Whitehall Blog

Archive for January, 2013

The Cathedral Show Opens

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

These are a few shots just as the doors were opening tonight–by 7:30 every inch of every food and antiques gallery space was thronged–fabulous standing stations of appetizers, cheese and fruit displays, rare roast beef, elegant chicken dishes, huge whole salmons in glazed presentations, exciting displays of desserts, and for the Southern at heart, two carving stations of deep fried turkey breasts with sweet potatoes au gratin and collard greens!  And of course, two vast bars, passed wines and champagne, and delectable passed hors d’ oeuvres.

The event schedule with my lecture on the joy and safety  (no toxic poisons unlike modern furniture) of antiques as part of a green lifestyle in the 21st century–hope you can attend on Friday at 2 pm!

Entrance to the show

Whitehall Booth View

Another view–the bamboo canterbury table sold this evening (right side of photo

Butler’s Etagere flanked by bamboo (cabinet on right also sold tonight) with Greene King Brewery Pub Sign–reverses to a black background as pub signs always hung out from the building, seen from both directions by passers by.

Left Alcove of the booth–the painting by Hoger of a Dutch Country Flower Market flanked by a blend of country and formal English and French furniture.

Right Alcove of the booth with George I Bureau Bookcase, George II Tall Case Clock (both are walnut) and a George III Country oak chest in the style of Chippendale and his cohorts, but made by a small town or village cabinetmaker.

More tomorrow!

St. Ann(e)–A Prelude to Cathedral Show

Monday, January 28th, 2013

While we are not taking our current collection of 18th and 19th Century religious carvings and the 17th century Reliquary I showed on the Whitehall Facebook a couple of days ago, this piece seems like a perfect prelude to this week’s show

This sensitive yet eccentric carving was one of the most difficult pieces to identify we have ever encountered. It made no sense that the Virgin Mary was holding Jesus and a seemingly adult girl, as she had only one child and certainly not one older than Jesus.  From priests to scholars and through loads of photographs we hit a wall until a good friend said–”that carving is misidentified, it represents a very small area of deep belief as to the ancestry of Jesus”.  She explained it is of St. Anne, holding her own daughter, the Virgin Mary,  and her grandson Jesus.  Many believe that Mary was also born of a virgin, but the church generally rejects this now:

in the 4th century and then much later in the 15th century, a belief arose that Mary was born of Anne by virgin birth.[7]Those believers included the 16th century Lutheran mystic Valentine Weigel who claimed Anne conceived Mary by the power of theHoly Spirit. This belief was condemned as an error by the Catholic Church in 1677. Instead, the Church teaches that Mary was conceived in the normal fashion, but that she was miraculously preserved from original sin in order to make her fit to bear Christ. The conception of Mary free from original sin is termed the Immaculate Conception—which is frequently confused with the Virgin Birth or Incarnation of Christ.

While this 18th century piece has some flaking, it is extreme;y sensitive carving with entirely original surfaces.  It is likely northern European and it may as well be from a Protestant as a Catholic church, especially since it is generally accepted that Martin Luther found his calling through St. Anne.

It was created as all great 18th century painted surfaces were created–the piece is carved, then a thin layer of gesso is applied and finely detailed, finally the paint and gilding is applied.  The flakes we see are caused by shrinkage in the wood carving, causing loosening of the gesso and leaving only a white chalk like surface on the now bare spots.  Such losses are acceptable to most collectors, preferred to excessive restoration and repainting.

Cathedral of St. Philip Antiques Show

Monday, January 28th, 2013

Tomorrow we drive down to Atlanta for this wonderful and venerable  antiques show.  Here is a link to the website for all of the exciting activities.  I will post several reports from the show!


and their Facebook:


The Future of Charity Shows

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

For those who followed and contributed to the discussion of my article on Art, Antiques and Luxury Design Blog, here is a link to a summation of the discussion to this point.  I think it makes for fascinating reading of ideas from many dealers around the country.

Is it a Semainier?

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

A semainier is a seven drawer chest designed to hold a week’s worth of clothing–so is this faux semanier a semanier?  Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

It has seven drawers?!?

While there are clearly seven drawer faces on this handsome c. 1830-50 Restauration Period  tall narrow chest, in fact two of the drawer faces are joined and fall forward to reveal a rich bird’s eye maple and ebony trimmed writing cabinet.  Thus my tongue in cheek question as to what to call it!

The opened secretaire cabinet

There is a lot to admire in this piece from the simple architectural form set on a plinth base to the elegant book-matched flame mahogany veneers to the sleek moldings to the blindingly handsome interior.  The brown leather is clearly old–possibly original–with lovely patina.  It has been well protected within a tightly sealed cabinet and probably had minimal use compared to desks used in libraries, drawing rooms, household offices, etc and so it is quite possibly original.

This is a period that coincides with later Austro-Germanic Biedermier forms, the adaptive George IV-William IV and early Victorian styles of England and the American turn toward France in our American Empire (most often called Restauration with the French spelling).  Serene surfaces with little or no hardware reliant on splendid wood grains to create great drama are the hallmarks of all of these concurrent styles.

The last photo shows the type of drawer construction and secondary wood use associated with this period in contrast to 18th century construction.

Drawer construction

Let me share what I see in this photo as it is not immediately self evident.  First, the wood of the drawer sides (bottoms and backs) is fine oak, again very clean in a tightly constructed case.  The face of the drawer is veneered (look above, book-matched) onto oak and that is the distinct line that is about one half inch from the mahogany edge.  The next line to look at is clearly seen toward the bottom of the line of the dovetails–the cabinetmaker’s scribe line for precisely cutting the side of the drawer to accommodate the dovetail cut into the side of the drawer face. Fine woods and fine craftsmanship are the signs of great cabinetmaking.

This last photo also affords a very nice understanding of what has gone into this tall chest.  Dozens of veneer cuts, dozens upon dozens of molding pieces all mitered for a precise fit and glued to the oak subsurface, as the veneers were glued to the oak as well.  All of this was glue susceptible to moist climates–for this reason we bought this in Paris with about 18 pieces of the moldings thrown into the drawers, some more moldings hanging on for dear life (we taped them before leaving it for the shipper!), and three molding pieces missing (remade here in Durham by  a wonderful local cabinetmaker who works almost exclusively for Whitehall, as did his father for nearly 50 years before him!).

The size of this piece is distinctive and often associated with semainiers–55.5″ high, 29″ wide and 16.5″ deep–tall and slender.  In the mid-18th century they were quite delicate and by this Classical Period (the International Style name of this era) the form is powerful and architectural, yet at their best still slender and somehow graceful as the eye soars from the solid plinth base to the molded top edge.

So whether a semainier, a semainier with faux facade for a secretaire, or a tall secretaire chest–it is wonderful.

PS        The pair of Chinese Export Plates on the chest are in fact 19th century fakes by the great Edme Samson of Paris, late 19th century–for a serious discussion of Samson fakery revisit my April 16, 2012 Blog about a very important Samson Bulb Pot.

Vero Beach Museum of Art Show

Friday, January 11th, 2013

As always Elizabeth and I are having a great time at this delightful Florida show–and the weather this year is exceptional for those escaping the cold (the locals whether snowbirds or year round are complaining that it is too warm and humid).  For us it feels like paradise!

Here are a couple of shots of the exterior of the museum which shimmers in its whiteness, even against the overcast skies that lasted today until noon.  One walks through flanking gardens toward the front entrance from a delightful tree lined parking area.

Front facade, Vero Beach Museum of Art

To each side are large grassy areas of modern sculpture.

Left Garden as one faces the Museum

Interior Fountain Court with Restaurant beyond

Built open to the sky originally, this spectacular exhibition area around a permanent fountain was fully covered about three years ago.  This year for the show a very nice exhibition of local collectors Steuben glass has been exhibited, beginning with the Frederick Carder aurene pieces and moving to late twentieth century clear works of the glass blower’s art.  Steuben and Tiffany went head to head in competition for brilliant glass design in the early 20th century.

A Display Of Steuben Aurene

I snapped this photo before the guard had a conniption–thought I might be arranging a heist perhaps, despite my show badge!   At least I got one photo for you to enjoy!

We have a peculiarly difficult booth but always a lot of fun to design–about 50 feet long but only 6-10′ deep plus a side wall of 10 feet across the aisle.  Elizabeth generally plans the booths with some input from me and she carefully plans the fit of each piece to the space confinements. Always a little bit of wiggling occurs on site–one table works better in a different spot, etc.  This is the challenge of imagining it on graph paper and finally seeing it in the space (and of course the walls are almost invariably a bit different than we were told, even from year to year!). Ari (our excellent long time assistant) and  I actually had to kick and shove them around a bit they were so uneven when we arrived!  Then Ari puts up light bars, sets spots, and polishes/repairs scuffs from the 600 mile trip in a loaded truck while I arrange the art and accessorize every piece (again very specifically planned and then slightly altered on site).

Some photos of the end result–details of each piece are on our website in the appropriate categories with sizes, prices, condition reports and so forth.

Approaching the booth down one aisle

View between the Aisles in the largest alcove

Across from the largest alcove

The end of aisle two meeting the far right of our booth

Left Alcove

Far left Alcove

I love this Pub Sign from an old Greene King brewery–now all defunct and all of the pubs sold off or closed–the reverse has a white background with thin red stripe surrounding the armorial lion (which is original–this black ground was added to cover a badly eroded surface–unusual on these baked enamel surfaces on steel panel).  You probably noticed the three signs above the Windsor Bench above.  An interesting fact of Pub history is that there are freehold (independently owned) pubs and brewery pubs (leased by the vast brewery corporation to a Pub keeper).  When a major brewery name appears, often with a fun name like The Queen’s Head, etc, it indicates a brewery owned pub.  When only a name such as The Windmill, Ye Olde Red Cow, etc appears, it is a freehold pub and a larger group of beers will probably be offered.

These signs and the pubs they once graced are disappearing at a staggering rate, but collecting them remains a way to preserve a fascinating bit of hand painted English history!

Charles X Bureau Plat

Monday, January 7th, 2013

I have been participating in an interesting dialogue on the Blog Site, Art Antiques and Luxury Design (art-antiques-design.com/  check it out!), a conversation bouncing over several continents!  It has involved restoration issues, the condition acceptable for acquisition of a fine antique for a major shop, etc.  This double sided bureau plat is one Elizabeth and I spotted last summer in the bowels (think dungeon!) of the great Paris Flea Market at 6 am in the wholesale only area–pieces fresh from estates.  We fell immediately in love with it as a form, then investigated it with care.  One side has drawers–one side has faux drawers–a visual partner’s desk functional as a gentleman’s writing table.

Desk in the dungeon

Notice the minor damage to veneer on the left leg in the photo, more smaller spots on the right leg.  The locks were loose.  The finish was grungy, sun splotched and the leather dull (but very early if not original!).  As you can see in the next photo I am writing up the purchase while Elizabeth photographed and measured–both delighted.

We buy it!

This is what we love finding–a piece that with some cleaning, polishing and minor repairing.  Of course we needed to ship it back home and have it join the line-up at our cabinet shop!  And now it is on the floor to find a new home.

Restored on the floor

Remember those nasty veneer issues on the front left leg–gone!  This was a wonderful piece to restore because everything was minor, except many replaced locks which we decided had to be lived with–a part of the desk’s 180 year history.
And it has some delightful bells and whistles from double work slides to a hidden lockable compartment.

Hidden compartment

When you unlock the right drawer which is really double depth, if you simply glance you see a little compartment now lifted out and sitting on the desk.  The now revealed full depth unlocks another compartment seen in the next photo–the unlocked cover slides back to access the compartment.

Sliding cover for hidden compartment

Important things to notice about this desk.  The secondary wood is entirely of oak, typical of the finest French cabinetmaking.  Secondly, browse back up through all of the photos and admire the superb veneers of mahogany, selected to create elegant, essentially rectilinear geometric spaces.  I always find how the mind of the artisan worked the most intriguing aspect of antiques–I hope you do too.