January 17, 2019

SOLD! The 1850 Shop Arrives!

The SOLD! exhibition install has continued over the last couple of days – there’s only just over 1 week to go before SOLD! opens to the public on Saturday 26th January.  There’s still lots to do of course, but George and the exhibitions team have been working long, long hours to ensure that the installation is all ready for the delivery of the exhibition loans from the Major, National Museums next week.

There was excitement today (mainly from me!) when some of the main interpretation panels arrived from the design company – it was a bit like Christmas (again)…(for me)..

SOLD! text Panels, as they arrived at The Bowes Museum.

George, Vin and Simon quickly set about setting up the text and image panels in the exhibition gallery – using an amazing laser measurement machine to get them all centred-up accurately on the exhibition wall –

George, Vin and Simon, lining-up one of the text panels for SOLD!

There are quite a few image panels for each of the 4 exhibition space walls – here’s a brief photo preview of the first corner of the exhibition space, focused on early 19th century antique dealers – with a fabulous image of an imaginary interior of an ‘antique shop’ of the c.1820s, culled from the business trade card of the real ‘curiosity dealer’ William Neate, who traded in the City of London in the period. This image is part of a series of interior images of antiques shops that form each section of the exhibition – a whole panorama of images of antique shops dating from the 1820s to the 1990s.

One corner of the exhibition space of SOLD!

Once the image panels were fixed to the walls by George and the team you could really get a sense of how SOLD! was beginning to take shape.

One of the image panels fixed to the wall in SOLD!

The image (above) shows an interior photograph of the shop of C. Charles dating from c.1900; (Charles Joel Duveen, was the brother of perhaps the most famous art & antiques dealer in the world, Joseph Duveen, 1st Baron Duveen).

We have also used many more antique dealer shop interior shop images as part of the exhibition interpretation narrative, including the shops of J.M. Botibol (1950s), Bluett & Sons (1920s) and the shop of the famous 19th century dealer in ‘ancient armour’, Samuel and Henry Pratt’s ‘Gothic Armoury’ in Lower Grosvenor Street, of the 1830s.

But one of the most exciting things to happen today was the arrival of the 1850 ‘Old Curiosity Shop’!…Viv and Ant, of North Exhibitions Services, delivered the Old Curiosity Shop to The Bowes Museum.  Viv and Ant have have been constructing the 1850 Shop in their workshops for the last few weeks – and everyone, including an endless series of helpers from the reception desk at The Bowes, helped to bring all of the (seemingly endless pieces) of the shop into the 1st floor exhibition space.

Vin and Ant, with Viv obscured behind the right-hand pillar.

Once the 1850 shop was in the exhibition space, Viv and Ant quickly set about assembling it – I think it will look spectacular…but as I had to leave The Bowes Museum at 5pm today I only got to see the uncompleted structure…but even so, it was certainly beginning to look amazing – below is the effect once the lower front wall of the shop had been completed.

The 1850 Shop, taking shape in the SOLD! exhibition.

There was still a great deal of assembly work to be done when I left the museum at 5pm….but I’m absolutely sure that the 1850 Shop will be ready and waiting for me and Simon tomorrow morning.  And that, with the rest of the team at Bowes Museum, we’ll be able to begin to fill up the 1850 Shop with some extraordinary ‘curiosities’ tomorrow!

Watch this space!

Mark

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January 15, 2019

SOLD! Install Continues

The installation of the display cases and the design of the exhibition gallery for SOLD! continues apace.  It’s certainly taking shape now and looking much more like an exhibition now that the museum display cases are being put into position. Here’s the ’19th century antique dealing’ side of the exhibition space, with the cases ready for the objects coming from the V&A Museum, Tower Armouries, and the British Museum.

Display cases for SOLD!

There’s still an awful lot of work to do of course, but most of the painting has been completed and we are assembling and installing the security cases – you can get a real sense of how the objects will look once they are all safely ensconced in their respective cases – the consensus is that it’s looking good!

The ’20th century antique dealing’ side of the exhibition space (see below) will have some fabulous objects – including the ‘poster boy’ for the SOLD! exhibition, the ‘H.C. Baxter & Sons’ ‘Antico Bronze’ on loan from the V&A Museum – and thanks to Gary Baxter, the grandson of Horace Baxter, who sold ‘Antico’ to the V&A Museum in 1960, we now have a fabulous photograph of Horace Baxter in 1960, holding ‘Antico’ – you’ll be able to see the photo alongside ‘Antico’ in the exhibition.

SOLD! install – 20th century antique dealing side of exhibition space.

George and the exhibitions team are still working like Trojans to get SOLD! finished on time – we had extra help today when Darren (Bowes Museum IT specialist) stopped by to help out – here’s Darren, with Vin, pondering where to put the display case for the ‘ancient suit of armour’ that’s coming from The Tower Armouries in London.

Darren and Vin, installing exhibition cases for SOLD!

And of course there’s tons of admin and emails to deal with as the process of object loans from our generous museum lenders comes to completion – the exhibitions team ‘office’ in on-site of course…right in the centre of the action – here’s Catherine, in the exhibitions team ‘hub’; she’s finished scraping the masking tape off the floor in the exhibition space and is now dealing with the hundreds of emails that SOLD! seems to generate!

Catherine, working hard in the Exhibitions Team ‘Hub’!

More updates on the progress of SOLD! soon…the 1850 ‘Curiosity Shop’ is being constructed on Thursday!

Mark

January 12, 2019

SOLD! Exhibition – the final push!

It’s all hands on deck for building and installing the design for the SOLD! exhibition at The Bowes Museum – only 2 weeks to go now before SOLD! opens! The Exhibition is live on The Bowes Museum website – see SOLD!

Over the past few weeks all of the exhibition interpretation panels and the object labels have been composed, and all the exhibition image panels have been decided – the ‘proofs’ of the interpretation and image panels came back from the designers this week – the consensus is that they look great! – We’re not showing you them of course (yet)….you’ll have to wait and go to see SOLD!

I couldn’t believe how hard the exhibitions team at The Bowes Museum work during the process of taking down the previous exhibition (a fabulous exhibition called ‘Catwalking: fashion through the lens of Chris Moore’) and installing the next exhibition (SOLD!) – it is pretty much a 24 hour a day job…with all the work concentrated into a few short weeks. Here’s Vin, Simon and George starting to move the museum cases into the main exhibition space at The Bowes Museum, ready for the museum objects arriving.

Vin, Simon and George, installing cases for the SOLD! exhibition.

The exhibition space is starting to take shape – we’re starting to ‘place’ the exhibits in the correct order in the space; below is a photograph of one side of the exhibition space with photocopies of the object interpretation panels, fixed to the walls with masking tape, indicating the location of each object in the exhibition. We’ve gone for a dark grey and black colour scheme (which seems to be very fashionable for exhibitions). The exhibition space might look a bit messy in the photograph, but on the day I took the shot, we’d only just finished taking down the thousands of cardboard tubes that were part of the Catwalking exhibition – you can see a few remaining on the floor – I don’t think I ever want to see a cardboard tube again!

 

SOLD! being installed at The Bowes Museum

Here we have another photograph (below) of one of the walls in the exhibition space, with the photocopies of information on each of the objects in the exhibition, placed near to where the object will be situated – in this section of the exhibition, which focuses on 19th century antique dealers, you can see how we are placing the museum loans in sequence – the suit of ‘ancient armour’ sold by the dealer Samuel Pratt to the Tower Armouries in London in 1840; the 15th century Venetian glass goblet, sold by the dealer Henry Farrer to the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A Museum) in 1854; the 15th century silver-gilt chalice sold to the British Museum by the dealer John Webb in 1855; and the 16th century ‘Raphaelware’ dish sold by Henry Durlacher to the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A Museum) in 1857.

SOLD! install at The Bowes Museum – object placement labels.

 

And as I say, it was all hands on deck for the short time frame to take down and then install exhibitions – here’s Jen and Sarah helping out in re-painting one of the plinths that is going to be used for SOLD!

Jen and Sarah repainting a plinth for the SOLD! exhibition at The Bowes Museum.

 

And Catherine (below) carefully removing the masking tape which had been used in the previous exhibition from the floor.

 

Catherine, in deep concentration, carefully removing masking tape from the floor in the SOLD! exhibition.

 

It was an exhausting day, but it’s thrilling to see all the hard work coming to fruition.  Next week the install continues, and we have the exciting prospect of building and fitting out the ‘Old Curiosity Shop’ of 1850 in the exhibition space – Simon and I, and the rest of the Bowes team are really looking forward to that!

Watch out for blog posts on ‘behind the scenes at the museum’ next week as the installation of SOLD! continues!

Mark

 

 

December 31, 2018

Interactive Antique Dealer Map at 6,000+ dealers

We’ve finished 2018 on a high point for the interactive antique dealer map – and now have more than 6,000 dealers in the map!

Antique Dealers Map screen capture. December 2018.

We still need to upload 1,000s more dealers of course, but we are making progress.  During the last week we’ve added 100s of dealers to Devon and Cornwall, mainly dealers from the 1920s and 1930s.  We are still looking for volunteers to help with adding more dealers to the Map website – if you are interested in helping out, do email us antiquedealers@leeds.ac.uk – we have an information sheet and it’s very simple to add data once you have read the ‘data adding’ information sheet – if you are in Leeds there is also training available!

Here’s a link to the Map website CLICK HERE

And if you do volunteer help, you get your name of the Roll Call of Honour on the ‘Get Involved’ tab on the Antique Dealer Project Website – see HERE

We are aiming to have 10,000 dealers added in the next few months, so do let us know if you think you might be able to help.

In the meantime….we wish you all a VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Mark

 

 

December 24, 2018

Merry Christmas! and Happy New Year!

Merry Christmas from the Antique Dealers Research Project to all our friends and colleagues!

F.W. Phillips antique shop and store, Hitchin c.1900, with additional snow!

We wish you all a very happy and prosperous 2019 – and very much look forward to seeing you at the SOLD! exhibition at Bowes Museum next year.

Very Best Wishes

Mark

December 20, 2018

Progress on SOLD!

SOLD! is coming together very well – we’ve been working at The Bowes Museum on the text panels and object labels all of this week.  They all go off to the designers soon – there’s only about 1 month to go before the exhibition opens on 26th January (and that includes the Christmas break!), so there’s still a lot of work to do.  George Harris (Exhibitions Manager at Bowes), Catherine Dickinson (Exhibitions Officer), Jane Whittaker (Head of Collections) together with the other members of the exhibitions team Vin and Jen, and I have been working on the images and texts we need for the exhibition.  It’s going to be designed around a theme of ‘shopping for antiques over 200 years’….using a cityscape as a main theme, with antique shop fronts, of various periods from 1820s to present day, interspaced with images of antique shop interiors over the same period, so the visitors to the exhibition will get a sense of the changing panorama of the ‘antique shop’.

Simon Spier (Project Assistant on the recreating the 1850s Shop) has also been helping with engaging with the local community of dealers and collectors to gather appropriate objects for the shop (see Simon’s ‘Old Curiosity Shop’ Twitter feed).  Simon and I were searching the Bowes stores this week for suitable objects for the 1850 shop…together with Howard Coutts, (the Curator of Decorative Art) – it is interesting that Howard is not the curator of ‘Antiques’ – but then, antiques’ are not what the museum contains I guess?

Over the course of the research project we’ve gathered hundreds and hundreds of images of exteriors and interiors of antique shops.  These two photographs, of F.W. Phillips’ (Phillips of Hitchin) antique shop in about 1905 and the interior photograph of the shop of C. Charles (Charles Duveen, J.H. Duveen’s brother) in New Bond Street, London in c.1903, are just examples of several hundred we have to choose from, so it’s been quite a task to find the right kind of image for the exhibition interpretation.

Phillips of Hitchin shop, c.1905. Photograph courtesy of the Brotherton Library Special Collections, University of Leeds.

 

C Charles, New Bond Street, c.1903. Photograph, Connoisseur, September 1903.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’ve also had some excellent pre-publicity for SOLD! this week – the exhibition was featured on the front page (and on page 4) of the Antiques Trade Gazette – see the web version HERE and SOLD! is also on the British Antique Dealers’ Association website (thank you as always the BADA!).

The objects coming to SOLD! cover quite a range of object types (and dealers of course) – we have this wonderful ‘majolica’ dish, from Deruta in Italy, and dating from c.1530, on loan from the V&A Museum.

Dish, c.1530, sold by Henry Durlacher to the SKM in 1854. Image courtesy of the V&A Museum, copyright the V&A Museum.

It was sold to the South Kensington Museum in 1856 (as the V&A Museum was called in the 19th century) by the well-known 19th century antique dealer Henry Durlacher (b.1826) for £5 and 5 shillings – quite a meagre some, even in the context of the market for such objects in the 19th century.  The market for ‘Raphaelware’ (as this kind of object would have been categorized in the 19th century) was very strong in the middle decades of the 19th century, so perhaps Durlacher was hoping to encourage more purchases from the South Kensington Museum?

SOLD! also has several objects from the collections at The Bowes Museum on display of course, including this spectacular 18th century Bronze fountain mask, which was sold to The Bowes Museum in 1966 by the dealership ‘David Tremayne’ – one of the directors of ‘David Tremayne’ was David Salmon, a member of the family that owned J. Lyons & Company, of ‘Lyons Tea Rooms’ fame.  ‘Tremayne’ traded from the King’s Road in London, which in the 1960s was the epitome of Swinging, Fashionable London, with the antique dealers patronised by Film Stars and Rock Groups such as the Rolling Stones.

Bronze Mask, sold by ‘David Tremayne’ to The Bowes Museum in 1966. Photograph courtesy of The Bowes Museum.

 

In SOLD! we also have a number of objects from Temple Newsam, part of Leeds Museums & Galleries, including the famous black lacquer secretaire, formerly supplied by Thomas Chippendale for Harewood House in the 1770s.

Secretaire, c.1770, sold by Hotspur to Temple Newsam, Leeds Museums & Galleries in 1999. Photograph courtesy of Leeds Museums & Galleries, copyright Leeds Museums & Galleries.

Of course, for SOLD! this is not a ‘Chippendale’ , it was sold to Leeds Museums & Galleries by the well-known Antique English Furniture specialist dealers Hotspur in 1999, who were then trading in London.  Indeed, the secretaire’s dealer biography can be traced to 1946 when it was acquired by the London dealer Jesse Botibol, probably direct for the auction sale of some contents of Harewood House sold at Christie’s in London that year.

There are many more well-known and world-class museum objects in SOLD!, But of course the purpose of SOLD! is to highlight their ‘hidden histories’ and to retell the history of the antique dealers that are such a fundamental part of their object biographies.

Mark

 

 

 

 

 

 

December 2, 2018

SOLD! A Major Exhibition at The Bowes Museum

As some of the readers of the Antique Dealers Blog already know, for the last 18 months I’ve been very busy working as ‘guest curator’ on an exhibition called ‘SOLD!’ at The Bowes Museum based on over 10 years of research on the history of Antique Dealing in Britain – and we can now announce the forthcoming opening (on 26th January 2019) of the exhibition!  Here is the poster, with the stunning bronze by Antico of c.1490-1500, acquired by the V&A Museum through the dealer Horace Baxter in 1960, as the ‘poster boy’.

SOLD! Poster

SOLD!, which opens on 26th January 2019, brings together more than 40 world-class objects, from various museums, including the V&A, the British Museum, The Royal Armouries, Royal Collection, The Lady Lever Art Gallery and Temple Newsam, as well as objects from the collections at The Bowes Museum itself, and loans from private collections never seen in public before, to tell the ‘hidden histories’ of the objects with a focus on the history of antique dealing.  One of my PhD students (Simon Spier) is working as the project research assistant helping with the assembly of the recreation of an ‘old curiosity shop’ which will be part of the display and interpretation for SOLD! – you can follow Simon’s activities in the special Twitter feed we have developed – see  https://twitter.com/Bowes_GBAS

Besides ‘Antico’ from the V&A Museum…(which I have been calling a ‘Horace Baxter’ – indeed, I have been calling all the objects in the exhibition by the name of the dealer who sold them which has been very confusing for many museum curators! – so the ‘Antico’ is a ‘Horace Baxter’; we also have a ‘Henry Farrer’ (a very rare 16th century Venetian glass goblet – sold by Farrer to the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A Museum) in 1854 for £30.0.0) – you can just see the edge of the green glass goblet to the right of the ‘Baxter’ in the poster above; and a ‘David Tremayne’ – the wonderful 18th century bronze mask, sold to The Bowes Museum by David Tremayne in 1966 – you can just the bronze mask to the left of the ‘Baxter’ (sorry, the ‘Antico’) in the poster.

We have a wonderful range of objects in SOLD!, including this amazing demilance suit of armour of c.1620 from the Royal Armouries, (Tower Armouries Collection in London), which was acquired via the well-known specialist dealer in ‘ancient armour’ Samuel & Henry Pratt from their ‘The Gothic Hall’ just off New Bond Street in 1840.

S. & H. Pratt – (1840) – Demilance suit of armour, c.1620. Photograph courtesy of The Royal Armouries.

As part of SOLD! we have objects that passed through the hands of major 19th century dealers such as E.H. Baldock, John Webb and George Durlacher; and in the 20th century, major dealers such as Frank Partridge, M. Harris & Sons, H. Blairman & Sons, Mallett & Son, Wartski, Hotspur, S.J. Phillips, and Bluett & Son…plus many more besides.

One of the major dealers we have focused on is Phillips of Hitchin; mainly because we have the Phillips of Hitchin archives at the Brotherton Library Special Collections at the University of Leeds. And here’s a very rare photograph of the Phillips of Hitchin shop in c.1905, with Frederick W. Phillips (centre) the chap that established the firm in 1882, and Hugh Phillips (his brother) to the right (we don’t know who the third person is) – the photograph was taken just a few years before Frederick Phillips bought the ‘Gothic Cupboard’ and sold it to Robert Mond (see below).

F.W. Phillips (Phillips of Hitchin) shop, Hitchin, c.1905. Digital copy of glass-plate negative courtesy of the V&A Museum.

Jerome Phillips, the grandson of Frederick Phillips, kindly identified the people in the photograph – and Kate Hay at the V&A Museum and her volunteers generously made a digital copy from the original glass-plate negative (part of the Phillips of Hitchin material that is, at present, at the V&A stores).

There are also couple of objects from the V&A Museum in the exhibition that were sold by Phillips of Hitchin – this Gothic cupboard (known as ‘Prince Arthur’s Cupboard’ in the early 20th century when it was acquired by the V&A Museum) was sold by F.W. Phillips (Phillips of Hitchin) to the well-known collector Robert Mond in 1912 for £220.0.0. – Mond donated it to the V&A in the same year.

F.W. Phillips (Phillips of Hitchin) ‘Gothic Cupboard’ c.1500-1600. Sold by F.W. Phillips in 1912. Photograph courtesy of the V&A Museum.

 

The other Phillips of Hitchin object in the exhibition is the famous ‘Medal Cabinet’ by the 18th century cabinetmaker William Vile (c.1700-1767), of c.1760, which was sold by PoH to the V&A in 1963 for £10,000.

Phillips of Hitchin (1963). George III mahogany medal cabinet, c.1760. Photograph courtesy of the V&A Museum.

 

The exhibition will also have a wide range of exceptionally rare antique dealer archives, and a range of dealer ephemera, to bring to life the history of the antique trade.  But there are also some spectacularly rare objects in SOLD! – indeed, one of the key premises of the exhibition is to show some very familiar, world-class museum objects, but to ‘reframe’ them through the narrative of the art market; and to bring the previously marginalized story of antique dealing more directly, and more explicitly, into the spaces of the public museum – and to provoke us all (museum curators, academics, and the public) to reflect on why the art market has often been suppressed and dislocated from the narratives of the history of art that the museum presents us with.

We hope that the ‘SOLD!’ exhibition will be a catalyst for increased public engagement with these previously marginalized stories.

I’ll be updating the blog with regular progress reports on SOLD! as we move towards the opening of the exhibition on 26th January 2019 – I do hope that we will see as many people who can make it to SOLD! at Bowes Museum and I hope to say ‘hello’ if I am about at the exhibition.

Mark

 

November 11, 2018

New Donation to the Antique Dealer Project Research archives

The antique dealer research archives had a new addition last week, a bound copy of the very rare lithographed catalogues issued by the Nottingham antique dealer Samuel Richards in the late 1890s.  The catalogues came up for auction at Mellors & Kirk in Nottingham (appropriately) last May, and Ian Wilkinson, the Rare Book Specialist at the auctioneer very kindly alerted us to the forthcoming sale.  But thanks to the generosity of Simon Myers of the antique dealers R.N. Myers & Son, North Yorkshire, who also spotted the catalogue and offered to buy it and donate it to the Brotherton Library Special Collections, the catalogue is now part of the Brotherton Library Special Collections of antique dealer related archives and associated material.  Simon is the 4th generation of dealers in the firm that still bears his great grandfathers’ name – the business was also, like the business of S. Richards, trading in the 1890s, so it was quite fitting that Simon donated the catalogues.  Indeed, Simon has been a keen follower of the research project for a number of years, but his donation of the Richards catalogues was an exceptionally generous thing to do – he popped across to the Brotherton Library last week to hand over the catalogue, which is now available for researchers.

S. Richards, ‘Monthly Catalogue of Antiques, Curios etc for sale’ 1890-1899′. Photograph, copyright Mellors & Kirk, auctioneers, Nottingham, 2018.

The catalogues produced by Samuel Richards are exceptionally rare – the bound copies that Simon donated date from January 15th 1890 to March 15th 1899; there are a few examples (dating from 1890-1915) in the National Art Library at the V&A Museum, but there are no copies in the British Library – I know of two other copies in a private collection, but given the ephemeral nature of the catalogues (they were designed to be posted to collectors and are lithographed on very flimsy paper and can’t have been produced in any significant quantities), they must not survive in any numbers.

We are very encouraged by the support that many antique dealers have shown to the Antique Dealers Research project, and Simon’s generosity is a reflection of the wider support of the project over the past few years.

Mark

October 31, 2018

Latest Oral History Interview – Philip Andrade

Our latest oral history interview, thanks to the continued support from the British Antique Dealer’s Association for the BADA Voices theme in the research project took us all the way to Devon last week.

Our interview was with 3rd generation antique dealer Philip Andrade, a former BADA member before he retired in 2000. Philip’s grandfather, Henry de Costa Andrade, came from an illustrious line of art and antique dealers which began, it seems, with the well known London antique dealer Cyril de Costa Andrade (b.1883) who traded in Duke Street, St. James’s in London and counted Duveen as a customer – Cyril was Philip’s 2nd cousin once removed; James de Costa Andrade, Philip’s uncle, also ran a well-known antique shop in the fashionable King’s Road, in London during the 1950s and 1960s.

Philip’s grandfather, Henry de Costa Andrade ran an antique shop in Plymouth, Devon after arriving in Plymouth with his son, Reginald, in 1907; the family came from Clissiold Park in London. Reginald Andrade had joined his father’s business by the mid 1920s, before Philip took over the family business during the early 1960s.  Here’s Philip, at his home in Devon with his dog ‘Bailey’.

Philip Andrade, at home, with ‘Bailey’. Photograph Antique Dealers Research Project, University of Leeds, 2018.

In this very engaging oral history interview, Philip told us of his life as an antique dealer, of his father’s business, which traded as Reginald and Muriel Andrade at Boringdon Villas in Plympton, just outside of Plymouth in Devon.  Philip was joined in the business by his wife Margaret (they married in 1960), who was also, incidentally, the daughter of another Devon based antiques dealer, Arthur (Jack) West; both Philip and Margaret were junior directors of his father’s business, Reginald & Muriel Andrade Limited – the business later became a partnership. Philip started working for his father Reginald in 1955, driving his father around the trade and auctions within six weeks of leaving school, but also remembers serving customers in his father’s shop when he was aged 12 or 13 – so he has almost 70 years of experience of the antiques trade – that might be a record for our oral history interviewees!

As with all of our oral history interviews, our interview with Philip will be eventually be uploaded to the Antique Dealer Research project Oral History pages.

Mark

September 23, 2018

Antique Dealer Hunting in Prague

I took a break from research and had a long weekend in Prague a couple of weeks ago – well I say I took a break from research, but it seems I must have packed ‘research’ in my bag, because when I got to Prague I ended up doing more ‘research’ on 20th century antique dealers based in Prague!

It started with a bit of serendipity (as most of the best things do!); I always try to visit museums and galleries when I can (obviously), and ended up going to the Veletrzni Palac (the ‘Trade Fair Palace’ – what an extraordinary name for a public art gallery), which is part of National Gallery Prague.  This was because the National Museum of Prague was closed for renovation – actually, when I got to Veletrzni Palac that was also partially closed for renovation….but they did have an extraordinary exhibition called ‘The Mystery of Capek’s Carpet’. The exhibition is running at the Trade Fair Palace until 25th November…so if you are going to Prague I’ve certainly recommend a visit!

The Mystery of Capek’s Carpet exhibition at National Gallery Prague. Photo copyright of National Gallery Prague.

The exhibition is based on a short story by the Czech writer Karel Capek (1890-1938) called ‘Cintamani and Birds’, published in a volume of short stories called ‘Tales from Two Pockets’ (1929).  The story is based around the discovery, in an antique shop, of a rare ‘white-ground Anatolian carpet’, dating from the 16th century. The collector spots the carpet in the shop of ‘Madame Severynova’ and tries, unsuccessfully, to buy it throughout the story.  It is guarded by Madame Severynova’s pet Poodle, ‘Amina’ – a dog ‘so fat it makes you ill’, as Capek states in the story. Anyway, the collector eventually realises Madame Severynova will never sell the carpet to him so he resolves to break into the shop one night and try to steal it – but of course, the dog will never let this happen and repels him and he never manages to get the carpet – ‘the one-of-a-kind carpet is still lying there today’ Capek writes at the end of the story; ‘It is, I’m certain, one of the rarest carpets in the world. And right to this day, that hideous, mangy, stinking Amina is on it, grunting with bliss….’.

The eponymous carpet was recently acquired (in 2014) by the National Gallery, Prague and this was the catalyst for the exhibition. Here’s the carpet – a very rare, white ground, 16th century ‘Anatolian’ example (from modern-day Turkey).

‘Chintamani and Birds’ carpet in the Mystery of Capek’s Carpet exhibition at Trade Fair Palace, Prague. Author’s photo.

The story was also made into a film in 1964, called ‘Chintamani Carpet and a Swindler’ directed by Jiri Krejcik. Here’s a film poster for the film.

Film Poster for ‘Chintamani Carpet and a Swindler (1964). Photo from National Film Archive, Prague. Copyright National Film Archive, Prague.

The exhibition includes a range of material associated with Capek (who was a collector of Oriental carpets himself) some photo stills from the film, showing ‘Amina’ the dog (not a poodle, as in the short story, but a dachshund) and the collector (the ‘Swindler’)’ in the movie, with the rare carpet in the background.

Chintamani Carpet and a Swindler (1964) film still. Image copyright National Museum, Prague.

Chintamani are wish-granting jewels in Buddhist philosophy and are represented by the three little floating balls above the wavy lines in the carpet in the photograph here – the combination of Chintamani and Birds is, apparently, very rare in ‘Oriental Carpets’, hence the desire of the collector to acquire this example in the story.

Anyway, what interested me most in the exhibition was that the ‘antique shop’ in the short story was actually based on a real antique shop in Prague in the 1920s owned and run by a female antique dealer called Helena Zajickova (1879-1944). There was a design for a new shop sign for Zajickova’s shop in the exhibition –

Hand-coloured photograph of a design for a neon sign for Helena Zajickova’s shop, by Neon CKD, 1933. Author’s photo.

Helena Zajickova was one of the leading antique dealers in Prague during the 1920s and 1930s – she started trading in c.1906, and by the 1920s was supplying antiques to Prague Castle. According to the exhibition Zajickova’s shop was located at 10 Palacheko Street, in Prague’s New Town in the 1920s. So, of course, I had to go and see if I could find the shop – and it still exists…the window grills appear to be the same ones!

10 Palackeho Street, Prague, 2018. Author’s photo.

Capek’s niece, Helena Kozeluhova, recalled in her memoires that her uncle Karel Capek, would often visit the shop of Helena Zajickova, and that she had a cat (rather than a dog) that would sit on the carpets – fiction and reality often collide in these fascinating ways of course, but it was interesting that I found another important antique shop in such a serendipitous way!

Mark

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