Thursday, May 7, 2009

A French Auction Down Under

Sydney Morning Herald
James Cockington
May 6, 2009

This style of decorative arts is known as Madame de Pompadour and for good reason. In her brief but colourful lifetime (1721-1764) the celebrated mistress of King Louis XV of France was something of a fashion leader. Her beauty and forceful personality is embodied in the decorative style of the late 18th century. She was an occasional stage performer and was as theatrical in real life as the furniture she would inspire.

It seems appropriate that when she first met the king in 1745 at a masquerade ball, he was dressed as a tree.

Original furniture from this period and the decades following is increasingly difficult to find, yet a significant collection is about to be sold by Mossgreen Auctions in Sydney on Tuesday, May 12. The collection has been accumulated over 40 years by Andre and Cecile Fink.

Some of these pieces have a direct connection with Madame de Pompadour or the king, including what is described as the piece de resistance of the auction, a museum quality commode in laque de chine by Matthieu Crieard, master cabinetmaker to Louis XV. Sparkling with hand-carved fragments of mother-of-pearl, it was made in the period 1740 to 1745 and by repute was originally commissioned for the Duc de Choiseul, the king's personal financier.

The commode is for sale by private treaty with a seven-figure estimate. It comes with a 2003 authentification document prepared by a professor from the Sorbonne.

Paul Sumner from Mossgreen expects international interest for this piece as well as many others in the Fink collection. Another rare example of French chinoiserie included here is a lacquer-covered wig box, circa 1750.

The market for such historic pieces is largely unknown. There are a few serious collectors of this style in Australia although the lack of availability means that it isn't certain how many will want to add to their collections in the current climate.

Although Andre and Cecile Fink have featured much of this collection in their own home over the years, the expectation is that most items will be bought as investments rather than as practical furniture. It is, Andre says, a good time to buy and store it.

Much of this remarkable furniture makes a dramatic display, having the appearance of sculpture or opera props. One example is the pair of Louis XV period chairs in what would now be described as "hot pink" fabric. It's hard to believe they are about 250 years old.

Another extraordinary item is the Saint Louis crystal and gilt bronze chandelier in the style known as a la Montgolfiere. The design is a tribute to the Montgolfier Brothers, who made the world's first hot-air balloon ascents in the 1780s. The balloon was a popular design motif at the time but this is one of its most luxurious interpretations. The chandelier comes from a chateau in Vaucluse (in France, not eastern suburbs Sydney).

There are 270 items in the Fink collection ranging from sets of Meissen porcelain, including cups, jugs and sugar bowls, to grander objects such as a fashionable divan (day bed). There are also several paintings that capture the decadence and sensuality of this age, including Joseph Desire Court's portrait of a young lady, signed and dated 1833.

Mirrors, usually contained in elaborate gilt wood frames, are another symbol of this period of vanity. These were essential items when the upper class of both sexes applied make-up and wore powdered wigs. Several are included in the sale.

The Age of Madame de Pompadour auction takes place on May 12 at Paddington Town Hall. Viewing times: May 9 (10am to 5pm), May 10 (10am to 6pm) and May 11 (10am to 6pm). See


Andre Fink arrived in Australia in 1983 from France, where he first began collecting pieces from the Madame de Pompadour period. He regards the mistress of King Louis XV as the most significant figure from 18th-century France.

"She was a great lady, a great diplomat and she was promoting the arts," he says.

Since arriving in Australia, Andre has worked as an antique dealer in Adelaide and Sydney, specialising in the style of furniture he himself collects passionately.

Many of the pieces in this sale come from his private collection, including his favourite piece, the "private treaty" commode. "I bought it before I left France but couldn't get it out of the country," he explains. "The only way to do it was to put it up for auction then buy it back again inAustralia."

He describes the commode as museum-quality and wouldn't be surprised if a French collector made the effort to return it to the country of origin.

No comments: