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The Seventh Regiment Armory on Park Avenue at East 67th Street




Inside the International Fine Art and Antique Dealers show




Mallett's booth at the International Fine Art and Antique Dealers Show




Ward & Co., with a 1st century AD Pompeian architectural fresco




The booth of London dealer Peter Finer




An 1880 beehive bank, and more, at Hyland Granby




A Diego Giacometti table, at Vallois




Henri Fantin-Latour
Self portrait as a Discouraged Artist
1895
at Jill Newhouse
Decorative Arts Diary
by Brook S. Mason


The International Fine Art and Antique Dealers Show, Oct. 17-23, 2003, at the Seventh Regiment Armory, Park Avenue at 67th Street, New York, N.Y. 10021

In the 16th century, sophisticated European aristocrats and merchants devoted special rooms to their arts holdings and vied for the choicest trophies. Some say the quest for rarities was unparalleled.

Well, fast-forward 400 years and the kunstkammer is recast in all its glory at Brian and Anna Haughton's International Fine Art and Antique Dealers Show. A total of 70 internationally distinguished dealers with holdings dating from antiquity onwards have installed their treasures in specially designed stands at the Park Avenue Armory.

For the 15th annual version of the fair, the holdings could not be more dramatically presented. Yes, paintings are in decidedly scant supply, but the decorative arts form a veritable textbook of exquisite examples.

First stop must be London's Mallett for English furniture. A pair of Chippendale consoles with perfectly carved blind frieze fronts from the historic Hagley Hall flank the stand doorway. Inside a prototype of the Robert Jupe patented folding table stands before a gessoed George I bureau bookcase. Provenance is everything with Mallet. The Portuguese Royal Family had owned the gilded bureau bookcase, which practically glistens with its foliage detailing.

Mallett also boasts a set six red lacquer chinoiserie chairs from 1730 that are among the most celebrated and documented examples of all time. They are by Giles Grendey and had been part of a 70-piece supply of furniture to the Spanish Duke of Infantada. The chairs bear their original trade label and cost $833,000.

Demand must be voracious for lighting fixtures, because they are everywhere, ranging from Louis XV gilt sconces at Jacques and Patrick Perrin to Louis Comfort Tiffany stained glass lamps at Lillian Nassau and Argand lamps dripping with cut crystal while used for whale oil at Carswell Rush Berlin.

Paris dealer Ariane Dandois is featuring a total of eight chandeliers, some of them 18th-century Neapolitan. Accompanying the gilt and crystal fixtures are a pair of papier-mch nodding figures. Dressed in gilt trimmed robes, the Chinese couple are anything but Oriental. They are Piedmontese.

With the craze for chinoiserie sweeping Europe in the 18th century, and Chinese imports prohibitively expensive, local Italian artisans took to making copies. "Ceramic nodding-head figures are more common, making this pair a rarity," says Dandois. The price is $145,000, but then similar pairs can be found in Brighton Pavilion as well as a host of palazzos.

Antiquities and medieval specialist Michael Ward is offering up the ultimate example of trompe l'oeil -- la Pompeii, that is. It's a fresco of an architrave dating from the first century. Picked out in a sophisticated palette of chalk blue, moss green and soft tobacco brown, this pedimented doorframe is a delight. It sold for a modest $38,000. Taking a cue from the slumping economy, Ward also has a number of smalls under $10,000 each like Greek and Roman rings and terracotta vessels.

With garden sculpture striking high internationally, London dealer Alistair Sampson has the finest cast iron stags just about anywhere. Antlered and sporting gold coronets around their necks, the late 18th-century English stags stand over four feet high. Considering the high prices paid today for routine 19th-century garden sculpture, this pair at $125,000 is relatively inexpensive. Sampson's stand is also filled with English Delft, needlework and oak furniture.

London dealer Peter Finer stands inside his very own red-clad armory packed solid with double barreled flintlock sporting guns, some inlaid with gold and silver, broadswords, rapiers and crossbows. But can German suits of field armor be the current fancy of collectors in these war-ravaged times? Precisely yes. Finer sold a 1580 German suit of armor to an American for a six-figure sum while a Latin American plucked up five daggers dating from 1700-1860 on Monday. "The market for important objects is still strong," observes Redmond Finer.

Massachusetts dealer Hyland Granby is pure Yankee with his Americana holdings. There's an amusing brass bank in the form of a two feet-tall beehive surmounted by ferocious looking bees. Dating from 1880, this example, which is part kitsch, part folk, costs $17,500. Granby's regulation scrimshaw, carved eagles, maritime brass clocks and all manner of ship paintings, surrounds it.

Speaking of Bill Blass, Belgian dealer Axel Vervoordt trimmed up his entire stand as an ode to the late fashion designer. Vervoordt supplied Blass with an abundance of antiques, like 19th-century cabinetmakers' models of circular staircases and gorgeous 19th-century English doors on his stand. A handsome set of four doors in burr maple is priced at $85,000. Vervoordt had already sold a pair of restrained English Neo-classical marble mantelpieces.

For American aviation history, Kenneth W. Rendell is selling an archival treasure trove. One can swoop up the original working maps and charts used by Charles Lindbergh to draft his historic trip across the ocean in the fabled Spirit of St. Louis. They cost $375,000. The pilot logs for the final test flights can be had for $100,000. Three letters and a manuscript by Wilbur and Orville Wright are also available.

Paris dealer Bob Vallois who has supplied Karl Lagerfeld with top Art Deco and Moderne is touting a unique Diego Giacometti cocktail table. The size is stupendous.

To accompany the table, there is an Alberto Giacometti bronze Bust d'Homme, which had been cast in 1973 from a 1961 model. The patina and modeling could not be finer. Picasso fans might prefer the artist's Cubist Figure in oil, watercolor, gouache and pencil from 1915.

Among the picture dealers at the fair are Agnews, Browse + Darby, Cazeau-Braudire, Hirschl & Adler, Iona Antiques, MacConnal-Mason and Emmanuel Moatti.

New York dealer Jill Newhouse brought several self-portraits by Impressionist and Post-Impressionist pioneers, including an early 1898 painting of The Artist and Marthe in the Bedroom by Pierre Bonnard (another version is in the Muse d'Orsay) and an unusually engaging charcoal self-portrait by Edouard Vuillard in which the artist looks provocatively out at the viewer.

Newhouse also has an amusing late pencil drawing by Henri Fantin-Latour, Self Portrait as a Discouraged Artist (1895), which shows the painter dozing before a blank canvas, surrounded by three winged muses. The price: $60,000.


BROOK S. MASON writes on the fine and decorative arts.