‘It’s quite remarkable that we’ve been going for four generations,’ observes Richard Marchant, sitting in the office of the gallery opened by his father in the early 1950s. Samuel Sydney Marchant opened his first antiques shop on Cursitor Street, near Chancery Lane in London, in 1925, with a mission to trade in only the finest and rarest objects with impeccable provenance. In 1952 the shop moved to new premises on Kensington Church Street and, with Richard joining the business a year later, the firm began to specialise in Ming and Qing dynasty works of art, particularly porcelain and jade.
‘I was 17,’ Richard Marchant recalls. ‘My father took me into the business with him, and after one year he said, “You can go out buying”. You have to remember that at that time, antiques were everywhere. My father would send me to auctions at Christie’s, and it meant that I had to touch, and feel, every lot in the sale. It was a fantastic time to learn.’
In 1985 Richard’s own son, Stuart, joined the family business, and in 2011 and 2015 Stuart’s two children, Natalie and Samuel, also came on board, establishing an art-dealing dynasty that spans almost a century. In September last year, collectors in New York were offered the opportunity to be a part of the remarkable Marchant family story with the sale of just over 50 bronzes, jades and ceramics in the sale Marchant: Nine Decades in Chinese Art. Now, as part of Americana Week at Christie’s in New York, 100 further pieces from Marchant will be offered in the Chinese Export Art auction.
Across the decades, Marchant has observed radical changes in the nature of collecting Asian works. Where once clients were mostly European and American private collectors, today a large proportion of the business comes from the Far East, with clients keen to acquire works of art from their own heritage.
‘At the moment the main collectors, there’s no question, are from China,’ the dealer says, before offering advice to those setting out on their collecting journey. ‘Young collectors have to concentrate in a specific area. And there are areas that can be neglected by the market. We’ve seen this over the years — pieces that weren’t very popular, all of a sudden, become popular.’
‘I feel very privileged to be able to handle pieces that have survived through hundreds of years, knowing that so many previous collectors have loved them,’ he reflects. ‘It’s contagious, the love of these objects.’