Gustave Miklos, French avant-garde with a Byzantine accent

[01.12.2015]

 

Gustave MIKLOS (1888-1967) defined himself as a sculptor/painter, modestly omitting his considerable talents as a musician, illustrator, enameller and decorator (among others). Largely unknown to the general public, this French artist of Hungarian origin perfectly fitted the description ”all-round artist”. He was a precursor of Art Deco and was supported by a number of influential figures during the early 20th century. His multi-faceted and unclassifiable production was long ignored by art historians. However, his price index on the secondary market has started to gather considerable momentum, especially as his works are relatively scarce.

In 1909, Miklos arrived in Paris aged 21 just as Cubism was beginning to flow from Pablo Picasso’s brushes. The young artist moved to La Ruche in the 15th district and followed a course with the painter Henri Le Fauconnier at the Académie de la Palette before joining Jean Metzinger’s workshop and a brief stint at the Golden Section. During this period the new Cubist theories appear to have infiltrated his artistic genes. However his career did not follow a predictable path. Miklos’s work was interrupted by WWI when he joined the AFO (French Foreign Legion). In 1919 he returned to Paris penniless only to find that his works had been destroyed by flooding.
To survive, he added new strings to his bow, working in enamel alongside Pierre Frémond and then varnish in Brugier’s workshop. In 1920, his works with both Cubist and Byzantine influences were noticed by the fashion designer, collector and patron Jacques Doucet at the Paris Salon. The following year Miklos began working for Doucet alongside Pierre Legrain on the decoration of the Saint James studio (creating a number of sculptural-furniture pieces). In 1922 he exhibited two paintings at the Salon des Independants, dedicated to cubist artists and then suddenly stopped painting. His last canvas, a farewell to painting, shows a clown ringing a bell. Miklos painted less than 150 paintings during his career, made ​​some 180 works in bronze, copper, cement and wood (unique pieces) and about 100 decorative objects (furniture, jewelry, fabrics and fashion accessories). The end of ​​his activity as a painter did not extinguish his relevance as an artist and his sculptures received a more enthusiastic appraisal than his paintings. Léonce Rosenberg gave Miklos a solo show at the Effort Moderne gallery in 1923 and five years later, the Galerie de la Renaissance organised another solo exhibition in Paris. The latter marked the highpoint of a brilliant career as a sculptor. A few years later Miklos broke definitively with the Parisian art world, exiling himself to a town called Oyonnax (from 1940 to his death in 1967). The Parisian momentum broken, he continued to create sculptures in a style oscillating somewhere between Cubism and Africanism.

$million results in sculpture and furniture…

All Miklos’s sculptures are unique pieces that he polished and varnished himself. Rare and much in demand, his top quality pieces easily fetch over $100,000. A stylized head in bronze sold for $1.1 million at Sotheby’s Paris last year (March 11, 2014) although the piece was estimated at only a third of the final price. However beware… the artist’s market is sufficiently strong to have elicited a lively black market; a number of fakes have been detected both in Europe and the United States.

Recognized both as a visual artist and as an artist-decorator, Miklos is one of the few French designers to have crossed the million-dollar threshold in the auction furniture category. Christie’s famous YSL-Bergé sale at the Grand Palais in Paris, February 2009, offered a pair of benches made by Miklos. Connoisseurs of decorative and Modern Art, Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé had acquired the two benches (late 1920s), with handles and red coral feet and upholstered in leopard skin, which they kept in their large living room near pictures signed by Fernand Leger, Giorgio de Chirico, Henri Matisse, Edouard Vuillard, Juan Gris, Paul Klee and Edvard Munch. The setting and the provenance prompted Christie’s to set an estimate between two and three million euros although Miklos had never before reached such a price level. They eventually went for $2.2 million, an auction record for the artist that even his sculptures haven’t managed to beat. The history of these benches, ordered by the couturier Jacques Doucet and subsequently endowed with the prestige of their last provenance was undoubtedly the driving force behind the record. Recall that during this same sale, Eileen GRAY’s Fauteuil aux dragons, estimated $2.5 – 3.8 million, fetched the staggering price of $28 million, the highest price ever paid for a piece of 20th century furniture.

Like Eileen Gray, Gustave Miklos forged his own unique avant-garde style. Unlike Gray, he chose the shelter of anonymity and ended his career in the shadows. Some recent exhibitions and catalogues (Volume II of the catalogue raisonné of his work was released in 2014) have tried to fill the gap and honour him as he should have been during his lifetime. His creations are hotly pursued on the French market (accounting for 98% of his auction turnover) with prices rising for his sculptures and furniture. Meanwhile, his drawings are still accessible for between $500 and $1,500.