With the now omnipresent computer screen and the flat images they project serving as the principal method of observing decorations, it is vital for all of us to see objects in person; to hold them and understand all of their attributes including their scale, texture, and even weight. Nothing can replicate the experience of personally examining objects, and auction viewings provide the prime opportunity to do so.
Just in the last year alone I have looked at and handled a vast array of material— everything from American silver to Chinese porcelain to Renaissance bronzes. I equate an auction viewing to a museum experience with touching privileges. This, along with auction catalogs that convey dates and origins, and are filled with extensive art historical information, allow me to better understand what I am looking at and often to make informed purchases.
I see the primary study of objects and their use as part of my ongoing education. I like the continuity of using antiques and their engaging links to history. And, living with them helps to shape my opinions about the best qualities of the old and new. I treat many of my possessions much like a research library— I study them to understand how they are made and what it is like to use them. This is workable because I don’t plan to keep everything I acquire forever. Often I own an object for a relatively short period of time, learning from it and then passing it along. (However, there are things I plan to keep until I move to assisted living—see my earlier post about what to take with you.)
In conclusion, I encourage you to explore auction viewings. I share below a few of the decorative arts I have found at auction and hope they will inspire you to also go out and become arbiters of style.
A pair of faience vases from the great collector Henry Francis du Pont
An American Empire sideboard, the last lot of a minor sale that cost $250.
This French Empire bed is from the collection of Jane Englehart and was used by the Duke of Windsor when he was her house guest. The lamp, giltwood brackets, and statue of fortitude were also Christie’s auction purchases.
These Meissen statues of the apostles are 18th century.
All photos of Thomas Jayne’s apartment and loft by Pieter Estersohn.