Henri Samuel and the Gutfreunds’ Winter Garden:
Design historian Emily Evans Eerdmans shares her favorite lots in our October 8 sale
When asked to select my all-time favorite American interior, one room has always sprung to mind first and foremost: Mr. and Mrs. John Gutfreund’s Winter Garden sitting room at 834 Fifth Avenue. In this lush oasis of fresh lettuce greens and delicate pinks, the hustle bustle of New York’s concrete streets outside those silk -festooned windows melts away.
Mrs. Gutfreund once said, “A room by Henri Samuel is like a haute couture little black dress. You add the accessories and make it personal. But the black dress has to be perfect: curtains and upholstery perfectly made, paint perfectly done, boiseries perfectly installed, so if the room were empty, you’d see the perfect detailing.” For the Gutfreunds and his other clients who were collectors par excellence, Samuel designed rooms to not only set off their existing works of art, but to serve as a foundation to add on to over time, like a fine bronze deepening with patina.
The Winter Garden, inspired by a set of chinoiserie panels the Gutfreunds purchased years before, has haunted me long before I had ever heard of its creator Henri Samuel and it was one of the reasons I wrote the 2018 monograph Henri Samuel: Master of the French Interior. The day Mrs. Gutfreund kindly invited me over for tea to discuss Samuel and to see the apartment first-hand was pulse-quickening. So many times reality doesn’t live up to the pictures – not so here. But interiors are amongst the most ephemeral creations and this room and the rest of the apartment, now disassembled, live on in its parts of the sum and will soon find new little black dresses to adorn.
A few of my highlights:
Lot 4 These pressed botanicals were made by Marella Agnelli’s majordomo Stuart Thornton who was inspired by the beauty of Agnelli’s legendary gardens. The black ground in particular evokes the paper flowers of the 18th century English artist Mary Delany.
Lot 38 The etageres’ green watered silk evokes the Winter Garden room and because they were designed and made by Henri Samuel, the quality is exceptional.
Lot 61 The chic of simulating humble baskets and buckets in more luxurious materials such as silver goes back to the 18th century. These are timeless and perfect as ice buckets or cachepots.
Lot 275 For me, this faux bois kindling box is the top highlight of the entire sale. Yes, it did live in the Winter Garden, but, even if it didn’t, it is everything: full of charm and fantasy and style.