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Obituaries

Henry Cordier; Fine Art Expert

June 15, 2001|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Henry Cordier, a fine arts dealer, restoration expert and appraiser, has died at the age of 89.

Cordier died in his sleep Sunday at his Malibu home, said his wife, Toni.

After Hitler's rise to power dissuaded Cordier from joining the German foreign service, he immigrated to the United States before World War II and moved to Los Angeles in 1944. Here he established himself as an art appraiser and dealer, and a couple of decades later added art and antiques restoration to his resume.

Combining the best instincts of a detective, an accountant and a librarian, Cordier became adept at determining the value of paintings and other works so that insurance companies could cover them or reimburse owners if the art was stolen or destroyed. He also worked with Los Angeles courts, assisting wealthy divorcing couples in dividing property.

One of his toughest assignments was appraising the value of a stolen Matisse--a canvas of a woman that had never been cataloged. Cordier laboriously sifted through worldwide sales records as far back as 1908 to come up with the figure $75,000. Because of his reputation, the insurance company accepted his decision and paid the owner for the missing painting that neither Cordier nor the insurance executives had ever seen.

In another case, Cordier was asked to appraise a series of 400 paintings owned by a museum--works by an artist who had never sold a thing. Yet the series was well known to artists of the 1920s through the 1950s because it depicted many famous painters and sculptors at work. Cordier decided that the collection should be insured for $500,000.

As he moved into restoration, Cordier peopled his cluttered little shop on La Cienega Boulevard with craftsmen, many with previous experience working for museums.

In the mid-1970s, Cordier and his assistants meticulously restored a $30,000 antique Dresden china chandelier that fallen from a ceiling and smashed into thousands of minute fragments. The work took several months and cost the owners $2,500, but the chandelier appeared good as ever once it was carefully and securely re-hung.

Cordier and his staff could almost invisibly patch torn paintings, create parts for 200-year-old clocks, fashion a chrome signature for the side of a 1933 Chevrolet, and make new pieces of patterned silverware to match an antique set.

One of Cordier's oddest restorations involved refurbishing a rusted and dented suit of armor into a modern sentry for the entry of an elegant home. Cordier even installed a motorized visor, which flipped up when a visitor approached, and a recording challenging, "Who goes there?"

Although he had studied law and held a doctor of laws degree from the University of Bern in Switzerland, Cordier came from a long line of European art experts. Six generations of the family had manufactured and restored fine furniture and antiques. His father was a representative of the venerated German Meissen porcelain company, and a great-uncle was a consultant on the Vatican art collection.

Cordier was active in the American Society of Appraisers, and in 1976 was elected to its College of Fellows and chosen president. He also belonged to the Incorporated Society of Valuers and Auctioneers of London.

Despite his work with antiques, Cordier delighted in experimenting with modern concepts such as solar energy for homes and automobiles.

He is survived by his wife, Toni; a daughter, Vivian; a son, Raymond; and a brother, Herbert.

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