With the recession hitting hard all around the world, you can still count on the mega-rich for your daily dose of ill-timed tastelessness to help choke down your morning coffee whilst reading the papers. The wonderfully titled Fauteuil Aux Dragons armchair, made by Irish designer Eileen Gray and previously belonging to French design legend Yves Saint Laurent has fetched a staggering £19.4 million at auction. The chair had been expected to fetch a not inconsiderable sum of £3 million, but instead went on to become the world's most expensive chair in what is being described by some as “the sale of the century” and others as “a criminal waste of money” in a time when most of us are penny pinching just to stay afloat.
Just a month earlier, when a painting by the late Irish artist Francis Bacon- considered by most to be the most important artist of the last half of the 20th century- had gone unsold at auction, fears had begun to develop that the cr*dit cr@nch had (god forbid) hit the art world. The sale of the Dragons chair, which was part a three day auction of 730 antiques and works of art which had belonged to seminal fashion figure YSL, means we can all breathe a sigh of relief as the vacuous pretentiousness of the art world that we have come to know and love remains untouched by the problems of ordinary people, and Damien Hirst can continue to get richer by chopping up animals.
If I’m sounding slightly bitter, it is because you weren’t reading properly- if you read a little closer you will see that I am extremely bitter!
Quite fantastically, Saint Laurent, who died last year aged 71, is said by a source close him to have “sat in (the chair) in the drawing room of his Rue de Babylon apartment in Paris, whilst looking at his paintings by Picasso, Matisse and Cezanne”! That really is rubbing salt into the wound isn’t it?!
Ok, lets take a look at the chair and see how comfortably sat twenty million allows you to be nowadays. Built somewhere around the end of the First World War, the chair is made up of a sculpted wooden frame finished in lacquer with silver detailing and brown leather upholstery. The shape is intended to represent unfurling petals sat upon two intertwined serpents and also includes a stylised cloudy sky relief.
The exotic and symbolist nature of the piece places it conceptually within the earliest phase of Eileen Grays’ creative cycle- completely different form her characteristic reductionist features and therefore an extremely collectable piece by an extremely sought after designer. The armchair maintains all that was so intimate and mysterious in the first phase of Grays' career. It is full of surprises and imagination and is subtly sculpted and crafted- a masterpiece of invention and execution. Even the subject matter is perfect- the dragon has a history in Chinese iconography as a symbol of strength and goodness, with the power to protect and to guard- making it the perfect custodian for a chair.
But, and this is a big but, it DOES NOT come with an electric recliner, a back massager, a seat heater or somewhere to store your beer. And I may be wrong but I seriously doubt that it will go with your Kylie Minogue bedding or your jazz curtains. At around £800, the Lazyboy chair is looking increasingly like the bargain of the century!