Whitehall Blog

Archive for August, 2009

Blinded by Beauty

Monday, August 31st, 2009

This is such an exciting chair to see–in a friend’s country house in Missouri. It has tiger and bird’s eye maple galore–blindingly beautiful. And that can be the problem.

Before reading further, have you spotted the very serious problem? There is only one–but it’s a value killer!

OK–it’s the back splat which should be lyre shaped! I admired this chair in our guest bedroom for several days before I noticed that little problem–I only looked at that gorgeous wood. This is how many people make disastrous mistakes at auctions–they do not take the time in a fast moving situation to really think about what they are seeing!


Chinoiserie Redux

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

scan106911At the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th centuries two fashion events occured together–importation of fine lacquer panels from the “Orient” and the imitation of this incredible lacquer work by English, European and American craftsmen. This group of Western made items is known as Chinoiserie–it tries to create the look but is most often recognizable by a western sensibility of order, perspective, etc imposed with charming “Chinese” figures and landscapes.

The cabinet is an example of borrowed panels inserted into a piece–the panels 17th century or earlier Chinese and the cabinet (actually a secretaire a abatant)  late 18th century Dutch.

At the end of the 19th and into the early 20th century this style of decoration once again swept up the Western imagination, or at least the English imagination where it flourished for 20 odd years. The pair of chairs and the floor lamp behind them represent this revival. Sold by us some twenty years ago, they have returned to us for a reprise, as their owner has passed away. They are perfect examples of the highly stylized version of this decoration.  (Check them out on our Online Catalogue of New Arrivals.)

Notice how the landscapes are constricted into the back panels of these Queen Anne style chairs made about 1910. The legs are simply painted, as are the stiles, to reflect color and design but they have no raised work. Careful viewing of both the Secretaire and these chair backs reveal a three dimensional aspect to the design–the true HALLMARK of chinoiserie decoration. In the original Asian work layers of lacquer were built painstakingly upon each other to achieve these delicatly three dimensional effects. In the West this was achieved by building up a gessoed design which was then lacquered (there were also complicated differences between Eastern and Western lacquer).

Of course these chairs would never be mistaken for Asian work–far trickier at times are distinguishing genuine borrowed parts from new (new that is when

made in the 18th century!). One will frequently encounter pieces in which the front panels are borrowed and the side panels are Western creations–so perfectly done and so perfectly capturing the Eastern aesthetic that much debate among experts ensues–solved only by chemical analysis of the lacquer.

New Shipment Arrives

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009

An exciting new shipment has arrived from Elizabeth’s last buying trip to England and France and from several prominent estates in Chevy Chase. South Africa by way of Durham, the home of a UNCCH professor of Classical Archeology, an important Ft. Worth collection and more.  The new catalogue is out–call or write for one.  The website has had all of the catalogue items added–and many more new items are being added daily!

A Tricky Table

Friday, August 21st, 2009
The table in question

The table in question

Underside of table leaf

Underside of table leaf

These photos show us one of the best tricks in the bag of faker’s tricks–turning a less valuable rectangular table into a much more valuable oval table.
Looking at this table two alarm bells should go off–the oval drop is awfully close to the floor–out of proportion perhaps–and the leaves are two boards–generally 18th century cabinetmakers using the incredibly wide mahogany boards did not need to join boards together!

To unmask a potential fraud, run your fingers across the joint of the two boards on the underside. If you discover either an uneven join or a dip–we call it shallowing–at the join, you have a fake!

If a cabinetmaker in the period needed to join two boards to make a larger board, he glued up two boards from his wood stack and then dressed the timber as one board. A faker has to find a board from something else and join it to his larger board before cutting the oval–he gets a perfect joint on the finished surface, then he sands and sands and sands that joint to smooth it out on the bottom side. That leaves the “dip” or shallowed area. If he was lazy he may have left a rough joint–that you usually can see–no need to run your fingers over it.

This was a table I was appraising in a local home–if it had been an authentic oval American Queen Anne table, c. 1750, it would have been worth $7,500. If left alone as rectangular, $4,500. But by being altered, it is only worth $2,500–the price of a fine new reproduction. It has value–but it’s value as collectible, as authentic, has been ruined!