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TOWN & COUNTRY PERSPECTIVES
THE CHARLES PLANTE COLLECTION
Neo-classical style, which flourished between l760-l840, has been the strongest influence on my collecting and has provided my livelihood over the past twenty years. I studied it first at the University of Virginia and then, in more depth at Cambridge and furnished my college rooms, my apartment in London and house in the country with my discoveries.
I sought to recreate this vanished and glittering world with paintings, porcelain, glass, bronzes and furniture which I first lived with and then sold to clients such as the late Bill Blass, Sir Hardy Amies, Oprah Winfrey, Dame Diana Rigg and countless other collectors.
The strongest theme within my collection is neo-classical architecture and drawing as recognized by connoisseurs and experts such as John Harris and Professor David Watkin. But it would be simplistic to describe the entire collection solely as neo-classical. I have also collected landscapes, topography and portraits both formal and naive.
The collection is rooted in the Grand Tour, an educational rite of passage, when artists, patrons and young aristocrats travelled through Europe acquiring a taste for the antique and the exotic, furnishing both their visual imaginations and their private collections. The charming Regency portrait shows two brothers and their tutor using a Cary globe to plan their travels, whilst the pair of exotically-costumed gentlemen in a park, portrayed by J. Childe, dated l817 appear to have recently returned from abroad. Mementoes of such Grand Tour travels in the sale include three marble models of Scipio's tomb, gouaches of excavations at Pompeii and a collection of Staffordshire obelisks simulating Aswan granite.
Bronzes also reminded the Grand Tourists of the Greek gods and heroes, including the 18th Century Borghese Warrior and the massive Hercules and Lichas after Canova. The exquisite Teucer by Sir William Hamo Thornycroft shows how this taste continued into the 20th century. The elegant pen and wash drawing by Giovanni Battista Cipriani, re-enforces the antique and Renaissance tradition of the male form as the basis of figurative drawing, as may be seen in the study for Lansdowne House 'The Education of Achilles'.
The architectural drawings I have collected provide a rich source of stylistic and technical information. Designs in this sale by Bailey, Barry, Chambers, Cockerell, 'Athenian' Stuart, Jeffrey Wyatt and others include drawings of a grand Irish country house, and an American Gothic house by A.J. Davis. The drawings, which stand out in their exquisite precision and colour, are the three Charles Percier designs for title pages of the book Palais, Maisons et autres edifices modernes dessunes a Rome, (Paris l798). This was dedicated to the future Empress Josephine, and this Napoleonic theme is continued by the pair of opulent gilt-bronze-mounted green marble obelisks, supplied by Andre-Antoine Ravrio for the Tuileries Palace and a Paris porcelain service, which belonged to Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, the American wife of Napoleon I's brother, Jerome. This ravishing example of Paris porcelain is matched by the superb Etruscan Dagoty coffee service and the distinctive Coalport 'Whitbread' service of l805.
Following in the footsteps of the art historian Mario Praz, who likened them to 'museums of the soul', watercolours of the private world of the domestic interior depicted before the age of photography have always intrigued me. Some of my favourites, published in my catalogue Inside Out (2000), are in this sale and include interior drawings by Ludwig Holthausen, A Zegnard and a charming early 19th century French drawing of an elegant woman feeding her parrot. The magnificent vista of The Mall, as The Prince Regent might have seen it from Buckingham House (now Palace), is re-created in a drawing dated 1811 by K G Enslen and Marechal's gardens at Versailles are sumptuous in their detail and subtle palette.
The neo-classical period witnessed sweeping and innovative reforms in furniture design, disseminated through design-books after the antique by Thomas Hope and by Percier and Fontaine, an example of which is in this sale. This international style was distinguished by its use of exotic imported woods, veneers, gilt-bronzes, mounts and rare marbles, as examples of English, French, Italian, Russian and American furniture in the sale illustrate. Notable examples are the sinuous pair of lyre-shaped green leather and rosewood bergeres attributed to Gillows, the near pair of William IV giltwood over-mantel mirrors, the pair of Russian bedside cabinets and the American classical mahogany card tables.
I have made a special collection of historic lighting, including the Paris floral-painted porcelain column and cut-crystal sinumbra lamp, the dramatic pair of green glass and gilt-bronze winged-bird wall chandeliers, and the pair of Argand lamps attributed to Messenger of Birmingham after a design by Piranesi. Designs for lighting include the superb watercolour drawings by Percier's pupil, J-B Dedeban and two drawings for colza-oil chandeliers by George Maddox. Further designs for the applied arts in this sale include a collection of French bronze chandeliers, candelabras and clocks that I published as Designs for Gilt Bronze Objects from the French Restoration 1814-1830, (2002) and Biedermeier metalwork, published as Tools of the Trade, (2006).
In addition to collecting neo-classical sculpture, architecture, interiors and furnishings I have also sought out the immediate appeal of landscape oil sketches; small-scale paintings executed in the fresh air ('en plein air') which capture fleeting moments of atmosphere and light to best effect, often on paper. This section includes works which may be attributed to various artists of the French School including Jean Victor Bertin and J-H de Barmont.
My latest quest, the restoration of the mid-Atlantic beach house of the Russian mezzo-soprano Renata Babak, has now drawn me into 20th Century abstract art and leads me anew on another fascinating journey as a collector.