Everyone’s a collector these days, but with the onslaught of online auctions and Instagram-friendly antiques dealers, many of us have rushed to purchase without probing. A bit of research is called for before a buy, at least when it comes to serious antiques. Most dealers when assembling their collections pore over out-of-print books, old auction records, and the monographs and catalogs of their favorite makers. Those reference materials can be intriguing indeed, but—for those who don’t want to schlep to the library for a sideboard’s sake—we put together a list of the trends to watch within the world of old, according to five antiques experts from auction houses and dealers alike.
Patrick Bell, cofounder of Olde Hope Antiques in New York and Philadelphia, has specialized in Early American furniture and decorative arts for decades. Within his world of Americana, little currents ebb and flow, carrying trends that last years, rise, and occasionally fall. Recently he’s noticed a particular appreciation for weather vanes. Now unnecessary with the advent of the smartphone and the weather channel, the weather vane still holds a certain charm. Who doesn’t want to grace their house with a little structural cherry on top?
And the forecast is clear: Over half of the inventory from a show of American weather vanes at Olde Hope Antiques last year sold—a high percentage for any show. “These pieces are sought after by both collectors and those looking for a unique decorative object of art,” says Bell. “They come in so many forms from horses and chickens to airplanes and trains. And they appeal both as a piece of American historical material culture or simply as a sculptural object.” These weather vanes are like sculptural haikus—intentionally reductive forms with a clear message, a delightful function, and a whiff of that je ne sais quoi that make folk art so intriguing.
American Folk Portraiture
At Christie’s, specialist Sallie Glover has been shepherding the rise of Early American antiques for the past eight years. As of last year, one category within the department began to stand out: folk portraits. “American folk portraiture appeals to many different types of collectors,” says Glover. “These works can go just as well with traditional American furniture as they do with a modern interior.”
Often these portraits showcase rich, saturated hues and quirky decorative details. Their clean lines and simple shapes make for an easy juxtaposition with contemporary furniture, just as these paintings make sense within a purely traditionalist home. “I think the support of works by untrained artists has grown in popularity as the art world starts to embrace works by makers from different backgrounds, races, religions, and circumstances,” adds Glover.
One artist in particular—Joshua Johnson, a Baltimore folk painter remembered as America’s first professional Black painter—has gained a great deal of attention within the last year. A few other standout names are Ammi Phillips, a favorite among American antiques collectors for decades whose Woman with Pink Ribbons (circa 1833) sold for $3,870,000 last January, and John Brewster Jr., whose portrait of Captain John Bourne (1759–1837) sold for $2,670,000 in the same sale.
American and British Studio Ceramics
Bonhams auction house is seeing a comeback in clay. “The international market for contemporary British ceramics is well established and has been growing in strength,” says Benjamin Walker, Bonhams’ global head of modern decorative art and design. “We’re seeing a growing trend now in American studio ceramics that is following this interest. Over the past five to 10 years the category has gained more public interest and climbed in value.” Contemporary artists have collected American Studio ceramics for quite some time (see Cindy Sherman and Jonas Wood), and Issey Miyake and other fashion stalwarts have been avid collectors of British ceramists like Lucie Rie.
Over the past few years as the fine art canon has begun to shift, ceramics has risen in specialists’ and curators’ estimation from craft to fine art, resulting in renewed interest from major institutions around the world in European ceramics specifically. Last year, five works by ceramist duo Michael and Magdalena Suarez Frimkess achieved a world record when they sold for $65,000 in Bonham’s Modern Design auction. A rare vase by important British ceramicist Hans Coper, friend and student of Lucie Rie, set another record when it sold for $790,000 at a London Design sale last year. Both artists are represented in the Victoria and Albert Museum and continue to influence the work of many contemporary ceramicists.
The trickle-down effect suggests that hand-thrown vessels, functional or otherwise, with treated surfaces and engaging forms will continue to attract attention—so if ever there was a time to stock up on pots, it’s now!
“Outsider art” or better yet “intuitive art”—that wide-ranging, difficult-to-nail-down category of work made by artists who are not classically trained—has always been a wellspring for inspiration and joy. How could it not be? These are artists making work generally without a canon or tradition in mind. It’s wildly unique and, for a budding collector, quite accessibly priced.
Susan Wechsler of South Road Antiques was sitting on a treasure trove of outsider art—double portraits, reinterpreted biblical scenes, studies, signs. “I see myself as a curator,” says Wechsler, who sells folk art and Early Americana out of her finished barn in upstate New York. “l’m attracted to curious and unique objects with strong graphic elements, bold design, and whimsical humor.” The simple forms, jovial hues, and original compositions of much outsider art easily hits these marks.
“Work by self-taught artists has finally penetrated the art world, ranging from Blue Chip artists to emerging and commanding a wide price range,” adds Wechsler. “Interest has been fueled by secondary market sales, museum acquisitions, and a renewed appreciation for the work of southern Black artists, many of whom fall within the self-taught category.”
Alongside figurative work by these bright spirits, Wechsler has noticed an uptick in sales of traditional folk art, especially game boards and signs of high quality with unusual graphics. All in all, this corner of the art world is a worth a look. Your Noguchi cocktail table is no longer a conversation piece, so why not try something as far out there as you can get?
17th- and 18th-Century European Tapestries
Decorators of the old guard—Bunny Mellon, David Hicks, Renzo Mongiardino—were no strangers to drama, and a surefire way to wow is to throw up a tapestry. We aren’t talking woven hemp hung from a branch; we are talking wall-size, wool and silk masterworks from the 18th century and prior. Tapestries were highly valued during their golden period (1500–1800) for their narrative potential and as signifiers of wealth (not to mention a necessary impediment to winter weather), but over the past few years we have seen a renaissance in this most refined of wall decoration, with scenes ranging from meditations on the natural world to the daydreams of a dilettante.
“Renaissance to Louis XVI tapestries are having a moment,” says Collier Calandruccio of Klismos Gallery in New York City, “and it’s a moment I only see increasing over the coming years after languishing for decades.” Collectors are finding that tapestries are actually an easy element to add to any room. They can work with more radical 20th-century furniture or beautifully in a more traditional sitting room—18th-century fauteuils, Jansen tables, Rococo candelabras, and all.
At Klismos Gallery two pieces stand out: a 16th-century Flemish Renaissance tapestry depicting the biblical Queen Esther and King Ahasuerus and an early-18th-century Aubusson tapestry depicting a landscape and a far-off estate.
Robert Couturier, who saw the latter of Klismos tapestries on Instagram and subsequently purchased it for his new chateau in Normandy, France, had a heartwarming reason for doing so, according to Calandruccio. “When Robert came in to view the tapestry he lightly touched it with his hand and said, ‘This tapestry belonged to my mother’s family. This bird was my friend when I was a boy.’” And so now, it’s not just a powerful decorative statement but also a link to Couturier’s past.
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