Archive for August, 2013

The Work of a Master:18th-Century Pedestal Desk by Thomas Chippendale

August 23rd, 2013 | posted by Bill Rau
This incredibly rare pedestal desk bears numerous characteristics that suggest its creation by Thomas Chippendale himself.

This incredibly rare pedestal desk bears numerous characteristics that suggest its creation by Thomas Chippendale himself.

Finding an 18th-century furnishing that can be attributed to Thomas Chippendale is like finding the “holy grail” of antique furniture. This George III Mahogany Twin Pedestal Desk is just such a treasure.

Locking mechanisms by London metalsmith Elizabeth Gascoigne were another staple of furnishings created specifically by Chippendale.

Locking mechanisms by London metalsmith Elizabeth Gascoigne were another staple of furnishings created specifically by Chippendale.

Every inch of this spectacular desk bears qualities synonymous with Chippendale’s signature craftsmanship. A letter of authenticity by appraiser Gary Fowler notates seven characteristics attributed specifically to the master cabinetmaker. The use of the highest-quality Cuban mahogany, his signature “red wash”, “triple-wheel” friction casters and locking mechanisms by London metalsmith Elizabeth Gascoigne, among others, distinguish this desk as a very rare Chippendale original.

 

Chippendale was primarily a furniture and interior designer, and produced a handful of furnishings in his St. Martin’s Lane workshop. Since so few examples exist, on the rare occasions they do come on the market are met with great excitement. The current record for the most expensive piece of English furniture is held by the Herrington Commode, a bowfront cabinet attributed to Chippendale that sold in 2010 at Sotheby’s London for just under $6-million dollars.  The previous record holder was, not surprisingly, also a Chippendale piece, which had sold in 2008 for approximately $5 million.

 

The impact of Chippendale’s designs on the history of both furniture and the whole of interior design can never be overstated. His Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director was the first interior design text ever published, and it showcased to the world Chippendale’s gift for line, proportion and superior craftsmanship. His designs and theories were so pivotal that he is the only person to have an entire style named after him rather than a monarch.

 

 To view M.S. Rau Antiques’ outstanding selection of antique furniture, click here.

 

Tortoiseshell: An 18th and 19th Century Luxury

August 17th, 2013 | posted by Susan Lapene

One of the rarest and most luxurious materials of the 18th and 19th centuries, tortoiseshell has long been valued for the manufacture of jewelry cases, tea caddies, snuffboxes, and other decorated items.  This rare and exquisite material is mainly produced from the shell of the hawksbill sea turtle. The large size and unique, unevenly distributed shades of orange, brown, and black make the hawksbill’s shell especially suitable for these beautiful crafts. Early European artisans sought out tortoiseshell material despite its expensive price because it was easily molded by heat unlike other similar, ductile materials. The final product would be a flexible yet durable material with a vibrantly mottled appearance.  In our gallery, we have a wide array of tortoiseshell products that are truly amazing in color and form. Come by today and see for yourself!

This beautiful George III tea caddy is enveloped in elegant tortoiseshell. Caddies of rare tortoiseshell are especially prized, for they are among the scarcest and most luxurious examples produced.

This beautiful George III tea caddy is enveloped in elegant tortoiseshell. Caddies of rare tortoiseshell are especially prized, for they are among the scarcest and most luxurious examples produced.

 

Crafted of luxurious tortoiseshell, this sleek desk clock by J.E. Caldwell & Co. exudes Art Deco elegance. This sophisticated timepiece is set in a frame of bronze ormolu, a flawless match to the tortoiseshell's warm mottled beauty.

This beautiful George III tea caddy is enveloped in elegant tortoiseshell. Caddies of rare tortoiseshell are especially prized, for they are among the scarcest and most luxurious examples produced.

The Incredible Spherical Puzzle

August 6th, 2013 | posted by Deborah Choate
Chinese carved ivory tazza with the addition of a puzzle ball, Circa 1820

Chinese carved ivory tazza with the addition of a puzzle ball, Circa 1820

If you were to hear the word “puzzle,” the first thing that would probably come to mind would be the countless jigsaw puzzles that you solved throughout your childhood. Puzzles; however, come in many shapes and sizes and serve various purposes aside from entertainment. One characteristic that all puzzles share is a unique quality of mystery and their presentation of a mathematical or logistical problem.

Throughout history, the Chinese have been known for creating beautiful works of arts and crafts. The Chinese puzzle balls of the early 19th century are perhaps the most mysterious and nuanced crafts ever created. Even though these tiny treasures are not meant to be solved like a normal puzzle, they are called “puzzle balls” due to the mystery and puzzling explanation behind their making. Technically speaking, they can be solved by aligning all the holes from each layer together; however, due to their fragility and delicate material it is recommended that they be used simply for decorative purposes.

Carved from a single piece of ivory, the ball is comprised of a series of nested spheres that move independently.

Carved from a single piece of ivory, the ball is comprised of a series of nested spheres that move independently

Chinese craftsmen paid much attention to detail when crafting these delicate masterpieces. Puzzle balls are typically made of ivory and have 3 to 7 layers of concentric, hollow spheres. Using a small “L”-shaped tool, the artist would start with a solid ball of ivory, jade, wood or any other ductile material and carefully drill his way through to the center. He would then hand carve various holes within, working his way up, ultimately dividing the solid ball into many layers. This process required a great amount of time and of course, an incredibly steady hand.

The final result would be a ball containing multiple layers of unique smaller spheres within. While each layer would have its own unique design or symbols, the outermost shell showed the most extraordinary amount of craftsmanship and beauty while also telling a symbolic story. Loaded with important symbolism and charm, these puzzle balls were often used as good luck charms for Chinese royalty and nobles. A painstaking and costly process is required to create just one of these elaborately ornamented treasures; therefore, ivory puzzle balls are highly sought after by collectors today.

Each brilliantly carved figure stands atop a Chinese puzzle ball with a lotus blossom base

Each brilliantly carved figure stands atop a Chinese puzzle ball

 

These puzzle balls are truly amazing to see up close. Come stop by our gallery today to see one in person! Whether it’s our puzzle ball chess set or incorporated at the base of our carved ivory tazza, you will certainly be blown away by the incredible attention to detail found in each ball.

The Mystery of Chiaroscuro

August 2nd, 2013 | posted by Ludovic Rousset
A mastery of light and composition distinguishes this outstanding painting by Petrus van Schendel

A mastery of light and composition distinguishes this outstanding painting by Petrus van Schendel

Petrus van Schendel is perhaps most famous for his nighttime market scenes which garnered substantial attention for his use of light and composition.  With their interesting contrast between light and dark, these scenes have a mysterious aura to them. The focal point of these nocturne paintings is the candle which subtly illuminates the entire scene and showcases an overall complex composition. The candle provides a small yet brilliant glow which reflects onto the subjects’ facial features, thus inviting the viewer to imagine their own storyline. Van Schendel’s nocturne paintings truly exemplify the 17th-century Dutch tradition of candlelit paintings and provide a glimpse into what life was like for the working class of the 17th century.

Van Schendel was born in the Netherlands in 1806 and began his art studies early on at the Antwerp Academy. As a student, his primary focus was to become a portrait painter. He started his career painting portraits of various subjects, including his renowned self-portrait. While his career as a portrait painter proved to be successful, these paintings do not compare to his later nocturne paintings which show an incredible level of detail and naturalism.

Upon finishing his studies at the Antwerp Academy, van Schendel began travelling throughout Europe, picking up various artistic styles along the way. He finally settled down in Brussels in 1845, where he began to perfect his nocturne paintings. Strongly influenced by the 17th century tradition of Dutch candlelit paintings, van Schendel mastered the technique of chiaroscuro, or the balance between light and dark. This technique allowed him to paint incredible nocturne masterpieces, such as the painting seen here.