An Antiquarian's Tale, Issue 217

Clinton Howell Antiques - January 23, 2023 - Issue 217

An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture

A semi biographical journey of my life in the English Decorative Arts

I would like to offer tickets to The Winter Show (Jan. 20-29, 2023) which I will be happy to mail to you, or which can be picked up at the show (the "will call" desk) when you come. If you would like them mailed to you, please supply me with your address. Otherwise, I will leave them in an envelope with willcall. I have a bunch of things that no one has seen before and as I write this, I am praying that my restorers get everything finished on time. In particular, I have a really good 1730's mirror with an antique plate--Greek key, shell and dart--no pediment, but a lovely item. Also a great mahogany bench dating around 1850 with great color, a very good tripod table with gallery and a rare occasional table that is Irish with four modified cabriole legs terminating with ball and claw feet--all with good color. There are more new items, but better to just come and see.

This is the last time you will see this introductory paragraph as the show ends this Sunday. There is still time, however, if you haven't yet visited. It is a great aesthetic experience as there is a wide range of things to see, but the really great part about visiting a show is engaging the dealers to talk about their goods. I can think of more than a few dealers willing to expound about their goods at length--me, of course, but others, as well.. The continuum that is art and design is a graph of humanity with moments of incredible productivity and moments of passivity and limited creativity. But limited creativity does not necessarily mean things aren't being created, it can mean that there is an overall satisfaction with the status quo making it harder for new things to break into the market.

One example of this dynamic would be the work of Rennie Mackintosh, the Scottish designer, whose take on how to do things was an obvious break with the past. The Victorian era of Mackintosh was focused more than ever on comfort. The innovations that had been made around upholstery and mechanical furniture were the rage--art style furniture was a clear reaction to it and Mackintosh's work was a dramatic shift away from the mandate for plush upholstery and mechanical furniture. Oddly, Mackintosh's work was recognized and greatly appreciated in Austria, a country that was also consumed with the mandate of comfort, and yet Austria also had craftsmen yearning to make the home more artistic in its middle class comforts. Austria's artistic response was the Wiener Werkstatte, a design ethos that made practical, but also artistically beautiful items for the home which embodied both middle class comfort and a distinct design aesthetic.

It is and has been since the 1770's, the middle class that has driven the reactions to over-the-top (expense-wise) decoration and yet that desire for luxury, new materials, new designs, sensuous curves are what drives designers. In the 18th century, the creation of and burgeoning group of well-to-do merchants, as exemplified in George Eliots's, "Middlemarch", helped to destroy the traditional bespoke cabinet trade because of a huge demand for furniture--not straightaway as Chippendale's firm, for example, continued with his son at the helm into the 19th century--but the demand encouraged more and more (inexperienced) furniture entrepreneurs which in turn led to a break down of the status quo. And yet every furniture making entity that was created thereafter made certain that they could attract the "big fish" clients willing to spend lavishly for not just their creature comforts, but as display for their friends, associates and even their competitors. Today's world recognizes all these breakaway movements as not only desirable, but highly collectible. Whether you are talking about the Memphis Group, the Bugatti's, the Arts and Crafts movement, 1950's Danish Modern, early Biedermeier, Eileen Gray, Piero Fornasetti--the list is endless as the art and design world always has someone doing something interesting that is worth seeing. That is what you may find when you come to The Winter Show.