When the Old Masters crowd -- that is, those collectors whose taste runs to fine 17th-century Dutch and Flemish paintings -- goes shopping for home furnishings, recreating the past is uppermost in their minds. At least it is when they're at TEFAF Maastricht, the world's leading fair for old masters, antiques and the decorative arts, March 13-21, 1999.
Picture dealers report that an increasing number of their clients are trying to replicate the look and feel of their Old Masters in their own home decorating schemes. New York dealer Otto Naumann, for instance, has added distinctive blue-painted Delft porcelain as well as period furnishings to his gallery.
But what are the critical components for capturing that 17th-century Old Master look? "Silver is perfect," says Abraham Aardewerk, whose gallery in The Hague happens to specialize in it. "In 17th-century Holland and Flanders, objects of silver and pewter, tapestry-covered chairs and stools, intricate collectors cabinets and Delft, of course, conveyed a message of wealth, social importance and sophistication," he adds.
Among the dazzling items Aardewerk has brought to Maastricht is a rectangular toilette mirror from 1665. Its very simplicity is striking and the price is $125,000. Silver candlesticks are favored by a number of his clients. Dated 1674-78, a plain pair of pedestal candlesticks made in Maastricht cost $350,000. Examples from later periods are considerably less expensive, of course.
Antwerp dealer Axel Vervoordt also carries some distinguished silver. A perfectly plain bowl made by the English silversmith Fawdry in 1717 is $60,000 while a Queen Anne footed salver from 1702 is $110,000.
Pewter plates, flagons and tankards are also frequently depicted in 17th-century still lifes. Simply check out a 1637 still life by Willem Claesz Heda at London dealer Richard Green's booth. Jan Roelofs, who specializes in period furnishings, features several handsome pewter items, priced from $5,000 to $15,000.
But for a fuller range of pewter, Jan Beekhuizen of Amsterdam carries 18th-century German, Dutch, Flemish, French and Swiss examples priced from $1,250 to $12,500. "In fact, an American client who collects Old Master paintings just purchased some broad rim pewter chargers to complete the period look, " said Beekhuizen.
What else? Blue and white porcelain, for sure. In particular, Delft. The dealer of choice for such objects is Aronson Antiquairs of Amsterdam. Dealer Dave Aronson, who sits on the TEFAF executive committee, has perhaps the largest collection of Delft in the world. His clients include the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Large jars with covers were used as fireplace ornaments during the summer months in 17th-century Holland. Chinese porcelain was commonly used, and Delft examples are considered rare today.
Delft is not cheap by any means. At Aronson, prices run from $2,000 straight up to $200,000 for plates, plaques, figures and garniture sets. Especially cunning are pairs of cows painted with floral garlands around their necks. A pair from 1660 cost a mere $80,000, says Aronson. Blue and white tulip holders are another typical type often depicted in Dutch and Flemish painting.
It's not unusual for some Old Masters paintings dealers to also stock blue and white porcelain -- it seems the natural accompaniment to their paintings. Bernheimer of London and Munich is a case in point. In their booth is a porcelain powder under glaze blue ground ginger jar with cover. This Kangxi jar is in impeccable condition and has already been snapped up by an astute collector.
Then Vanderven & Vanderven Oriental Art has some fine examples of Wan-Li dishes, which are frequently pictured in Dutch still lifes. A Wan-Li blue and white plate is $1,021.
For glassware typical of the period, Blumka features a Venetian tazza from 1520. In the center of the tazza is a Southern German eglomise enamel roundel.
Also topping the shopping list for 17th-century décor is a collector's cabinet. While such pieces are extremely rare, they can be found here at Maastricht. Dealer Pieter Hoogendijk of Baarn, Holland, stocks a particularly distinctive example. Made in the northern part of the country after 1650, this 15-drawer cabinet is constructed of oak veneered with olive wood, bone and engraved mirrors. Its two center doors open onto a niche flanked by facades of a miniature house.
Only three other similar pieces are known -- one in the Rijksmuseum and the other two in museums in Berlin and The Hague. Such cabinets often contained coin collections and were only for the extremely wealthy. Clearly, they remain so. This one is priced at $900,000.
Tapestries, of course, are next on the list. Medieval castles and homes of landed nobles always had a tapestry or two. Galerie Chevalier from Paris is showcasing a large (334 by 248 cm.) verdure tapestry in silk and wool, picturing a pair of lovebirds in a massive oak. The central image is surrounded by an ornate border of bouquets and cartouches containing other sylvan scenes. It was made ca. 1625-30 by Pierre Brimard in Paris.
Vervoordt has a particularly distinctive Flemish example. The scene depicted is of horse and groom, the border is filled with bridles and horse brushes. The colors are soft pale green, blues and taupes. The price is $185,000.
Galerie Blondeel-Deroyan of Paris has a number of outstanding tapestries. An excellent choice would be a Flemish one. So consider picking up a version of Rhodopis and King Psamtik from the series "The Wonders of the World" based on engravings after Maarten de Vos. Of wool and silk, this tapestry -- which measures over nine by 12 feet -- costs $150,000.
Turn to J. Zeberg of Antwerp for period chairs and stools covered with tapestry, which are also commonly depicted in paintings. A number of superlative examples can be found at the fair, including an early 17th-century walnut stool with scrolled legs and a tapestry seat worked in greens and blues. The cost is $20,000.
Wealthy Dutch and Flemish merchants usually had a sculpture or two. Axel Vervoordt has a singular bronze attributed to Artus Quellinus the Elder (1609-1668), who was a contemporary of Rubens and Vermeer. The subject, The Centaur Nessus Abducting Deianira, is handled with great drama.
Earlier sculptures can be had at Blumka Gallery. There is museum-quality Judith with the Head of Holofernes of carved alabaster, partially painted and gilded and inset with fresh-water pearls and garnets. This delicate portrayal of a dramatic subject, dated 1570, is by Gert van Egen and sold by day three of the fair to an American client.
But Americans aren't the only ones seeking to duplicate the past. "French, English, Latin Americans and Turkish clients have been buying Renaissance furniture as well as medieval and later sculpture and ivories," reports Tony Blumka.
One thing is certain about this look. It's hardly inexpensive!
BROOK S. MASON writes on antiques and the decorative arts.