Antiques dealer Will Fisher on a 17th-century painting of a dog that hangs above his fireplace in south London
‘I’m quite a fan of dogs, and I seem to have a bit of a fascination with slightly dark pictures. This is a 17th-century painting — Italian, the catalogue said, from Bologna. The artist is unknown.
‘The painting has a flat naivety that I like. There is an improbable scale to the way the dog fills the frame, as if it were cut from a larger canvas. I imagine it hung for decades above a fireplace, as it does now, and became completely imbued with woodsmoke. There’s 300 years’ worth of grime on the surface. It has clearly never been restored, which is good. It is unadulterated.
‘I was very drawn to the painting when it came up for auction in South Kensington. I saw it, loved it, and desperately wanted to buy it. But someone else got it for a price beyond my pain threshold. For a while I was fuming, but I had to put it from my mind. About two years later, it cropped up at Christie’s New York. It had been consigned by Michael Smith, who represents my firm in LA. So a friend had beaten me to it, and I didn’t know.
‘At my second attempt, I bought it over the telephone for about £4,000 — less than I had bid in London. Compared to what you could get for the same money in the contemporary market, that’s nothing. Sometimes you get a better price in a big auction house such as Christie’s. I think it’s because a star lot shines brightly at, say, a country auction; the same piece might not attract so much attention in a larger environment.
’Auctions are a lovely way to buy, and I prefer buying to selling. There is an element of showmanship to selling, but buying is a more intimate thing because it is between you, the object, and your desire to have it. You can luxuriate over that.
‘I wouldn’t ever sell the dog. Well, I wouldn’t sell it and leave an empty space above the fire. But if I found something that I desired more, and selling the painting enabled me to have it, then, yes, I suppose I would.’
Will Fisher is the founder of Jamb, which specialises in 18th- and 19th-century English and Irish country house furniture, particularly antique and reproduction fireplaces and reproduction lighting. The showroom is in Pimlico, London