Art Market: Buyers Lose Their Taste for 18th-Century Art and Furniture?

Posted in Art Market by Freya Gowrley on August 9, 2011

This interesting article by Souren Melikian on the state of the art market appeared a couple of week ago in The New York Times (22 July 2011). Whether the vogue for the eighteenth century is in fact waning, it makes for a compelling read. The article also includes some lovely examples of decorative arts from the period (a full list of images from the Lyons Demesne auction, with sale prices, is available here) -FG

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Lyons Demesne House, County Kildare, Ireland, 1785-1797, acquired by Tony Ryan in 1996

Last week, 450 works ranging from furniture to paintings and sculpture that had adorned Lyons Demesne, the Irish Georgian house restored at vast expense by the late Tony Ryan, who founded Ryanair, were dispersed at Christie’s to great fanfare [Sale 8012].

The fine catalog did justice to the mansion in County Kildare designed in 1797 by Oliver Grace for the wealthy businessman Nicholas Lawless. The son of a rich Dublin draper, Lawless further expanded his financial position by marrying the heiress of a brewer, Margaret Browne, and was made a peer. As the 1st Baron Cloncurry, Lawless acknowledged this costly promotion by writing to the Viceroy: “If I have obtained any honours, they have cost me their full value.”

His son Valentine was more pugnacious. He joined the Society of United Irishmen set up in 1791 to fight against the Act of Union with Great Britain and was incarcerated in the Tower of London following the 1798 uprising but was released in 1801, the year of the Act of Union. Whereupon, the 2nd Baron Cloncurry redirected his energy toward the embellishment of Lyons Demesne and embarked on a wild art-buying spree in Italy. Among his purchases were the granite columns from the Golden House of Nero, which had been re-employed in the Palazzo Farnese and now support the portico at Lyons.

Past history fired up Mr. Ryan. Having saved the grand mansion from ruin in the most ambitious program of restoration ever undertaken privately in Irish history, according to Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd, who tells the story in “Great Houses of Ireland,” the businessman proceeded to furnish it at top speed. Christie’s made the most of the Lyons Demesne motif — house sales traditionally gave furniture and other objects a halo that substantially enhanced their commercial value.

While the July 14 sale went remarkably well, with 90 percent of the lots finding takers, it also underlined the decline of the traditional furniture and decorations beloved by members of the Western upper class until the late 20th century. Good 18th-century furniture that does not belong in the superlative museum category did not fare well. . . .

Read the rest of the article here»

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