M.S. Rau recently had the exciting honor of welcoming the CBS Sunday Morning crew into our galleries to shoot a feature segment for their program. To our delight, they described us as “the treasure chest of America,” a phrase that truly emphasizes the diversity and beauty of our collection. In it, third-generation owner Bill Rau discusses our thoughtfully curated world-class selection of fine art, antiques and jewels and M.S. Rau’s philosophy of only offering the best of the best. You can watch the 5-minute segment in full below, and read on to discover a few of the incredible works of art highlighted on the program.
The exceptional Regency desk below was specially crafted for one of the most legendary men in Western history, Napoléon Bonaparte. When Napoléon was exiled to St. Helena in 1815, an order was issued by King George IV (then the Prince Regent) that the former Emperor “should be furnished in his banishment with every possible gratification and comfort.” Thus, the renowned George Bullock was commissioned to create a group of furniture that was relatively unadorned, yet befitting Napoléon’s former status. This desk was among them and resided in Napoléon’s own bedroom during his six years during his final exile on the remote island of St. Helena. He spent much of his remaining time writing his memoirs, many of which would have been penned on this very desk. Told in his own words, the story of his life became the single best-selling book of the 19th century.
M.S. Rau has had the pleasure of owning and selling masterpieces by some of the greatest artists in history, including the ever-popular Impressionists — perennial favorites for our gallery. Some of the most recognizable names in the history of art, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro, Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot, have graced the walls of our gallery. Although the beautiful Monet landscape featured in the CBS segment has since sold, we continue to acquire works by Monet and other French and American Impressionists.
A true show-stopper in our gallery, the Hupfeld Phonoliszt-Violina Model B music cabinet is among the rarest and most advanced automatic music players of its time. The remarkable machine, crafted by the renowned Leipzig firm of Ludwig Hupfeld, is one of the most mechanically complex music players ever made, boasting three self-playing violins accompanied by a self-playing piano. Once made in the thousands to entertain patrons of upscale hotels, restaurants, and cafes, these extraordinary machines have become increasingly rare, and only 63 still exist today.
For a musical antique on a smaller scale, these Swiss automaton singing bird boxes are highly complex and extremely rare. Singing bird boxes possess some of the most complicated movements of all automata and could be composed of hundreds or even thousands of moving parts. Enveloped in luxuriously decorated cases, the complex mechanism springs to life with the simple press of a button. When activated, a hinged lid opens to reveal a feathered automaton bird. The bird chirps and flaps with remarkable realism, while the sound of its birdsong is produced by small bellows in the box's interior. When the song is complete, the bird disappears back inside its case, and the lid closes behind it. These examples are among only a handful of bird boxes known to exist in such wonderful working condition.
As travel became more and more fashionable in the 18th and 19th centuries, vanity sets such as this Victorian nécessaire de voyage evolved into highly personalized symbols of wealth among young men and women. Containing everything from toiletries and jewelry to sewing and writing instruments, nécessaires provided a convenient means of transporting the personal necessities of everyday life. Today, these cases are a charming reminder of the Grand Tour and a bygone age and they are highly prized.
Fancy Colored Diamonds
Blue diamonds, like the famed Hope Diamond, are some of the most alluring and celebrated precious gemstones in the world. They are among the rarest colored diamonds in the world; the percentage of blue diamonds mined each year is minuscule, with just a few stones recovered annually. It is even rarer to find one over 2 carats, making this 10.06-carat blue diamond a particularly unique find. The sky blue radiant-cut jewel is certified by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) as being a natural fancy blue diamond with almost flawless VVS1 clarity. It is also certified as being a rare Type IIb diamond. This means that it contains no nitrogen and therefore displays outstanding brilliance. The result is a highly important stone of both monumental size and extraordinary beauty.
Exceptionally rare and beautifully constructed, this French billiards table is amongst the most remarkable and exquisite we have ever had the pleasure to offer at M.S. Rau. Crafted of opulent rosewood with the utmost attention to detail, the table celebrates the Gothic Revival style combined with innovative 19th-century design. The game of billiards has deep roots among French royalty, and during the 1800s, it was a favorite pastime for kings and aristocrats. The term billiard is actually derived from the French word billart meaning "wooden stick," and bille meaning "ball." Though experts have speculated for centuries about the true origins of this pastime, most agree that the game evolved from a lawn game similar to that of croquet around the 15th century, hence the green cloth resembling grass. By the early 1800s, it had become known as the "Noble Game of Billiards," and tables such as this could be found in royal palaces and important estates throughout Europe.
Cabinet of Curiosities
In many ways, this fascinating 17th-century cabinet of curiosities sums up M.S. Rau’s purpose. The term “cabinet of curiosities” was once used to describe entire rooms dedicated to humanity’s insatiable enthusiasm for knowledge and discovery. The birth of the cabinet of curiosities can be traced to the Renaissance, which saw a renewal in the appreciation for and the flourishing of the arts and scientific discovery. With the advent of the printing press and an explosion of European explorations in the 15th century, the interest in the new, exotic and at this time, the unexplainable, from far-off lands was en vogue, and scholars with the means to explore brought back all sorts of unusual relics and disseminated information to the curious back home. This particular cabinet form is more recognizably referred to as a “curio cabinet” and would have held all manner of rare and unusual objects from around the world — something we strive for in our galleries today.
To learn more about M.S. Rau or to discover our entire collection of rare and beautiful treasures, browse our website. There, you can also take an in-depth virtual tour of our 40,000-square-foot gallery.