Sunday, May 29, 2011

Bill Cunningham New York

This newly released film puts a new light on Bill Cunningham and his world of fashion and social events. Fashion has been his passion since he was a child and he started his professional career as a milliner. After a stint photographing for Women’s Wear Daily and Details Magazine he started taking photographs for the New York Times in the early 170’s.

Cunningham rides his Schwinn bike everywhere and you may have seenthis distinguished elderly gentleman (he celebrated his 80th birthday a couple of years ago) riding day and night in his blue smock cover-up with a red reflective vest at night.

Cunningham lived for many years in a rent-controlled artist’s studio in Carnegie Hall. The only amenity he had in his small apartment was a bed tucked between file cabinets. Even the community bathroom was down the hall! Those files contain an archive of fashion and New York society for the past half-century.

Anyone who is in the fashion, social or not for profit world knows or knows of Bill Cunningham. If you look at the Sunday Styles section of the New York Times you have seen the two full pages he garners every week of images with a minimum of copy. One page is in color and illustrates street fashion and the other in black & white highlights the beautiful people from the social events that have occurred during the past week.

For his fashion page he often plants himself at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th street where you will find the likes of Trump Tower and Tiffany’s. This is where the world passes. He looks at what people are wearing. It might be a Kennedy or another glitterati passing but he does not concentrate on the faces only the clothes and how they are worn. He also loves the outrageous outfits that people wear. Each week he picks out a theme which might be shoes or people who wear black and designs a page around his theme and photographs.

As for his weekly social page he obviously cannot attend all the benefits that occur. There are far too many so Bill Cunningham chooses the events he will attend with his camera according to the sponsors and whether he feels their cause is worthy of attention.

If you are into fashion you desperately want to be seen on his page and if your are in the social or business world you want to be seen as attending the worthy cause as well. I must confess that since I attend some of these dinners and usually see him snapping away on his Nikon film camera (he has the film developed at a local shop on Time Square and scans the images at the Times) I have wanted to make it into the Sunday social column. Since I do not like to wear a Tuxedo to these events and look like every other male in the room including the waiters, I put on a black western outfit with a silver bola tie and buckle. This always attracts Cunningham’s attention and he has taken a number of photos of me and dutifully recorded my name but I only made it into the Times once and that was at a benefit for the World Monuments Fund when I stood between the art dealer/philanthropist Eugene Thaw and museum director Sam Sachs!

Cunningham is an important international chronicler of fashion and in 2008 he was made an Officier des Arts et Lettres, a great honor from the French government for his work in fashion. He loves Paris and attends all the fashion shows he can. I sure hope he can continue for sometime and that his archive will be preserved at an institution where it can be consulted but historians for centuries to come.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


The night before we left for points west we caught the opening of “Pastel Portraits: Images of 18th Century Europe” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The exhibition was in the drawings galleries reserved for exhibitions. These are three good sized rooms which are, for most drawings shows, hung cheek by jowl leaving no breathing room. In this case, however, since there are only about 40 works everything has some space, but the rooms certainly do not look empty. It makes the exhibition more relaxing to look at. You do not feel rushed to see it all but can savor each wonderful picture.
The show is curated by two Met staffers, Katherine Baetjer, Curator of European Paintings and her collaborator Marjorie Shelley, Sherman Fairchild Conservator in Charge, Paper Conservation. Marjorie has always had a special interest in pastels and has started a collection within her department of artists’ materials as well. Up front we get an explanation of the medium illustrated by an actual artists work table which has spaces for pastels as well as brushes and watercolors. We also find drawers of pastels arranged by color with every hue, far surpassing the colors offered in MS Word. The medium became extremely popular in Europe during the 18th century with some 2,500 artists employing pastels by 1750.

I tend to look at portraits similarly to snap shots that our friends and relatives have taken. I begin to feel if I have seen one I have seen them all - not another one of Aunt Minnie on the beach, please. When it comes to art I want to see another dimension. I want it to grab me. Style and quality are all important and sometimes the name of the sitter can illuminate the piece. Pastel is an excellent medium for showing the expressions of it’s sitters and also for showing such vanities as the powder coming off of their wigs or the lace of their frocks.
Going around the exhibition, my wife or I would say “oh, I love that one” but the other would then disagree and love something else. That, for me, is the sign of a good exhibition when different people can enjoy different works and then agree on a few that we both think are great or we both dislike.
One that we could agree on is by Rosalba Carriera (Venice 1673 – Venice 1757) of Gustavus Hamilton 2nd Viscount Boyne, in Masquerade Costume. Part of the Met’s collection it is not the cover picture of the catalog but it is the featured work on their website. The picture was probably created at the 1730 or 1731 Carnival in Venice and who doesn’t want to remember themselves in costume. Penelope and I have such a photo of ourselves and had it reproduced on a postage stamp, which we used for our 35th anniversary invitation.

Charles Antoine Coypel (Paris 1694 - Paris1752) was clearly a master in this medium and the exhibition has three examples. As I am writing this I remember that we have a portrait in oil of Charles de Rohan, Prince de Montauban also by Charles Antoine Coypel. If you compare it to one belonging to the Metropolitan, a double portrait presumed to represent François de Jullienne and his wife in 1743, though one can plainly see the similarity in the style, the pastel gives the sitter a more ethereal and less realistic look while the oil is more solid and down to earth.
The exhibition challenges the preconceptions we have about pastel. It surprises us with the range of effects the artists created with the medium, from the meticulously detailed laces and brocades of the aristocratic double portrait by Coypel illustrated above, to the spontaneity achieved by free strokes of Greuze in the Frick’s portrait of the actor Baptiste Aîné. I guess you will just have to see that one for yourselves!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Joan Taub Ades Collection

Anyone who has seen the social pages of a major city newspaper has noticed how many benefits can be fit into a single week. Sometimes 3 or more a night!

At one gala event, a dinner at the Frick Collection given, in honor of Clare and Eugene Thaw, we met Joan Taub Ades. We quickly learned that not only is she a lovely person but we became very excited when we heard that she had a particular interest in old master drawings and more specifically, French 18th century drawings. When we mentioned Stiebel, ltd. Joan knew of us but was not personally acquainted.

At these events one often meets people who are so interested in what their table partner is involved in and, in my case, are always taking my card and promising a visit, but this rarely happens. Joan Ades, however, actually came by. Here was a “real” collector with a purpose. Joan was not just looking for the biggest names she could buy but for images that she enjoyed and wanted to live with. While this might seem perfectly logical too few look at collecting that way. Today, collectors get so concerned about the investment value of what they are buying that they forget the rest!

Joan and her husband both are passionate about the arts, and they both enjoy dance and the opera as well, but the opera is her husband’s true love and the drawings “belong” to Joan. Aside from the simple purpose of enjoying her collection she has an additional goal in mind, to acquire drawings that would some day fit well into the Morgan Library’s incredible collection of works on paper. Why? Because, some day, she planned to give her entire collection to the museum.

At the end of last week, we went to the opening of “The Age of Elegance: The Joan Taub Ades Collection” at the Pierpont Morgan Library. It was not the usual mob scene opening that one has at many New York Institutions but it seemed like quite a personal opening with short talks by the director, William Griswold and Joan Ades. We learned that she insisted on only having her friends and not the entire Morgan guest list nor the entire Morgan staff. This was her party.

The exhibition installation is also intimate. Though Joan was offered a larger exhibition space for her collection she picked the Clare Eddy Thaw Gallery which is relatively small but the 38 drawings looked perfect. Even though they had to elimate one of the chosen drawings at the last minute, because of space, Joan was pleased.

The show is intimate and has great character. These are only drawings that Joan likes, she was not talked into any one of them. It is not difficult to discern her taste: though there are a few Italian drawings and a wonderful Adolf Friedrich Menzel (1815-1905) that I personally love, she clearly gravitates to the French school particularly the 18th century. Also, her taste tends to be for very finished drawings where the artist has thoroughly thought out his idea, be it a preparatory work of not.

Joan bought a couple of drawings from our gallery, one by Jean-Baptiste Isabey (1767 -1855). This charming depiction of an early 19th century beauty, a drawing that would flatter any sitter, is also an exceptional example of the use of rich velvety black chalk that Isabey developed.

But the drawing I have to give Joan extra credit for is by Jean-Simon Fournier who was active at the end of the 18th century. It is quite a large drawing 51.2 x 41.4 cms. done with graphite and black chalk. It depicts three young women decorating Edme Bouchardon’s sculpture.

That Joan had the courage to buy a work by a little known artist shows her independence. Once upon a time, it had been thought to be by the well-known artist Maguerite Gérard, sister-in-law and student of the famous artist Jean-Honoré Fragonard. When the Gérard scholar quashed that attribution it was re-attributed, by another to another.

Though the decisions on what to acquire have been Joan’s alone, through her support of the Morgan she has gained the invaluable advice of Cara Dennison, Curator Emeritus. The entire department of drawings and prints contributed to the curating of the current exhibition and the writing of its catalog. These curators are the best of the best.

For many collectors the museum exhibition and catalog is the culmination of their ambition. So I asked Joan if she would stop collecting. Her reply, “Oh, no. You keep on going until you close your eyes”!

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Big Move

On January 29, 2010, in a complimentary review, New York Times art critic Roberta Smith wrote regarding “Master Drawings New York” , “two of the galleries are a bit father afield, but worth the extra walk”. We realized that even though our house was directly between the Park Avenue Armory and Sotheby’s many collectors found it difficult to find their way here.

Our family firm has not had that many venues over its 150 year history. It was first in my Great Great Uncle Jakob Rosenbaum’s house in Frankfurt am Main in Germany, this was around 1870, soon it moved to a storefront on the Rossmarkt.

When Hitler came to power my Great Uncle Isaac Rosenbaum and his oldest Nephew, Saemy Rosenberg moved the main seat of the firm to Amsterdam on one of the larger canals. Then in 1939 my father came to New York where he started in his apartment on Central Park South and near the end of the war moved to a 57th street address where the firm remained for the next 56 years. In 2000 we came to our house on 68th street. Now it is time for another change…

We realized that New Yorkers will walk distances north and south but not east and west, think about it. Between Fifth and Park Avenues and from 67th to 84th Streets are the prime gallery real estate for a non-contemporary gallery.

This started us on our quest to find a new location. We actually found several possibilities but in one we were accepted and then rejected, in another the owner said he might come back the following year to reclaim his place and in another it was obvious that the owner was just waiting for the real estate market to improve to flip the property so we were only offered a one year lease.

Finally, my associate, Vince Hickman, found a real estate agent, determined enough to find a space that would meet the majority of our requirements. It is at 13 East 69th Street, between Fifth and Madison Avenues next door to Cartier, not that far from our current location but in the main art corridor. The big attraction is that it has a gallery with a 16 foot ceiling.

As I am writing this we have begun the actual move and thank goodness for Vince and Diana who have taken on the bulk of the moving logistics.

By the end of this month we should be totally moved in if not settled in. There will be much to be done to give it the style we are looking for. The space will look quite different with a whole new concept of installation.

Part of this endeavor includes moving much of our library, that has taken up much of four floors in our townhouse, to our Santa Fe home where our resident scholar, Penelope, is living full-time. Only the books, which we continuously need, will be in New York both in the apartment and warehouse.

We have also decided to dispose of a number of periodicals and should anyone be interested we are not asking for compensation but they would have to be picked up at our warehouse on East 61st Street.

You are welcome to come by any time, and we hope you will. Later in the year when everything is just the way we want it we will host a cocktail and welcome you again, officially.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Paris: Life & Luxury

We scheduled a trip from Santa Fe to Los Angeles to visit family and museums in the area around the opening of “Paris: Life & Luxury”, an exhibition at the J. Paul Getty Museum. J. Paul Getty was known for his great collections of Antiquities and French 18th century decorative arts. He had a great eye for three dimensional works of art but was less adept at collecting paintings. In this area Scott Schaefer head of the old master paintings department has greatly improved the museum’s holdings.

“Paris: Life & Luxury” is the brain child of Charissa Bremer-David, Getty Curator of Sculpture and Decorative Arts, accomplished with the assistance of Peter Björn Kerber, Assistant Curator of Paintings. It is one of those rare exhibitions that bring together all media in our specialty of French 18th century, including paintings, drawings and every aspect of the decorative arts. The mixing of media in the exhibition even extends to music with a harpsichord from the Metropolitan Museum accompanied by a recording of an 18th century composition played on a similar instrument.

Sixty per cent of the works of art come from the Getty’s own incredible collections but they have also borrowed from twenty-six museums and private collections in several countries. Stiebel, ltd. lent an important pair of pastels by Jean Valade of the Marquis and Marquise de Favantines.

One of them is highlighted in the exhibition and the other shown in the context of the museum’s paintings galleries in a room devoted to pastels. The exhibition will go from here to Houston in September where the Marquis and Marquise will be re-united in the second venue of the show.
Last week I wrote about how in an exhibition I first want to see great works of art and then try to understand the point that the curator is trying to make. Here we have one of the best examples of a totally focused exhibition. The Getty’s acting director, David Bomford, summed it up in his inaugural remarks: he said that the show follows a day in the life of a not so typical Parisian family,… not so typical because few enjoyed the luxury that is shown here. We follow the family from getting up in the morning through to their daily prayers at night. This is perfectly set up with four small pictures by Nicolas Lancret (1690-1743) done in 1739, representing Morning, Midday, Afternoon and Evening, that are the first thing you see walking into the galleries.
Many of the works in the show were old friends to me since my uncle travelled and shopped for French 18th century with J. Paul Getty in the 1950’s, we sold to him again in the 1970’s when he started to collect with the Museum in mind, and later directly to the Museum. A key loan from another museum, François Boucher’s, “La Toillette”, was also familiar. We had handled it in 1967 when we received much of the collection of Baron Alphonse de Rothschild, Vienna, after the death of his widow, Baroness Clarice de Rothschild.

We offered it to the Wrightsmans, great patrons of the Metropolitan Museum. Charlie Wrightsman, however, found the subject too risqué and passed on it. A few days later Baron Thyssen came in and snapped it up and it is now in his museum in

The Getty found it so appropriate and eye catching that a detail from the picture became the logo for the exhibition with banners all over. The image below was at the Getty Center.

One of my favorite exhibits with a Stiebel provenance is called a Planisphere. Attributed to Jean-Pierre Latz It is a Rococo marquetry and gilt bronze long case clock over 9 feet tall surmounted by an orrery (a three dimensional view of the solar system
). Though there are no longer any works in the piece the original dials still exist showing the times in several cities and even California, as well as tidal flows in Northern French ports. It also gives astronomical information and has a series of bells which would signal various events indicated on the clock. Who would buy such a clock with no works? Certainly not a clock collector. But a Getty curator, Gillian Wilson, predecessor to Charissa Bremer-David, understood its important combination of art, history and the advancements of the sciences in the 18th century France.

There is something very satisfying in a well thought out exhibition. It was particularly rewarding to see the unexpected crowds of visitors, fascinated by the very same works they would have passed by quickly in the permanent galleries, but were made engaging and accessible by their interpretation as part of daily life.