by Isabelle Kellogg
As owners of the country’s largest and oldest antiques, fine arts and estate jewelry dealers in the US, the Rau family has seen its share of ups and downs over the decades at its historic gallery located in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Three generations of the Rau family have weathered the best and worst of New Orleans and been an integral part of the city’s economy and recovery.
Like this city that keeps bouncing back, one can easily make the comparison to M.S. Rau Antiques, which has operated on Royal Street for one hundred years. Since 1912, when Max Rau set up his gallery to sell wrought and cast iron, art and cut glass, and Victorian furniture, the business has seen a significant share of the world’s pre-eminent antiques, fine arts and jewelry pass through its doors, even through the Great Depression.
Works by some of the most famous Impressionist artists from Cezanne to Monet, as well as America’s own illustrious painters like Norman Rockwell, and recently a few canvases by Sir Winston Churchill, spend very little time at M.S. Rau before being snapped up by collectors, celebrities and museums around the world.
From its humble beginnings, M.S. Rau went on to develop its specialization in 18th and 19th century antiques. Its vast inventory is spread over a sprawling, two-story gallery. The second floor of the gallery opened in the late 1940’s. Visitors to the gallery can really get an in-depth art history lesson. Furniture from Versailles and other royal houses, and early American industrialists, vie for attention next to massive sets of sterling silver from King George VI and other pedigreed decorative art objects, porcelains and unusually rare items. Provenance at Rau is a signature of the business; reading where the pieces come from is an amazing experience. There is even a small salon devoted to “mechanical” musical boxes with miniature singing birds. Decorative and unusual canes also occupy a significant part of the selling floor.
“Collecting has been the DNA of my family for years,” explained Bill Rau, who is the third generation owner of the business. “Being able to source, sell and appreciate the heritage side of the business continues to be my passion, and I expect that M.S. Rau will be around for another 100 years in the same location.”
In the past two years, Bill Rau opened Le Salon around the corner from the main store, where an ever-increasing selection of antiques and decorative objects are on display in a more residential setting. The company is ready to publish its first hardcover book covering 19th century painting. In order to preserve the legacy, a short documentary film is also being produced that highlights the history of the family and the business.
Not one to rest on its laurels, Bill Rau is an energetic supporter of initiatives that benefit New Orleans. The Rau for Art Foundation kicks off the centennial celebration with its first art contest for local high school students. Seen as a way to promote art appreciation at the high school level, Rau for Art Foundation’s contest will award scholarship and prize money totaling $17,000 to winners and their high school art departments, as well as exhibit the winners’ artwork at the gallery.
M.S. Rau employs an in-house team of photographers and researchers who diligently record and detail every piece for the website, which is a veritable lesson in art history. For lovers of prestige antiques and fine arts, M.S. Rau is unlike any other antiques and fine arts gallery in the US. In addition, a visit to M.S. Rau allows experienced collectors and antiques neophytes the opportunity to converse with experts about museum quality art and memorabilia, as well as offering a hands-on experience that no website can equal. The Impressionist gallery on the second floor is a highly recommended stop for visitors to New Orleans by hotel concierges.
While the gallery is in constant flux with antiques coming in and going out, some of the recent acquisitions include a silver mounted fusee bird box (29-1546); a Versailles Palace chair (29-5370); the Louisiana World’s Fair Cabinet (29-5491); the King of Hanover inkwell (29-0889); the Furstenburg dinner service commissioned by George V, King of Hanover (29-1395), and a pair of Royal Regency silver wine coolers by silversmith Paul Storr (29-6602).
Bill Rau maintains an aggressive schedule of antiques shows throughout the year, where he meets local collectors and loyal patrons of his gallery. Among the shows that M.S. Rau participates in are The Los Angeles Fine Art Show (01/18/2012 – 01/22/2012); the Naples Art, Antique & Jewelry Show (02/9/2012 – 02/13/2012); the Palm Beach Jewelry, Art & Antique Show (02/17/2012 – 02/21/2012); the Chicago Merchandise Mart International Antiques Fair (04/27/2012 – 04/30/2012); the Aspen Antiques & Fine Arts Fair (07/06/2012 – 07/15/2012); the Baltimore Summer Antiques Show (08/23/2012 – 08/26-2012), and the New York Antiques, Art & Design at the Armory (09/21/2012 – 09/24/2012).
M.S. Rau is located at 630 Royal Street, telephone toll free (800) 544 9440. www.rauantiques.com.
To read the entire article, and view all the photos, please view the Art of the Times winter – spring 2012 issue as a PDF above.