Whitehall Blog

Archive for February, 2011

Leigh Keno, David Lindquist, et al at ISA Conference this Weekend

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

It is probably not to late for folks in the Nashville region to register for some of the lectures at the International Society of Appraisers–open to members and non-members.  Leigh Keno will lecture on “Due Diligence and Evaluation” on Monday, the 21st.  I will lecture Sunday on “Authenticating Antique Furniture”–a topic many appraisers prefer to avoid, but they shouldn’t!  Then on Monday I will give an introductory analysis entitled “A Philosophy of Wood Identification”–understanding this simple philosophy can eliminate 80% of wood identification issues in the first 10 seconds of looking at a piece–even in a black and white photo!  Of course this is a basic distillation of our Two Day Summer Seminar on Wood Identification which Elizabeth and I offer ever two or three years as part of the annual July Whitehall Summer Antiques Seminar.

A number of seminars cover Southern Folk Arts of all types and a huge array of other fascinating topics.  And of course it is simultaneous with Heart of Country–still America’s largest show of Americana.  Both Show and ISA Conference are in the Opryland Hotel Complex–reopened after extensive renovations due to the devastating flood this past year.

Hope to see you this weekend!

Hot Off The Press–Nashville Antiques and Garden Show

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

This year the committee wisely shortened the show and had it run from Wednesday evening through Sunday afternoon–what staggering crowds!  The aisles were jammed most of the time with interested shoppers and buyers–everyone explored every booth and the reaction of attendees to quality and variety was very strong.  Selling was rampant across the show from rakes and hoes in the Garden Half to great 18th and 19th century antiques, oriental rugs and fine art in the Antiques Half–the show is separated into two divisions by a stunning central garden, then set into quadrants by smaller gardens with fountains, pools and blooming flowers among rocks, etc.  This is truly one of the great events of the South!  Put it on your calendar for next year if you missed this year–strong selling bodes well for even more exciting dealers participating next year (there were 150 or so this year).

Chinese Export Bureau Bookcase

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011
Padouk Bureau Bookcase

Padouk Bureau Bookcase

This bureau bookcase–English antiques lingo for what Americans call a secretary–is clearly a bit different than the typical Chippendale design bookcase for a very good reason.  This is an example of the large genre of Colonial and Export furniture made throughout the Asian and colonial world in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Countries such as Japan and China produced goods of all types for western clients and for various westerners living in those independent countries–correctly called “export” merchandise.  The other type of goods would be called “colonial”–items made for conquering rulers from the West as well as for export trade–India would be a classic example with literally tens of thousands of British citizens living in India and purchasing goods for their homes (as well as involving themselves with trade back to the mother country).  Both export and colonial goods are distinguished frequently by a distortion in what would be considered the peak of style and construction in the Western countries.

This bureau bookcase is a fascinating example of furniture made in China to western taste for a western client.  The style at first glance is simply an example of Gothic/Chinese Chippendale taste:  13 pane glazed doors, ogee bracket feet, a blocked drawer surface below the slant-lid. But that is where the classic design ends:  carrying handles indicate a piece on the go; the crown molding is sharply abbreviated (more Chinese than Western); the blocking is excessive–nine undulations; the pleasing feet are a bit short.  Finally, the wood is not the expected mahogany of English formal furniture (oak in the countryside)–it is padouk, a wood more similar to rosewood and teak–rich, heavy and dense.

Detail of blocking/form

Detail of blocking/form

This side view allows us to see the grain pattern of the wood, the quality of the brasses, and the intriguing and beautiful if excessive blocking.  Note how softly the base molding is formed–very Chinese in design.  Padouk is easily recognized:  slightly open grain like teak and rosewood;  gentle shadings of color like mahogany without the black streaking of rosewood;  very heavy like teak but not as porous as teak or as boring in grain pattern. Opening the fall or pulling out a drawer and holding it reveal the incredible weight of this wood.

By the way–American furniture is considered to be a part of the colonial genre until the revolution established our nation as independent of England.  After that point we looked frequently to France for design inspiration as well as to England.  It is our indigenous woods and often quirky adaptations of high English and French style that distinguishes our furniture.

wof2116int-1Inside the bureau we really see the Chinese influence coming to the fore.  Each of the pigeon holes has a classic Ming shaped valance (the decorative piece softening the appearance of each storage compartment).  The intriguing nine block motif is repeated on the interior.  Also I realize the photo is a bit hard to look through the reflection, but there is a lot of rich black streaking on these wood surfaces–they are rosewood.  I did not take a photo of the drawers but the entire secondary wood for drawer construction is rosewood, an extravagant use of a gorgeous wood.

Dating pieces of export furniture can be especially difficult because of differing construction techniques, slow oxidation on dense woods such as padouk, time lapses from initial popularity of a design to execution in a colonial or Asian country, and the re-emergence of 18th century styles in the 19th century.  (Some of my earlier blogs, especially concerning regional English cabinetmakers such as Gillows discuss the continuation and re-emergence of earlier styles.)  This piece can conservatively be dated to about 1835, yet it could be earlier.

A wonderful aspect of this piece is that it was a gift of The Halle Society to the great 20th century conductor, Sir John Barbarolli.  Barbarolli saved the Halle Orchestra and conducted it all of the rest of his life, even while conducting in other great posts.  We purchased it from Lady Barbarolli’s estate and included are bits of memorabilia including her gas rationing card.  Lady Barbarolli was the great English oboist Evelyn Rothwell.  Not only was Sir John revered in England, he also led both the New York Philharmonic (succeeding Toscanini in 1936 and conducting until 1943) and Houston Symphony (1961-1967).  He recorded extensively with all of the great orchestras of the world and Google will lead you to great historical clips of his life and work.

Signed Empire Commode

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011
Jean-Baptiste Gamichon Commode

Jean-Baptiste Gamichon Commode

This superb mahogany veneered commode was created is Paris about 1805-1815–it is a fine study of style, construction, and signing methods for French furniture of the highest caliber.  We will explore all of these aspects.

From a style standpoint this is a perfect representation of the Imperial Taste of the Napoleonic era incorporating columns, gilt bronze mounts, and a powerfully overhung top drawer creating an architectural statement,  and in fact much of the furniture produced by the few remaining great cabinetmakers of this era was designed by architects.  By 1810 only 6,000 men were earning a living throughout France making furniture.  In the 18th century over 100,000 were earning their living making furniture!  As an example, the great Jacob firm had declined to having only 332  workers and of those only six were apprentices–a shocking portrait of further decline ahead.

What is magnificent here is the continued brilliance of these great ebinistes–the finest mahoganies were chosen for veneers and the front of the commode is a cohesive whole of uplifting visual statement–the veneer pattern urges our eyes upward.  Balance is also a keenly felt aspect of this piece–the outset full columns with finely chased bronze mounts create a pattern of balance further accentuated by the choice of veneer cuts.

wch705-interior-construction-1 The quality of craftsmanship exhibited on the exterior continues on the interior–as it must on authentic period French cabinetry.  Only oak and ash have been used for the secondary woods (the drawers are equally fine, again solid oak and ash, exquisitely dovetailed and finished.  Here we see floating panel construction in the dust dividers found between each rank of drawers and on the back–construction designed to ameliorate the effects of many years of shrinkage anticipated by the maker (although one crack on the back has appeared when the wood was held too tightly in its channels).

Stamp of Maker

Stamp of Maker


These stamps punched into the surface of the first inset drawer indicate the maker’s name and city where he worked–Gamichon a Paris (Gamichon of Paris).   This same stamp but with name above the city is found, as was common, on the top of each upright case post–hidden, of course, under the marble.  Jean-Baptiste Gamichon was born in 1760 and died in 1835  A fairly modest record exists of his known work, cabinet shop location, etc.  He was definitely recommended to the re-established Garde-Meuble, which made Imperial acquisitions directly from cabinetmakers to foster their rapidly dying art as noted earlier.  Furniture was warehoused until needed in the Imperial palaces, chateaus, government buildings, embassies, and so forth.

A graceful three tiered work table stamped by Gamichon is in the Huntington Art Gallery collection of the decorative arts.

Currently a graceful little cabinet is offered by N. P. Trent of West Palm Beach (easily googled) for $22,500.00.  It has an apparently identical lock and is stamped to each side of the lock just as this commode is stamped.

Our commode is listed on our website under both Chests and Recent Acquisitions — inventory WOF 705Z.  The size and price are listed on the website.

Atlanta Cathedral Show

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

The historic and superb quality Cathedral of St. Philip Show opens Wednesday evening and continues through Saturday at 4pm–check out our website for details, link or simply google the Cathedral Show.  This show has some of America’s finest dealers with an incredibly diverse inventory–if you are close to Atlanta or want a getaway weekend, come visit us!

Every dollar raised at this show goes into the community to provide help to a great variety of causes–uniquely for this show, each year only one charity receives the entire proceeds, making it possible for them to do amazing projects that would not be possible with the small grants normally made in quantity by shows–a terrific, unique concept.  More details on their website.