Department store art given top billing by auction house

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The Independent Online

They were knick-knacks designed as the first affordable works of art for the emerging middle class. A century later, they are so exclusive they are collected by Hollywood film stars and worthy of their first dedicated sale at a principal auction house.

More 250 Art Nouveau ornaments made for the Liberty & Co department store will go under the hammer at Christie's in London on 24 September.

The sale, much of it from a collection built by an avid British enthusiast in the 1970s, includes the work of Archibald Knox, the designer who, with Arthur Lasenby Liberty, the founder of the celebrated London shop, was credited with creating a new epoch in British decorative arts.

After several decades in which Knox's distinctive organic pewter and glassware fell out of fashion, it is now among the most sought-after domestic art.

Its aficionados include the actor Brad Pitt, whose collection reputedly includes some of Knox's finest works, and Elton John, who parted with his pair of Knox candlesticks in a vast auction of his possessions in 1988.

The Christie's sale includes a 14in-high pewter clock by Knox in his Elizabethan-inspired Tudric style, estimated at £30,000, and a Celtic-style silver claret jug, valued at £4,000.

The collection is expected to fetch more than £200,000. Mark Wilkinson, director of Christie's decorative arts department, said: "These are pieces which at the time when they were bought were very reasonable in price.

"But they have steadily become more and more popular. It is also rare for such a large collection to come forward like this so we felt it was time there was a sale devoted to Liberty."

Arthur Liberty, who had started his store on Regent Street selling art and textiles from the Far East, became closely associated with the Art Nouveau movement by asking artistic friends including Knox and other leading designers to produce objets d'art for him.

The subsequent products were sold under the Liberty brand at modest prices to the thousands of members of the Edwardian bourgeoisie who flocked to the store, attracted by its bohemian image.

The auctioneer said Christie's was expecting interest from around the world for the sale, which also includes items by other Liberty producers such as the ceramics manufacturer Moorcroft.

Whether Brad Pitt, normally associated with more testosterone-fuelled art work such as the film Fight Club, will be attending the auction remains unclear .