high-profile antiques “window-shopping”.
Christian Deydier, president of the Syndicat National des Antiquaires (National Union of Antiques Dealers), which organizes the fair, has also reopened the glass-roofed Salon d’Honneur for the first time since 1937, providing an additional 7,000 square feet of exhibition space.
As Lagerfeld planned, a glimpse of the exceptional wares on offer behind the glass facades will lure visitors into elegant stands designed by such famed decorators as François-Joseph Graf, Peter Marino, Jacques Grange and Bouchara. Inside they will find regal arrays of 17th- to 20th-century furniture, masterworks of ancient Greek, Roman, Asiatic, Islamic and tribal arts, antique arms, rare books and coins, Old Master paintings and drawings, Modernist art, sculpture, porcelain and eyepopping jewels—all meticulously vetted for quality.
A spectacular first
In the decorative arts, the best of FFF—Fine French Furniture—is back center stage this year. In the first exhibition ever devoted solely to Jean-Henri Riesener, cabinetmaker to Louis XVI and a favorite of Marie Antoinette, the Maison Kraemer contrasts the simplicity of a rare Riesener mahogany writing desk (1782) with the rich marquetry and gilded bronze of a commode with its graceful panel of vase and flowers (c. 1770). “Riesener furniture is like a blue-white diamond,” says Laurent Kraemer. “It’s flawless.” Displayed in a contemporary setting to prove that old mixes well with new, in response to growing enthusiasm for the 18th century from “a very young, very very rich American clientele,” says Kraemer, the twenty-piece tour de force is “the largest collection of Riesener furniture shown together since the contents of the Château de Versailles were sold after the Revolution”. Post-Biennale, the Riesener exhibition will be at Kraemer’s Paris gallery (43 rue de Monceau, 8th) until February 2013.
At Paris gallery Didier Aaron & Cie, a very unusual, small 1680 desk by Louis XIV’s cabinetmaker Pierre Gole, with copper, brass and red tortoiseshell marquetry on a pewter background, is “a little jewel”, says Aaron’s renowned furniture expert Bill Pallot. Along with a wall of antique paintings and drawings, the stand designed by Jacques Grange will also highlight another serendipitous discovery, a pair of rare Regency andirons (c. 1720): rearing gilded bronze horses emblazoned with the Russian Count Stroganoff’s coat of arms.
Paris gallery Aveline’s Jean-Marie Rossi and his daughter, Marella Rossi Mosseri, celebrate the art of haute furniture with such fabulous examples as an early 18th-century commode in amaranth veneer with brilliant gilt bronze work—lions’ faces and the goddess Flora—attributed to Charles Cressent; an Empire console in burled thuya, blue Turquin marble and sculpted bronze, with Egyptian busts and fairylike winged damsels, by Adam Weisweiler and Pierre-Philippe Thomire; and Martin Carlin’s Louis XVI gueridon table with delicate sycamore and lemonwood marquetry and a Sèvres porcelain tray.
Parisian François Léage has strikingly set his 18th-century furniture and objet d’art highlights in a decor that melds Louis XVI boiseries from the salon of an 18th-century Paris mansion with ultra-contemporary metallic panels and floors.
An extravagant, eclectic showman striding confidently in the footsteps of his father, Bernard Steinitz, Paris dealer Benjamin Steinitz pulls out all the stops on his center-circle stand showcasing more than 100 objects surrounded by remarkable antique wall paneling, a Steinitz signature. Treasures include a roomful of 17th-century Baroque paintings; a unique set of 17th-century doors inspired by Louis XIV and an English giltwood and marble George II console, both from Rothschild collections; and a salon of late 18th- to early 19th-century mahogany, gilt bronze, glass and needlepoint furniture from a Spanish palace. And that’s before visitors reach the “secret masterpieces” inner sanctum.
There’s enchanting 19th-century fantasy at Paris gallery Oscar Graf, in the form of a tall 1874 corner cabinet designed by Emile Reiber and made by Christofle in rosewood, walnut, ebony, gilt and silvered galvanized bronze plates and cloisonné enamel. Commissioned by Esther Lachmann—the legendary 19th-century courtesan known as La Païva—it’s as dazzling a showstopper as she was.
From Deco to Design
Art Deco is still on its Biennale pedestal too. This year’s scoop at Paris’s Vallois is a private American collection of Art Deco greats such as Jean-Michel Frank and Eileen Gray, assembled over three decades. Designed like a private apartment, the stand harbors treasures including Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann’s graceful Triplan Secretary in Macassar ebony and ivory, with interiors in coral wood and embossed, gold-tooled leather.
At Paris Galerie Yves et Victor Gastou, the 20th-century take ranges from French artist Jean-Claude Farhi’s colorful Perspex backgammon/chess table (c. 1970) to a unique bronze, steel and wood “patchwork” sideboard by American designer Paul Evans. Parisian gallery Downtown François Laffanour is showing Charlotte Perriand’s custom black-stained teak table (c. 1960). At Paris’s JGM Galerie, French sculptor François-Xavier Lalanne’s life-sized bronze donkey, Ane de Natalie (1998) opens to reveal a cabinet. Carpenters Workshop Gallery, of London and Paris, makes its Biennale debut with Marc Newson’s 1987 aluminum, wood and fiberglass Pod of Drawers, from a limited edition of ten inspired by a 1925 chiffonnier by André Groult.
Among the fair’s renowned specialists in exceptional Oriental art, Brussels expert Gisèle Croës is showing marvelous, new-on-the-market green and blue patinated Zhou dynasty archaic bronzes (1050–771 BC) and a ravishing 17th-century, late Ming–early Qing dynasty gilt bronze and enamel Duomuhu ewer, which has been hidden away in a Dutch private collection since 1928.
Parisian Christian Deydier springs his own Far Eastern surprises: an incomparable Tang Dynasty figurine of a Seated Court Lady enameled in shades of China blue, a color reserved for the Imperial family; an expressive Tang Dynasty terracotta camel-and-camel-driver figurine group; and never-before-shown 7th/8th-century textiles including silk clothes and fragments with animal-medallion motifs typical of the Persian Sassanide era.
There is Old Master Fine Art: Parisian Galerie de Jonckheere spotlights Lucas Cranach the Elder’s powerful 16th-century portrait of Danish King Christian II. Italian dealer Giovanni Sarti offers Giovanni da Bologna’s striking red-robed, gold-haloed Virgin and Child against a brilliant scarlet background (c. 1380), while Paris’s Florence de Voldère shows a flower-bedecked Springtime (c. 1640) by Jan Breughel the Younger.
And there is Modern Fine Art: A Paul Cézanne still life Cup, Glass and Fruits II (1877) at the Swiss Galerie Krugier & Cie; the blue splashed canvas 22.6.91 by Chinese-born, French-based abstract expressionist Zao Wou-Ki at Paris’s Applicat-Prazan; and at Paris gallery Pascal Lansberg the arresting deep-blue abstract The Lake (1981) by American painter Joan Mitchell.
Like an alchemist, French painter Yves Klein turned his signature shade of blue into golden prices. But the unusual Klein gleaming at New York’s L&M Arts was born gold—an untitled swath of gold leaf on panel (c. 1960). Manhattan’s Marlborough Gallery is presenting a one-man show of hot New York-based Spanish painter Manolo Valdés; inspired by such Spanish masters as Diego Velásquez, Valdés works thick oil paint and burlap into such original collage portraits as Portrait of a Woman (2011).
A thousand diamonds
One of the charms of the Biennale is that it is as eclectic as it is elegant, producing such revelations as Paris coin and medal dealer Sabine Bourgey’s splendid Roman gold coin portraying the draped bust of Roman empress Julia Domna (196–211 AD) on one side and the nude back of Venus on the other. Paris book dealer Librairie Jean-Claude Vrain has unearthed a superb example of L’Alchimiste by Alexandre Dumas and Gérard de Nerval; bound in green velvet, with a gilded panel on the cover that opens onto a miniature painting, the book was a gift for Czar Nicolas II.
Gorgeous gems presented by Biennale antique dealers and international jewelers are found in three separate sections this year. Shimmering standouts: Cartier’s “secret” watch, with two octagonal pink kunzites and more than a thousand small diamonds; Chaumet’s diamond tiara Joséphine, inspired by the jeweler’s historic work for the empress; and Harry Winston’s luscious, lacy 200-diamond necklace dripping with 13 whopping pear-cut sapphires.
Along with all the riches on show, Biennale visitors can indulge in haute French gastronomy prepared by a roster of Michelin-starred chefs. And SNA president Deydier, who circled the world to 18 cities—including Moscow, Kiev, Shanghai, Beijing and Singapore—to drum up new collectors for this fair, is also planning to keep appetites sharp for antiquaires’ wares with traveling mini-Biennales in the big Biennale’s off-years.
THE BIENNALE OFF
A look at the best of many gallery shows on during the Biennale this month
GALERIE J. KUGEL
In collaboration with Dresden’s Grüne Gewölbe and The Frick Collection in New York, Alexis and Nicolas Kugel pay tribute to “the ingenuity and aesthetic genius” of Johann Christian Neuber, royal silversmith and mineralogist at the court of Saxony in the 18th century. Entitled Le Luxe, le Goût, la Science… (Luxury, Taste, Science…), the exhibition in the gallery’s historic Left Bank mansion is a revelation of Neuber’s artistry with pietra dura, semiprecious stones and petrified wood. A gift from the Elector of Saxony to Louis XVI’s peacemaking minister Louis-Auguste de Breteuil in 1779, the unique Table de Breteuil is the star, its top inset with rare stones and gems of exquisite colors in an intricate design. Equally amazing inlays of pastoral landscapes, floral compositions or complex geometric patterns decorate 40 bonbon and snuff boxes—prized as elegant accessories by a European elite—from private collections. 25 quai Anatole France, 7th, Sept 13–Nov 10
In a rare philanthropic collaboration with the Château de Fontainebleau, the Aveline gallery is reconstituting the atmosphere of the château’s exotic Turkish Boudoir, a room created for Marie Antoinette, with the furnishings that were later chosen by Empress Josephine. The goal is to raise money for the restoration of the furniture and textiles of the unique room—one of Fontainbleau’s most intriguing and long-unseen treasures. The exhibition spotlights such Empire jewels as Jacob-Desmalter’s striking array of exceptional pieces: a mahogany alcove-day bed (1800), and a matching chaise longue and mahogany armchairs produced especially for the boudoir (1806). The motifs of the gilded bronze decorations and the elegant textiles evoke the Imperial taste and “the enchanting atmosphere of the Orient”. Place Beauvau, 8th, 94 rue de Faubourg Saint-Honoré, Sept 7–29
Coming Out of Egypt: Decorative Arts from the 18th to the 20th Century takes a different look at the 19th-century taste for exoticism arising from Napoleon’s military campaigns that inspired craftsmen, cabinetmakers and goldsmiths. Staged in the gallery’s townhouse, the show opens with a monumental pair of canopic marble vases with sculpted heads (c. 1830) by Antonio Niccolini for King Ferdinand’s Naples palace. Equally extravagant showpieces include a Neo-Egyptian gilded and chased bronze candelabra from a Rothschild collection and French painter Maurice de Vlaminck’s unusual carved polychrome wood portico and seat (c. 1905). 77 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, 8th, Sept 18–Oct 27
On the theme of L’Oeil du Collectionneur (The Eye of the Collector), Jacques and Philippe Perrin have assembled a show of alluring collectibles, exemplified by an exceptionally large pair of Sicilian Trapani mirrors framed in enamel and red coral that are identical to the sole example in the Palermo museum. 98 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, 8th, Sept 11–28
Jean-Jacques Dutko has offered carte blanche to the most Parisian of Japanese artist/designers, Kenzo Takada, whose Un Certain Regard sur le Japon contrasts the works of French Art Deco stars including Eugène Printz, Jean Dunand and Paul Dupré-Lafon with Japanese Deco works by such designers as Katsu Hamanaka and Kichizo Inagaki, along with works by contemporary artists and Kenzo’s own paintings and textiles, all set in an Oriental garden decor. 4 rue de Bretonvilliers, 4th, Sept 11–Oct 27
Originally published in the September 2012 issue of France Today