Have we lost the thrill of the exotic?

By Guy Apter

In the British Museum lies a preserved duck billed platypus. In the eighteenth century, the descriptions of this absurdly unbelievable animal which were reaching London seemed so preposterous that its existence was fiercely debated and bet against. It was not until specimens started arriving in London in sufficient numbers that their existence was accepted.

A pair of cloisonné incense burners in the form of quails.

A pair of cloisonné incense burners in the form of quails. Chinese, c. 1820 £11,500

We use this example as a comparison to our current age of instant access, with a quick google search, to information about everything from everywhere. Have we lost the sense of wonder and excitement at discovering something foreign and exotic?

52016a

Detail from a Chinese Export Lacquer Screen, Chinese c. 1850 £49,000

Back in the Eighteenth century the Western world had already been trading with the East for over 100 years yet still it retained its marvellous sense of the mysterious, and was certainly still capable of inspiring some of the most exuberant and fanciful decorative art of any period. We are referring, of course, to Chinoiserie, and in a timely manner we are tipping our hat to Asian Art Week.

English furniture of the eighteenth century is rife with Chinese influence, indeed an entire genre is referred to as Chinese Chippendale. So powerful were the images and descriptions reaching England from China that there were no less than three distinct periods of Chinoiserie style, culminating in possibly the most

A stunning example of a Chinese Export Centre Table, c. 1840

A stunning example of a Chinese Export Centre Table, c. 1840 £49,000

extraordinary example of architectural creations in the Regency Period – the Brighton Pavilion.

It is important to note a distinction about Chinese style and the eighteenth century. Whilst Chinoiserie refers to the decorative arts produced in Europe and inspired by the Chinese, also available at this time were the goods created in China for export to Europe, what we now refer to as Chinese Export Ware. The tables illustrated here provide us with a very good comparison of the two different approaches.

A stunning example of a Chinoiserie centre table, English c. 1815

A stunning example of a Chinoiserie centre table, English c. 1815 £85,000

Chinese export furniture and decorative arts found a more than ready market in the European homes of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and has never waned in popularity since. In recent years a number of major collections have been formed and whilst the market is still priced accessibly it can only be a matter of time before Chinoiserie and Chinese Export Ware finds favour amongst Chinese collectors and demand outstrips the supply of great pieces.

For further reading on this subject, see Sheila Gibson-Stoodley’s article for Art & Antiques Magazine which can be found here.

Problems with Provenance

Guy Apter discusses the problems of provenance and eighteenth century English furniture.

Some of our clients may not realise that the production of our annual catalogue takes months of preparation. The photography shoots, the wording of the text and the in depth research has begun already, even though the catalogue is not published until late spring.

One of our greatest ongoing challenges in doing the research for our brochure is establishing the original houses that our furniture was made for. But why is this?

There are various reasons.

An Extract from the Christie's catalogue of the Stowe sale of 1848...please note unhelpful descriptions!

An Extract from the Christie’s catalogue of the Stowe sale of 1848…please note the unhelpful descriptions!

First, we look to eighteenth century house inventories. Paintings were often listed by title and artist, making them easily identifiable. Unfortunately when furniture was listed, it might have been described simply as “A Pair of Side Tables” or “Gilt Candlestands”. This vagueness and lack of detail is hardly conducive to later exact identification.

Unfortunately, early auction catalogues are often no more help. The largest dispersal of decorative arts in this country occurred during the 1930s due to the economic circumstances of the times and the imposition of death duties, when owners of large houses needed to raise capital. Photography was only used for a small number of items in each auction catalogue. The remainder of items were listed, again with a very brief description, making later identification difficult. As an example, although taken from an earlier period, the Christie’s Catalogue from the sale of the contents of Stowe in 1848 included the descriptions “A noble pier table” and “A carved and gilt pier table. This is a very curious old piece of furniture”!

Furthermore, it is par for the course that the antiques trade had to accommodate discretion if owners did not want to advertise their need to sell, and on these occasions the history of the item was typically hidden. Even in my time in the business, we have purchased major works through agents, acting on behalf of titled families, who had been instructed not to reveal the provenance.

51721c__griffiths_pier_mirrors_bw

A view of Percival Griffith’s dining room at Sandridgebury, showing the mirrors currently in our inventory.

So where does that leave us?

It is necessary to alter one’s expectations.  In collecting English furniture today, the history of a piece subsequent to its original commission becomes far more important and relevant.  For example, for a piece to have been in one of the great collections formed in the first half of the twentieth centuries by the likes of Messer, Griffiths and Sykes, all advised by Symonds, now carries great kudos. Interestingly, all pieces included in any of these collections were selected for their rarity, their colour, patination and form, all the characteristics by which we judge the furniture we are buying and selling. Although the original provenance might well have been known at the time the item entered one of these collections, it was not necessarily recorded! Whilst on occasion the provenance was concealed by dealers protecting their source it is certainly true that provenance was not the measure by which an item was judged. A piece of furniture stood or fell on its own merits and not by whom it was commissioned. It is for this reason that furniture from these collections is so highly prized regardless of not knowing its former history.image of GHF cat cover

Likewise, discovering items illustrated in exhibition catalogues also carries weight and value. To discover an item illustrated in a handbook of the Grosvenor House Antiques Fair (arguably the World’s first fully vetted and most prestigious antiques event from 1936 through to 2009) is of great significance and should certainly not be under-estimated.

Norman Adams Book

Extract from “18th Century English Furniture, The Norman Adams Collection” by Christopher Claxton-Stevens and Stewart Whittington showing the Set of Twelve Hepplewhite Chairs currently in our inventory

Apart from fair and exhibition catalogues, dealers such as Apter-Fredericks have produced catalogues illustrating the furniture they have for sale. When subsequently resold by others, our names are added to the provenance, testament to the respect in which dealers such as ourselves are held. Put simply, by handling a piece we are authenticating it and we are marking it out as a piece that meets our high standards. This adds to its provenance.

Finding the original house for which a piece was made may seem like an impossible task but it is achievable on occasion. Sometimes we discover a bill or an inventory that is detailed enough to be certain. This was most certainly the case with Mrs Hutton Rawlinson’s Bookcase which will feature in a future article where we will discuss some of the discoveries we have made.

We would reassure clients that research is always ongoing and on occasion we do have success even after we sell an item.  We are continually buying catalogues of old house sales, exhibition catalogues and dealers’ brochures. On a fairly regular basis, possibly years after selling a piece, we will discover an item illustrated in one of these catalogues and will then be able to go back to the client with the good news.

For me, the research is one of the most exciting tasks of our year. The detective work, the red herrings, the discoveries, even the frustration of getting so close to a provenance or a maker but not quite, are one of the joys of being an antiques dealer and of course, there is the enormous amount one learns by writing our catalogues.

If this has piqued your interest and you would like to be notified of our next article or when our next catalogue is published please register here.

 

The Art Business Conference

Art Bus Conf 3Alice Freyman represented Apter Fredericks at the annual Art Business Conference held in the stunning, and very circular, setting of Church House in the heart of Westminster. Here she writes about her impressions of the day.

The well-attended conference included presentations from influential members of the art community here in London. As antiques dealers are in their own funny little world which bridges the gap between ‘art’ and ‘interiors’, not all topics were relevant to us. But the ones which were had been concentrated together in the afternoon. Most convenient, thank you very much. Hence a review of the afternoon sessions follows.

First, we learnt about How to Protect our Art Business against Money Laundering. Essential really because as dealers we could inadvertently be caught up with someone undertaking a criminal act. Not something which is in our mid to long term business plan or goals. Fortunately, here at Apter Fredericks we already have strict procedures in place to minimise our risk, but it made for some interesting listening, at least.

Next came the most exciting bit – the dynamic Josh Spero chairing a youthful but eloquent and confident panel on Instagram and the art market. People take note: it is a beautiful tool to spread awareness about our passion and interests if used correctly. At AF we opened our Instagram account only 11 weeks ago, and will now be making a concerted effort to Insta more often and more interestingly, and with some hash tags (now I finally understand how they work and why to bother with them).

Third was a talk on internet retailing, in which Paul Skeldon heavily relied on statistics, many of which came from the Hiscox Online Art Report. As part of our market research when deciding whether to undertake the build of our new site, we had already had a very helpful meeting with the founders of ArtTactic, whom Hiscox had commissioned to write the report so I slightly felt “been there, done that” during this session.  I also got the impression that while Paul knew his stuff on the mobile retail front, the art world was not his forte. In conclusion, whilst it was a half hour where we felt very pleased that we had already invested the time, energy and effort into a producing a mobile responsive ecommerce site, I realised we cannot now sit and rest on our laurels.

Art Bus Conf 2The final session was a bit vaguer ‘Professional Risk and Reputation’ and I felt the biggest, albeit perhaps obvious conclusion to be had was: stories on the internet last, best not to get yourself into hot water in the first place. There are a number of tools in place for dealers who accidentally or inadvertently end up with a potential media scandal on their hands so it was useful to hear about these JUST IN CASE!

Overall impressions on the conference were that last year it seemed much easier to network. Perhaps that was because we were sitting in round tables whereas we were in rows this year, and last year there was only one break room as opposed to a confusing three this year. Nevertheless, it was an excellent meeting of minds, with interesting talks. It is great to have a time in the calendar when the art world thinkers make a concerted effort to get together to discuss relevant topics. I definitely hope to return next year.

 

Post Masterpiece Blues; A Tale of Two Hats

By Harry Apter for Apter Fredericks

Another July and the 6th edition of Masterpieceharry-330 has been put to bed.

Within two weeks of closing, the tent and associated structures have been removed from the Royal Hospital Chelsea site and all that’s left is an empty grass field in serious need of re-turfing.

Exhibiting and organising Masterpiece, together, is a strange phenomenon. 

As an exhibitor your primary goal is simply to sell all of your pieces. Whilst you are happy for other dealers to also do business, you can’t help but also wonder if there was anything you could have done differently to ensure the client buys your bookcase, for example, as opposed to someone else’s.

As an organiser, you want each and every exhibitor to sell out.  A successful exhibitor will return which therefore removes a large part of the work in filling the stands for the following fair. 

Having said that, Masterpiece now happily has a waiting list for space.  Yet having competition for space creates a buzz around the event and also ensures everyone keeps their standards as high as possible.

Additionally, 160 happy exhibitors means that the organising team do not get too much of an ear bashing.  At the exhibitors meeting it is safe to show one’s face in person, rather than, say, from the end of a Skype call from New Zealand. 

Just to confuse matters even further, we originally founded the fair with our dealer hats on because we were fed up with our suggestions for improvements to other fairs ignored or rejected.  As dealers we felt we knew what we needed to do business and to help us show our goods off to the best effect.  So despite opening in 2010, in the middle of a seriously damaging recession, we persevered and have finally come of age.

With over 40,000 visitors, great press and praise from nearly all who visit, it seems the fanciful dream we three mad dealers had, has become a fixture on the international arts calendar. All we need now is to persuade either the Prime Minister or the Queen (or preferably both) to pay a visit.  Roll on 2016.

 

Masterpiece London 2014

Masterpiece London 2014

 

Welcome to the Apter Fredericks catalogue

Welcome to the Apter Fredericks catalogue, Important English Furniture V. Once again, we have scoured the globe to bring you some of the best treasures from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries which are currently available on the market. We hope that they may excite and intrigue you.

Here at Apter Fredericks, the atmosphere is a positive and forward-thinking one. We are a tight-knit team which operates professionally, smoothly and efficiently. When appropriate, we can see the less serious side of life and we love it when this can apply to what we’re doing on a day-to-day basis because we like to have fun. We have been described as open, honest and direct and we aim to be accessible and approachable.

Indeed, one of Apter Fredericks’ most characteristic traits is the importance we place on the relationships we form with our clients. So, if you would like to make an appointment to view anything in our stock or would like to just come in and have a general chat and a cup of coffee in our showroom in Chelsea, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We would love to see you.

Harry, Guy & Alice

 

 

How I choose which antiques to buy

A George III Landscape Mirror
Lighthouse

Lighthouse

By Harry Apter

 

In my early buying days I was trained to follow three criteria, all of which were needed and which had to be followed in their correct order.

First, does it appeal?

Second, is it genuine?

And then and only then, is the price right?

With the changing market, I have since added a critical fourth: is it saleable?

Mahogany Chest with Swags

Mahogany Chest with Swags

In my early days I would often be sent into a panic thinking I had missed something special at an auction by the mere question of “What did you think of such and such?”  from another dealer. Thirty (plus!) years on and the panicked reaction has gone.  I am (usually) safe in the knowledge that I have seen the article but simply ignored it and walked on, looking for other items to set the heart racing.

Over the past 20 years, Apter-Fredericks have tried, and I believe succeeded, in refining their offering by concentrating on the fine, the rare, the quirky and most importantly, the attractive.

With such refinement comes the ability to only buy pieces which really do set the pulse racing when you see it.  By doing this we also believe our clients will acknowledge this and be excited by our genuine enthusiasm for the article.

Coat of Arms

Coat of Arms

 

We have limited ourselves to holding a stock of varied but interesting pieces of 18th century English furniture, which is not necessarily the most expensive you will find, but which includes pieces that can be placed in a home to add interest and character. From a well carved Chippendale commode, to an unusual 8 foot tall fully functioning lighthouse, to a massive coat of arms; these are items we seek out to add flavour to your home.

 

150 Years of Furniture in 900 Words and 7 pictures

By Guy Apter

 

1700 to 1850: one hundred and fifty years of furniture manufacture in England. Yet we blithely describe ourselves as dealers in 18th & early 19th century antiques with no mention of the monumental changes that took place in both the design of, and the materials used, in furniture making during this period.

The furniture of the 1700s was generally made of native woods like oak, elm, ash and walnut, and looked entirely different to the furniture made out of a multitude of imported woods in the 1800s.  And between those years there were two neo classical periods, a rococo period, and smattering of Egyptian, Greek, Chinese and French influence to say the least

Gesso Table c. 1710

Gesso Table c. 1710

With the exception of farming, the furniture making industry employed more people than any other occupation at this time.  It was big business. It was dynamic and it was driven by a clientele who were exacting, educated and wealthy.  Like today, there was the desire for the latest trend, the newest material, the one of a kind and, of course, the showing off.

It is hard to imagine how shocking it must have been to have entered a room in the first quarter of the eighteenth century and to see for the first time a table entirely covered in gold. Where before there was dark wood in a candlelit house, now there was a ‘reflecting beacon’.  I imagine as many people would have been repulsed by this as liked it, but it certainly prevailed.

Chest on Stand c. 1720

Chest on Stand c. 1720

Furniture went from utilitarian to decorative in a very short length of time. The chest of drawers is a marvellous example. Originally a trunk, it moved from that to a chest, but a chest with little ornamentation until the very end of the 17th century.  Then in the eighteenth century,  its status had so improved that it was quite literally “elevated” – given legs – and thus became a focal point in the room.

 

Walnut Bookcase c. 1735

Walnut Bookcase c. 1735

By the late 1730s indigenous walnut furniture began to be superseded by imported mahogany, a dark rich red wood.  Whilst walnut was soft and structurally weak, mahogany was the antithesis and changes in style were certainly assisted if not partly led by this stronger timber allowing for lighter designs to be made.  Put simply, friezes and even legs could be pierced with fretwork and still be structurally sound.

By the 1740s classicism was all the rage due to the clients, architects and artists returning from their Grand Tours. The ancient world had captivated not just England but the whole of Europe. However, these were early days and the language and motifs brought back by the likes of Lord Burlington and William Kent were not fully understood.

Neo-Classical Side Table c. 1735-40

Neo-Classical Side Table c. 1735-40

The resulting furniture was of a bolder and grander scale than we would see in the second wave of neo classicism some twenty years later – so superbly displayed at Spencer House for example, and in the work of architects like James Wyatt and Robert Adam.

By the third quarter of the eighteenth century, under the reign of King George III, one could say that furniture making in England had reached its zenith.

Detail of Settee with fretwork c. 1760

Detail of Settee with fretwork c. 1760

The work of famous cabinet makers such as Thomas Chippendale, Mayhew & Ince and Vile & Cobb includes many of the greatest pieces of furniture ever made in this country. However, within the oeuvre of Chippendale and his contemporaries, their work and style changed dramatically over the years from carved mahogany furniture of the 1750s to inlaid and ormolu mounted furniture of the 1780s.

Corner Cupboard with inlay c. 1775

Corner Cupboard with inlay c. 1775

Detail of Corner Cupboard with inlay c. 1775

Detail of Corner Cupboard with inlay c. 1775

As the century drew to a close, so the foreign influences came thick and fast, sometimes in one project. Nothing illustrates this better than the Prince Regent’s Pavilion at Brighton. From the outside it has clearly been influenced by Indian architecture, whilst on the inside it is very strongly Chinese in style. Now whilst the Pavilion might be regarded as a rather extreme example, it is nevertheless fair to say that furniture in the Regency period drew inspiration from a multitude of sources. A French interpretation of classicism was propagated by one the most successful architects of the period, Henry Holland, but equally influential was the work of Thomas Hope and his Greek revivalist style.  The list could go on but suffice to say it was a fast moving designer or cabinet maker who could keep abreast of taste at this time.

A Regency Period Lacquer Centre Table

A Regency Period Lacquer Centre Table c. 1815

Our role is to guide clients and to explain the merits of one example from the period over another, which is distinct from selecting one style over another.  When I first joined the business I would wonder why my father had bought table A over table B, they seemed so similar and yet the difference of a half inch in the depth of the drawers would determine his decision.  That sort of eye for detail can be inherent, for others it can take time and guidance to develop. It is our role to help.

When it comes to what to buy, only our clients can decide which roads they want to go down.  All styles can be appreciated in their own right and crucially a plain table can be every bit as beautiful and artistically valuable as a highly ornate piece.  Thus one’s desire to own these two different forms might be poles apart, but one can appreciate both for the artistry involved throughout this fascinating period of furniture history.

 

 

 

From the Grosvenor House Fair to Masterpiece London

By Guy Apter

As I write this, so the 6th production of the spectacular Masterpiece Fair is fast approaching.  I use the word production intentionally.  When I started in this business in 1984, the premier fair in Britain, and some would say the world, was the Grosvenor House Antiques Fair.  This grand old lady had been going since 1934 and was held in the Great Room of the hotel of the same name.  It was relatively small, which limited both the number of dealers and the size of their stand, but was hugely successful.

 

The Grosvenor House Fair. Apter Fredericks exhibited at the fair from 1984 until 2009.Grosvenor House attracted visitors from across the world.  It drew in the very rich but it also attracted Mr & Mrs Averagely Wealthy who wished to buy beautiful things for their home – something with age, history and character – and it was a ‘must come to’ destination for collectors. The queue outside the hotel before the fair opened was astonishing and when the doors opened, so the collectors would come running into the fair.  It is no exaggeration to say that we could sell half our stand in the first hour and continue to sell the other half and more by the end of the fair.

 

Approximately ten years ago things were clearly changing. Visitor numbers were down at the Grosvenor House Fair and indeed at most other fairs. Then seven years ago it was very clear to the three of us who founded Masterpiece that the antiques fair of old was tired – very tired – and the market needed something new.

 

But it wasn’t just the fair that was tired, the market had changed. People do far more shopping online and are far more event oriented.  There are of course people who still collect but there has been a change here too.  Twenty years ago someone looking for an eighteenth century sideboard for their dining room might have toured the antiques shops of London and then selected the one that best suited their room, budget or style preference.  Nowadays, that customer is far more likely to be eclectic in their taste. The piece they buy could just as easily be Art Deco, turn of the century or modern, and be mixed with pieces from other periods.

 

It was abundantly clear that if a fair was to succeed it had to reflect these changes. It had to be re-invented and that is exactly what Masterpiece set out to achieve, and hence my using the word production at the beginning of this blog.  Masterpiece is designed to excite, impress and attract visitors and some of these visitors are people who would never normally visit a traditional antiques fair. To do this it had to include a broader range of disciplines and periods than would generally be found at other fairs, and it has to live up to its name – “Masterpiece”. The dealers who attend are amongst the best in their field and they bring their finest pieces to the fair, many of which may not have been on the market before.  They display these treasures with imagination and flair.    The restaurants are pop-up versions of London’s finest and you would never know that the fair is housed in a temporary building.

 

Naturally, we would encourage you to come and judge for yourselves but if you are still in any doubt let me leave you with this:  when visitors are asked why they came to fair,  the most frequent answer has been “because friends told us we had to.”

The Young and Check-less!

By Alice Freyman

Apter Fredericks exhibited at the Winter Antiques Show for the first time in 2015, and we were so pleased that we did!

Alice Freyman and Guy Apter at the Young Collectors Night 2015. Jewellry courtesy of S. J. Shrubsole.

Alice Freyman and Guy Apter at the Young Collectors Night 2015. Jewellery courtesy of S. J. Shrubsole.

Robust sales, busy days with interested punters  – despite the New York blizzard, and really fun neighbours (you know who you are!) which made for fantastic camaraderie between dealers. It was a whole lot of fun, a great opportunity to meet a new market and some good business was done to boot. What’s not to love?

One of the major highlights of the Fair was the Young Collectors Night #YNC2015 sponsored by Brooks Brothers and held on Thursday 29th January.

We had been warned by other dealers to hide away the precious valuables, move the furniture to the back of the stand and have some coasters at the ready to catch the discarded empty glasses, of which there would be many.

Well, it was true that the event was the furthest thing from a musty old antiques shop you could possibly imagine.  It was WILD. Pumping soundtrack.  800 of New York’s Beautiful People in their beautiful clothes. Buzzy atmosphere.

But what was a pleasant surprise was the amount of quality decorators and genuinely interested young people that we met. It was a far cry  from “The Young and Check-less” that we had been cautioned about. Bring on # YCN2016!