Sunday, August 12, 2012


Any seasoned experienced appraiser of art and antiques will tell you that the main perk of our profession is the potential for learning as we work on our assignments.

I recently got asked to appraise a lovely collection in Coral Gables in which there was an enviably varied and instructive experience during which I was able to see, examine, touch and evaluate a small collection of "Imari" porcelains. I state this in quotation marks because, as any knowledgeable collector of Asian porcelain knows, Imari is a bright polychromatic Japanese made porcelain with underglaze blue and added colours - usually with gilded decoration.  Although serious connoisseurs and collectors understandably focus on Japanese Imari of the 17th,  and to a limited extent 18th Century, most of the Imari seen in the routine mid range auctions, in antiques shops and even on online venues is 19th and some is even 20th Century.  A good example if a fine quality 19th Century Japanese Imari lidded urn in this same client's collection is seen below. This handsome mantle urn was probably originally once part of a pair of which one was lost or broken in years past...

This collection also had a few charming decorative bowls and plates seen below with all the characteristics of Japanese Imari. Note particularly the emphatically underglaze blue. Though these are clearly more commerically produced wares dating from the second half of the 19th Century, by which time the Japanese were producing and exporting larger and less fine volume inventory for eager Western consumers.

 However, in the late Georgian Period from 1790 well into the middle of the 19th Century, English porcelain manufacturers were keen enough to sense the consumer public's desire for the riotous exuberance of much desired Japanese Imari and began to create Imari-inspired wares (to which I refer as "Imari" in quotation marks)  that were clearly of English manufacture and not without their own charms and decorative appeal.

Below, also in this same client's collection is a lovely small group of English early to mid 19th Century Derby porcelain clearly following the Japanese examples.

Though without a doubt, my client's finest example of such English wares produced in unapologetic imitation of Japanese Imari is this ravishing and sumptuously executed and decorated oval dish produced by Coalport about 1810.

Also in this collection was a partial Coalport tea set in a clearly Imari-inspired style but with an obviously looser interpretation. This set also dated from the reign of George III and was produced ca 1810-1820.

For any student of porcelain seeking a chance to handle a good varied collection in which the chance to compare the Asian ware next to the European wares produced in direct imitation of it was indeed a most appreciated learning experience. Many thanks to master porcelain scholar and appraiser Letitia Roberts, New York City, for her invaluable experience and assistance whenever expertise in European porcelain is sought!

Saturday, August 11, 2012


I was recently called to Sarasota by a New York contact who referred an appraisal assignment to me that proved most rewarding as it afforded me the opportunity to examine and value some really interesting mid value range Continental furniture and decorations from the 17th through to the 19th Century.

Not without some interest was this handsome and imposing Continental table which folded over to become a larger table. It is seen below when closed.

As with so very much (often most) furniture of this age, there was indication of some alterations. It's possible the top and base were remade from various 17th Century parts. The splits in the baluster legs and the mechanism of the top flipping open hinted at a probable later (most likely 19th Century) alteration.

At least I suspected the likelihood of that being the case. Although there were no traces of paint, it's also possible that much of this sort of furniture once had painted surfaces and decoration.

But in the end, for an appraiser - especially one like me who is particularly specialized in the study of French and Continental early furniture before 1830 - developing connoisseurship is an ongoing -and often humbling - voyage of discovery.  Regardless of what alterations may have transpired, this remains a largely interesting Baroque table contemporary with the age of Rubens with all the characteristic exuberance and somewhat "gutsy" charm one associates with furniture probably originating in Flanders or parts of Western Germany.


Appraisers often have to consult colleagues who are specialists in their respective field. I routinely consult Terry Kondralian, a 3rd generation carpet dealer, restorer and appraiser when I encounter Oriental carpets. In the instance of this carpet I had to appraise recently in a Coral Gables estate, I initially believed this to be a 20th Century French Savonnerie carpet based on 18th Century prototypes. But a general crudeness gave me an uneasy feeling. Altogether though, the carpet is not without its decorative appeal. And in the current market in which "traditional" Oriental and Eurpean carpets are not fashionable, there are some good opportunities for collectors not so keen on being in tune with the latest trends.

This carpet is very large. It measures 11'9" x 20'3". It was dirty and probably would have its colours resonate more after a professional cleaning or restoration.

However the characteristics of Savonnerie production were evident in the Rococo inspired floral design and the thick pile. What Mr. Kondralian pointed out to me was that Savonnerie was not above subcontracting work from factories in Asia after WWI of less costly imitation carpets of less refinement than the better French carpets. These were made to be offered to a wider consumer market of middle class buyers. Indeed, copies of Savonnerie and Aubusson carpets are still made in Asia - particularly in China. However these "vintage" carpets are finely made with more attention to detail then those being turned out in most current mass production. A detail of a corner shows the charm and quality of the design and execution.


During the course of my appraisal work, I recently had occasion to enjoy examining this very fetching whimsical character jug in blue and white pottery that was clearly inspired by 18th Century prototypes made in Delft in the Low Countries. I found it in a Coral Gables estate here in S Florida. I was able to consult the erudite ceramics specialist Letitia Roberts of New York City about this admittedly curious and endearing jug. Ms. Roberts cited its rather tourist market stylized demeanor that indicated it was not quite as "earthy" as an 18th Century character jug would have been. Additionally, she pointed out that the jug could also be French as well as Dutch. It has a cryptic maker's mark on the underside of "A G Foreign". Ms. Roberts was certain it was of late 19th to early 20th Century date.

The jug depicting a harlequin seated and wearing a pointed cap that doubles as a lid over the spout. 

The jug is in good antique condition and it measures 12.75 inches high.


Now and again, as an appraiser, I get the privilege of appraising a fine example of the category of period furniture my early years of training prepared me to appraise, but which is seldom available for an appraiser like myself, living in the regions outside of the more important cities such as New York, Boston or Philadelphia.

So when I was asked to appraise an estate with a nice varied collection of American, English and European antiques recently, I reveled in the challenge.

In this collector's estate was a fine example of an American Colonial Queen Anne walnut highboy. Its regional characteristics hinted at a CT origin. It was structurally sound. More exciting was the fact that it retained its original pine secondary woods and brass hardware! Regrettably, it was refinished - probably in the early 20th Century. In American furniture, changing the original finish represents a diminution of collector desirability and therefore of value. But this does not indicate that the piece was at all undesirable. Far from it!

The highboy is characterized by a fine proportion. It is surmounted by a simple flat top with a moulded cornice over 5 overhanging wide drawers in the upper body. 

The lower half has an upper wide drawer over a row of 3 drawers of which the central drawer has a finely carved fan. The lower case is decorated with a down swept  scrolled apron and rests on 4 somewhat heavy handed cabriole legs terminating in pad feet.  

The piece is not without a desirable and valuable provenance. It was acquired by the late client whose estate I was engaged to appraise recently in 2010. He acquired it upon the death of his wife in 1981.  And according to family oral tradition it was owned by her family since the 18th Century when it was made for her direct ancestor William Hooper (1742-1790) who was a signer of the Declaration of Independence for North Carolina in 1776 whose image we see below. Not a bad pedigree! 

The highboy measures  74 inches high, 40.50 inches wide at the widest area being the feet, 20 inches deep at the deepest part. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Stunning Monumental Scale Regency Painted Horn Inkstand

A lovely Coral Gables estate I was engaged to appraise recently had this quite impressive green painted inkstand which I initially believed to be painted tole. Closer physical examination along with my colleague Larry Sirolli who was formerly head of the English Furniture Department at Sotheby's in New York led to the realization that the material was in fact horn. It's almost certainly made in India for British consumption.

Stylistically this piece is assertively Regency and very much in the tradition of the shamelessly riotously exuberant style of Regency that predominated at Brighton Pavilion made for George IV when he was regent.  It dates from about 1825. However Mr. Sirolli was of the opinion that the green painting was of a later period dating about 1930. It measures 18 inches high, 17 inches wide and 11 inches deep.

The open area of the frame above has a blotter which runs on the rod and which is pulled up by a knob surmounting the pagoda inspired lid.

It also has a candle holder and other standard accoutrements such as inkpots and other small drawers and secret compartments.

A Charming Oval Painting After Francois Boucher

Now and again, as an appraiser of art and antiques, I find something that is not exactly valuable. But it is admittedly charming and not without some historical interest as well as visual appeal.  Recently, I encountered this lovely small oval oil painting on board in an Coral Gables estate I was engaged to appraise.  It is a competently executed 19th Century copy by the hand of a sure painter after an 18th Century painting depicting the baptism of Christ by St John in the manner of the great French Rococo master Francois Boucher.

It is small and measures 9 x 7 inches.

Close up examination attests to the fairly good quality of execution by someone who clearly had a feeling for Boucher's light touch and effortless sense of movement.


In spite of the markings on the back, optimistically attributing it to the master himself, it's clearly a nice decorative and economically accessible copy.

It would benefit by a professional cleaning too. But until such a time, it's still a lovely painting to exhibit, as did the late owner, on a stand.

A George III Style Serpentine Walnut Bench Inspired by Louis XV Prototypes

This is a good example of what regional appraisers of art and antiques see in places like S FL where I am based. The owner and a prior appraiser with scant background had assumed it was French and that it was a Louis XV period bench. The assumption was based on the cabriole legs more than anything I should imagine.


In reality, this was a prime example of English furniture made in a very French inspired style. And it's also a later generation bench of 19th Century vintage.  It was clearly made after French Rococo prototypes in the mid to  late 19th Century. 

It has an upholstered seat with obviously more recent floral blended (polyester and cotton) fabric resting on 4 cabriole legs headed by carved cabochons and terminating in scroll feet. Visually, the cabochons give it away as an English bench as such a decoration would not have customarily been seen on the head of a French cabriole leg. Also the sweep of the cabriole is too stiff to the trained eye of an appraiser who knows his or her furniture.  The bench measures 18”h., 23”w., 16”d.

A Jacobean Inspired Side Chair Probably Concieved as a Deliberate Fake

This rather penitential looking side chair was recently encountered in an estate appraisal here in S FL. It purported to be a Caroline Period oak side chair.  

Close examination revealed it was in fact a complete pastiche remade from some old elements. The tablet back panel has a geometric carved moulded motifs placed in between a pair of plain uprights and is noted for also having a “CR” carved into the verso. This was almost certainly likely to lead the buyer to believe it stood for "Charles Rex" implying a royal provenance. Some people really are gullible! The plain overhanging wood seat has a  rounded moulded edge resting on a plain apron with block front corners and round front legs with ring turnings connected by a similar style rod across the front.  The area below has a plainer flat H shaped stretcher connecting the front legs to the rear plain legs. The chair is also suspect as a piece of remade furniture by the presence of later screws and newer elements and the questionable initials carved on the tablet verso. All this  indicates this is a very decorative pastiche at best remade from some antique elements – possibly  in the late 19th Century when dealers started to do this more consistently. Although this production in which antique elements were cleverly reused to make such "antiques" really reached its apogee in the 20th Century during the 1920's following WWI, and again in the 1950's through the 1970's after WWII. The chair measures 37 inches in height.