An Antiquarian's Tale, Issue 276

Clinton Howell Antiques - March 4, 2024 - Issue 276

An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture

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

The resonance of place echoes, I think I can say with some certainty, in everybody's mind. The echo can be good and/or bad or even both, but the resonance is there. I can say that about the five years I spent in London, It is  an amazing place for the depth and breadth of history that it has been witness to, with plenty of historical brick and mortar to visit that serve as markers of that history, not to mention gardens and interiors. New York City has never quite had the same resonance for me which may be a function of moving to the city in my mid-fifties. New York has  plenty to offer, however, in its great vitality. There are, according to a language professor at Columbia I met recently, over six hundred languages spoken in New York City. If that doesn't make for some interesting conversations, I don't know what does.

If you have seen the movie, "Citizen Kane", which I remember seeing when I was twelve, you will remember Kane's death where a snow globe falls from his hand as he expires. It is an allegory for the happiest years of Kane's life and the sled he received as a child for Christmas, named Rosebud. Orson Welles, the director of the film, clearly understood how an object can resonate and spark memory. Childhood is not necessarily the only time that can evoke memory, however. As a dealer in furniture, there are pieces that I have bought which are still as clear in my mind as on the day that I bought them, to wit, the pair of ratty Hepplewhite side chairs that were close to being my very first antique furniture purchase. I was so very excited to have something that was made before 1800!

As a dealer, however, I have learned that some objects have a singularity and consequently resonate more deeply. Gilded furniture can leave me cold or can fascinate me. The gilded suite of furniture that I referenced recently that I took to a Palm Beach Fair was stylish and very attractive, but it doesn't compare to the walnut armchair I currently own. That chair has something distinctive that is beyond its color, which is sensational for a chair--I would love to see a condensed visual history of it beginning in 1740 when it was made. Clearly, I am mixing the visual resonance of an object with the emotional symbolism that an item can represent, but English furniture as a whole--both, in fact--ties into my time in London, a place that continues to ensnare me physically and emotionally on every visit--a time that ended up forming me in ways I couldn't have imagined.