Friday, January 30, 2009

Why can't antique dealers talk good English?

Sometimes I think that antiquarians purposely speak in a language that bears no resemblance to English. 

My suspicion is that they're actually extra-terrestrials (that is, not of this world)-and being aliens, they can't master our earthling vocabulary.....except for the one phrase: "TAKE ME TO YOUR LEADER". All aliens know that one. 

But back to our story: Here's a great example of antique mis-speak: When an antique is painted as opposed to stained, it's called "polychrome". Ok, fair enough since polychrome means many colors. But what do we call furniture that's painted in only one color? Monochrome, right? Wrong. It's still called "polychrome". Why? Dunno. Probably because even the most sophisticated alien beings can't collect painted antiques (painted finishes burn up in Pluto's atmosphere). 

Shown below: An 18th Century "Polychrome" and Parcel Gilt Settee and pair of Arm Chairs en suite:
List price: $75,000 USD

Here's more proof that antiquarians are from outer space. In their "antique speak", the 19th Century doesn't include 1800-1830.

Yep, even the top auction houses agree that the first quarter of the 19th century is not really part of the 19th century at all. To illustrate my point, here's a recent quote from Sotheby's: "The 19th Century Furniture Department at Sotheby's deals with items produced after 1835." Strange but true: aliens have taken over Sotheby's (that explains those phony English accents...)

Ok, so what do you call antiques made in the 19th century prior to 1835? Well, in France, you call them Empire (the period under Napolean from 1800-1815), Second Empire or Louis XVIII (1815-1824) and after that Charles X (1824-1830). In England, it's called Late Georgian (1760-1820) and then Regency (under George IV from 1820-1830). In Italy, you can just call this period Italian Empire or Neoclassical.

Shown below: A pair of Polychrome and Parcel Gilt 1815 Empire Benches with later upholstery embroidered with the symbol of Napoleon, the bee centering a laurel wreath.
List price: $64,500 USD

The reason the first quarter of the 19th century is often separated from the balance of the 1800's is that the furniture styles that emerged between 1800-1830 were new and unique (like those of the 18th century). And so they got fancy period names.

But after 1835, styles were really just revivals or reinterpretations of earlier designs. Examples would be Neo-Gothic Style in England, Neo-Grecque Style in Paris during the 1860's and 70's and Louis XV/XVI revivals throughout the latter part of the century. 

Boring side note: The furnishings from post 1835 are perhaps best encapsulated by the series of Great International Exhibitions. Although the idea of exhibitions of this type developed in France in 1798, the first truly International Exhibition did not take place until 1851 in London.

These exhibitions became popular throughout the world, although the most important were in London and Paris. They were intended to follow an eleven-year cycle (another alien concept aimed at confusing us earthlings), with Exhibitions in Paris in 1855, 1867, 1878, 1889 and 1900. London had another exhibition in 1862 but due to financial losses at the time the idea was never really followed through in England in the same way as in France.

How can you spot an ALIEN antique dealer? Easy. They all look like either gassy babies or (quite curiously), Elizabeth Taylor.

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