Objects of desire
There’s something to intrigue all levels of collector at this year’s Olympia
THE Art & Antiques Fair at Olympia, which runs from June 26 to July 2, boasts a doubling of the number of picture dealers among this year’s exhibitors. The majority of them are specialists in the currently fashionable Modern British field, including Harry Moore-gwyn with 20 works on paper by Sir George Clausen, some previously unseen, ranging from under £1,000 to more than £8,000.
He points out that, although a major Clausen pastel sold for £500,000 in 2010, the majority of his ‘landscapes, figure studies and sketches still represent remarkably good value for collectors’. This fits well with the traditional levels of the fair from under £100 to about £250,000.
Here is a very small but varied selection of offerings.
Zarco Antiques, a first-time exhibitor from Lisbon, offers a true Kunstkammer object, a coco de mer standing cup (Fig 3) mounted with 17th-century Spanish colonial silver.
The coco de mer grew on a very few of the Maldive Islands in the Indian Ocean, notably the second largest, Praslin. The seeds are the largest and heaviest in the plant kingdom and, when empty, the nuts are carried away by the sea, giving rise to the early European belief that ‘the Coconut of the Maldives is an Indian nut, open and empty, that appears to be emerging and growing under the sea’ (1607).
The double-bodied nuts have a feminine appearance—an alternative name is coco fesse—and they were inevitably assumed to have anti-poisoning properties. Both rare and curious, they were highly prized by collectors such as the Emperor Rudolph II.
Morgan Strickland, a specialist in the Arts-and-crafts movement and similar decorative fields, gave up a successful gallery 12 years ago to sell through www.morganstricklandantiques.com and at fairs. Here, it has a highly decorative Murano Carnival vase by Archimede Seguso (1909–99) (Fig 1).
On my honeymoon, many years ago, I was horrified by a visit to Murano, which seemed to be a great deal of hustle for rather horrid pieces, but, since then, the Segusos have helped change things greatly. The family‘s unbroken history of glassmaking on the island goes back to 1397 and, in 2012, it was one of the first furnaces to open its workshops to visitors, through a multi-sensory programme called the Seguso Experience, intended to provide ‘a journey made of real authentic flavors, colors and atmosphere handed down from each Seguso generation to generation’.
Archimede was one of the most varied and innovative designers, although even he did not always quite avoid the kitsch that infected the island.
Guelfucci is a Berlin gallery specialising in 20th-century French design, such as this 1936 throne-chair (Fig 4) by André Arbus (1903–69). If not with quite the pedigree of the Segusi, Arbus also came from a long line of designers and craftsmen. He was also an architect and, with his partner André Crillon, he was
for the very elegant lighthouse on Planier, the outermost islet off Marseille, which took from 1949 to 1959 because the first three draughts were rejected by the lighthouse authority. The island’s wrecks are wonderful for divers.
This Arbus mahogany throne includes bands of ivorine, a form of celluloid used as an ivory substitute in the 1930s. Unfortunately, it could be flammable, but if that were cured, it might be due a revival.
As the fair overlaps with Wimbledon, anyone in search of a perfect present for a champion should visit the stand of Howard Walwyn from Kensington Church Street W8. He has an exceptionally rare automaton bracket clock
(Fig 2) by a little-known but talented London maker, Samuel West, dating from about 1760. The arch is painted with two tennis players lobbing the ball to one another motivated by the swing of the bob pendulum across the back plate. On the hour, a windmill behind the left-hand figure turns and a man chops logs to the right.
Even without movement, a pietra dura and ebonised cabinet on stand with barleysugar twist legs
(Fig 6), which will be with Anthony Fell of Holt in Norfolk seems almost as lively and could certainly never be dismissed as ‘brown’. It is a product of the Florentine Grand-ducal workshops and made in about 1670.
In our May 31 issue, we featured Jon Baddeley of Bonhams, who collects watercolour originals for early-responsible
20th-century railway posters. Not all such originals were in watercolour and Darnley Fine Art, a specialist in travel art, offers two good specimens of the genre in oil paint.
One, at £4,800, the 23¼in by 19in Finchingfield in Essex (Fig 7), is by Alan Durman (1905– 63), a prolific artist of whose life little seems to be recorded. He was a native of Saltford, between Bath and Keynsham, and the community hall there has a mural and two other paintings by him. The second is by the much better known Norman Wilkinson (1878– 1971). The 30in by 45in
Iona Cathedral (Fig
5) is taken from the spot where the footings of St Columba’s beehive hut still show. Until recently, perhaps still, one could sit on his doorstep and share the view that he enjoyed in about 580.
Wilkinson was best known as a marine artist and the inventor of dazzle camouflage for warships, but he was also a prolific illustrator and produced railway posters for the LNWR and the LMS lines.
Fig 2: Rare automaton bracket clock. With Howard Walwyn
Fig 3 left: Coco de mer
cup. With Zarco Antiques.
Fig 4 right: Arbus thronechair. With Guelfucci
Fig 1: Vase by Archimede Seguso. With Morgan Stickland
Fig 6: Pietra dura and ebonised cabinet. With Anthony Fell Fig 7: Finchingfield. With Darnley Fine Art
Fig 5: Iona Cathedral. With Darnley Fine Art