High Style: Masterworks from the Bernard and Sylvia Ostry Collection

By Ilona Kauremszky

TORONTO, ON - While William Van Alen was erecting his stainless steel gargoyles on the Chrysler Building and Paul Manship was sculpting a golden Prometheus for the Rockefeller Center, New York City and the world’s love affair with the art deco and the art nouveau had reached its zenith.

For many years a renaissance of appreciation for the decorative arts movement has gripped the public imagination. Take Bernard and Sylvia Ostry. The Toronto couple’s love affair with all things art nouveau became a collector’s dream. During the eighties they scoured the French countryside and art auctions in search of rare silver, glass, ceramics, sculptures and furniture pieces. Mr. Ostry once said how difficult it was to find an empty patch in his house for his precious objects so he did what any inveterate art collector would do. He generously donated pieces to the Royal Ontario Museum where they sit in their own special collection appropriately named, “The Sylvia and Bernard Art Deco Collection.”

For those who might have missed the iconic ROM exhibition, Art Deco 1910-1939 in 2004 or can’t make a visit to view the countless items on display, there’s a sumptuous new coffee table book that allows you to leaf through the panels and examine the defined period at your own pace.

Entitled High Style: Masterworks from the Bernard and Sylvia Ostry Collection in the Royal Ontario Museum, the 148-page book by Alastair Duncan illustrates the art deco movement with over 300 full color photos and contributions from curators Ross Fox, Peter Kaellgren, Robert Little and Brian Musselwhite.

“New Yorker Alastair Duncan, who is the author of over 30 books on nineteenth and twentieth century decorative arts and is an art consultant flew to Toronto to examine the Ostry collection and selected 50 pieces he considered significant,” said Glen Ellis, the ROM’s Manager of Publications about the chosen artifacts for High Style.

Besides the beautifully photographed items that seem to breathe new life into the old objects, the book -- like the Ostry collection -- covers three of the decorative arts movements that spanned the closing years of the nineteenth century through the thirties – Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau, and Art Deco. Duncan along with his esteemed contributors succinctly describes the artists’ life, the significance of the works along with notes on the selected industries while appealing to both collectors and art lovers. The book has also added a unique feature with separate images detailing the maker’s mark and artist’s signature, something Ellis adds, “is unique among books like this as it is unusual to have these identifying marks, making it great for antique collecting.”

Rare pieces such as ceramicist Paul Milet’s glazed earthenware covered urn with its crayon green rectangular sides emits the simplicity of the period. For furniture, the two-door cabinet “cabanel” model designed by Jacques-Émile Ruhlmann has been noted as extremely rare as few were made. “Ruhlmann is considered the great guru of this furniture,” Ellis noted.

Others will gravitate toward the book’s cover, a dramatic parcel-gilt bronze stallion created by Alexandre Kéléty, a Hungarian expat who moved to Toulouse during World War I before settling in Paris. “Many Kéléty works have enormous period charm, encapsulating the atmosphere of the Roaring Twenties,” writes Duncan.

The new book release coincides with the ROM’s temporary exhibition, Deco Lalique which is on display from December 26, 2005 to January 2007. High Style: Masterworks from the Bernard and Sylvia Ostry Collection in the Royal Ontario Museum is available in fine bookstores across Canada and in the ROM Reproductions Shop in the Museum’s Lower Level for $49.95.


photo courtesy: ROM

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