Dear Helaine and Joe:
In 1982 or so, my husband and I bought a large Art Nouveau buffet that apparently came straight from Paris in a container. We cleaned the finish, added some shelves, but left the outside intact. Last spring I happened to be sauntering through the Art Institute in Chicago and saw a piece that I call a first cousin to mine. I have copied all the information from the museum for you. It is 9 feet tall, has the original hardware, and the veneer (where there is veneer) is rather thick. I would like to sell my piece and would like to know the possible value.
C. M., Raleigh, N.C.
Dear C. M.:
Perhaps the first thing we should say is that first cousins have different parents. And that is the case in this instance.
The object in the Chicago Art Institute is by Frenchman Louis-Desire-Eugene Gaillard (1862-1933), who abandoned a career in law to be an architect as well as an interior and industrial designer. He was an advocate of modern design and is associated with the Art Nouveau movement, which originated in England in the late 1850s, but did not flourish until the mid- to late 1870s. It was all but defunct by 1910.
The name came from a Paris art gallery opened in 1895 by Siegfried Bing and called Maison de l’Art-Nouveau. Eugene Gaillard worked for Bing in designing Bing’s pavilion at the 1900 Paris Universal Exposition.
We see why C. M. thinks of her piece as being first cousin to the one by Gaillard on display at the Chicago Art Institute. They are related stylistically.
But the object in today’s question was not made by Gaillard. First of all, the one belonging to C. M. is too blocky and lacks many of the curvilinear aspects of the Gaillard piece.
The Gaillard sideboard at the Chicago Art Institute looks like it could spring up and take flight. But the example belonging to C. M. is more earthbound and has too many right angles to be from the French maker.
The piece in Chicago has the look of having been made from lighter European walnut, while C. M.’s piece looks like it was made from black walnut — something we feel may be a bit more American in origin.
The sideboard/buffet in today’s question is really a gorgeous piece of Art Nouveau crafting. While researching the answer, we discovered that Art Nouveau is sometimes called “noodle style” or “whiplash style,” and the piece’s crest does indeed look a bit like noodles whipping around in a graceful fashion.
The three-dimensional flowers are very nicely done but are a bit sparse, and much of the other decoration is bas-relief.
This is a good piece, but (in our opinion) not on par with the example in the Chicago Art Institute.
It is indeed a cousin, but maybe not a first cousin. Right now Art Nouveau is a bit out of fashion and we would not suggest that C. M. sell her piece at this point.
If she does, we think it would bring not more than $2,500 to $3,000 at auction — but only if the piece can be returned to its original condition and the renovations seamlessly reversed.