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Woven Masterpieces: Aubusson Tapestries

November 3rd, 2014 | posted by Bill Rau

This incredible Aubusson tapestry is modeled on the work Les constructeurs sur fond bleu by Fernand Léger

At the ateliers of Aubusson, tapestries are woven today in the same way they were hundreds of years ago. An art both ancient and modern, the tradition of Aubusson woven masterpieces experienced a modern revival in the early twentieth century. Pablo Picasso, Fernand Léger, Georges Braque, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall – these are just some of the master artists of the 1930s who contributed their works to the ancient art.

From the 13th century, tapestry making was a flourishing art in France. At a time when the upper echelon of society resided in large, expansive estates, tapestries were used to create portable partitions, keep rooms free from drafts, and decorate vast, bare walls. By the Renaissance, tapestries based on painted masterpieces came into vogue, and works by the Old Renaissance Masters were translated into colossal woven masterworks boasting incredibly complicated designs, some incorporating upwards of 600 different colors. The practice continued through the Baroque period, when works by in-demand artists such as François Boucher were commonly re-worked into woven form, often under the guidance of the artists themselves. Yet, by the end of the 18th century, the art of the tapestry experienced a brief decline in popularity, and these grand works and master ateliers would spend the next century fighting for survival in the industry.

The 20th century brought with it a revived interest in the Old Renaissance Masters, and with it an increase in popularity for tapestries from this age. Collectors and art lovers alike snatched up these woven recreations of much loved Renaissance masterworks, which became incredibly valuable on the market. This sudden uptick in interest in Renaissance Aubusson tapestries led some to question why works by the modern masters were not also being translated into the ancient art. It took just one incredibly important and impassioned woman reacting to this question to begin a new history for the Aubusson ateliers.


This remarkable French tapestry celebrates the artistry of the famed François Boucher

With the aim of reviving the declining Aubusson ateliers, art collector and patron Madame Marie Cuttoli began commissioning designs from masters of the modern movement. Her greatest contribution was her ability to break the Aubusson houses of their traditional designs, heralding in a new era during which contemporary artists were engaged with designers for the first time in two centuries. Artists such as Picasso, Miro, Braque, Matisse and Léger worked with Aubusson cartoonists and designers to translate their most important works into the medium, creating monumental woven wonders of modern design. In the early 1930s, these tapestries were exhibited side by side with the paintings that had inspired them, and often times the tapestries yielded higher prices than the originals.

One of the most enthusiastic of these collaborative artists was French painter Fernand Léger. Léger’s epic cubist works, such as his monumental Les Constructeurs series, lend themselves well to the art of the tapestry. The expressions of color, the mechanical and geometric elements of his compositions, and the carefully wrought characters of man as engineer all shine through these meticulously woven masterpieces. Delighted by the collaborative process of tapestry design, Léger continued to lend his distinctive geometric designs to Aubusson weavers until his death in 1955.

Bones and Caskets

October 24th, 2014 | posted by Phillip Youngberg

Crinkling leaves, pumpkins, witches, and warlocks….The spookiness of Halloween is upon us all and MS Rau has many mystical and mysterious items to add to the October spirit. Of all our irreplaceable and exquisite pieces in our gallery, many speak to the fantastical and magical.

George Washington's Hair and Funerary Case Shavings

George Washington’s Hair and Funerary Case Shavings

Of one example is George Washington’s Hair and Funerary Case Shavings. It speaks to its own uniqueness. Beautifully framed, these extremely rare strands of George Washington’s hair and fragments from his red cedar casket are shown alongside a reproduction of the famed portrait by Gilbers Stuart, originally created in 1799. This type of artifact is extremely rare and are strongly coveted by museums and private collectors

Codognato Skull Ring

Codognato Skull Ring

The Codognato Skull Ring, created by the famed jeweler Codognato, depicts an enameled skull with rock crystals on 18K yellow gold. This shockingly accurate large skull object would have served as a memento mori for the wearer, a reminder of their own mortality. Skulls and other symbols of death were common motifs in Codognato’s workshop. Working primarily in Baroque and Gothic styles, his pieces were highly sought after for the uniqueness and artistry.

Rare Ice Age Cave Bear Skeleton

Rare Ice Age Cave Bear Skeleton

Most exceptional is the rare ice age cave bear skeleton. Over eight feet tall, this skeleton comes from the Ural Mountains of Russia. This cave bear was once one of the most fearsome animals of the Pleistocene Age and was the chief animal hunted by prehistoric man. However, it is thought that these bears also served as an object of worship, as discoveries found caves filled with carefully organized and preserved skeletons of these animals. It is amazing that we are able to have a full skeleton, as they are rare and difficult to find.

Stop by MS Rau and see some more of our spooktacular items, Happy Halloween!

The Extravagance of the Fabergé Bell Push

October 21st, 2014 | posted by Lyndon Lasiter

The House of Fabergé rests as one of the most important and influential workshops. The company is steeped in a rich history. Founded in St. Petersburg, 1842, Gustav Fabergé founded an atelier that would soon gain worldwide recognition, extending to multiple countries, as one of the most remarkable designers of exquisite jewels and ornamental objects.

Fabergé Bell Push Item Number 30-1574

Fabergé Bell Push
Item Number 30-1574

Although known for their lavish and ingenious jewel encrusted Fabergé eggs, originally designed for the Tsar of Russia, The House of Faberge also designed unique, intricate, and marvelous objets d’art. These lovely and lavish objects, such as ornate jewelry and timepieces, often matched the extravagant and bountiful lifestyles of the elite and aristocratic.

At the end of the 19th century, the world encountered the glamorous and praised invention of electricity. It is with this creation that the elite societal classes were able to further demonstrate their wealth and influence. The Faberge workshops, nonetheless, were able to keep up with these progressing times.

Soon, the Faberge workshops designed small “bell pushes” for stately homes. These bells would be wired through electricity and used by members of the elite to alert their servants and household helpers within the home. Not surprisingly, these bell pushes followed the beautiful traditions of typical Faberge designs. Though tremendously functional, they are undeniably magnificent.

Fabergé Rhondonite Bell Push Item Number 29-5305

Fabergé Rhodonite Bell Push
Item Number 29-5305

This delicate hand-held Faberge bell push (left) features beautiful nephrite jade and gilded silver that works into an intricate foliate design. This piece bears the mark of esteemed and recognized work master Mikhail Perkhin, of the Faberge Company. The bell is a perfect example of the everlasting quality and timeless traditions of the Faberge workshops.

Similarly, this Faberge bell push (right) evokes excellence and immutably magnificent characteristics. Crafted of brilliant rhodonite and chased silver with gold gilding, this piece also announces affluence and technological progressiveness. This bell push displays the revered mark of Carl Faberge, son of founder Gustav, and states the silver composition by a mark of “88.” The black veined rose hues are emphasized by a stunning piece of sapphire that tops the central push button.

While the materials of these pieces are exquisite in themselves, it is indisputable how important and stunning they are when crafted into spectacular objects by skilled hands of the Faberge workshops.

The Duck Press – Strange and Delightful

October 11th, 2014 | posted by James Gillis
Silver Plate Duck Press by Joseph Heinrichs - Item Number 30-1042

Silver Plate Duck Press by Joseph Heinrichs – Item Number 30-1042

Foie gras, sweet crepes, escargot, ratatouille…the list could go on. French culture constantly amazes the world by remarkable dishes that leave many dumbfounded and in complete awe. Traditionally appealing to high taste, these dishes display the immense influence and popularity that French cuisine possesses.

Of many things in this inspiring and resilient food culture, however, nothing can be quite as unique as this!  These Silver Duck Presses, or press à canard, are examples of a type of large kitchen tool that developed in 19th century France used to create Canard à la Rouennaise. While many took a sudden liking to this delicate meal of rare duckling, a French dish at an identically sumptuous and elegant level as any other, the more curious immediately praised (and feared) the press by which the duck dish was prepared.

Not surprisingly, the dish and its press gained immediate attention within lavish French restaurants and the culinary elite due to its brutal, yet beautifully extravagant cooking and preparation processes. Almost immediately after its development, the duck press was embraced by restaurants that appealed to high taste and society. Table side preparations of this dish would occur, giving prosperous societal classes a direct view of the press in action.

Meat Carving Trolley with Duck Press - Item Number 29-9907

Meat Carving Trolley with Duck Press – Item Number 29-9907

So, how exactly does this weighty, yet stunningly imposing instrument operate? First, a duck is roasted to rare and tender perfection. After, its breasts, legs, and liver are removed. Left with an almost bare carcass, the skeletal remainder is packed into this grand, elaborate silver press. By cranking the lever clockwise above, the carcass is compressed in order to extract the rich juices. Then mixed with essential French ingredients, such as pureed duck liver, red wine, and butter, this sauce accompanies thin slices of the duck breast. The result is a dish so incredibly detailed, thorough, and magnificent.

Though not for the squeamish, the press was an indispensable item in any applauded French restaurant. Today, however, these duck presses are rare and difficult to acquire. In the M.S. Rau Gallery, however, the Silver Plate Duck Press (above) is one example of the traditional device. Created by renowned New York Silversmith, Joseph Heinrichs, this instrument is exactly like that of an original French duck press. In impeccable condition, this antique boasts efficiency, beauty, and French tradition. It is cast in a sleek, crisp metal frame and fabulously stands on two overt silver duck feet – an outstanding touch. This humorous tactic not only signifies the instruments purpose but gives the piece high embellishment and a lively personality. Similarly, Bruno Wiskemann’s Meat Carving Trolley (right) features an attached duck press locked on a glossy serving service. In faultless state, this shining apparatus features nine food storage compartments in exquisite dining perfection.

Bearing perpetual and elegant tradition, these two duck presses are marvelous and prime interpretations of a classic French style.

John Atkinson Grimshaw: Truth to Nature

September 18th, 2014 | posted by Bill Rau

The consummate, self-taught Victorian artist John Atkinson Grimshaw possessed an unquestionable gift for painting. The influence of the Pre-Raphaelite Movement is apparent throughout Grimshaw’s oeuvre, and he worked these ideals to create awe-inspiring land and cityscapes unlike any artist before or since.

Disappointed by the “mechanized” ideologies of academic art, the Pre-Raphaelites utilized exacting details, luminous palettes and sincerity to subject that ushered in a new era of expression in the 19th-century British art world. Grimshaw took their teachings and used them to craft amazing nocturnal scenes and landscapes, which bear striking photographic qualities unmatched by any other artist. Tranquil urban lanes with leafless trees and ports with the still figures of docked ships silhouetted against the moonlit sky have become synonymous with this incomparable talent.

 John Atkinson Grimshaw

The ethereal light of the moon cast a glow upon this nocturnal dock scene painted by John Atkinson Grimshaw in 1883 entitled “Whitby.”


Whitby, executed in 1883, displays Grimshaw’s mastery of atmosphere and light, with a stark contrast between the moonlight and the gas lantern light of the shops lining the dock. A gentle fog can be seen over the water, while the clouds attract the moonlight like a magnet, glowing with an ethereal realism. His moonlit scenes were so majestic that James Abbott McNeill Whistler, a famed nocturne artist in his own right, stated “I considered myself the inventor of nocturnes until I saw Grimmy’s moonlight pictures.” The soft glow of the setting sun illuminates his home, Knostrop Hall, in All in the Golden Twilight. The artist captures the ephemeral moment of the sun setting, presumably in fall, utilizing a palette of yellows, greens, browns and reds to convey the fleeting essence of time itself.

 John Atkinson Grimshaw

This serene landscape, entitled “All in the Golden Twilight,” captures the artist’s home at dusk, and exemplifies John Atkinson Grimshaw’s tremendous eye for detail and composition.


Since Grimshaw worked primarily for patrons, his works have historically been held in private collections. It is only recently that his paintings have earned the acclaim and appreciation of the broader art world. Considered among the most prestigious and important Victorian painters, Grimshaw’s works are undeniably distinctive and are some of the most highly sought-after 19th-century British artworks on the market.

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