Posts tagged ‘Clare Taylor’

May 8, 2021

‘She is now of the family of Champcommunal and other money makers’: women, antiques and interiors in mid twentieth-century London

[our friend and colleague, Dr Clare Taylor, from Open University, is our guest blogger again for this blogpost – thank you again Clare for taking the time to share your research – you can also read Clare’s other blogpost from 19th Feb 2021, HERE].

Mark

Here’s Clare Taylor’s blogpost:

‘Many of the names behind leading antique dealers were men, but women’s role in the business equally deserves to be uncovered and celebrated, as Mark’s 2015 posts on the early B.A.D.A. member Clara Millard revealed [HERE & HERE]. Women, too, have a long association with the trade [Mark – indeed they do, the dealer Jane Clarke (c.1794-1859), who specialised in ‘antique lace’, was a major dealer in the middle decades of the 19th century – see also my dictionary of 19th century antique dealers – White Rose Depository ] and at least one female dealer looked back to the eighteenth-century to advertise her shop. Anne Austen adapted the c.1754 trade card of James Wheeley, a paper hanging warehouseman on Aldersgate Street, for her own business on New Bond Street, which was visited by Prince Henry of Battenberg in 1912 [Mark – see Anne Austin in the Antique Dealer Project Map website too – HERE ]. Austen kept Wheeley’s cartouche and shop scene but changed the name and address. She also adapted the wording, removing the wallpaper manufacturing element from Wheeley’s card and substituting ‘common papers’ with the presumable more valuable ‘Chinee papers’ or Chinese wallpapers, adding ‘New Chairs & Horse Glass designs by the ingenious Mr. Chippendale’ to the list of items she sold.

Trade Card for Anne Austin’s gallery, c.1913. Copyright Trustees of the British Museum. Courtesy of Clare Taylor.

Austen’s card suggests she was fitting up interiors, and decorating was frequently thought of as the preserve of amateurs who gave ‘advice’, but became nevertheless an important area for women seeking work (and an income) in the early years of the twentieth century and often went hand in hand with the trade in antiques. Sybil Colefax (1875-1951) was in just such a position in the 1920s. These women trod a difficult path, as Virginia Woolf’s description of Sybil in a letter of 1930 to Vanessa Bell conveys, since in Woolf’s view Sybil ‘is now of the family of Champcommunal and other money makers’, ‘a hardened shopkeeper’, whose society life of leisure has been replaced by a working life such as that of Elspeth Champcommunal (1888-1976), the then Editor of Vogue magazine.

Trade Card for Sybil Colefax Limited, n.d. Bodleian Library, Oxford. Image courtesy of Clare Taylor.

Sybil’s name is now synonymous with the decorators Colefax & Fowler, and although her role in that firm might have been short lived (1938-46) and her contribution since eclipsed by those of John Fowler and Nancy Lancaster, Sybil’s knowledge of antiques was built up over a much longer timeframe. She had started out before the Second World War working for Stair & Andrew, establishing their decorating department on the first floor at Bruton Street, so her early knowledge may well have been gleaned from working with their stock, although according to her biographer later ‘forays into Bond Street…brought her into contact with many London dealers’. Her trade card certainly highlighted that she supplied ‘Antique furniture, glass, china with a special feature of Regency pieces’ and it was a lighter version of Edward Knoblock’s Regency taste which she promoted with painted and gilded chairs, console tables and textiles in plain satin or printed with Regency-style motifs such as bay leaf circlets and lyres.

Drawing Room at Sybil Colefax’s home on Lord North Street, London, photographed after 1941. Bodleian Library, Oxford. Image courtesy of Clare Taylor.

Her own manuscript, ‘On Houses’, also signified the importance of the setting in which antiques were placed, warning that ‘ You lose half the effect of a fine Queen Anne writing table or bookcase or walnut chairs…when they’re set among some dull creton [sic] or linen covers of poor design and washy colour’. It also seems that clients recognised her expertise in antiques as well as interiors. During the War she kept her business going whilst helping out at the Red Cross depot and in May 1940, a desperate Marquess of Anglesey, for whose wife, Marjorie Manners, Sybil had decorated a bedroom at Plas Newyyd, wrote that he had no money and no jewels (‘except as will belong to the children, as they want them’) to send to the Red Cross sale. He sought Sybil’s advice to authenticate a piece of furniture, asking, ‘What about the Empire piece. Do you think it has a History? Or can you say with authority that it comes from Malmaison? Can you advise me whether it could be written over as famous and historical and sent to the Lord Mayor?’

A key element of the Regency Revival taste for which Sybil Colefax was admired was decorated and painted furniture, a taste which is still with us today. From the early 1920s such pieces were sold by the decorator Syrie Maugham (1879-1955) from her shop on Baker Street, who had a reputation for ‘pickling’, bleaching and painting in white pieces from eighteenth-century commodes to mirror frames.

Sketch of Syrie Maugham at work from Cecil Beaton’s The Glass of Fashion 1954. Image courtesy of Clare Taylor.

Liberty’s, Heal’s and Peter Jones on Sloane Square also sold painted pieces, supplied in the case of Peter Jones not only by Maugham but by the artists Ambrose Thomas (‘The Marquis d’Oisy’) and Margaret Kunzer. By 1930 Kunzer had been recruited to head a Department of Decorative Furniture for the shop, and during the early 1930s a painting studio was established in nearby Ixworth Place to feed in stock, run by a young John Fowler. Stock sold out at the first exhibition held in the Department and demand continued to grow. One determinant was clearly price. Kunzer went on buying trips and had a regular supplier in Suffolk who repaired pieces ready for painting (a Mr Head in Sudbury) but she also bought pieces closer to home once paying £10 in the Caledonian market (also a source of pieces for Syrie Maugham) for ‘a small pine tallboy, a writing table, several chairs and a tray’ which all needed only minor repairs before being painted. However, Kunzer also had a keen eye for what would sell, recalling in 1982 that at an exhibition held early in 1935 it was Regency pieces that were most in demand as they were suited to customers who were increasingly living in smaller scale flats and houses.

These examples, of Anne Austen, Sybil Colefax, Syrie Maugham and Margaret Kunzer, illustrate some of the different ways in which women contributed to the trade in antiques in the interwar years and after, and offer tantalising glimpses of the networks within which these women operated and their role in promoting new tastes.

Clare Taylor.

February 19, 2021

Solving the puzzle: Unexpected findings inside A History of English Furniture

We have a guest blogger for this blog-post in the antique dealers blog – a fascinating investigation of the photographs of antique furniture published in A History of English Furniture (1904-08) by Dr Clare Taylor (Open University), one of my friends and colleagues (and collaborators).  You might know Clare from the BBC TV programme Secrets of the Museum: Behind the Scenes at the V&A, where she was academic consultant. Thank you to Clare for taking the time to compose a blog post for us – we hope you enjoy the read!

Mark

Clare Taylor’s blog-post:

‘Remember those heady pre-covid times when you could physically visit a library or a second-hand bookshop without an appointment, or indeed visit one at all? Reading the catalogue to the SOLD! exhibition recently reminded me about studying the four volumes of Percy Macquoid’s monumental History of English Furniture (1904-08) in the Sackler library in Oxford. They contained a puzzle which, at the time, I could not solve, but now SOLD! gave me some clues.

The volumes had revealed some unexpected contents. Three of the four contained loose black and white photographs of sets or individual items of furniture, and one sword. None were dated, but many had the photographer’s stamp on the reverse for Cooper and Humphrey of 71, Newman Street, with a pencilled 5-digit number. Others were stamped A. C. Cooper & Co, Fine Art Photographers of 10, Rose & Crown Yard, King Street, St James and one by F.A. Swaine, 146, New Bond Street, W.1 and Southsea.

Set of chairs upholstered in cut velvet, printed ‘Mallett 40 New Bond Street, London and The Octagon, Bath’, photographed by Cooper and Humphrey, inscribed in pencil ‘38763’. Photograph, Clare Taylor.

All the photographs looked as if they were taken for stock, as objects were seen against neutral backgrounds and carefully lit. Glazed cabinets were photographed with garnitures on top and more ceramics inside, while a lacquer cabinet was pictured both open and closed. Some, at least, were associated with Mallett’s. A set of chairs with fringed cut velvet seats, and a burr walnut bureau, were printed with the firm’s name and locations on the front; and an ‘Indian armchair’ with entwined splats, and a walnut card table, both had ‘Mallett’ pencilled on the reverse.

‘Indian armchair’, photographed by A.C. Cooper & Co, pencilled ‘Mallett’ and neg.6409. Photograph, Clare Taylor.

But there were more parts to this puzzle. As well as the photographs, tucked into volume II, with a few in volume III, were torn pages from auction catalogues, The Cabinet Maker, and Country Life including a settee pencilled ‘Mr[s] Astor’s’.

Torn page from Country Life, inscribed ‘Mrs Astor’s’. Photograph, Clare Taylor.

Other annotations were made on illustrations in the volumes themselves, often noting when and for how much the item pictured had been sold. For example, in the Age of Mahogany a ‘Bureau and China Cupboard’ illustrated as owned by H. Percy Dean was marked in ink ‘Bought and sold to H. Palmer Esq £200’. The annotations sometimes recorded condition, too; the same object was pencilled ‘The top and bottom of this piece have been made to go together’, and indicated with an arrow the location of a ‘secret drawer’. Yet other annotations recorded notes from eighteenth-century sources, for example references to Chippendale from the Gentleman’s Magazine next to an illustration of another Mallett’s chair.

Annotated page from the Age of Mahogany. Photograph, Clare Taylor.

A later cataloguer had helpfully compiled a list of all these loose items and photographs including ‘on exercise paper- a list of items, dates and prices’. This turned out to be a double-sided ruled sheet, tucked in next to Figure 98 in the Age of Mahogany. In a single hand, it listed twenty-five objects, followed by a name and a brief description. The numbered entries on the sheet matched up with the illustrations of the same objects in the Ages of Walnut and Mahogany, and many of these were also annotated in pencil or ink. For example, next to a bureau-bookcase listed as sold to Campbell Cory (147 in the list) was pencilled ‘Crest Surtees family for whom it was made’.

Sheet from exercise book listing some objects illustrated in volumes II (the Age of Walnut) and III (the Age of Mahogany), c.1904-08. Photograph, Clare Taylor.

Two final columns on the sheet marked ‘Date’ and ‘Price’ were written in a different hand. Whereas the (earlier?) left-hand entries seemed to be someone trying to recall owners, prices and dates, the hand which recorded the dates and prices from 1904-08 was much more precise and the prices recorded sometimes differed from the earlier writer’s, suggesting either gaps in records or possibly different sales. On the reverse, the earlier writer had also drawn in pencil the shapes of side-tables, perhaps as an aide-memoire.

Annotated drawings on reverse of sheet from exercise book, showing designs of ‘Adam’, ‘Hepplewhite’ and ‘plain’ side-tables, c.1904-08. Photograph, Clare Taylor.

Who then were the authors of the list and the annotations in the volumes? Unfortunately we do not know who the volumes belonged to before they came into the library’s possession. Nor are there any clues on the exercise book sheet. However, they evidently weren’t much interested in early oak, if the numbers of photographs had anything to do with it since the Age of Oak contained none, the Age of Satinwood just three, Walnut nine, but Mahogany thirty-eight (including one oak table, perhaps mis-placed?).

What we can tell is that both the volumes and the list were being used to track objects and sales. At least some of the names listed were aristocratic: ‘Lady Stafford about 1903 inlaid cabinet £200’ was sold on 19th May 1904, while ‘Lady Paget’s pair side tables’ cost £250 on 24th April 1908. Other entries including two against Ralph Assheton-Smith’s name in 1905 (a walnut cabinet, £50, and six marquetry chairs, £180), while ten entries for Campbell Cory dating from 1904-05 listed objects by room including the upper landing (Charles II table, three cane back chairs and a tallboy), hall (walnut stuffed armchair), morning room (the bookcase mentioned above), and dining room (Gothic side table and ribbon-back chair) and finally two ‘Burgomaster’s chairs’ at £150 and £100 respectively. It’s also tempting to speculate that the entry for ‘Crane’s six cane back chairs’ for £240 in 1908 referred to the artist and designer Walter Crane.

Reverse of sheet from exercise book listing some objects illustrated in volume III (the Age of Mahogany), c.1904-08. Photograph, Clare Taylor.

So, what does all this information tell us? I think it shows that keeping in touch with current scholarship was important to those who bought and used these volumes soon after they were published, a point reinforced by the inclusion in the Age of Satinwood of a flyer for the latest volume (by Margaret Jourdain) in Batsford’s ‘Lenygon Series’, English Decoration and Furniture from 1750-1820. It also reminds us that building up knowledge over time mattered just as much at the beginning of the twentieth century as it does now. And, of course, that it’s always worth checking for any loose papers. When you can get back in a library or bookshop, that is.

Clare Taylor

clare.taylor@open.ac.uk

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