Thursday, May 3, 2018

Visiting the 18th Century with Henri Samuel and Christie's

Henri Samuel by Emily Evans Eerdmans on the left and a portrait of Mrs. Louisa Lushington by John Hoppner at Christie's on the right.

After I wrote about how Old Master paintings are coming back into fashion for Christie's online magazine, I was happily invited to a preview of Christies' Old Masters Sale. At the preview, I enjoyed looking at the range of Old Masters, which are works created between 1500 and 1800, plus the nineteenth century paintings on view like this charming scene on a French bus by Pierre Carrier-Belleuse –

The focal point of the preview was a talk given by Simon Goodman (below) recounting the story behind the painting of John Frederick I, Elector of Saxony by Lucas Cranach I who lived 1472 - 1553.

John Frederick I, Elector of Saxony by Lucas Cranach I –

This German Renaissance painting had been owned by Simon Goodman's grandfather Fritz Gutmann, who was a wealthy German banker and art collector. In World War II, the Nazi's looted the collection, stole this painting, and Fritz and his wife, Simon's grandparents, perished in concentration camps in the engulfing tragedy.

After the war, surviving family members worked to find the dispersed art collection and reclaim it. Following an approach by persons who had acquired the Renaissance portrait, and who acknowledged and addressed the losses suffered by the family at the hands of the Nazis, Christie’s facilitated a return to the Gutmann heirs, and the family put the piece up for auction in the Old Masters Sale. The heirs continue to search for the grandfather's art works. About one third of the collection is still missing. It was a fascinating and moving story about one family's journey.

Later that same week I was invited to the Rizzoli bookstore on Broadway to hear a talk given by Emily Evans Eerdmans about the book she has just written on the great French decorator Henri Samuel. She was joined on the dais by New York social figure Susan Gutfreund and interior designer Brian McCarthy.

Henri Samuel was very inspired by the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and created grand rooms for clients including Rothschilds, aristrocrats, and American magnates like Jayne and Charles Wrightsman, and John and Susan Gutfreund.
Here is the Paris bedroom Henri Samuel decorated for Baron Alain de Rothschild with a deep Louis XIV sofa that functioned as a bed –  

At the talk, Susan Gutfreund reported that Jayne Wrightsman, "who is my son's godmother," introduced her to the great decorator. They worked together on the Gutfreund's apartment in Paris and in New York at 834 Fifth Avenue, a prestigious building designed by the renowned architect Rosario Candela. (Read my article about Rosario Candela for Architectural Digest.) Incidentally, the Gutfreund apartment is now on the market for $76 million. Decorator and client created a beautiful and now iconic room - the Gutfreund's winter garden –

Ms. Gutfreund said that the room was inspired by the eighteenth century hand-painted panels that she already owned, and that she "found the ballroom furniture in a castle in Sweden." Very romantic!

Emily Evans Eerdmans later told me that it took her about three years to research the book. "It was a time period and milieu when everyone was so private," she said. "You just did not talk about your decorator and Samuel did not put himself forward." She notes that Samuel had earlier worked for the House of Jansen, the great French firm that carried on nineteenth century decorating traditions. "Samuel's work was grounded in knowledge and expertise as well as innate genius," said Eerdmans.

Here is Mr. Samuel's own handsome bedroom in Paris with black japonned furniture and fabric-covered walls that match the curtains –

Mr. Samuel in his chic red living room that blended modern art, contemporary pieces, and antiques –

(c) Courtesy of Eva Samuel
This book is very well-written and researched, and I learned a lot. It takes the reader back to a beautiful time and offers an escape from current events. And you don't have to be as rich as a Rothschild to be inspired. I myself would like to find some black japonned furniture.

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