Journal

24 September 2015

GENUINE INDIVIDUALITY

Early Windsor Chairs have a timeless appeal.

There is something about the unique individuality of early, "one off", primitive examples that appeals to scholars, collectors and designers alike, to the extent that they have really become the icons of the British vernacular furniture tradition. The history of the name "Windsor Chair" is uncertain and for our purposes somewhat irrelevant.  What we want to consider is what it defines and what makes an example special.

Primarily “Windsor” is now the established term used to describe chairs and stools that are constructed by socketing turned legs, splats and spindles into a solid plank seat. It is that simple.

"Windsor" does not signify a specific regional origin.
Early chairs generally finish in a “comb” or shaped cresting rail rather than the later curved bentwood upper bows. However many do have bentwood arm-bows, as well as hewn single piece arms and are also constructed from either two or three pieces of timber joined together to fashion arm bows of various sizes and forms, most typically from the West Country of England.

So what do we look for, what are the magical qualities that lend these chairs such aesthetic charisma?  Primarily it is about design.
Does a chair have individuality, something that separates it from the ordinary? For example a particularly well-defined and deeply saddled seat; an interesting outline to the superstructure or cresting rail, generous arms, or interesting arm rest supports, unusual shape and good height to the legs, great scale and proportions, well figured timbers or original paint surface, evidence of use and wear, these are the qualities we look for. Since they are so simply constructed, it is amazing to witness the variety of shapes and details that exist and how they share a powerful sculptural quality.

The definition of their form is simply described by the series of finely turned spindles, framed at the bottom by a single plank and at the top by a shaped single rail, this simplicity is what makes them so economical in design terms and timelessly complimentary to almost all interior spaces.

The best ones have a kind of personality about them, a genuine individuality and understated presence. Like people, we don’t all like the same ones, but we all tend to respect the most attractive, honourable and dignified.

 

 

 

18 September 2015

COPPER IS KING.

Why are some weathervanes so much cooler, sculptural and ultimately more valuable than others?

Full bodied examples are invariably more powerful that the flat silhouettes.

Zinc and galvanised metal examples are more common in the French and American traditions and are invariably later works, which can have extraordinary appeal and great surface.

Ferrous metal examples were usually originally painted or gilded, but again due to the nature of the material they gradually oxidise, rust, lose the painted or gilt decoration and form a new entirely fortuitous surface, which can be both interesting and attractive, particularly when placed out of context and juxtaposed with clean lined modern materials or wall finishes.

But copper is the king. Copper is soft and workable, so great full bodied shapes could be readily fashioned and beaten out to create broad full bodied forms and etched with detail.

Better still when exposed to the elements it creates an exciting Verdigris patina, probably the most attractive and desirable of all natural finishes on original works of early exterior Folk Art.

Nature never re-creates the same colour, finish or patina. Each example is different. Some wildly green or blue in tone, some with patches, some with blotches, some with runs, dribbles, stains or streaks.

It is simply the wonderful, haphazard, abstract nature of the surface and the honest primitive forms that make the best examples desirable and now so sought after by many collectors of contemporary art.

They always say that the world of fashion and taste goes round and round in cycles, just like weathervanes.

 

 

 

11 September 2015

A CLOSER LOOK

BRUSH CHAIR BOX

"Something about Aged Paint on Old Wood”

Colour brightens our lives, individually we are attracted to and have preferences for some colours over others and accept that generally life would be very dull without colour.

To some degree this feeling and sensitivity to colour is at the heart of the creation of what is now categorised as “Folk Art”.

We know that paint has long been used to protect wood from the elements, on houses, boats, waggons and carts, signs, furniture, utilitarian and domestic implements.

Using paint in any circumstance offers an opportunity for creativity. The selection and combination of colours, method of application and design. So over the years, working artisans have left their individual mark on many things which still represent their individuality and vision.

It needs to be recognised that in the past the availability and cost of painting materials inevitably influenced the choices and range of colours and finishes available, but even allowing for these constraints some great artworks and objects survive, which are now celebrated for their inherent artistic integrity and visual strength.

But there is another vital ingredient that needs to be considered, which is the qualities that develop to the painted surface with age and use.

Paint hardens with age, (particularly oil and casein bound paints), and the surface softens to a smooth silky surface with regular handling and wear; or develops a crusty texture when left exposed to the elements, variable temperatures and humidity.

Colour also fades over time, as the natural pigments become absorbed into medium and binders and are exposed to daylight, cleaning and handling. Paint colours also become less consistent and even.

There is something about aged paint on wood. Something satisfying about the subtlety of colours, the areas where the paint is worn so thin that the timber grain peaks through and where nature has conspired to create a blend of colours and surfaces that could not have been envisaged when the paint was bright, fresh and new.

When you see and feel a genuine old, untouched, original paint surface it is always unique and seems to tell a story.

We are attracted to and fascinated by such silent, unspoken stories and we spend much of our time looking for the pieces that tell them.

Stories of different times and places. Personal, occasionally intimate stories, that have not been heard for many years.

 

 

03 September 2015

“A CLOSER LOOK”

What’s the Score?

Matching Set of Six Queen Anne Period Dining Chairs.

When people visit us here in Battersea, they frequently like to touch and handle the pieces we have on exhibition, but also enjoy discussing the pieces that attract them.

I find myself in much the same position when in independent wine shops, where I love to chat and learn from specialist merchants who know the vineyards and wine makers. I enjoy their knowledge and understanding of the “terroir”, the climate of the vintages and its effect on the flavour or body of the wine, the grape varieties and blends. I learn more about the wine from them than I ever could just from a label and it often greatly increases the pleasure when tasting or drinking it.

There is a similarity in the art and antiques world, for example I used never to listen to the audio tapes at museum shows and exhibitions, but now find that there can be parts of the narrative that enhance my experience and help me see or understand or look at works in a new or different way.

A long standing client and regular visitor to our shop, recently suggested that it would be interesting to read our comments about the pieces we have, in much the same way as we would chat about them here, so we have decided to start posting some notes, here on our online Journal, under the heading “A Closer Look” and plan to do it regularly if the initiative generally meets with your interest. So any feedback will be gratefully received.

Last week we looked at a Georgian period vernacular table and so I thought it appropriate to now look at some early chairs.

Many early furniture enthusiasts have a real soft spot for chairs and I think this is possibly because unique individual characteristics are often most evident in them. Chairs and stools probably have the hardest life and get the most wear of all the furniture forms. They are handled, moved, dragged, tilted and lent back on in a way that case and occasional furniture has not normally been subjected to. This tough life can lend great surface, patina and sculptural individuality to them, but also inevitably genuine old chairs may bear scars and bruises, some will also have suffered structural damage, so they warrant a closer look, as originality and condition are significant qualities to consider when looking at all vernacular furniture.

The things to look out for particularly are a loss of height or subsequently built up/restored feet; loose joints to joined frame constructed chairs; loose spindles or socketed arm or upper bow joints in Windsor style chairs; damaged or replaced stretchers and shrinkage splits to solid seats. Once a chair has loosened it tends to rapidly deteriorate and the subsequent necessity for restoration becomes more involved and complicated.

So with this in mind, it is easy to understand how unusual and exciting it is to find a genuine matching set of chairs that are now just over 300 years old, still in original and strong functional condition!

The design of these chairs is a kind of hybrid combining elements of the late C17th William and Mary style, as seen in the turned leg joined frames, “Braganza” feet , framed and panelled seats and the more elegant Queen Anne period details of the classical baluster splats and double domed crest rails. However the most immediately noticeable feature are the wonderfully bold, turned central stretchers, which with their horizontal three dimensional form are compatible with and complimentary to the flat graphically strong silhouettes of the vertical baluster splats above. The chairs are constructed from excellent quality oak and there would have been considerable wastage when turning these stretchers, to allow for their generous scale. Framed panelled seats are also a fine quality feature in C18th provincial chair making, and were introduced to allow shrinkage of the plank seats. The panels being set within the frame and never glued, pegged, nailed or fixed, allowing it to move freely without splitting.

Therefore we know that these chairs are fine examples, both from their style , material and construction, but what really makes them special is being a complete matching set, their originality, and most importantly their colour and surface. These qualities are much sought after in all aspects of vernacular furniture and folk art. Great surface, both texture and colour are hard to define. It can be raw, bleached and weathered; crusty and rough with old remnants of historic paint or richly burnished, deeply patinated and “nutty”, but it has to be real, un-interfered with and irresistibly tactile. We all somehow naturally recognize great surfaces when we see them and these chairs boast a wonderful “skin”, with the deep slightly red tone to the ancient oak timber, the surface well softened by years of handling and enhanced by historic oil and wax finishes, which have built up a lustrous polished surface.

Another visitor to the shop likes me to try and score items we have on a scale of 1-10, also much like wine writers do sometimes. This can be a testing process as we try only to source special or unusual examples and vernacular pieces tend to be unique, yet my analysis has to be reasoned, informed and comparative. So I have to go back to the reasons the piece excited me enough to buy it and then think back as to when and where I have seen vaguely comparable examples and how their features and qualities compare. Then I realised of course that subliminally I do the same thing every time I look at pieces and if the invisible score is high enough then we try and buy the piece in question.

I believe that the qualities that need to be considered to arrive at an overall score are as follows; Material/Medium, Period, Quality, Look, Scale, Style, Condition, Rarity, Character, Originality, Colour and Surface. It is hard to bless something with a perfect 10/10 and I’ve often wondered how expert figure skating and diving judges are occasionally brave enough to do so, particularly when some of the elements they are scoring are so subjective. I am also an optimist and always hope that somewhere sometime we will find something we consider better than anything we’ve seen before. But in the meantime and back to this set of chairs, I believe they meet the highest standard in the categories I mention above, but in order to leave the pleasure of one day discovering an even better original set, I’d theoretically score them at 9.9/10.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

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