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by Brook S. Mason
|Forget Minimalism. The English country house look still wins hands down on both sides of the Atlantic. Consider two tony purveyors in London: Mallett, and Colefax and Fowler. The art and antiques they both sell says volumes about this entrenched style.
Mallet on New Bond Street
"A major ingredient of the English country house look is George III giltwood mirrors and fine walnut furniture," says Giles Hutchinson Smith, director at Mallett's New Bond Street gallery. On view is a superlative pair of chinoiserie mirrors. They've got all the trimmings: foliate and C-scrolls, pendant bellflowers, urns and even Hoho birds. Dating from 1760, the pair costs $232,000.
While that price may sound steep, museums routinely shop at Mallet. For example, the Victoria & Albert has acquired more than 50 works from there.
Generally, such mirrors in top condition with original gilding and strong provenance can fetch considerably more at auction both here and in New York. "In the past ten years, prices for fine George III mirrors have shot up 50 percent," says Peter Lang, Sotheby's New York director of English furniture. Overall, considerably more than one third of the best George III lots sell at auction above their high estimates.
Another key George III piece would be an outstanding diminutive chest. One example, in its original condition with a perfect patina, is priced at $264,000.
But it's not all sedate furniture. Also on hand is a pair of cut glass throne chairs from 1895, made for a maharaja and his consort.
For pictures, Mallett is touting a Sidney Richard Percy (1821-1886) landscape, Jack-fishing. Exhibited at the prestigious Royal Academy, this massive picture measuring 72 inches in length could not be more dramatic with its swirling storm clouds pierced with shafts of light and perfectly rendered trees. The price: $312,000. Less costly pictures, particularly needlepoint, are also available. "There's a clamor for heritage that needlepoint addresses, and rightly so," adds Hutchinson Smith.
Like an increasing number of high-end dealers, Mallett takes its wares to the global bazaar. In the coming months, it can be found at the International Fine Art and Antique Dealers Fair (Oct. 15-21, 1999, at the Seventh Regiment Armory in New York), TEFAF Maastricht (Mar. 10-18, 2000), Grosvenor House (June 14-29, 2000) and the London Ceramics Fair.
"Humble Elegance" at Colefax and Fowler
"Regency is the predominant style," says Roger Jones, who oversees the Colefax inventory of some 600 items from its Mayfair headquarters. Japanned chairs, faux bamboo bookcases and the regulation needlepoint ottoman are on view. Prices are moderate for this look; a pair of painted and gilded chairs costs $5,000.
What's new is a bevy of early Gothic Revival furnishings quite unlike the later heavy examples. There's a splendid Gothic Revival console with marble top for $28,800. Flanking it perfectly would be two chairs for $7,200.
For art, the tone is hushed. Not full-blown oils but 18th- and 19th- century engravings are de rigeur. Matched sets of views of country houses depict the gentry at leisure, strolling and sailing. Many sets are under $7,000.
Interestingly, Americans make up approximately 30 percent of the client base for antiques. "Americans have a greater appreciation for period decorative furnishings while the English approach antiques in a more serious vein," observes Jones. That may explain why Colefax has done up homes throughout the U.S.
Sources: If you're keen to brush up on this style par excellence, head for: Mallett, 141 New Bond Street, London, W1Y 0BS. Tel: 011 44 171 499 7411; Mallett, Bourdon House, 2 Davies Street, Berkeley Square, London, W1Y 1LJ. Tel: 011 44 171 629 2444; and Colefax and Fowler, 39 Brook Street, London W1Y 2JE. Tel: 011 44 171 493 2231. Or pick up a copy of: Colefax and Fowler's Interior Inspirations by Roger Banks-Pye, Bulfinch Press, 1997, $45.
BROOK S. MASON writes on art and antiques.
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