No other art and antique fair can claim superstar status like Grosvenor House, a veritable London institution on view until June 15. At 70 years of age, this is the Queen Mum of all fairs, and in the eyes of the British, the most glittering. In fact, the late Queen Mary lent her royal patronage to this event.
And the Brits are not wrong in steeply scoring this show. With the venerable London firm Partridge joining the 92-dealer roster, there are more important examples from the great age of English furniture than ever. Call this fair a precious blend of commerce and antiques brilliance.
Fabulous Chippendale, outstanding Sheraton, then spectacular silver by Paul de Lamerie and Paul Storr. Interspersed are Dutch and Flemish Old Masters along with the high points of British painting from the Sir Anthony van Dyck straight through to the 20th.
For the best of British antiques, London dealer Ronald Phillips is featuring a Chinese Chippendale mirror that rivals one sold at Christies in the Doris Duke collection last week. Dating from 1765, this beauty bears its original gilding and mirror plates, too. Its touched with Gothic temples at the top and dotted with ho-ho birds: mythical exotic creatures dreamed up by humorous 18th century cabinetmakers. The price is princely: 385,000 pounds but then the Duke mirror went for over $1 million
In addition, Phillips is boasting another rarity: a Chinese Chippendale mirror with a nod to Swedish country. This 18th century beauty with restrained carving complete with small Neoclassical urns is glazed with its original white and blue paint. Its the first one of its kind on the market, says Jeremy Garfield-Davies of Phillips.
Also on this stand is a 1720 gilt gessoed low boy with a surface embossed with miniature double rings and overlaid with raised foliate sprays. In candlelight, this piece of furniture literally glows. Plus, the provenance is powerful, too. It had been owned by Major John Courtauld, the brother of the famed industrialist and Impressionist painting collector Samuel Courtauld. Major John paid a then hefty 135 for the low boy in 1925. Then that sum could purchase an entire 19th century London townhouse.
Such lavish furniture in gold was the height of sophistication then and today these antiques encapsulate the rich essence for the 18th century. Another example can be found with Mallett. Their 1720 secretary in gilt gesso on view had belonged to the Portuguese royal family.
Overall, glittering gilt seems to mark more antiques than in recent memory. For example, Harris Lindsay is showing a pair of late 17th century gilt wood stands in the shape of full size robust eight year olds. They are possibly German or Italian. Matthew Boltons gilt bronze creations from small urn perfume burners to weighty mantel clocks as well as Svres porcelain with ormolu mounts and fine German silver gilt vessels are dotted throughout the fair. Call this the age of unbridled rich taste. Why such ostentation? One Floridian fair organizer sniffed: Theyre trying to appeal to the newly rich Russians.
For sheer scale and bold architectonic furniture nothing beats the massive mahogany breakfront library bookcase shown by London dealer Jeremy. Topped by a broken pediment and trimmed up with delicately carved miniature vines and roses on the slender panels banking both sides, this antique demonstrates the bristling prowess of 18th century cabinetmakers. Originally owned by the first Marchioness of Aberdeen, the bookcase is now 450,000.
Not to be outdone, Apter Fredericks is showing a rare field maple secretary stained to look like tortoiseshell. That exotic shell material had to be the leopard print of its day. Another best of its kind example is a Sheraton secretary in blond satinwood from 1790. With silver plated hardware, this refinely designed but hardly fragile secretary costs 235
For a confectionary-like accessory, Mallett is touting a rare treat: a domed temple created from thousands of tiny pink and white seashells brought back by a 1770 ship captain from the West Indies. Its totally fanciful and comes complete with seashell roses twirling up its columns and a magnificently carved mahogany tripod stand accentuated with carved shells by William Ince. Such a time-consuming craft project is hardly modestly priced. But then this is a real rarity that had been tucked away in a private collection for centuries. Its 375,000.
Enthusiasts of 20th century British painting are bound to zero in on dealer Peter Nahum. Hes got one of the last available Patrick Heron paintings (works by the English artist burned in the tragic warehouse fire last week along with those by Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin). Already this painting in emerald green and vibrant orange dubbed appropriately Emerald with Reds and Ceruleum is receiving rapt attention. Before the fire, the Heron would have been priced at 180,000. Now, Nahum may sell it for 250,000 or it could go even a tad higher. An early Heron, small in size, made 90,000 at auction recently, says Nahum.
But now, who knows?
To tempt the most doting parents and grandparents, Manhattans Kentshire Galleries brought over a dollhouse looking like a limestone townhouse, c. 1780. It had belonged to children of King George III against whom we waged our American revolution. His princesses made the small needlepoint rugs and embroidered bed hangings. They even trimmed up the dressing table mirror with lace, a dcor patterned exactly after their mothers. This dollhouse descended in the family of screen star Helen Bonham Carter, reports Kentshires Robert Israel. Though sold, its remaining in England as the charming toy has been acquired by Kew Palace.
If such 18th century frivolity and masterpieces are not your fancy, then fast forward to the millennium by stopping by the stand of C.L. Burman. This London glass dealer has corralled the ultimate in high tech furniture: a computer woven carbon fiber plaited day bed in a wonderful cylindersque shape. Its one of a limited edition of 12 and no less than the Museum of Modern Art owns an example.
That oh-so trendy example proves Britains best show spans the centuries with style like no other.
BROOK S. MASON writes on the fine and decorative arts.
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