Armchair used by President Masaryk sold at auction for 1.1 million crowns

The armchair designed by Josip Plecnik for Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, photo: ČTK

An armchair designed by Slovenian architect Josip Plecnik for Czechoslovak President Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk was sold for a record sum at Prague’s Sýpka auction house on Sunday. The auction house says it is not at liberty to reveal whether the precious artefact was acquired by Prague Castle which has two other pieces from the collection.

The armchair designed by Josip Plecnik for Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk,  photo: ČTK
The armchair made of polished American walnut wood with profiled decoration and black leather upholstery was one of three pieces made for President Masaryk’s private quarters at Prague Castle around 1923. With its clean lines and classicist elements it is a typical example of architect Josip Plecnik’s work and the fact that it was used by President Masaryk sent its value soaring. It was sold for 1.1 million crowns to an anonymous bidder – 10 times the starting price. Nora Velková from the auction house says the sale surpassed their expectations.

“The interest was really huge – including interest from abroad. In a way we expected the auction to cause a stir due to the connection with President Masaryk. There are pictures of President Masaryk sitting in the armchair in his apartment. So we expected the price to go up, but I have to say that the result was a very pleasant surprise.”

The armchair is one of a three-piece set made for President Masaryk’s private office. Regrettably, the years of communism took a heavy toll on the interior décor and furnishings at Prague Castle. Few of the original pieces were preserved. Of this particular three piece set only one remained – two were sold to a state-owned jewellery and antique store in the 1970s for the incredible sum of 80 crowns each. One reappeared in 2006 and was sold at auction to Prague Castle by the same auction house for the price of 250,000 crowns. The third was believed to have been lost for good until the Sýpka auction house unexpectedly acquired it from a private collector.

Along with this precious artefact the auction house put on sale a wooden intarsia-decorated writing table from the 19th century also from Prague Castle. Although the starting price was 280,000 crowns it failed to find a bidder. Nora Velková says it was overshadowed by the historic value of the Masaryk armchair.

Josip Plečnik,  photo: public domain
“I believe it has to do with the respect commanded by President Masaryk. This armchair is really an exceptional piece, it witnessed milestone events in the country’s history, it is part of those events and this is why it generated so much interest. The writing table, which also belonged to Prague Castle furnishings, had a less visible place and evoked smaller interest.”

Nora Velková says that in due time the auction house may be allowed to reveal the name of the buyer. Until then one can only speculate as to whether the third armchair of the Masaryk collection is now back where it belongs and if so why Prague Castle choice to overlook the historic writing desk auctioned with it.