Antiques Today – February 2012

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I thought I was dreaming – or perhaps the victim of a practical joke – when I walked through a shopping mall recently only to be confronted by an array of twinkling lights and sparkling baubles… Until I realized that the end of the year is indeed upon us, and summer and the festive season is knocking on the door!

And so it is also the time of year when much of South Africa’s population relocates to the coast for the annual vacation of sun and sea and the season’s much-anticipated indulgences… And one highlight – towards the end of summer – is surely the next SAADA fair, to be held at the Kirstenbosch Gardens on Saturday the 11th and Sunday the 12th February 2012.

The upcoming fair promises to be a fabulous affair, again attracting all the top Who’s of the Who’s Who to view – and purchase – the array of goodies on offer by many of the regular exhibitors, as well as some exciting stuff from some dealers new to the Cape SAADA fair.

Mike and Ed from Majestic are two such dealers. Firm favourites at the annual Johannesburg fair in October, they have decided to bring some of their always much-anticipated magic down to the Cape for the first time this coming February.

sewing-box
Silver sewing box by William Comyns – Majestic

Their stand is a virtual conjuring act, as pieces disappear with a broad smile of each happy customer, and are continuously replaced with something else unusual and exciting.

I asked Mike and Ed to give me a sneak-peak of some of the tricks they have been putting together for the fair, one of which is a Victorian walnut Bonheur du jour. With serpentine front and sides and superstructure, burr walnut veneering and satinwood floral marquetry, and a brass gallery for the display of small ornaments, Mike explained to me that the small portable ladies writing desk, originating in 18th century, derives its name from the French for “the pleasant hour of the day”.

“It became a popular item of furniture – usually free-standing in a room – that was enthusiastically adopted across the Channel into England by the early Victorian era” he said as he opens one of the six miniature drawers in the upper section.

Eager to show me another treasure, Ed interrupted Mike and drew my attention to a 177 piece walnut veneered Art Deco canteen of silver and ivory cutlery in the Sandringham pattern, manufactured by Viner’s Ltd Sheffield between 1932 and 1934.

While showing me the hallmarks on the meat and bread knife, Ed told me that the Viner’s of Sheffield was founded around 1907 and – while under the leadership of Emile Viner – were cutlers to King George VI and went on to become the biggest cutlery manufacturer in Britain after World War 11. Many years later – in 1982 –the company went into receivership and was purchased by a London Company, and 2002 all production rights were acquired by Oneida Ltd, based in the U.S.A., now reputed to be one of the largest cutlery manufacturers in the world.

The spotlight back on Mike, he opened a silver sewing box by William Comyns, hallmarked in London in 1898. With a velvet pin cushion cartouche on the lid, the interior is elaborately fitted with original lining, 3 ivory cotton bobbins, and a rotating spindle for six embroidery cottons.

bankroft

Turning it over in his hand to display the fine detail, Mike said “The presence of doves in the decoration would indicate that this was a love token, possibly a betrothal gift… The surface is finely wrought with well-observed and beautifully executed repoussé foliate scroll work… The box would have had pride of place in a Society drawing room!”

Another new addition to this fair of old is Riaan Bolt, who recently showcased his superb collection of early Cape antiques at the Johannesburg fair. He will be presenting a rare pair of elegant Cape Stinkwood Bergeres in the Regency taste, circa 1830.

Riaan researches each item in his collection with great care and is always able to provide the historical context of a given piece: “There is an identical example – said to have belonged to Lord Charles Somerset’s son while he was magistrate of Grahamstown – on page 194 of Baraitser and Obholzer’s “Town Furniture of the Cape”, published in Cape Town in 1987… and a similar chair is also depicted in an 1832 sketch of the drawing room in Government House, on page 76 of Viney’s, “Colonial Houses of South Africa”, also published in Cape Town in 1987”.

I next contacted Geoff Burr in Cape Town. With Lalique vases displayed to highlight their almost supernatural luminescence, the Burr and Muir stand is always spell-binding, and this coming exhibit promises to be no exception.

demetreLike a figure from a 1920’s traveling carnival of fortune tellers and magicians, Geoff described a bronze and ivory figure of a dancer by Demetre Chiparus that will be but one of several exceptional treasures to be presented in February. Standing at over a half-metre tall, and clad in a tight detailed long-sleeved bodice, a full pleated skirt, and a cloche cap, she is in a dancing pose balancing on her left foot, with raised right knee, on a light brown onyx base, with both her ivory hands held aloft above her head.

“The quality of the bronze moulding is superb, especially in the intricate detailing on the vest and the complex folds of the skirt…The quality of the carving too is unsurpassed, with incredible life given to the face and hands” says Geoff, and indeed one can almost imagine, with the wave of a wand, the figure springing into a complex and mystical dance.

I later chatted to Jeremy Astfalck and he excitedly told me about a collection of silver mounted tortoiseshell items that he will be exhibiting. These pieces combine the best techniques that had been perfected by the wizardry of English silversmiths.

“The tortoiseshell was formed into the desired shape by the use of steam and steel moulds. Once shaped the silversmith began the laborious task of silver inlay, the detail of which is incredible” said Jeremy while holding up a beautifully fashioned pin tray as an example.

“These luxury items took many man hours to fashion and the combination of the translucent shell and silver inlay is phenomenal! The type of pieces we find range from inkwells to dressing table trays, and the foremost maker was William Comyns”. Having heard this name mentioned recently, myeyes light up and I was immediately under the spell of Jeremy’s fascinating narrative. “The quality of his work is unsurpassed and is only matched by the enormous range that he manufactured. In today’s market, condition is all important and these pieces have stood the test of time. Larger items such as the inkwell are rare to find and the glossy sheen of the polished shell is still original”.

Each SAADA fair has such a variety of vetted antiques and collectors’ items of exceptional quality, and the selection exhibited by Ricus Dullaert of Kunsthandel H.W.C.Dullaert, with its Dutch and Continental European emphasis tempered with elements of Oriental flavour, further enhances the eclectic mix on offer.

I asked Ricus for a preview of some items he will be presenting, and he told me about a mid-Eighteenth Century French console clock that will form part of his exhibit. A fabulous piece, the clock has a case adorned with fire gilt bronze ornaments, and is veneered with tortoise shell that is in turn inlaid with brass in the so-called Boulle technique.

cork

“Andre Charles Boulle (1642-1732) was the cabinet maker of the French Sun King, Louis XIV ( 1642- 1715), and the technique – where a material of a contrasting color is inlaid in another material – is named after him. The piece, signed by a highly respected Parisian maker, is 84 cm high and in excellent working order”.

“Another artifact I will show on the SAADA Fair is a Chinese porcelain “famille rose” teapot from the reign of Emperor Chien Lung (1735-1796). The piece is finely decorated with Chinese people in an Oriental landscape and with decorations in the Rococo taste (circa 1765)”. With a slight of hand he revealed the other side of the teapot. “European influences appeared in such items after the trade routes opened, and this piece would have been transported from China to the Netherlands by the VOC in the 18th Century”

The final item that Ricus described to me is a detail from a 17th century portrait attributed to the Amsterdam painter Lodewijk van der Helst (1642- 1683). “The sitter is said to be Simon van der Stel (1639-1712)” explained Ricus, “and he is depicted in front of Table Mountain leaning on a container with grapes, and is holding a bunch of grapes in his hand”.

Let me end before I give too much away!

This year’s Cape SAADA fair promises to a nearmagical show of delights, so make sure you do not miss it: Kirstenbosch Gardens, 10-12 February 2012.

By Paul Mrkusic

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