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Sotheby's - The Best of British Design From The 19th and 20th Centuries

23/02/2008, By

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Sotheby's is co-hosting two complementary events celebrating the best of British design talent from the 19th and 20th centuries in collaboration with Paul Reeves, the world renowned specialist dealer in this field. An auction and a concurrent selling exhibition by Paul Reeves will both offer a rich and impressive showcase of masterworks from the Gothic Revival of the 1840s through to Post-War design of the 1960s. Designers represented will include Charles Rennie Mackintosh, William Morris, Dr Christopher Dresser, C.R. Ashbee, A.W.N. Pugin, Frank Brangwyn, Gerald Summers and Ernest Race.

The selling exhibition, on view from Friday, March 14 to Thursday, March 20, will feature items from Paul Reeves’ collection, while the auction, with simultaneous viewing leading up to a sale on Thursday, March 20, has seen Paul source an outstanding array of objects from clients, including significant groups from the collections of Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and of the actor and musician Gary Kemp. This is the first time that Sotheby’s has presented such an impressive and comprehensive assemblage of British design and it comes at a time when interest in the field is stronger than ever. The event promises to create much excitement among established private collectors, international institutions and new buyers looking to furnish their homes with well-crafted pieces by some of the most influential designers and architects in modern British history.

British design, of the 19th and 20th centuries, was a pivotal turning point in western architecture and interior design. At a time when the design of mass-produced items often favoured novelty and availability over taste or rational, British designers pioneered a groundbreaking modern style creating beautiful objects for the emerging consumer culture.

Jeremy Morrison, Head of 20th Century Design, London, remarks: “It is a pleasure and a privilege to be working with Paul, one of the great forces in this field, on these two very exciting projects. Both the auction and selling exhibition will provide outstanding opportunities to acquire museum-quality British designs. Not only are some of these items academically important, many are also eminently practical, and there will be a great deal on offer for collectors at every level. Paul’s pieces have a timeless quality and they complement many contemporary interior styles.”

Paul Reeves comments: “I am delighted to be working with Sotheby’s to present a fresh look at British Design from the 19th and 20th centuries. The auction will consist of items which I have either sold privately or known of their whereabouts for many years. The selling exhibition features furniture and artefacts exclusively from my own collection, most of which have not been on the open market before and which have only been seen while on exhibition at museums.”

Paul Reeves started his career in the fashion world of the 1960s, as a designer and retailer of avant-garde clothing. Working first under the label Sam Pig in Love, then Alkasura, he went on to open The Universal Witness on the Fulham Road. His clothes were highly sought-after by a number of rock stars of the day; his shop had close ties to The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, David Bowie, T. Rex and Led Zeppelin.

In 1973, Paul decided on a career change whilst still at the top of his profession. Peter Grant, the legendary manager of Led Zeppelin, seized the opportunity to ask him to refurbish his West End mews house. Paul was excited to receive the commission, which took him in a different artistic direction. The commission took 18 months to complete and Paul involved friends from the Royal College of Art to collaborate on everything from cutlery to textiles. Grant was delighted with the results, and building on this triumph, several further interior commissions followed from other well known names in the entertainment world.

Paul later opened a shop on Kensington Church Street, which was soon to become an international focal point for those with a passion for decorative arts, and built another star-studded list of clients, which included Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Barbra Streisand, George and Olivia Harrison, Brad Pitt and Roger and Heather Daltrey, along with numerous major international museums and institutions. These buyers shared Paul’s deep appreciation for the work of landmark British designers, many of whose innovative pieces shocked contemporary audiences and remain striking and relevant for the modern connoisseur. Today, Paul’s Kensington Church Street gallery remains as busy as ever and offers perhaps the world’s finest and broadest inventory of British design from the last two centuries.

The Selling Exhibition: Friday, March 14th to Thursday, March 20th Sotheby’s is hosting the Best of British Selling Exhibition, a unique week-long event organised by Paul Reeves. The exhibition will feature more than 100 lots, a representation of the finest pieces from Paul’s gallery and collection. Among the offerings will be a Arthur Heygote Mackmurdo side chair, the design of which is universally recognised as probably the earliest flowering of the style which was later to become known as Art Nouveau; a rare and unique Godwin sideboard; an important William Lethaby/Kenton & Co. coffer inlaid with sheep; a Clement Heaton desktop cabinet; a Sir Edwin Lutyens bookcase; and a pair of John Hutton vases for Coventry Cathedral. Prices will range from £500 to £500,000.

The Auction: Thursday, March 20th - more than 130 lots will be presented in the auction, which is expected to realise in excess of £2 million. The undoubted star of the show will be The Quest of the Holy Grail: The Achievement, a spectacular Morris & Co. tapestry designed in 1894 by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones. Burne-Jones was largely responsible for bringing the Pre-Raphaelites into the mainstream of the British art world, and his works stand out as some of the most exquisite and beautiful of his day. This tapestry, a seminal object of the Arts and Crafts movement, measures 24 feet in length. Woven for Stanmore Hall in Middlesex, home of the Australian mining magnate W.K. D’Arcy, the tapestry has been in the collection of Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page for the last three decades. It has changed hands only twice to date; the first time following D’Arcy’s death in 1920 when it was purchased by the Duke of Westminster and subsequently in 1978 when it was bought at auction by Jimmy Page. The tapestry is expected to achieve in the region of £1 million. Further Burne-Jones works from this collection include a group of five stunning stained glass panels, estimated at £25,000-35,000 each.

An important group of furniture from the collection of Gary Kemp, actor and member of Spandau Ballet, will also spearhead the sale. This group includes works from the Aesthetic and Anglo-Japanese movements and centres around a core of scarce, sought-after pieces by the pre-eminent architect and designer of the age, E.W. Godwin. Godwin sought to design furniture to meet modern needs, experimenting with modular and fitted furnishings long before they became fashionable. Headlining the Godwin group will be an ebonised hanging bookcase, estimated at £60,000-80,000, and an ebonised chair, which is estimated at £10,000-£12,000.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh will be well represented by a number of classic works. A striking side chair shows his instantly recognisable style and is expected to realise £100,000-150,000. Further examples by him will include a bookcase and other chairs. Significant pieces by the eminent William Morris are additional highlights, including a Hammersmith carpet, estimated at £100,000-150,000, in addition to the tapestry mentioned above.

Complementing these pieces will be a secretaire cabinet by Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo, which dates from 1885 and is expected to fetch £25,000-35,000, and an important pair of Philippines chairs by his contemporary George Walton which is estimated at £8,000-12,000.

The Selling Exhibition: Friday March 14th to Thursday March 20th
The Auction: Thursday March 20th at 2 pm
34-35 New Bond Street
London W1A 2AA
+44 (0)20 7293 5000

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