“Le Devoir” (“The Duty”) by Emile Louis Picault, was the early star of the Original Miami Beach Antique Show. When it sold, just hours after the doors opened in the first day, it started a buzz throughout the convention center.
I recently had the honor of working with WorthPoint as one of the vettors for the Original Miami Beach Antique Show. I would consider this a dream job: a week in the Miami sun, being around the beautiful antiques, art and collectibles that I love so much, and visiting with all the people that are associated with this show. I met so many dealers who were well-versed in their specialties, which is a rare treat. I also got to see some good old friends that I haven’t seen in many years. All in all, I considered this the best paid vacation I have ever had.
Vetting the show was intense, as it feels like there’s miles and miles of booths set up with hundreds of thousands of items. The first day, I only got about one third of the way through the show, inspecting everything, looking for items that didn’t quiet look right. I had the pleasure of working with Worthologist Audra Blevins, and I believe we both learned quite a bit from each other that day and the next. As it got closer to the show’s opening day, there was an amazing amount of activity, as the dealers were tidying up their booths and polishing off their displays. I was thoroughly impressed by the amount of work that goes into a show of this size. I’ve always considered auctions a lot of work, but when you’re dealing with very fine and delicate items, and considering some people are traveling across the country or even from overseas, the packing and unpacking alone appears to be an overwhelming task.
The chariot driver and a tiger. The detail of this dore’ (gilt bronze) sculpture was amazing. All of the silver-plated pieces are detachable, including helmets and weapons.
Opening day came, and I expected people to come flooding in, but instead they trickled in as a steady flow for several hours. It didn’t take too long before 146,000-square-feet of space at the Miami Convention Center was getting packed. Right off the bat, there was a lot of activity, with the back-and-forth of negotiating for a good deal. I saw money being spent left and right. The whole thing seemed almost frenzied, and it gave me great confidence in the industry, especially in such difficult economic times. It just goes to show that people are still spending their money on fine things.
I started wandering around the aisles and observing what was going on. And believe me, to walk around this entire show, it takes several hours. Then I heard it: someone was talking about a special bronze sculpture, and that it sold for an unbelievable amount of money. As a podcaster and blogger on antiques, I’m always interested in a good story, so I began investigating.
I first heard about the sale from someone that I knew from California, but she told me in passing and when I looked around, I had no idea where she walked off to. So I started stopping in booths and asking dealers if they knew anything about the what’s and where’s. Almost everyone had already heard about sale, and the doors to the show had only been open for a few hours. I just couldn’t seem to get the straight scoop of where it was. One gentleman thought he knew where it was located, yet sent me as far away from the piece as possible. All in all, it took about an hour to figure out what piece sold and where it was located.
The last person I asked said, “I believe it is in Greenwald’s booth in section D” (which was, incidentally, a few steps away from where I began my search). So I grabbed Greg Watkins, WorthPoint’s editor, who, with camera in hand, joined me as we went to see the item that was causing all the commotion. All I knew was it was a large bronze piece and that it had horses and chariots. When I turned the corner and saw the bronze, it wasn’t at all what had I envisioned. For some reason, I was expecting this huge, possibly even life-size bronze with chariots.
However, I was not disappointed. My initial impression when seeing this piece is almost indescribable. I was looking at a standard size dore’ (gilt bronze) sculpture, yet it just kept going, with more and more figures of action. It is basically a figural group mounted to a marble-topped display plinth that measured more than 7 feet long. In my 40 years of being around art and antiques, I’ve never seen anything quite like this. I have sold a number of pieces from the same sculptor at auction in the past, and I would consider this the artist’s masterpiece.
Two centaurs, believed to represent the famous mythological Greek Battle of the Lapiths, which is basically a struggle between civilization (man) and wild behavior (depicted by the centaurs). Civilization won.
The dore and silver gilt figural group, titled “Le Devoir” (which translates to “The Duty”) features horses, a chariot, centaurs and classical figures, all mounted on a verde marble-topped paneled plinth base. The sculpture was commissioned by the Parrish of Richmond (England) and sculpted by Emile Louis Picault (France, b. 1833-1913). There is a plaque mounted on the piece that is inscribed: “Presented to Lit. Col. Sir Francis Burdett, Bart, High Sheriff of Surrey and Chairman of the Vestry of the Town & Parrish of Richmond on the occasion of his succession to the family title. By his friends in Richmond in recognition of his service to the Parrish, 24th Nov. 1880.”
The overall size of the piece is stunning at 64 ¼ inches high by 83 ¾ inches long by 33 ½ inches across.
I spoke with Robin Greenwald of Greenwald’s Antiques to get more details about this piece.
Robin: My brother Ron & I bought it from a dealer and there are many interesting angles about this piece. The dealer knew that it was a wonderful, wonderful piece and paid dearly for it. He was one of those wholesale kind of people who can’t really sit with a piece, and this represented a lot of money to him. Fortunately we are in a position—having done this so many years—that when we see a piece that we think is really special, wonderful and unique, we can afford to hang onto it. So we bought it and we knew that it would be sitting in our shop for awhile. That’s why we do these antique shows; to find the right type of people, collectors and buyers.
We knew that this was a special piece and wanted to do as much research on it as possible. We wanted to make sure that we have found the right kind of home. I was very worried about the fact that this piece was so glamorous and so exciting that it would end up in the hands of private wealth and never be seen again. As luck would have it, I saw this man in the aisle who was pointing at it with his hand shaking, and I saw his face light up, he had this huge grin. He was pointing his finger at the piece staring at his wife and talking excitedly. You could just see this moment, I dropped what I was doing with this other customer and I ran over there because I thought I had to share that excitement. I wanted to find out who this guy was, and share his enthusiasm. The man, a Mr. Ricardo Brennand, ended up buying this piece within eight minutes, and is going to be putting it in his museum, which is open to the public. The piece is on its way to The Instituto Ricardo Brennand in Recife, Brazil, and will be available for all to see. What luck for all of us.
A detail of one of the horses pulling the chariot in full frenzy.
Martin: You’re right, it’s like the Gardner Museum in Boston, where the Rembrandts and other masterpieces that were stolen. They were taken from the view of public, which is a real shame. So this is great.
Robin: He brought in a book, this phenomenal book of photographs from items in his museum, which started out as an arms and armor collection. He moved a castle, brick by brick, from England to Brazil, and he loves the idea that anybody can come see the collection. Children from the nearby villages visit and when he walks through the museum they run up to hug him. It’s very thrilling.
When I was doing research on this piece, I found a newspaper in Montréal, Québec, that was founded in 1910 and it’s called the same name as the sculpture, “Le Devoir”—“The Duty”—and it epitomizes what the artist meant by this sculpture, with all the centaurs and horses, corollaries between the battles of good and evil, the righteous and honor. I believe this is after the famous mythological Greek Battle of the Lapiths, which is basically a struggle between civilization and the wild behavior (depicted by the centaurs), and civilization won. The mission of this newspaper in Montréal is similar, as it is the only independent, large-circulation paper for social democracy, and its premise is to ensure the triumph of ideas and the public good over partisan ideas; a sense of public duty in all its forms. I think that is precisely what that sculpture symbolizes. The person this sculpture was presented to became a baron; the last of the baronetcy was a family member who died in 1951. The dealer that I purchased it from bought it from the estate in this country, as there was no other family left.
Martin: So, did you know any more about the meaning of the presentation of this piece or the person that was presented to?
Robin: No, other than he was well regarded and he must’ve been a philanthropist. I believe Mr. Brennand sensed the same thing. Even though his English was not that good, I believe he understood the importance of this piece and how well it would fit in his Museum. You can take a virtual tour on its website.
An interesting note; while I was finalizing the sale with Mr. Brennand, there was a tall and very serious-looking Russian buyer standing in line to purchase it. I told him that I was sorry it is sold. He stood and waited around until Mr. Brennand left and then boisterously offered me $75,000 more if I would sell it to him, but of course, we had already made a deal and kept to it.
The final sales price is being kept private, but I’m told it was in excess of several hundred thousand dollars. The piece sold for on that first day of the show, and for the rest of the show, had a steady crowd of people surrounding it. This was one of those rare situations where a buyer walked right in and said “I’ll take it,” just like that, which is always shocking.
Martin Willis is Worthologist and auctioneer who owns Seaboard Appraisal Service. You can hear his podcasts at the at Antique and Auction Forum, featuring interviews with key players in the antiques and collectibles trade.
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