Essential Understanding of Old Things

The discussion was largely focused on antiquities, but it applies to English antique furniture. There are certain pieces that just jump out at you for being 18th century. Everything about them, the wood, the craftsmanship, their color and condition just reek of an 18th century workshop. I would say, however, that pieces that touch all those bases are rare. Most pieces of English furniture require a reasoned assessment to determine their age. Interestingly, a group of documented furniture coming out of Houghton Hall in Norfolk, despite great provenance, leaves room for concern because the secondary woods on much of the seat furniture look amazingly fresh.

It only gets more difficult as you look at older items in the heritage of world art. Again, some things just jump out at you as being genuine, but others, for whatever reason, just come off as later or possibly fake. Interestingly, as far as I am concerned, there are certain antiquities that I feel more attuned to as, for example, Cycladic sculpture. I know next to nothing about it, but the pieces seem to have a purity that cannot be replicated. And yet, I would dismiss my “œfeeling” and always rely on someone who knew the culture, the time period and the range of known, genuine artworks. 

My response to the question is that knowing a culture leads to a different kind of understanding of its artistic output. I can believe that a deeper understanding is more valid than the visceral pull that many old things have. I also don’t believe that visceral pull is spiritual in any form. However, I do believe that people who care for artworks leave an indelible mark on things. This all reminds me of a conversation I had with an English furniture dealer about thirty years ago. After a long discussion about a piece in this man’s inventory, I asked him what, in his opinion, makes a piece old. He replied, It is if I say it is.”

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