Very few times has a bathroom suite received as much media coverage as the one the House of Alba put up for auction at Christie’s Paris on May 23rd. It raised the enormous sum of € 6.129.500, much higher than anticipated.
“We are very pleased with the results Christie’s attained for the pieces created by Rateau for the 17th Duke of Alba“. In a press release the House of Alba announced that the total revenue from the sale would be used to maintain its cultural heritage, for the upkeep of several of its palaces in Spain, and also to finance the family´s new projects.
Original staging at the Palace of Liria.
The exclusive art deco furnishings were created by the celebrated designer and decorator, Armand Albert Rateau, for the Duchess of Alba’s washroom in Madrid’s Liria Palace. Although not a part of Spain’s national patrimony, as many of the House of Alba’s treasures are, the furniture is exceptional because of the history behind it.
It was a wedding gift from Jacobo Fitz-James Stuart y Falcó, 17th Duke of Alba, to his wife María del Rosario de Silva y Gurtubay, Marchioness of San Vicente del Barco. Many believed the bombing of the city during the Spanish Civil War had destroyed much of it. Fortunately, the owners took the necessary precautions to preserve it, and relocated it before the fierce bombing of Madrid. On top of the unique value of the furniture, the fact that it has been hidden for three quarters of a century, added much interest to the successful auction.
What makes this an extraordinary sale is not only the prestige of the designer, who was considered an exceptional decorator and aesthete from the early 1920s, but also the fact that very few of his pieces are still available to collectors.
Large dark green patinated floor lamp, 1921-1925. Estimate: €1,500,000 – 2,000,000 / Sold: €1.665.500.
The auction included six exquisite lots, the most expensive being two patinated bronze lamps decorated with bird motifs, which sold for 1.6 million euros each; and a dark green patinated bronze and black marble low table, which was sold for the same amount. A carved and gilt wood and bronze adjustable day bed (1921-1925) reached the considerable sum of 421.500 euros; and the Carrara marble bathtub, centerpiece of the original room, reached 61,500 euros, but the gooseneck couch, estimated between 200,000 and 300,000 euros found no buyer.
A carved and gilt wood and bronze adjustable day bed, 1921-1925. Estimate: €400,000 – 600,000 / Sold: €421.500.
The buyers and auction attendees were delighted at the mise en scene organized by Christie’s in its Parisian showroom to reconstruct the bathroom as it was originally staged on the left wing of the Palace of Liria.
As it happens with any good story, this one will continue. These pieces will come to life in other rooms deserving of their grandeur; and who knows if they will be seen again in the distant future, attached to new secrets and renewing the indelible magic of the House of Alba. ■