Friday, September 16, 2022


After three decades of experiences in the metier of the the appraisal, brokering and liquidating of fine art, antiques and related household contents of distinction, it remains a signal honour when entrusted with the liquidation of the estate of a distinguished antiquarian and gallery owner.  Fewer dealers based and active in S FL could have a claim to cachet and the respect of his peers than John J. Thompson. His heyday was the 1960's and 1970's. For years he enthralled the discerning residents of the S FL antiques collecting community with his Fort Lauderdale gallery, located on the still fashionable Las Olas Boulevard. At that time his patrons also included sophisticated visitors to the area as well as seasonal residents who relied on "JJ" (as he was affectionally known) to maintain an impressive inventory of fine European 17th, 18th and early 19th Century furniture, decorative objects, lighting and an intriguing offering of paintings. At the same time Thompson invariably loved to buy and offer fine Asian antiques that would include fine porcelains lacquer, and bronzes in addition to the occasional fine coromandel folding screens.  Unfortunately, I only encountered him once shortly before he died in the early 1980's.  But as a young antiquarian myself, I was at the time in my 20's and working for a long established Coral Gables based antiques gallery owner as a personal assistant, J. J. Thompson was frequently cited and discussed with awe and immeasurable admiration by that generation who held him up as being from the ranks of the elite in the profession. In fact, Thompson was among the few dealers from S FL (and possibly the first) who exhibited his offerings at the East Side Settlement Antiques Show in the Park Avenue Armory during the 1960's. While exhibiting there he sold a pair of armchairs with the stamp of Georges Jacob to no one less that Jacqueline Kennedy when she was First Lady!  Another client was the entertainer with the booming voice Ethel Merman. 

However, long after his death, my office was thrilled to receive a phone call inquiring about the possibility of arranging and administering an estate sale for a considerable volume of inventory he'd owned and with which he'd lived that had continued to be used and enjoyed by his surviving partner, a delightful gentleman who had acquired JJ Thompson's love and appreciation of French and Continental furniture and  who was now getting elderly and seriously wanted to downsize and have an effective liquidation.  What a privilege that was for my company, LFAS!  To this day, it remains one of the most enjoyable projects undertaken by my company. Lots of hard work, organizing, pricing, preparing, marketing and then holding the sale which was hugely appreciated by the buying public that included a good amount of dealers who realized this was inventory they wanted to have a chance to acquire for their own galleries.  One dealer really went to town and loaded up a van with his purchases and enjoyed proudly showing these lovely things in his gallery and slowly sold the items slowly to appreciative new owners giving them a safe and appreciative new home. 

To get an idea of the J. J. Thompson nearly vanished style of collecting and way of living with antiques, a look at a vintage copy of a S FL magazine long out of circulation gives us a glimpse. In the same article's illustrations are many things LFAS handled when it liquidated the remaining art and antiques in the summer of 2008.  Below is a photo of J. J. Thompson seated in his "Florida room" as it's often called by Floridians, beyond is a glimpse of the more "formal" sitting room. To millennials, the concept of a formal sitting or drawing room is becoming less and less familiar. But this was the early Pre-Watergate Nixon Era 1970's and at that time it seemed that from time immemorial civilised people had separate formal areas in their homes and didn't dine in the kitchen! 

Below is the cover for the April 1972 magazine in which the feature article discussing Mr. Thompson's house and collections is seen.  The magazine was called Gold Coast Pictorial. By the time LFAS was engaged to liquidate the remaining collections, the fine Louis XV/XVI transitional commode, the Ming arm chair, the fine inlaid Louis XVI tric-trac table had been sold at a prior disposal of things immediately following Mr. Thompson's death almost 30 years before LFAS was called in to assist with the remaining inventory. However that doesn't mean that the remaining inventory was insignificant by any stretch of the imagination!  For instance the liquidation my company LFAS handled included the fine Louis XVI period mirror seen in the cover photo over the commode. It also handled the elegant gleaming bouillotte lamp seen on the tric-trac table. 

The illustration below shows many items remaining for LFAS to handle when it was entrusted with this stylish and elegant variety of lovely European antiques.  For instance, the sale included the lovely Continental burl table seen in the foreground with many of the items on it including the pair of lamps flanking the sofa.  Part of the remaining inventory LFAS handled in 2008 is seen in the dining area. Among them is the handsome exuberant 18th Century gilded wood Rococo wall mirror over the Italian Neoclassical commode. Many of the small items in the room also were handled by LFAS.  Mr. Thompson had a eye for the refined. But he also loved the quixotic and the whimsical. 

Below is a 2008 photo of the same burl table when LFAS liquidated the remaining inventory. The 18th Century German porcelain box, the miniature 19th Century Continental Rococo table were also part of Thompson's original collections. 


Below, the illustration from the same article shows the antique French oak fireplace surround and the small highly refined Late Louis XVI period diminutive commode with 3 drawers which was sold to a discerning gentleman and his wife who still own it in their North Carolina residence and cherish it. The gilt bronze clock on the mantle was also handled by LFAS 

Below the view of the courtyard patio also shows the garden ornaments LFAS enjoyed handling. 

And just discernible in the colour illustration from the same article below is one of 2 lovely vintage cast stone artichoke finials that were placed on top of the entrance to the courtyard. 

More recent photos taken in 2008 include other items LFAS had the distinct enjoyment of handling for Mr. Thompson's surviving partner who was also one of the loveliest most appreciative clients one could ever encounter.  In the two photos below are views of a charming painted and gilded 18th Century Italian corner cupboard. 

Below is the ravishing 18th Century Rococo wall mirror seen here when photographed in 2008 and seen in the original article referenced above. 

Below are the patinated and gilded bronze Napoleon III Empire Revival lamps also seen in the original article and placed on the same table where Thompson placed them decades before during his lifetime. 

Below is the Louis XVI gilded wood mirror originally seen on the cover photo of the 1970's magazine.  Again, it was a joy to handle such a lovely example when LFAS was engaged to liquidate the remaining collections. 

This especially elegant late Louis XVI mahogany commode seen in this 2008 photograph when it had been enjoyed after many years by Mr. Thompson's surviving partner, was also seen in the original article on the left of the mantlepiece. Perfect for a small apartment by nature of it's slightly diminutive scale. 

The last image below also includes a pair of Empire patinated and gilded bronze candelabra, a pair of ormolu putti, and the same ormolu clock also seen in the magazine article featuring John J. Thompson chez lui seen among his beloved collection of furniture, art, bibelot and Asian items which included an admirable and extensive collection of Chinese Export Porcelain in the Fitzhugh pattern that had long been dispersed before LFAS had the enjoyment of liquidating what had remained for a few years and been given such love and appreciation before finding new owners.  The rarified old world and old moneyed taste enjoyed by John J. Thompson really represents another generation and another era that lamentably has all but entirely disappeared and seems to be in a very small clique of people who appreciate the refinement represented by the 18th Century in France which was once inspired so many educated affluent collectors and now has been significantly reduced to a small circle of collectors and aesthetes that are self assured enough to not be enslaved by today's glacial fashion for Modernism! 


Saturday, November 17, 2018


It is lamentable that many of the under 40-something cast of today's antiquarian, collecting and even decorating scene barely know who this erudite and daring gallery owner, Juan Portela, was and how in some ways he anticipated the 21st Century departure from the assumption that only serious collectors of antiques and period decorative arts sought out either the Georges or the Louis styles.  After a time in Paris in the 1970's as an already established gallery owner offering a discerning and no less diverse inventory of primarily 19th Century furniture, textiles and decorative appointments, Mr. Portela and his then partner, the late debonair Frenchman Christian Herbaut, resettled in New York and did not go long unnoticed for the high quality and originality of the inventory initially offered from a Madison Avenue gallery which was eventually relocated to their historic townhouse on East 71st Street.  The pair are seen below as photographed in the Madison Avenue Gallery for House & Garden in a well earned celebratory article featuring the gallery by the late Nancy Richardson. Juan Portela is seen standing.

What brought Juan Portela to mind was a haphazard encounter with a copy that had not been revisited for years on my library shelves from January 1993, of the Christie's New York sale catalog published when Mr. Portela, by this time in the early 1990's alone, had decided to close the gallery in NY and relocate back to Paris. In the end, he actually relocated for a while to Miami Beach... But today he resides mostly in Paris the better part  of the year. The sale catalog is a splendid and valuable record of the inventory. This is the catalog cover below.

Mr. Portela's superb eye hints at a taste, in part perhaps influenced by Madeleine Castaing who also celebrated 19th Century eccentricity at a time when the 18th Century was sacrosanct and the 20th  century often disdained too hastily. But his taste was also, in many ways, innovative and anticipatory of the way 21st Century collectors and decorating trends would, after over a hundred years, begin to reconsider the immutable belief that nothing beyond the Empire could be taken  seriously or considered worthy of collecting - let along bringing into an elegant home to enjoy in one's drawing room or dining room!  Now that we're on the subject of drawing rooms and dining rooms, the catalog also included illustrations of the inventory as it was presented to Juan Portela's clients and as it was presented similarly to the public coming to visit the preview for the auction which was not held at Christie's proper but in situ at the East 71st Street townhouse.

By the mid 1980's Juan Portela Antiques was a serious force with which to reckon in the New York gallery community. His clients not only included the likes of Michael Graves, Oscar de la Renta and Albert Hadley... But that formidable arbiter of taste, Mica Ertegun (wife of the recording mogul Ahmet Ertegun who founded and owned Atlantic Records) who  relied on Juan Portela for some of the cornerstone furniture and appointments to decorate her subtle but sumptuous New York townhouse that was featured in the March 1987 issue of House & Garden and was also the subject of its cover seen below.

The article cites that, it was from Juan Portela, that Mrs. Ertegun procured the unique and apparently quite inviting pair of Biedermeier  sofas and the wide multi-functional William IV table seen along the left wall under the Ellsworth Kelly which served as the bar.

Perhaps it was a good strategic gesture that Juan Portela Antiques also inserted this half page advertisement in the same issue that is seen below.

Perhaps no greater indication of the respect for Mr. Portela's knowledge, taste and discernment was evident, than when he sold this monumental secretary desk of mahogany with marble columns incorporating a clock to the Getty Museum in California! The desk was made by the Prussian cabinet maker Johann Andreas Beo who produced furniture on the same level of David Roentgen for Prussian royalty. The cabinet was commissioned from King Frederick William II of Prussia in the 1790's.. It is seen below in this photo I took during my last visit to the Getty Museum earlier this year.

With such credentials and experience, it's little wonder the Chistie's auction in New York inevitably attracted a great deal of interest in the international antiquarian and collecting community.  Among the more notable items in the auction were charming paintings. These works of art were not at all in the intoxicated 1980's category of show stopping trophy acquisitions for the kind of collector seeking to impress. On the contrary, these paintings were pregnant with historical charm and evocative power while not being by the hands of masters who command huge prices on the auction block. These were art acquisitions for the self confident collector whose appreciation of their merits is based in a love of history and an ongoing fascination and understanding of their invaluable historical documentation of the past,  its daily life and social customs as well as offering records of historical events. A good example of that would be this powerful pair of visual records on canvas depicting the fire of Moscow during the French invasion of Napoleon's armies in 1812 seen below. 

This pair of children's' portraits by the hand of the 19th Century painter J. P. Vallen is also representative.. 


Seen below, in another room is a portrait of a lady at the harp along side hanging textiles and other intriguing 19th Century items...

This fetching and romantic portrait was by an unknown artist of the early 19th Century French school.

Juan Portela unabashedly delighted in textiles and offered an enviable selection of mostly 19th Century tribal and European woven bolts and fragments suggested for use as either wall hangings on their own merit, or use as upholstery.  Below is an illustration from the catalog of the variety.

The library below is demonstrative of how Mr. Portela "practiced what he preached" with regards to using woven tribal textiles as upholstery for sofas and divans

Juan Portela's appreciation for the festively eccentric and joyful extended to endless media and categories. Like Madeleine Castaing, he did not fear the operatic exuberance of the Second Empire. A fine example is this Napoleon III period French porcelain and lacquer umbrella stand seen below.

No less  exotic, but infinitely rarer was this offering at the auction of a rare Korean Imperial court screen of the Joseon Dynasty, ca 17th/18th Century depicting the various birds of Korea. 


Unapologetic delight in assertive bold self assured love of the rare, the exotic, the superior and sumptuous was invariably to be expected of Le Style Juan Portela.  Objects of malachite were often seen in the gallery such as these offered at Christie's at the auction seen below.


At the same time, Juan Portela never set out to epater les bourgeois for the sake of it. A man of an apparently limitless erudition and appreciation of the classical, Juan Portela loved the late 18th and early 19th Century styles of Louis XVI, Directoire, and Empire as well as the era of the Regency in England while having a long time penchant for the effortless chic of Baltic neoclassicism of Stockholm, Copenhagen and Saint Petersburg. That being established, when Juan Portela offered his privileged clients inventory of that provenance, it invariably had something unique, stylish and endearingly eccentric that set it apart from other examples of that more conventional period.  Such examples of that are seen below...

One example of a suite of 6 Painted Continental Swedish Neoclassical dining chairs, ca 1800...

An utterly reptilian George IV laburnum wood breakfast table that anticipates "Hollywood Regency" by a century!

 A suite of Biedermeier ebonized case furniture that included a pair of pedestals with storage and a commode seen below...

No less unique and imposing is this Italian satinwood and ebonized dressing table in a dreamlike Neo Gothic style, ca 1820's from Lucca. A detail of it is seen on the cover of the Christie's catalog. It recently also resurfaced on the retail market on not too long ago.

Some personal favourites include this utterly irresistible pagoda seen next to a more conventional Louis XVI period ormolu wall clock in the main drawing room and illustrated in the Christie's catalog.

Perhaps a good illustrative note on which to wind up this long overdue tribute to Le Style Juan Portela is this other photo from the catalog of the Christie's auction demonstrating the happy co-existence of a Dutch Rococo period side chair, flanking a mahogany and brass early 19th Century "Russian Jacob" commode under a Neoclassical late 18th century oval Italian mirror. Only a collector who self confidently knows that good design is good design is good design without concern for age or provenance could combine these seemingly disparate items with such effortless panache!

It is very much to be regretted that, in this more monochromatic age mesmerized by minimalism and modernism, no one has apparently stepped in to take the place of the irreplaceable Juan Portela in the antiques gallery scene in New York... But one may hope!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016


Anyone who has had to listen to me discuss Vizcaya, a ravishing historic house museum and garden in Miami, Florida, USA, would not be amiss in perceiving it was something of a first love for me. It certainly is a significant and early contributory factor in leading me in the direction of the career I have had for over 30 years now as an appraiser, consultant and broker of European decorative arts and antiques.

Vizcaya was built for the wealthy industrialist James Deering who was of the International Harvester fortune. Commenced just as WWI was beginning in Europe, the house was officially inaugurated on Christmas Day of 1916 and the museum is, in fact, in the midst of very lively centennial celebrations. The house made the transition from private residence to publicly opened museum in the 1950's.  Ever since, generations of administrative and curatorial staff have availed themselves of the rich original archival material in the museum that includes all manner of original records that reveal much about the years during which the house was under construction as well as the vast correspondence between James Deering and his artistic director and advisor, the discerning and debonair Paul Chalfin.  Of course in the museum's early years, the identification of much of the historic period furniture and appointments in the house were based on this archival material. But, as the years evolved, as did scholarship about the decorative arts, it was found that much in the house has needed to be identified anew and correctly assigned a different age or country of origin. I personally have always wanted to delve into a very notable piece of furniture that has intrigued me from the first day I saw it as a teen in January 1973 which is in the Adam Library seen below.

I refer to a desk that requires further investigation. Traditionally it was always believed to be a Neoclassical French desk, ca 1800 and often described as Directoire.

It is unique in its blocky shape, which according to either archival or perhaps just oral tradition, was due to the fact that it was the counter for a very posh Parisian candy store or pastry shop where the doubtless elegantly dressed sales lady sold her sweet delicacies. Often cited as a feature that makes the desk exceptional - and exceptionally pretty - is the 3 painted panels in the manner of Angelica Kauffman. The one on the front of the desk is seen below.

Indeed these panels, depicting merry frolicking scantily clad children,  really are animated in their vibrant polychrome as they are charming. They make the piece distinctive in the most effective way imaginable and the bright lively painted panels create a rich and vibrant compliment to the sober mahogany case with ebonized decorated bands and gilt accents. The other two of the three panels are seen below.

There can be no doubt of the desk's assertively Neoclassical demeanor. But neither the late 18th to early 19th Century French attribution really seems sustainable. This suspicion was confirmed by a highly and widely acknowledged expert in French 18th Century furniture, the New York dealer Anthony Victoria who shared his impressions in a letter after a visit to Vizcaya to me in the mid 1980's in which he cited it's "clucky" aspect that would not be likely to hold up as a viable or credible example of French Directoire - or even Consulat design.

The more I look at the desk and consult other world renown colleagues whose opinions are crucial in helping arrive at a plausible explanation for the accurate attribution of the desk's age and origin, I am now of the opinion the desk is very likely English. The noted expert in French 18th Century furniture Thierry Millerand was kindly allowed to examine the desk by Vizcaya's current highly accomplished curator Ms. Gina Wouters in 2014. Messr. Millerand was certain the construction details revealed by examining the drawers betrayed clear English construction methods of the 19th Century.  The more I look at the desk I am more and more reminded of the work of the Regency period cabinet maker George Bullock and see his influence here is concurrent with that of his French contemporaries during the later Empire and Restauration periods. 

For instance, the assertively gilded animal capitals on the pilasters are very much in the French manner. But the assertive bands of ebonized decoration lending prominent attention to such motifs as the anthemion are pure Bullock! Here is an English cabinet in the Bullock manner of the same period in the 1st half of the 19th Century. Notice the similarities in the brass inlaid bands in this cabinet below and compare it to the ebonized decoration on Vizcaya's desk. The similarity is glaringly obvious.

In conclusion - and hopefully to be continued because much more investigation is in order - it's safe to suggest the desk is English, probably 19th Century and very likely a bit later in the Century as late as the 1820's to even 1830's. Additionally, it may be possible the delightful painted panels that give the desk so much of its charm may possibly be a later addition applied to the desk later in the 19th Century. The panels themselves may also be early and perhaps earlier than the desk itself. But they may have been later added by an antiquaire eager to "marry" the components to make something really quite decorative and unique. Of course this is only my theory. And it's a tentative one at that. What is needed is a conservator's contribution to examine the desk and it's insides to ascertain if any traces of such an addition or "marriage"  could be revealed by an intense inspection of the carcass.

Until then, no one can argue it isn't a lovely piece of furniture! And I, for one, would never want or could imagine The Adam Library, in which the desk has been placed since 1916, without it!