Don’t be down on brown

PUBLISHED: 11:13 15 June 2009 | UPDATED: 08:56 21 February 2013

Antiques at Bonhams Auctioneers

Antiques at Bonhams Auctioneers

Gerry Berwyn-Jones covers some of the highlights of the first half of 2008 at Bonhams' Midlands' headquarters in Knowle, Solihull.

Gerry Berwyn-Jones covers some of the highlights of the first half of 2008 at Bonhams' Midlands' headquarters in Knowle, Solihull.

It is commonly acknowledged that we are in the era of the collector. Frequently I encounter clients who self-deprecatingly describe their furniture as 'brown furniture that no-one wants any more'. However, these statements are not mutually exclusive, as furniture is also collected.

Furthermore, whilst modernist and Art Deco styles are the height of fashion, many wealthy home-owners who have succumbed to prevailing tastes will often buy more traditional, choice pieces as focal points.

One such example is the late 19th century Italian carved walnut centre table illustrated. Not only is this a good quality piece, but it is a competent interpretation of the Mannerist style. Mannerism was a court style that started in the early 16th century. It rejected the classical tenets of the Renaissance, such as classical architectural frameworks around painted and gilded scenes. These were supplanted by Mannerist characteristics, such as boldly carved harpy-like supports, profusely carved acanthus leaf friezes and the depiction of contorted nude figures, all of which are exhibited on the table illustrated. The design and quality resulted in a hammer price of £3,700.

The next example, that was sold in the Fine Furniture and Paintings sale in Knowle in February, was also a very good late 19th century Italian carved walnut example in the 16th century style. However, this was in the earlier classical Renaissance style, characterised by the Ionic pillars, urns, pediment and formal lines. Once again, the combination of craftsmanship and attention to detail ensured this nine-piece bedroom suite made a hammer price of £7,800.

Another example, illustrated, shares the same distinction as the previous two, in that the pair of torcheres are excellent copies of those from the reign of Louis XIV . They are late 19th century in date and are carved giltwood (not moulded gesso), but are just as imposing, standing 164cm high. The interpretation of the 17th century motifs is very good, the acanthus carving, volutes, floral pendants and overall form belonging well and truly to the Baroque period. They sold for the deserving sum of £4400.

The last example, illustrated, returns to the theme of 'brown' furniture, but no-one could possibly include this Regency mahogany dining table under this derogatory banner. Apart from the self-evident quality it was made by Gillows and had seven of its eight original leaves. Bearing the stamp of an illustrious maker and being a very commercial design and style (approximately 18 feet long) meant that it sold for £21,000.

This just goes to show that whether 'brown', 'gold', 'black' or 'yellow' in hue, quality and design must be the governing criteria on any buyer's checklist. Dismiss brown furniture at your peril.

Gerry Berwyn-Jones, BA(Hons), MRICS, is a senior valuer and auctioneer for Bonhams Auctioneers in Knowle and can be contacted on T: 01564 776151 or E:


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