Those who have an affinity for Georgian furniture are usually keenly passionate about it (the long established auction houses have been profiting from that passion for centuries – Christie’s since 1762, Bonhams since 1793, Phillips since 1796 and Sotheby’s since 1804), while the detractors glumly label it all ‘brown furniture’.
Of course I acknowledge not all Georgian furniture is worth going into hock for and I am prepared to admit there is a ‘brown furniture’ element within the genre, but when a piece of Georgian furniture shines, it does it so gloriously.
While I have restored some very fine Georgian furniture in, and for, some of the greatest houses in England and I’ve sold some exceedingly fine pieces myself, my penchant is largely for the type of furniture made for England’s eighteenth-century middling sorts: The honest, oft restrained, sometimes workman-like and occasionally quirky pieces that graced the rooms of gentlemen’s town houses and squires’ manors.
This variety of furniture has a comforting beauty about it; a backbone-of-England resoluteness that glows from deep within its well worn patina. It may be immaculate, it’s more likely to have a myriad of flaws and blemishes, but it oozes charisma.
Today I learned for the first time of an American, David Wilson, an antiques restorer, consultant to Christie’s and Sotheby’s, and a collector of English furniture, who succumbed to cancer earlier this year. The Tennessee antiques dealer, Millicent Ford Creech has been asked to sell part of Wilson’s furniture collection.
There are some very good looking pieces in the collection, but the one piece that really spoke to me, and prompted this post, is a circa 1750 George II mahogany tilt-top tripod table. It’s of a fairly standard form with a circular top, a vasiform column and three spreading legs – the sort you’d expect to see at least one example of in every good English provincial antiques shop.
What sets this table apart is its otherwise unremarkable dished top; made from a cut of mahogany that most cabinetmakers would not dream of making an unrestrained tabletop from. But one eighteenth-century cabinetmaker did. The piece of mahogany is fabulously figured – the sort that one sees in eighteenth-century veneers. Perhaps this piece of wood is what was left over after the veneer sawyers took what they considered the best from.
The rest of the table is relatively sophisticated, so the maker was not a novice or some estate carpenter throwing a table together for his mistress from what he could lay his hands on. He must have known the highly contorted mahogany wouldn’t be stable, but he obviously saw a beauty in it that overrode logic. The passage of time has further embellished the tabletop with the usual scars of usage and immense character.
The tabletop, predictably, has well and truly warped which many would see as reason to replace it, but the banjo catch appears to operate unmodified. The table’s not what one would call impeccable, however, it functions perfectly and is simply beautiful.
M. Ford Creech Antiques has a good inventory of interesting English Georgian antiques.