An upcoming Sotheby’s sale in Paris includes two antique desks by renowned French Art Deco designer Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann – both featuring sharkskin tops.
Sotheby’s 6 June sale of 20th Century Decorative Arts and Contemporary Design is not restricted to French pieces, as the event is intended to reflect the diversity of style across Europe. So in the Art Nouveau section, a silver table-lamp by British craftsman Archibald Knox is listed with pieces by Viennese designer Josef Hoffmann, including a superb antique cabinet.
In Lancashire, the word “antique” can include decorative arts from the 1920s, which only just fall outside the 100-year rule. Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann’s Art Deco desks are a case in point. Ruhlmann produced furniture in a diverse range of styles, ranging from the stark simplicity of his Embassy desk, created for the 1925 Exposition Universelle des Arts, to the delicate Modèle Collectionneur 25 model included in Sotheby’s sale. This refined, elegant palisander, shagreen and ivory piece is reminiscent of 18th century antique marquetry furniture at its best. Similar in style is a kingwood, ivory and shagreen Poudreuse Fuseaux lady’s desk, also by Ruhlmann.
The shagreen used in these two antique desks may leave Ribble Valley residents wrinkling their noses in disgust. Also known as sharkskin, it is a tough, durable leather with an unusual texture, originating from the skin of sharks and rays (although the name actually comes from the Arabic for “rough hide.”) From the 16th century, shagreen was obtained from mammalian, before real sharkskin made a comeback in the 1920s.
You can occasionally find antique desks in Lancashire with shagreen leather tops. To avoid the high commission rates charged by auction houses like Sotheby’s, try a Preston antique dealer.