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Art & DesignANTIQUES
Every Piece Was His Favorite
Tom Devenish, a New York dealer in fine English furniture who died in 2002, had masses of 18th-century antiques (mostly furniture and mirrors) in his crowded , cigar-smoke-filled shop at 929 Madison Avenue, though he often acted as if he didn't want to sell any of it. He was a real character. One oft-told story, perhaps apocryphal, is about the day Anne Bass, the philanthropist and collector, rang his bell. Mr. Devenish opened the door, said "I don't deal with blondes" and slammed it.
Collectors, decorators and onetime rivals are buzzing again about Mr. Devenish because Sotheby's is selling his inventory, one of the most significant English furniture collections to appear at auction in recent memory, on April 24. The star lots include three imposing japanned bureau cabinets from the 1700s (two in red, one in green), a pair of George II gilded armchairs with eagle-head armrests, an 18th-century Irish side table with a lion mask and a George III semi-elliptical marquetry-inlaid commode that hides a desk. The 203-lot sale is expected to realize $14 million to $21 million. The presale view begins April 19.
Mr. Devenish was born in England to parents who were vaudevillians; he immigrated to America with his family in 1947. After selling paintings for 10 years he opened an antiques shop in 1959, and he practically lived there for the next 40 years.
"His passion was his business," his eldest son, Clive Devenish, writes in the catalog. "His love for quality English antiques was second to nothing in his life."
Mr. Devenish would pay top dollar to get antiques he wanted.
"When he really wanted a piece, he would give me a sealed bid way above the high estimate," recalled George Read, an English furniture specialist and former auctioneer at Sotheby's. "Then he would attend the sale, do a few bids and drop out, making a big show of looking disappointed. Of course he would get the piece in the end.
"He could be quite a bully, but he knew his stuff. Few people had an eye as good. He had a knack for finding important things that were right in front of everyone else."
Furniture experts are of two minds about the sale estimates. Bernard Karr, a friend of Mr. Devenish's and the owner of Hyde Park Antiques, said they are "higher than retail."
But Larry Sirolli, an art consultant who was in the English furniture department at Sotheby's in the 1980s and 1990s, said in a phone interview: "Tom had crème de la crème and sold to people with important collections. My gut feeling is some people will be willing to go up to three times the estimates for particularly significant pieces. A true collector would be anticipating this sale."
The top lot, estimated at $800,000 to $1.2 million, was Mr. Devenish's favorite: a George II Chippendale style carved mahogany open armchair, from around 1755. It has the Barrington family coat of arms carved on the crest rail and feet in the form of dolphin heads, with mouths open. Its mate is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the Irwin Untermeyer collection.
"He sold that chair many times," said Simon Redburn, an English furniture specialist at Sotheby's who was once a dealer. "You would make an agreement about the price and you'd be writing the check, and then he wouldn't sell it to you. He couldn't part with it."
John Sollo asked six New York designers to create room-size vignettes with the properties on sale in the Sollo Rago Modern Auction, April 12 to 13, in Lambertville, N.J. The vignettes are part of the presale view that starts tomorrow. A large photograph of the vignettes is on view at the Manhattan gallery of Steven Sclaroff, one of the participating designers, at 44 White Street, between Church Street and Broadway, in TriBeCa.
The architect Alexander Gorlin created an imaginary Mayflower Hotel suite titled "Client 9." A 1970s sculpture of a woman by Leo Sewell sits looking into a Paul Frankl mirror above a T. H. Robsjohn-Gibbings ebonized walnut desk. Behind her is a male figure, also by Mr. Sewell. To one side, beneath a Karl Springer glass chandelier, is a Jean Royère daybed covered with a white goatskin.
Juan Montoya did a "Tribute to Ettore Sottsass." In a dark gray room with an enormous factory window he combined a colorful Memphis bookcase and some Memphis vases with sparkling Charlotte Perriand wall lights.
Matthew Patrick Smyth designed a dining room with Joseph Robbins with natural materials. A George Nakashima conoid table and bench are combined with Hans Wegner dining chairs and Wharton Esherick stools. Claude Conover's monumental stoneware vessels sit on a Tommi Parzinger credenza flanked by a pair of hammered brass leaf floor lamps by Tomasso Barbi.
Amy Lau said her turquoise living room was inspired by Gio Ponti's couch and coffee table, which incorporates a ceramic painted with triangles of turquoise, maroon, lilac and gold. Ms. Lau made paper forms in the same shapes and colors for the walls. The sideboard is by Osvaldo Borsani, the bar by Carlo di Carli, the chairs by Marco Zanuso and the floor lamp by Gino Sarfatti for Arteluce.
RARE EDITION OF DICKENS
Fans of Charles Dickens will appreciate the New York Antiquarian Book Fair, which opens Friday at the Park Avenue Armory with 200 dealers, 70 of them foreign. (A review of the fair is on Page 29.)
Valentine Rare Books of London, which specializes in Dickens material, has a rare American edition of Dickens's "Our Mutual Friend" published in the 1860s before the English edition.
David Brass of California has 48 original signed Kyd watercolors illustrating Dickens characters judges, lawyers, clerks and police. Kyd, a pseudonym of Joseph Clayton Clarke, did illustrations for "Great Expectations," "The Pickwick Papers," "Oliver Twist" and other Dickens novels. They are charming.