| By Barrymore Laurence Scherer

Watercolors

December 10, 2009  |  Whether a landscape, still life, or figural composition, watercolors appeal to collectors because of their subtlety, translucence, and freshness and also because of their abundance. From the eighteenth century to the early twentieth century, watercolor painting was not only practiced by major artists, but also by legions of trained amateurs. And some of these amateur works can be remarkably fine. In the marketplace watercolors are usually grouped with drawings and other works on paper.
Tools and techniques
Watercolors are pigments dissolved in water. The colors are either supplied as dry cakes or in tubes of pigment paste. Because watercolors run easily, especially when heavily diluted, watercolorists usually work on a drawing table or other nearly horizontal surface.
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| By Barrymore Laurence Scherer

Old glass for old wine

August 26, 2009  |  Raising a glass of wine in a toast is among the oldest of dining traditions, and antique wineglasses are among the most appealing objects upon which to build a glass collection. One of the first things you discover, when investigating this field, is that antique wineglasses were often much smaller than the oversized goblets we have become accustomed to. Paintings and illustrations of drinking scenes right through the mid-nineteenth century attest to this. For one thing, servants were supposed to keep a sharp eye out for the guest who needed a refill, a frequent occurrence during the course of an eighteenth-century meal. Furthermore, when toasting one another gentlemen were often expected to drain their glasses, which would have been a far greater challenge with today's capacious vessels. According to the venerable English glass historian Sydney Lewis, whose 1916 volume Old Glass and How to Collect It is still worth reading, at the beginning of the eighteenth century "the use of different glasses for different kinds of wine had not yet arisen....A bowl of water was placed on the table in which the drinkers rinsed their glasses when a new vintage made its appearance."

The beautiful early eighteenth-century German wineglass illustrated here is an elegant survivor of those convivial days. Standing a diminutive 5 ¾ inches high, its funnel-shaped bowl---characteristic of the time-is mold-blown with a series of graceful, slightly concave panels, and further enhanced with a delicate wheel-engraved pattern of arches, balls, and swags.

Method
Eighteenth-century wineglasses normally represent the skill of three glassworkers working as a team, or "chair." First the "footmaker" placed a small lump (or "gather") of molten glass (called "metal" in glassmaking terminology) at the end of his blowpipe and blew a disk for the foot. Next, the "servitor" shaped the foot-in this case a folded foot, in which the rim was folded under to form a more durable edge. He then fashioned the stem from another molten lump of metal. Finally, the "gaffer," the most masterful of the three, fashioned the vessel itself and attached it to the stem. For this glass, the gaffer would have blown his lump of metal into a tapered mold to form the paneled bowl.
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| By Barrymore Laurence Scherer

Early photographs: Daguerreotypes

June 24, 2009  |  The striking portrait on the right, offered by Dennis A. Waters Fine Daguerreotypes, of Exeter, New Hampshire, is of one R. F. Jameson, who was a month short of his twentieth birthday when he sat before an unknown daguerreotypist's camera in Montrose, Pennsylvania, in October 1846. We know nothing more about him, but his image certainly grabs you. First there are the captivating eyes (the liveliness of the eyes is characteristic of most daguerreotype portraits). Then there is the startling clarity of the determined face, which, framed by long hair, seems remarkably modern, not to mention lifelike, thanks also to the superb hand-tinting. Indeed, this exceptional clarity is part of the daguerreotype's hypnotic appeal. "As a professional photographer, I have to say that Daguerre's invention achieved a sharpness that has never been surpassed in photographic history," Waters says.
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| By Barrymore Laurence Scherer

Old master and nineteenth century drawings

April 29, 2009  |  Executed in a variety of mediums—pen and ink, graphite, chalk, crayon, ink wash—many drawings are preliminary studies for finished paintings or other works, including sculpture, architecture, decorative objects, and stage design. As such, they often convey the excitement of a work in progress, and this is even more palpable when the finished work is known and extant. Moreover, unlike an artist's paintings, drawings are usually much more affordable, although big names still carry big price tags. It pays to scout the byways of the drawings market for more affordable treasures by lesser known artists.

That is exactly what one knowledgeable collector did. Julius Held (1905-2003), a revered art historian at Barnard College, was an authority on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish art, and the author of important books on Rembrandt and Rubens. Collecting on a professor's salary made him resourceful; he had to judge drawings on their artistic merits, relying on his aesthetic instincts and his vast knowledge to acquire satisfying works.

Let us look at two fine drawings from the Held collection that sold at Christie's New York on January 27 and January 30, respectively. Both were priced with auction estimates well under $5,000 because their artists, though famous in their lifetimes, are not household names today: Latona Turning the Lycian Peasants into Frogs by the Bolognese painter Marcantonio Franceschini (Fig. 1), and a stage design reputedly for Vincenzo Bellini's opera La Straniera attributed to the nineteenth-century Italian stage designer Alessandro Sanquirico (Fig. 2).
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| By Barrymore Laurence Scherer

Arts and crafts silver

April 23, 2009  |  Old silver is a classic collecting field, one that combines the aesthetic pleasures of imaginative design, fine workmanship, and history. In the often hotly competitive field of American silver, the latest area to fire the acquisitive imagination seems to be the arts and crafts style.  

Origins and style
The idealized image of medieval craftsmen lovingly, indeed religiously, producing works of art by hand greatly influenced the production values in the arts and crafts movement workshops of the late nineteenth century. Whether these shops were producing silver, furniture, ceramics, textiles, or jewelry, handcraftsmanship was held up as a healthy antidote to mass production. But while the designs themselves frequently had visual ties to medieval ideas—stylized floral motifs inspired by illuminated manuscripts and intricate patterns adapted from Celtic artifacts—by the heyday of the arts and crafts movement, from the 1890s through the 1920s, motifs derived from American Indian, Hispanic American, and American colonial design were also being filtered through a contemporary lens.

Indeed, one reason that arts and crafts silver is so appealing is that its combination of historical and modern sensibilities gives the pieces enormous versatility as decorative objects.

Collecting arts and crafts silver
Because the influence of the arts and crafts movement absorbed so many American and English influences and lasted for at least four decades, collectors can follow several routes toward assembling a collection. You can focus on a particular genre or form—flatware, hollowware, candlesticks, for instance; or you can collect purely decorative pieces; or you might seek out desk and library furnishings such as inkstands, picture frames, and paper knives. You could also focus on a particular decade of the movement—the 1890s or 1900s, for instance—or on particular makers or designers, such as the group that worked for Chicago's Kalo Shop, established in 1900. Instead of specializing, you can, of course, become a generalist and let destiny guide your hunt.

The best pieces of arts and crafts silver by the best-known craftsmen now command prices upward of $10,000. An excellent example is a pair of American silver condiment dishes offered by the silver dealers Spencer Marks of Southampton, Massachusetts (Fig. 1). Based on a design of about 1900 by Charles Robert Ashbee, the British architect, designer, silversmith, jeweler, and founder (in 1888) of the Guild of Handicraft, they were produced around 1905 by Marcus and Company, the prestigious New York jeweler and retailer whose mark they bear.
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NYG 2013

[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi

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