Wendell Castle - Important Design London Wednesday, April 25, 2018 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • Provenance

    Private collection, Boulder, Colorado, acquired directly from the designer
    Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2013

  • Literature

    Emily Evans Eerdmans, Wendell Castle, A Catalogue Raisonné 1958-2012, New York, 2014, p. 102, no. II.158 for the catalogue entry of the present lot

  • Catalogue Essay

    Firmly Planted: A Wendell Castle Sofa

    So much has been written about Wendell Castle this year, yet we always seem to be just scratching the surface. When the great man died in January, we lost more than an inspiring figure in the history of design. We also lost the pieces he had yet to make, the ones he was still imagining. And you can be sure that he would have realised them, had he been given more time. Never anything less than prolific, his last decade was a period of extraordinary achievement.

    A large measure of this late‐career energy was derived from a return to his earliest major breakthrough: the technique of stack lamination. Initially inspired by a Delta tools publication he’d had as a kid, which explained how to make a duck decoy, the process involved cutting planks into sequential cross‐sections of a sculptural form and stacking them vertically. This done, Castle could remove the ‘steps’ from the stack with a chainsaw, and realise a fully contoured form of any shape and size he wished.

    Castle made his first stack‐laminated works in the mid‐1960s, and quickly developed his new idiom into a series of unprecedented explorations. Most were strong and oddly graceful in their elephantine massiveness; they seemed to spring from the wall or floor in wholly new ways. Some pieces were lighter, evoking the whiplash lines of Art Nouveau. Still others, anticipating the image‐oriented work he would pursue in the 1980s, were inspired by natural forms such as ripe fruits or plant tendrils.

    The sofa offered here, made about a decade into Castle’s investigations into the potential of stack lamination, is in some ways typical of his production (if anything by this most restlessly inventive of makers could be described that way). Made of American walnut, a wood he liked for its warmth and easy carving, it is unpainted and so shows the brick‐like construction clearly. The legs have a variegated profile, and meet the seat structure in a gorgeous set of compound curves. They swell to their thickest point along a vertical ridge, suggesting the organic growth of a tree’s trunk – a metaphor that he often employed in his work of this period.

    Less typical of Castle are the sofa’s symmetry and forceful horizontality. The broad span of the seat, the straight slab of the back, and the gently curved crest are not all that dissimilar from a traditional camelback settee. There is also a resemblance between the sofa and the front end of a grand piano, like the ones that Castle would go on to make in partnership with Steinway in the succeeding decade.

    It is unlikely we will ever see Wendell Castle’s like again. He was the first to discover the sculptural potential of furniture when freed from convention; the raw creative energy of that rupture was a one‐time thing. Yet even this devoted experimentalist did sometimes make pieces whose strength lies in the rigor, the definiteness, with which they were conceived and executed. This sofa is one of them.

    Glenn Adamson, Senior Research Scholar, Yale Center for British Art


Unique three-seater sofa

Stack-laminated walnut, leather.
70.5 x 210 x 80 cm (27 3/4 x 82 5/8 x 31 1/2 in.)
Side incised with WC 74.

£140,000 - 180,000 Ω

Sold for £225,000

Contact Specialist
Madalena Horta e Costa
Head of Sale
+44 20 7318 4019

Important Design

London Auction 26 April 2018