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|Decorative Arts Diary
by Brook S. Mason
|New York -- the capital of the art world? Certainly not for antiques. London reigns supreme in this area, a truth that was utterly evident last month. This June, London saw no less than five fairs dedicated to the decorative arts, plus a sixth devoted to fine books, the ABA Antiquarian Booksellers Association fair.
Of course, Grosvenor House is at the top of the heap with reported sales totaling £55 million (£1 = $1.62). If there is a common thread to the sales this year, it is that an increasing number of high-powered collectors are buying like never before, snapping up museum-quality wares with outstanding provenance.
In fact, furniture dealers Norman Adams, Hotspur and Pelham Galleries reported having their best opening day sales ever. Stuart Whittington of Norman Adams had to practically restock his stand by the end of day one.
Further signs of an increasingly affluent collecting base include the following megasales: London dealer Johnny van Haeften sold a 17th-century Flemish interior by Pieter Neefs II and Gonzales Coques for a cool £1.2 million, while Pelham Galleries wrote up a pair of George III Chinese lacquered commodes for a reported £1 million. A five-piece Chinese blue and white garniture was sold for £300,000 by Vanderven & Vanderven. And Norman Adams sold an early-18th-century Irish armchair for £240,000. As expected, a great deal of English furniture was sold at the fair, which ran from June 14-20.
International Ceramics Fair
The 19-year-old International Ceramics Fair sets the gold standard for specialty shows with its seminar series. Organized by Brian and Anna Haughton, who also manage four "International" fairs in New York, the ceramics event is held at the Park Lane Hotel. Dating from 1927, this hotel boasts one of the rare remaining intact Art Deco interiors. Its ballroom, with its silvered paper and elegant metal trim, is not to be missed.
One sign of how avidly collectors cherish the ceramics fair is the early-morning queue on opening day, June 16. First to arrive are such noted collectors as Metropolitan Museum trustee Jayne Wrightsman, as well as Lord Jacob de Rothschild, head of the legendary banking family. They come for the museum-quality porcelains.
This year, English pottery and porcelain along with French porcelain was exceedingly popular. Jonathan Horne sold some 45 gin bottles priced up to £2,000 a piece. Valerie Harper sold a large set of Mason's Ironstone, while other dealers reported sales of Chelsea, Worcester and Bow. There were also brisk sales of Sevres.
Olympia Fine Art and Antiques Fair
With more than 400 dealers, the Olympia Fine Art and Antiques Fair has got to be the largest vetted show in the world. Tourists pour in to the fair, which opens June 8 and runs for 12 days. Virtually every specialty is represented, from antiquities and treen (bowls, trenchers, spoons of carved wood) to ship models and scientific instruments.
Yes, Olympia has got solid "brown furniture" and it seemed to be selling up a storm. Oxfordshire dealer Mike Harding Hill of Bugle Antiques sold a record three sets of Windsor chairs. An 18th-century set of six Windsors went for £20,000 while 19th-century examples sold for £10,000 a set. During the 18th century, such chairs were so common that they could be found in London coffeehouses -- the Starbucks of their day.
Also on hand was enough blue and white Staffordshire to stock a dozen restaurants. Dealer Peter Scott from Bath sold some 60 pieces, ranging in price from £380 right up to £2,000 for a foot bath. Only ten percent of those sales went to Americans. "That's quite a low figure for American consumption," says Scott.
Majolica, the pottery that tends towards camp, seems to be on an upswing. The moss pieces in which the clay is put through a garlic press-like contraption, thereby creating thin tendrils, is particularly pricey, says dealer Nicholas Boston. A single plate distinguished by a life-sized snake and lizard is £780. A large jardiniere in Minton, its inside that characteristic turquoise color, is £5,900. Boston, along with dealer Rita Smythe, reported selling a stunning 80 pieces, priced from £65 for a single plate to £11,000 for a major jardiniere.
Of course, tea caddies were in profusion. Long considered the requisite "small" for mantelpieces and shirt tables, caddies have gone up alarmingly in price. A decade ago, a good Georgian one could be plucked up for £100. These days at London dealers Judy and Tony Stone, a beautifully grained pair is £1,350, while a George III example with a shell insert is £895.
Olympia's top antiques are usually found on the balcony. Picture dealers like Richard Philip, Rafael Vallis and MacConnal Mason bring their second tier and some first-rate pictures. Even Colefax & Fowler, who have done many a National Trust house, are there. This venerable establishment has on hand a set of 13 Imari chargers in a soft blue from 1720 for a pricey £14,000.
At Koopman & Rare Art, the prize offerings include a bevy of silver. By June 16, Koopman's Lewis Smith reported selling stock costing from £5,000 to £100,000. Written up were no less than two sets of Paul Storr winecoolers. "People are buying the best, not the average pieces," says Smith. A German 1870 galleon, done in silver even down to its rigging, was on reserve for £27,500.
Hali Antique Carpet and Textile Art Fair
Just steps away from Olympia, the third annual Hali Antique Carpet and Textile Art Fair was up and running for five days beginning June 15. This may just be the fastest-growing specialty fair. Unlike the U.S., Britain has a long history of textile collectors. Last year, some 6,000 showed up for this souk-like, vetted event.
What's different this year is the rising number of participating dealers. This time, more than 60 exhibitors showed up from Turkey, Lebanon, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Sweden, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, the U.K. and the U.S. Rug dealers make up the overwhelming number of fair participants, and a survey revealed that Bokharas were the most common pattern. With so many more dealers and the stands reduced in size, the fair resembles a rabbit warren, making it supremely difficult for dealers to unfold large carpets for clients. But that is the only complaint about this fair.
Some of the very best textile dealers were participating, including London's Linda Wrigglesworth and Francesca Galloway. San Francisco Chinese rug dealer Sandra Whitman joined Wrigglesworth this year. Whitman reported selling a silk Yarkand carpet from east Turkestan for just under £60,000. A number of price points were represented on their stand, as elsewhere.
Wrigglesworh was offering 19th-century Chinese silks at £175 a meter. She had an outstanding set of 19th-century Chinese embroidered chair covers in cut silk with a chestnut brown ground and a silver blue velvet pile. The pattern of phoenixes, fu dogs and peonies was ravishing. The price was a modest £4,890.
Hali also had a selection of the truly unusual. For example, London dealer Joss Graham has hats from Cameroon in blue and white cotton, their heads topped with crocheted twists of threads so pointed they appeared like a take on outsider/folk art -- highly decorative and less than £2,000 each.
Ikats and suzanis were shown by Ziya Bozoglu of Perugia, Italy, and Markus Voigt of Munich. Dallas dealer Casey Walker had some of the more outstanding ikat robes. A velvet ikat robe in pale yellow silk from Uzbekistan is exceedingly rare and priced accordingly, at £48,000. In addition, he has velvet ikats at £9,000-£10,000.
The 20th Century Art & Design Fair
New on the fair roster this June is the 20th Century Art & Design Fair, also at Olympia. With some 80 plus dealers, this show makes New York's 26th Street flea market look haute. Interestingly, Britain's top 20th century dealers like Two Zero C. Applied Art were enrolled in the large Olympia show.
Here, there is garish contemporary art, blazing sunsets in oils, Clarice Cliff pottery, crafts, especially silver jewelry that looks like it came off the street and what looks suspiciously like tired furniture from Heals. One stand was filled with posters of the Beatles, another Marimekko fabrics. An Eames leather chair with footstool, very worn looking was a steep £2,800.
If anything this sleepy, uneven fair demonstrates how there is room for a top tier 20th-century show in London just like the one Brian and Anna Haughton do so well in New York.
BROOK S. MASON writes on art and antiques.