Category Archives: Auction Houses

…writing, art at home…

I am forever lost in the world of Art. In so many ways. And I love it. Just like Dante’s alter ego in The Divine Comedy’s opening lines of Purgatory, I find myself lost. He found himself lost among the tall, dark trees, lost in his middle age. I, on the other hand, find myself lost among paintings, ink sketches, water colours, reference books, auction house catalogues, antiques, artist biographies. It is a fantastic way of being lost, since the feeling makes me search and explore. I want to learn more, see more, find more. Ponder on what art and beauty gives us. On what it means. Revel in being adrift on the sea of fine arts.

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A small part of the reference library in my study. I can’t function without these books.

Having spent a fair amount of time writing a two-part article on art for a recently started magazine, I got thinking on what kind of art I surround myself with. What am I looking at when I’m at home? When walking through a corridor, walking out of the bedroom, sitting at my desk? What am I dreaming of acquiring to hang on my walls? To someone like myself even, who spends his life in the fine arts, it can easily become just a fascination. The hunt for another object or more knowledge on art becomes a way of life. It is easy to forget what’s around you.

Hard at work, but extremely rewarding as always.

Hard at work, but extremely rewarding as always.

When working, I don’t have any big paintings hanging around me. Just the books on the shelves in the study. They supply me with over 100,000 pictures if needed. Whichever period of art, whichever architectural movement, I can find something on most topics among all the books. But as a reminder of previous periods in life, I have two small postcards stuck to the window-frame. One of Paris, by van Gogh, and one of Amsterdam painted by Monet. The postcard over London, what feels like my second home town, has disappeared in a recent move.

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At times the personal has to come before professional pride. Also for an antiques dealer and art historian.

One of my favourite periods of art is Early Romanticism. It’s stretching from about 1790 until the late 1830s. It was a great period for Northern European artists travelling to the southern parts of Europe. There they learnt to handle light, shades, and got the oportunity to learn from the old masters visiting museums. The water colour became a medium for professional artists as well as for amateurs. Up until now it had not been an accepted medium for professionals. This makes the late Regency period, also called Empire and Biedermeier style in interior design and pictorial arts, very interesting. It is today possible to buy high quality water colours from the years around 1800 for almost nothing. Quite incredible really, but the style isn’t very fashionable for the moment. It was up until ten years ago. And will soon be again. For sure.

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Another favourite is this little adorable cherub by Johan Gustaf Köhler, painted in Munich in 1836. He was Carl Larsson’s teacher in sketching at the Academy.

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Water colour from 1806, painted by Sophie Tersmeden, hanging in the bedroom.

So what is someone like me dreaming of? Oh, a lot of things. But a few weeks ago I found a painting I felt I could not live without. But I forgot about the auction, and I guess that was just as well. The painting didn’t sell cheap. It was a beautiful oil painting of a passage under Colosseum in Rome, painted around 1815 by the father of the Danish “Golden Age”, C. W. Eckersberg. It sold for €24,000 which meant it almost doubled the asking-price. If I’d only had the money, and remembered the auction,  the painting would be hanging in my dining room now. I know the perfect wall! But until I have the oportunity to buy that kind of art, I will carry on leafing through my books for more knowledge and constant inspiration.

The latest in a pile of inspirational reads, "Ann Getty: Interior Style"

The latest book in the huge pile of inspirational reads, “Ann Getty: Interior Style”

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Filed under Antiques, Art, Auction Houses, Culture

Antiques are “green”

In times like these, when the question about how to save our environment is fast spiraling down a big, black hole and the European economy seems to be joining the ride, I’d like to share a thought on the way we consume in our homes. I’m not talking about if we buy organic food or whether we choose to take public transport rather than the car to work. I’m talking about the furniture we buy and the so called decorative items that clutter many a home today. The useless small things we buy to decorate our homes with, all the knick-knack we buy. And then one day time we come across them stored away in a box and ask ourselves “how could I buy this?!?”  We simply throw it out after having owned it for a few years. No regret what so ever. No questions asked. All forgotten and actions justified with “it was cheap…”

My question is this: if we’d spent a little more money on each object, chosen it more carefully, stuck to what we really wanted and might need building up and decorating our home, would we consume and throw out equally as much? As opposed to buying a novelty candlestick in the shape of a beer bottle at a cheap high street shop for £2.99 that won’t be with us for long, couldn’t it have been worth spending £20 on a good quality, vintage or antique candlestick at an antiques fair or flee market? I’m not talking about the up-market auction houses or the Bond Street antiques shops where a Georgian silver candlestick easily reaches the £3000 mark. Comparing these kinds of items would be pure foolishness.

For me it is all about the mindset. In this day and age we are prepared to splash out on the most idiotic and useless items, but I want to underline that it is not the items per se I disagree with, it is the “why” and “how” we buy them. Goods from high street retailers and furniture from IKEA all have their place and deserved space in a contemporary home, rest assured, but why do we then throw so much of it away when we move or when we have a need to clean out our closets? This is where I believe we contradict ourselves.

Spending a fortune, however small, on something with no second hand value and that doesn’t last for longer than a few years is a mystery to me. Sitting on a Swedish Gustavian chair from the 1780s writing this, drinking tea from a favourite queensware English regency tea cup from 1810 might sound incredibly puerile and bourgeois, and if so I do apologize, but my point is that the furniture, decorative items, porcelain and what-have-you in a home filled with antiques and vintage doesn’t cost the environment remotely as much as the form-pressed plywood hidden in flat packs that are so popular these days. And it doesn’t have to be particularly expensive either. When we disregard the knowledge and the quality of hand made furniture, antique or from a contemporary designer, we choose to go with the ones who don’t care about in which direction our environment goes. I’m not saying that we all ought to be self-sufficient and never ever consume, that would be foolish. But maybe give that plastic candlestick or that novelty mug a second thought when you grab it in a shop later this week. Do you really need it? Does it really fill a purpose in your life? We all survive loosing £2.99, but as you might remember that’s not the point. The question is why ought I to buy something I will throw away soon and replace as quickly with another worthless item. So go green by buying something you want and will keep. Antiques and vintage is a good start on the right path. Or at least I think it is.

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Filed under Antiques, Art, Auction Houses, Vintage

In Vino Veritas

Wine. I have loved wine for a long time. Not just any cheap bottle of red, but really nice wine. Nothing can compare to a proper bottle of high quality wine. I struggle a bit with becoming friends with wines from the New World but I guess it will come with time.  When they start producing wines that can be kept in the cave for longer than five years I will start buying them. Maybe.

I will always remember the day I first tasted a wine that opened doors to a second universe. In fact, there are two moments a couple of years apart. The first was when I was working as a waiter for a big state dinner around year 2000. There was a Spanish delegation and therefore the theme for the wine was, predictably, Spain. The highlight was a red wine from the producer Miguel Torres bottled 1973. I can’t remember much (nothing to do with heavy drinking. I promise) about it, but what I remember is the sensation. Never had I tasted a wine so perfectly balanced, so mature and so amazingly well composed. That a human could put something like that together was for me up until then unknown. That nature could, with perhaps a little help, produce what’s needed to manufacture something like that was a revelation. I thought I’d never experience anything like it ever again. Until I went to France to work a couple of years later. A boiling day in late July, me and two friends went for a drive to Chateauneuf-du-Pape. We parked at the end of a not very long street which runs through the little village that gathers by the foot of the hill where the old Papal Palace still looks out over the Rhône Valley. Or at least a part of a high wall still looks out over the valley. Not much remains of the old palace. This was the first time I ever went for a proper tasting tour of a famous wine making district, and what a place to start. I could not believe my palate.
The hours flew past and when we finally reached the end of a rather jolly day we realized that the cave that was closed when we had arrived, situated just by the car park was now open. We climbed down rather treacherous steps into a cool, slightly damp basement that seemed to spread for miles. We were immediately jumped by two rather flamboyant but very friendly gentlemen who helped guiding us through the forest of vintages stored. And what wines. Had I only been richer at the time… I bought two measly bottles of one of the best wines I had ever tasted. They were bottled 2000 (I couldn’t afford any older vintages) and I drank them the other year. What bliss! Had I not been religious before I tasted them, I would immediately have turned to a higher power to say praise.  I can still taste the cherry, the warm sun and the dark colours in those bottles.

Having experienced some of my most complete culinary moments with wines like that it is with a heavy heart I follow the big scandal in the wine world at the moment. Or rather the world of wine collectors. I can’t say that I collect myself. I buy to drink in five, ten, maybe twenty years time. I don’t buy to sell later in life. We haven’t, in my opinion, been given enough time on this earth for that kind of squirrelish behaviour. However, those collectors who have chosen to collect wine are now shivering in the realization that some of their most valued (no pun intended) possessions might be fake. One of the more famous dealers and handlers of rare wine, Hardy Rodenstock, will hopefully be facing justice in the same court as dear old Bernie Madoff. Both Rodenstock and the world leading auction house Christie’s have been sued in New York by a furious billionaire. He, the billionaire William Koch, bought four bottles of wine reputedly from the Thomas Jefferson household for $500.000. And it isn’t any Thomas Jefferson. It was said to be bottles from the house in Paris where the president-to-be had had them hidden behind brick and mortar since around 1790. The bottles had 1787 engraved on them and since Jefferson was a famous wine collector it sounded possible. Until 2005 when curators at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts let experts from the Monticello Foundation, the absolute authority on Thomas Jefferson, have a look at the bottles and let Mr. Koch know that they doubted that they really were what they wanted you to believe. They found them to, most likely, be a fraud. Koch went furious and had ex-agents from FBI, Scotland Yard and MI-5 investigate the whole situation and they found that neither was Hardy Rodenstock who he said he was (his real name is Meinhard Görke, he was born in Poland and had been working as a music producer for touring dance groups) but they also found that the engraving on the Jefferson bottles must have been made with 20th century tools. They found people who had helped Rodenstock (or is it Görke?) engrave old bottles and other craftsmen who had helped him print old wine labels, in particular the Petrus 1921-, 1928 and 1929 vintages but more importantly the expensive Mouton Rothschild 1929. After these revelations Koch had his entire cave looked through and there experts found another 150 bottles of fake vintages from some of the most famous French chateaux.
This could never have reached collectors and the collectors market if it wasn’t for the help of the most important link in this puzzle: the auction houses. Since Christie’s were the ones selling the Jefferson bottles they have had a particularly hard time. And well deserved. Michael Broadbent is the person at Christie’s who is supposed to be the bad guy. Both him and Christie’s denies all allegations, as does Rodenstock, but it looks too incredible to be true. That one of the most important wine experts in the world, said to have made more than 90.000 notes during wine tasting over the years, would have been oblivious of what passed under his nose for years seems rather impossible I’d say. Koch is the one who pushes this case forward, and today it seems to be more because he wants people to know what is going on in the world of wine auctions with collectors being robbed when paying sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars for wine basically made tomorrow. If Christie’s really sold eight magnum bottles of Chateau Lafleur 1947, regardless of the known fact that only five was ever produced, will be up to the court in New York to decide. But if that is the case, it is important that it is brought into the light.

Whatever the verdict in this sad case I hope people will carry on and calmly enjoy a good wine. Because, honestly, how many of us can afford paying thousands of dollars for a bottle of wine? And if we did, would we keep it hidden in a vault somewhere? I know I wouldn’t. I’d drink it and say cheers to another amazing experience in the realm of the art of food and wine.

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Filed under American Presidents, Art, Auction Houses, Chateau Lafleur, Chateau Petrus, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Christie's, France, Mouton Rothschild, Rhône, Wine