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Roger Prigent, 89; antiques dealer led French Empire furniture wave

Mr. Prigent’s photos were used on the covers of Vogue.

Vogue/file 1952

Mr. Prigent’s photos were used on the covers of Vogue.

NEW YORK — Roger ­Prigent — who gave up a promising career in fashion photography when his eyesight began to fail three decades ago and then became a prominent Manhattan antiques dealer, leading a popular new wave in French Empire furnishings — died Saturday at 89 in Manhattan.

He died at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center of complications of a recent stroke that had left him in a coma.

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Mr. Prigent received a diagnosis of macular degeneration in the late 1970s and had been blind for the last decade.

A French expatriate and a protege of the New York fashion photographer Lillian Bassman, Mr. ­Prigent — a colleague of Richard Avedon, whom he idolized — photographed the great modeling swans of Diane von Furstenberg and other postwar designers for the covers of and glossy spreads in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, McCall’s, and The Ladies’ Home Journal for nearly 30 years, from the early 1950s to the late 1970s.

Editors said his imaginative camera — moving from studios to the sidewalks of New York, Paris, Rome, and other capitals of fashion — elongated the giraffe neck of Suzy Parker and with a simple wisp of veil lent mystery to the elegant eyes of Dovima, even as the models’ swimsuits, sheaths, wraps, furs, bags, shoes, and hats crept subconsciously into the mind.

Mr. Prigent’s subjects for the covers of TV Guide were mainstays of entertainment — Sonny and Cher, Johnny Carson, Dick Cavett, Leslie Uggams — and his photographs lighted the covers of record albums by Barbra Streisand, Alice Cooper, and others.

After the diagnosis of macular degeneration, Mr. Prigent reinvented himself as a dealer in antiques. The choice was not hard. He had been collecting furniture and other pieces for years, storing them in his Upper East Side town house, and was a connoisseur of the Empire style, a neo-Classical revival of Greek and Roman motifs that were developed in the early 19th century during the reign of Napoleon.

‘’He loved all things Napoleon Bonaparte,’’ Wendy Goodman, the design editor of New York magazine, who had known Mr. Prigent since the 1970s, said Sunday.

‘‘He popularized French Empire, especially in the decorating world, at a time when decorators were really key to people. He mentored young designers, and was at the crux of popularizing Empire,’’ Goodman said.

‘’What was special about him was his ability to identify that Empire furniture was of interest and value and deserving of recognition, that it would become collectible, with resale value,’’ Osborne said. Mr. Prigent also promoted Maison Jansen furniture, adaptations of 18th-century French designs made in the 20th century, and collected designs by Jules Leleu, T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings, and Karl Springer.

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