An Antiquarian's Tale, Issue 28

Clinton Howell Antiques - March 19, 2018 - Issue 28

An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture

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

The cheap flights available to London in the 1980's were nothing short of fantastic. Freddy Laker came first and then People Express. Occasionally, you could fly for as little as $100 one way. If there was a really great auction, I would fly over for three nights, the first day to get to the sale and view it, the second day to attend the sale and the last day to get home. This is nothing to what businessmen do, I had a friend that flew to Australia for eight hours, but I also was a sole proprietor operating on a slim budget. In a way, those days were more friendly to people operating on a shoe string budget. My reason for getting to many of the great sales was because I was reviewing them for "Art & Auction", the magazine that the trade loved to hate because it gave publicity to the sale rooms. In truth the magazine was an inevitable outgrowth of the art business which was joining the ranks of asset class investments. Among the first major investment funds to do this was the British Railways Pension Fund which bought some extraordinary things at extraordinary prices--I remember a Rennie Mackintosh chair that made a record price for the designer in the early 80's of well over 100,000 GBP.

The second reason I flew over for these quick visits was to visit yet another house. If I could not get to a new one, I went to one I'd been to before. Chatsworth, for example, which is geographically in the heart of the UK was a place I often visited. It was also open more frequently than many houses. Kedleston Hall, a Robert Adam house about half an hour south of Chatsworth was extremely difficult to visit before it joined the National Trust. It was open, if I remember correctly, the first Sunday of the month from 11-4. But Kedleston has such extraordinary furniture by John Linnell that it is a must see visit for the furniture enthusiast. I also remember the very first time I went to Nostell Priory, a Thomas Chippendale furnished house. I arrived about five minutes before closing time and the very nice custodians, after learning that I had come from America to see the collection, kept the house open for me for an extra half hour. Nostell was a particularly instructive house in a number of ways. The suite of dining room furniture, for example, has two chairs that have been left in window nooks and are dramatically different in color because of sun exposure. The rest of the chairs are dark, with an altogether different patina. (So much for "one color" decoration schemes.) There was also a commode that is somewhat crudely adapted to fit against the seat rail and baseboard molding. I don't remember if the thinking was that Chippendale did this or not, but to me, it is suggestive of how furniture is viewed by the pragmatist--make it fit no matter what.