Collecting vintage Norwegian enamel

Fusing glass to metal in a kiln has long been an art Norwegians have excelled in. Vitreous enamel was first used in ancient times – from Persia to Greece and China – and was adopted in Norway by the Vikings. The heyday of Norwegian enamel, however, wasn’t until just over a century ago. At the end of the 19th century a Viking revival swept the country, coinciding with the advent of art nouveau and resulting in the creation of some of the finest enamelwork ever made – jewel-like ornaments and tableware that today are attracting renewed attention, with prices ranging from a few thousand pounds to six figures.

“Norwegian enamel from that time is exceptional,” says John Atzbach, an expert and dealer in both Norwegian and Russian enamel, based in Redmond, Washington. “The two most proficient manufacturers were Marius Hammer in Bergen and David-Andersen in Christiania [now Oslo]. Their very best work stems from 1885-1915, and was exported to Europe’s elite.” Atzbach’s extensive stock currently includes an intricate bowl ($5,500) by Hammer in the style of a medieval Scandinavian mead cup, with double horse-head handles, as well as an equally stunning and vibrantly decorated tabletop Viking boat ($7,250) by David-Andersen.

Both were created using a technique called plique-à-jour, literally “open to daylight”. “With this technique the enamel has no backing, so light can shine through, a little like a stained-glass window,” says Atzbach. It’s possible to find some extremely unusual one-off pieces made in this way. As well as some of the more traditional Viking boats, Alan Kaplan, owner of ceramic and glass specialist Leo Kaplan in New York, has a rare plique-à-jour footed bowl depicting a swan, priced $150,000; it was made in 1907 by either Gustav Gaudernack or Thorolf Holmboe, both of whom worked for David-Andersen. A similar piece exists in Oslo’s National Museum.

Norwegian expertise in plique-à-jour was due in part to its neighbour, Russia. “Culturally, the two countries are very connected,” says Michael James, owner of The Silver Fund, a London-founded dealership now based in Florida. “A lot of Norwegian enamellers trained in Russia and many worked for Fabergé, but their use of colour – vibrant blues, reds and yellows – and the fact that they made practical things like candlesticks and coffee sets in enamel, which no one had done before, set them apart.”

To a trained eye, Russian and Norwegian enamelling can be easily differentiated. “Scandinavian shapes tend to be more rounded than Russian designs,” says Alex Pushkin of Pushkin Antiques, based in London’s Grays Antiques market. And while plique-à-jour is often admired for its intricacy, designs from a slightly later period often employ the translucent qualities and vibrant colours to simpler yet just as striking effect, including those made using guilloché. “The makers would create a stippled effect on the silver underneath the translucent enamel; the silver then becomes oxidised so you can see the pattern,” says James, who has a pair of brilliant blue c1950 enamel candlesticks by David-Andersen for sale at £17,268 through 1stdibs, while Pushkin has a small (9.8cm) c1920 David-Andersen blue guilloché and silver box at £1,395.

“Guilloché work is a characteristic of art deco,” says Widar Halén, director of design and decorative arts at Oslo’s National Museum, which has a glamorous 1931 guilloché on gold-coloured enamel coffee service by Guttorm Gagnes for David-Andersen (a red enamel version was given to President Roosevelt by Crown Prince Olav in 1939). Another fine art deco example of Norwegian guilloché, again by David-Andersen, is available from 20th-century art and design dealer Adam Edelsberg, based in Providence, Rhode Island; the luminous green guilloché and silvercocktail shaker with a rooster design on the lid (£7,849 through 1stdibs) is dated 1935 and comes with four cups. In London, Smith & Robinson Antiques has a c1925 vibrant yellow, lidded silver and enamel guilloché bowl (£2,291) with ring handles and finial.

David-Andersen continued to produce enamelware into the 1950s and 1960s – a pale-green guilloché necklace and earring set from this period is available from Rhinegold Gallery in Düsseldorf for £1,240 through 1stdibs – but there are other names to look out for. “M Johansen is one,” says Eric Beugnet, who runs Oslo‑based dealership ModernTribute and currently has two 10cm painterly enamel plates by the Norwegian craftsman; at NKr2,400 (about £230) for the pair, they are a good starting point for would-be collectors. “Bjorn Engo is perhaps better known,” he adds. “He created enamelware as well as furniture.”

But for collector Bob Corson, a former aerospace engineer living in Washington state, only the finest plique-à-jour will do – with nearly 500 pieces, he probably owns the world’s largest private collection of this refined enamelwork. His favourite piece is his most recent find – “a shot glass with an enamelled holder by Georg Adam Scheid that I found on eBay.” He first discovered Norwegian enamel 50 years ago in a Washington, DC antiques shop. “I saw a small demitasse spoon with a simple finial plique,” he recalls. “It was marked JGK, the mark of Johan G Kjaerland, who worked in Bergen, and it cost $35. I became fixated on plique; of the four major manufacturers, three were Norwegian – Andersen, Hammer and J Tostrup. They were all fine jewellers who turned technologists in their workshops. The enamel is the icing on the cake.”

Masterpiece 2016 Lands Safely

It must have been a tough decision for some dealers as to whether to take part in the London Summer season 2016. With Brexit and all that that encompassed, the 2016 season was always going to assert some form of uncertainty in the market, so the dealers who did exhibit in London recently, were very brave to do so, and for the most part, that bravery seemed to have paid off. Business was done, in fact Didier Ltd., exhibiting at Masterpiece, recorded their most successful Fair to date, and as is always the case at these major events, quality items were selling.

Masterpiece is a spectacular Show, and this year, more than any other year, it just felt for some strange reason, like it really had landed. This was of course a sentiment that was punted out a couple of years ago, but it never really felt that way back then; it did feel that way this year. Now that the UK looks like it could be heading towards an even competitive playing field with the USA, Switzerland and China, Masterpiece is a viable option in the long run, with TEFAF (and the EU for that matter) looking more and more like a dead man walking.

At a time when great wealth seeks safe harbours, Britain’s brexit minimises liabilities recently incurred by the EU such as the impending (again) sovereign loan crises, the migrant crisis, and other proofs that a European superstate (based upon bureaucracy and not rule of law accountable to voters) is a carcinogenic experiment in bloated government. Hopefully the new Tory leadership gets rid of the daffy duck rules such as VAT, ARR and everything that kills jobs and abuses the trust of the market place. ARR for one, which isn’t in America, benefits primarily four disgustingly rich French artist’s estates; Picasso, Leger, Braque and Matisse, and quite frankly, I don’t think we need to be bailing out Marina Picasso’s bar bill at the Ritz anymore. ARR conceived as a payment for creativity, turns into welfare for alcoholic trust fund artists estates.

Masterpiece has stood the test of time, and can only grow in stature. Next year’s event runs from 29 June through to 5 July, with a preview on 28 June. Count on Britain being the safe harbour of years ago, while the incompetence of Europe, centrifuges apart.

Masterpiece London 2016

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Book party welcomes Marc Rosen’s ‘Rubbing Shoulders’

A book-party launch of author Marc Rosen’s Rubbing Shoulders: A Memoir of his Life with Popes, Princes, Moguls and Movie Stars was held March 24 at The Silver Fund, 330 Worth Ave.

Michael James hosted the celebration, which was followed by a dinner hosted by Susan Lloyd. A portion of the proceeds from the book sales will go to the Pratt Institute, where Rosen is a trustee emeritus. Among those attending were Tom Quick, Eles Gillet, Ambassador Ed and Susie Elson, Kit Pannill, Talbott Maxey, Grace Meigher, Mai Harrison and Mark Ackermann.

The next evening, Carla and George Mann, held a private party for Rosen at their home.

Other related events included Jackie Weld Drake hosting a dinner the following week for Rosen, who was interviewed March 31 by former Town and Country editor in chief Pamela Fiori (who wrote the book’s forward) March 31 at The Society of the Four Arts.

See photos from the event.

Christophe von Hohenberg Book Signing

Jane Holzer and Susan Lloyd revisited a by-gone era by co-hosting an exhibit and book-signing by the internationally renowned photographer, Baron Christophe von Hohenberg. The celebration took place on Thursday, March 10th at The Silver Fund, an exceptional gallery which has complemented Worth Avenue with treasure troves of exquisite collections of 20th-century silver and design. New York photographer, Patrick McMullan flew to Palm Beach to capture the moment.

Von Hohenberg, who had just returned from an exhibit in Vienna, where he ‘sold out’ his collection, did not expect the immediate success of this last minute show. Referring to his books as “reliving of celebrated times immortalizing models, artists, designers, musicians, gallerists, and other icons who reigned in New York during the Seventies and Eighties”, von Hohenberg was on hand to sign his two latest books Another Planet and Andy Warhol, the Day the Factory Died. Two photographs from von Hohenberg’s “Nude with Wookie” series were framed, displayed and sold within the first 20 minutes to a Palm Beach collector.

Over 100 invited guests paid tribute to Von Hohenberg’s unique style of cataloguing popular culture. Many of who came to find themselves portrayed in his books and return to those moments illuminated by his photography, which has been featured in publications as wide-ranging as Interview, Vanity Fair, The New York Times, Fortune, German and French Vogue, and German Rolling Stone.

“It was so great to see so many faces and friends after more than twenty and even thirty years! I relived so many moments and shared so many memories because of this opportunity. Thank you Jane, Susan and the Silver Fund for this opportunity,” said Baron von Hohenberg.

In addition to Jane Holzer and Susan Lloyd, the eclectic roster of collectors, artists, gallery owners, Broadway producers and members of Royal families included Earle Mack, Terry Allen Kramer, Carlos Morrison, John Loring, Felicia Taylor, Mai Harrison, Fran Weisler, Elizabeth Thompson, Fran Weisler, Countess Diane de la Begassiere, Princess Maria Pia de Bourbon-Parme, Karin Luter, Talbott Maxey, Matthew Eames, Baroness von Oppenheim, Kenneth Walker, Felicia Taylor, Mark Goldschmidt and Jim Pappas.

Michael James and Jason Laskey from The Silver Fund spared no expense, inviting popular vocalist Racquel Williams to perform during the reception. Chris Nolan, of Spirit of the Tsars, offered guests complimentary tastings of his rare ultra-premium Golden sipping vodka.

In his book, Another Planet: New York Portraits 1976 – 1996 Von Hohenberg lived and photographed when the giants of fashion, art, and society rubbed elbows with drag queens and addicts in clubs like the legendary Studio 54. The book contains portraits of personalities like Allen Ginsberg, Julian Schnabel, Cornelia Guest, and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., to name just a few.

In Andy Warhol: The Day the Factory Died, Christophe documented Andy Warhol’s Memorial Service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on April 1, 1987. His photos from that day, stand as a time capsule published to mark the twentieth anniversary of Andy Warhol’s death.

From Altima Palm Beach

Art Palm Beach 2016

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Masterpiece London 2015

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