FOREWORD BY CHRISTOPHER PAYNE:
Furnishing a house with antique furniture does not form a collection in the true sense of the word, it is ostensibly filling rooms with appropriate items that match or compliment the décor. A collector is not necessarily consciously trying to fill the rooms, match the wall paneling or led by the taste of the latest fashion magazine. A bona fide collector can be forgiven for mis-matching Louis XIV with Louis XVI or placing an Italian neo-classical marble on a rococo commode. For the collector is interested in the objects themselves, in their own right and judges each piece on its own merits, not pandering to taste but satisfying his or her own desire to enjoy a broad spectrum of items at home.
In this sense Fred Cornwall and his late wife Karla are true collectors, having spent almost thirty years on the trail of furniture and sculpture. Their house in Dallas has a warm and welcoming feel as can be seen in the general views in this catalogue, but this homogenous look has come after years of searching, looking, hunting and above all, learning. A useful verb to be added to the dictionary of any overseas visitor to Paris on the look out for fine furniture is 'chiner'. Fred and Karla honed this art over many years whilst bringing up a family and working to facilitate voyages to Europe to go 'antique hunting'. I first met them in London in the late 1980s when with great modesty and typical Texan politeness they asked my advice on building up a collection. A firm friendship was struck, and they started to look at suitable auctions and galleries.
Their love of antiques grew out of humble beginnings, as a young couple Fred and Karla ran a modern furniture store and this prompted their search for quality antique items for their home. Their first purchase was the large vitrine (lot 33) in the present sale. It typifies the image of a 19th century collection as an eclectic piece based on the mid-18th century principles of the Louis XV era with bombé lower panels and floral marquetry. It was bought up to date with tall glazed doors of a type not invented until the 1880s and popularized by Zwiener and Linke amongst others. Many years before the acquisition of the display cabinet, the soft curves of the bombé, that delicious interpretation of the rococo in case furniture lured Fred and Karla in to their first purchase in a Texan antique shop - a 1920s copy in a dilapidated state, missing its marble top and had to be completely refinished to make it presentable. What a pity this commode with a secretaire writing drawer did not survive their collective ambitions as it would make a useful study piece!
Fred was one of the first collectors I met who developed a passion for the work of one of the pre-eminent Paris furniture making family, the Beurdeleys, with several pieces of furniture and clocks by them in today's collection. Having already acquired a small selection of furniture by Zwiener, Fred and Karla saw the bureau plat (lot 37) in New York and travelled home to Texas to deliberate on its purchase. On returning to New York a few days later they were told that it had been sold, but they finally tracked the desk down in London and had it shipped back to the family home in Dallas.
The collection is made up of eclectic pieces and several fine copies of Royal French furniture such as the lacquer dressing table modeled on one delivered by the marchand-mercier Dominique Daguerre to Marie-Antoinette in 1784 (lot 25) and the copy of the ladies offre à bijoux by Jean-Henri Riesener (lot 9). Both of these models were made by Beurdeley and Dasson amongst others and are as popular today as they were amongst 19th century collectors. Early in his career François Linke adapted the Weisweiler model, index number 114, for his Gold Medal winning stand at he Paris Exposition Universelle (lots 5 & 6). Early work by the Beurdeley family is rare and it is hard to date with certainty and the eclectic baroque and neo-classical cabinet looking back to the grand siècle (lot 47) is in this category. It is almost certain that more information will emerge over the years on the relatively under-researched period between the restoration of the French monarchy in 1814 and the second Napoleonic period.
Furniture and sculpture merge into one with the rare set of four American wall lights (lot 33) in the Louis XV rococo style by Caldwell of New York, copies of the set modeled in 1756 by François-Thomas Germain to designs by Pierre Contant and now in the Getty Museum in California. The most dramatic evidence of this is the magnificent Sarrancolin marble fire-surround by Alfred-Emmanuel-Louis Beurdeley from Cornelius Vanderbilt's New York mansion, almost certainly acquired at the World's Columbian Exhibition in Chicago in 1893 (lot 18).
Karla Cornwall sadly passed away in 2007 and Fred has remained in a house that now, with family grown up and living far away, is now too large. And so the time has come to put the collection on the open market for others to enjoy, to let a new generation research and possibly attribute the unsigned pieces in the collection - the mark of a True Collector.