An Antiquarian's Tale, Issue 58

Clinton Howell Antiques - October 14, 2019 - Issue 58

An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture

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

To continue on museum going, I was also lucky enough this last summer to get to Athens, London and Paris. Naturally, I visit museums when I go to a place I haven't visited before (Athens) and I also re-visit old favorites when I return to Paris and London. In Paris, I went to the Orangerie for the first time in many years and saw Monet's "Water Lilies"--two rotundas of painted canvas showing his best known subject, lily pads, in varying light and, I believe, varying seasons. His facility with paint is just remarkable.  Those rooms, and I was lucky as there were not that many people viewing--are astonishing, it is almost like being inside a kaleidoscope of color that is a water scape, as you turn around to view each of the four canvases. There are two rooms of this work, no less. I remember being awed by the Monet's at the Hermitage as well as the Monet's at MOMA, but this experience is quite something. I also attended the Biennale, a show sponsored by the Syndicat  National des Antiquaires (SNA) at the Grand Palais. It is now an annual show, very different from the month long shows that happened just 20 years ago, but then times have changed. It remains a high quality show with extraordinary art and antiques. 

London is like a second home for me. I feel very comfortable throughout the city and usually know what I want to see at any given point in time that I might visit. The Royal Academy puts on one of the great art shows, in my opinion, every June. The artwork on view is drawn from a massive group of paintings submitted by artists throughout the UK as well as from Royal Academicians. To my mind, art has been hijacked by the value it represents and its potential for future value. This is, of course, how markets work and, in a way, you cannot argue with it, but there is a sadness in it for me as many (potentially great) artists are ignored. The Royal Academy Show is a release from the confines of the market, despite the fact that everything is for sale. It is always worth attending. It would be neglectful to omit a mention of the  "Masterpiece" show, one of two superb shows that still feature great English furniture. The show is in the same place as the Chelsea Flower Show and is an extraordinary venue for seeing the best of the best in the antique and contemporary decorative arts. Neither of these events are museums, per se, but the goods they show could qualify for any museum.

Finally, Athens, a first time long awaited visit for me, was a revelation. Walking up the Acropolis is walking through history, despite the scrum of waiting in line to access the mountain top. The Parthenon is, unlike the Pyramids, an expression of living wealth and a healthy society, not a memorial to a bygone autocrat. The New Archaeological Museum that is at the foot of the Acropolis complements the buildings on the hill spectacularly. It gives you a sense of what the building looked like (painted with the enormous statue of Athena inside the Parthenon) which is a very long shot from what it looks like now. The other extraordinary museum I visited was the Byzantine Christian Museum. Virtually empty of visitors, the museum follows in a non-pedantic fashion, the many variations that Byzantine Christianity has followed in art and objects since 300 A.D. It is the type of museum where you really want to read every last card on the wall to figure out just how this painting/object fits into the panoply of Orthodox Christianity. Don't miss it if you ever get to Athens.