At 2012 Winter Antiques, Splendor Fit for a Maharajah–or a Shaker

Fine, noble treasures stop off at Park Avenue Armory

Photos by Andrew Russeth

At the 2012 Winter Antiques Show, George Washington is king. Gallerist spotted three portraits of America’s first president on a visit to the Park Avenue Armory last night, where the 58th edition of the fair runs through Sunday.

There is a Washington to fit any taste. Tillou Gallery’s is arguably the most iconic, a circa 1810-20 work after one of Gilbert Stuart’s famed originals that has the wig-sporting politician posing with a clenched jaw in a velvet overcoat. He’s more somber in a remarkably similar work over at Schwarz’s booth, this one by Gilbert’s daughter, Jane. And then there is Adelson’s, a 1793 piece with John Trumbull in which the general is barely recognizable.

No doubt there are additional Washingtons hiding in the booths of the 73 dealers at the fair, emblazoned on prints or plates,  wallpaper or weaponry. This is one of the joys of the fair: the discoveries that await among the menagerie of treasures. Many of the booths are jam packed. A thorough investigation takes some time.

Thankfully, the fair runs a full 10 days–a generous span that allows buyers to take their time and weigh their options, to choose between a suit of early 16th-century German armor from the booth of London’s Peter Finer, perhaps, or a circa 1900 giant stone urn in the style of the Medici from Barbara Israel Garden Antiques.

There is, to be sure, plenty of art among these riches. Besides its Trumbull, Adelson also has a small, immaculate painting of a young woman by William Merritt Chase for just under a million, a still life by Childe Hassam from 1892 (a prime period, if not a prime subject) and a trove of works by Mary Cassatt.

Hirschl & Adler has devoted an outside wall of its booth to the drawings of James Edward Deeds, Jr. Known only as The Electric Pencil (a phrase he inscribed on many of his works) until some sleuthing by researchers revealed his identity, Deeds spent his entire adult life in a mental hospital making ghostly colored pencil portraits on the institution’s forms from the 1940s to the ’60s.

Often, dealers mix art with other fields, making over their booths into dream apartments, as Philadelphia’s Moderne Gallery, run by dealer Robert Aibel, has done, combining classic wooden furniture, like a 1965 walnut trestle dining table by 20th-century master George Nakashima (it looks like a tightly laced corset, its laces comprised of rosewood butterfly segments) with photos of nudists by Diane Arbus and woodcuts by Wharton Escherick. Even the floor is paneled with wood. Sensual stuff.

Over at Pace Primitive, one finds frenetic prints by Surrealist Joan Miró and Dubuffet paired with carved rings of Neolithic stone and Fang sculptures. The display beseeches collectors to expand their horizons, to consider something new.

To that end, why not visit Peter Pap Oriental Carpets and peruse the early 20th century north Moroccan carpets that rivals modern abstract painting in its invention? Brilliantly colored and hard-edged patterns begin at the edges and then go deliriously astray inside, an anonymous hand taking the weave, the flow of its decoration on a wild ride.

At Keshishian, there are more remarkable carpets on offer, including an art deco number from the early 1930s that Ivan da Silva Bruhns made for the maharajah of Indores–all pink and rose, bedecked with a few black, right-angled shapes. It’s 21 feet long, but if you have the space (the maharajah kept it in his bedroom), it seems worth every dollar of its reported $1.6 million price tag.

Then head to Olde Hope Antiques. Tucked along a back wall is a Shaker peg rail, made around 1840-90 in Tyringham, Pa. It holds eight smooth wooden shovels, paragons of refined style. The young British artist Dan Rees hung his paintings on similar Shaker rails at his 2010 show at Wallspace. Will some cheeky, venturesome collector dare to combine the two in one collection?

It feels fundamentally ridiculous to write about a fair as varied as Winter Antiques. Better to encourage you to go on your own. There are images in the slide show above to tempt you. And here are some other highlights: tiny human figurines made from marine mammal bone by Alaskan peoples in the late 19th century at Donald Ellis, fetish-laced fashion photography by Horst P. Horst at Peter Fetterman Gallery and a stunning illuminated hymnal from ca. 1450 by an anonymous master working in Bologna, Italy, at Les Enluminures Ltd.

Our favorite moment, though, came in the booth of Carolle Thibaut-Pomerantz, a New York and Paris dealer specializing in antique wallpapers who has on view a giant, vivid hunting scene in a towering forest. Printed almost exactly two centuries ago by Jacquemort from a design by painter Carle Vernet, it was once part of a panoramic stretch that would have filled the walls of an entire room. It was carefully removed from its original location by steaming it from the wall. Now it is hanging on the Upper East Side, looking for a new home.

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