To say that it is not my usual habit to comment on the dizzying variegations of the world of tradesmen is hardly an understatement. Indeed, it is usually something that I dutifully avoid, being happily unaware of trends when it involves the of exchange of money for goods and far more preoccupied with my work at our local hospital and the unending crises that family always seems to be throwing at my rather aching feet.
The auction of English, Continental & American Furniture, Fine Art and Decorations at Stair Galleries on June 28, however, has compelled me to break my silence about such matters. Focusing, among other things, on the glories of the furniture, objets, and art of the middle and late Georgian eras and slightly beyond, it is nothing less than an antidote to the vulgarity of the modern age. (I can’t help recalling that appalling day when they switched on all of the newly installed electric lighting at Downton Abbey; it felt as if I was suddenly thrust permanently into the Gaiety!). It is hard to imagine furnishing a venerable country estate without at least a few of these, but from what people tell me, it’s all going for what, in common parlance, is called “a song.” (As it seems often the case, other, far later period styles are more in vogue at the moment.) There is an especially impressive focus on the remarkable craftsmanship of the work produced during the lengthy range of George III, a good friend of our great grandfather and a man with a quite sensible and down-to-earth nature, excepting a notorious but brief period of illness and what my daughter in law and her fellow country folk have been taught in their school books.
Indeed, perhaps reflecting George III’s pragmatism as regent, this was a time of greater simplicity and functionality, at least in furniture design. At the auction, there are numerous comely examples from this period, which lasted quite a long time (1760-1820, god be praised!): a George III walnut chest, which sits atop a chest/secretary; a fine, light-toned pair of George III inlaid satinwood console tables; a rare George III mahogany mechanical kneehole desk; a pair of George III mahogany hall chairs with a family crest; and a pair of mahogany knife boxes in the Palladian manner, perfect to place on a sideboard in your dining hall. Preceding George 111 was of course George 11, and during this time, while the rest of the world was going mad for rococo, our level-headed nation was producing work such as a George 11 mahogany reading stand, handsomely simple but with a flourish of playful curves at its feet.
There is also fine work closer to our own age, among them a pair of Victorian carved oak hall chairs, sturdy and practical but with a shape of originality and inherent style and taste. Although it took some time for us Europeans to learn how to make porcelain, our nation – due to the admirable efforts of the British East Indian Company – was able to obtain some of the finer products of such decorative yet utilitarian items from lands far away, including a pair of Chinese blue and white porcelain moon vases. Like nearly all of the items to be bargained for during the auction, even these foreign pieces speak volumes about the admirable efforts of our ever-expanding British empire.
Full Disclosure: A fellow named Scott Baldinger, who is a rather loquacious scribbler, even for an American (particularly during teatime, when he partakes in a larger than usual quantity of scones and clotted cream) provided helpful aid in the writing of this quite — for me — unusual project. He tells me he also penned a little something about it for Stair Galleries as well…which could be read here.