Sunday, October 14, 2018

A Successful Day At Auction & A Connection To An Important Welsh Ceramics Collection

Chronica Domus
Two auction attendees contemplate their bidding strategy
Photo: Chronica Domus


It has been an age since I was motivated enough to haul my caboose out of the house on a weekend morning to attend a live auction. One bright and sunny day last month, my husband and I did just that, taking our ringside seats at the hottest event in town.  Fellow ceramics collectors, clutch your paddles tight.  I am about to show you what it was that had me so revved up. 

While some attending the sale anticipated successful bids on the Picassos, Chagalls, or Dalis on offer, it was the numerous lots of English ceramics of the late-eighteenth to early-nineteenth century that lured me in like a fish to water.  Now, let me preface my scribblings by stating that in my part of the world, stumbling across a piece of early porcelain or creamware on my travels is a rare thing indeed.  These utilitarian (and fragile) articles were, after all, manufactured in potteries located on the other side of the world, on a small island over two centuries ago.  Bearing all that in mind, you can well imagine my delight at being confronted by the glorious vision captured in the photograph below:


Chronica Domus
A display case chock-full of early Wedgwood and Spode creamware table articles
spells danger for this particular addict collector
Photo: Chronica Domus


And, for admirers of early drabware ceramics, feast your eyes on this:

Chronica Domus
No, this is not a decorative arts museum's exhibit but the contents of a
single lot for sale at auction
Photo: Chronica Domus


Or, how about some neoclassically decorated English porcelain?  There was plenty of that to go around too.

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Yes, please!
Photo: Chronica Domus


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A Coalport tea service in a pretty orange and gilt pattern, circa 1820
Photo: Chronica Domus



After a brief confab with my husband, it was settled.  One of the creamware lots would - fingers crossed - be going home with us.  Spotting at least one other interested party circling the display cases and pacing between the creamware and the silver lots, we might be up against competition.

The lot that piqued our interest happened to be the final one of the early ceramics.  First under the auctioneer's gavel was the drabware, sold to an Internet bidder at, astonishingly, less than the bottom end of estimate.  Next, the first of two lots of Spode Greek pattern.  That too sold at a very reasonable hammer price. The creamware was next ...

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Sold! ... Nine pieces of Wedgwood's Flute and Wreath pattern
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Sold!... Wedgwood's Etruscan Pattern 42 in red and black and
Pattern 93 in yellow and black enamel, circa 1785 - 1790
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Sold!... Five pieces (two out of range of this photograph) of Wedgwood's Pattern 94
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Sold!... A large covered dish in brown and yellow enamel and an integral sauce tureen
Photo: Chronica Domus


Bidding was fast and furious and after several of the English porcelain lots came and went, it was time to take my paddle to hand and steel myself for the battle ahead. It helps, of course, to have the support of one's dear husband who is not such a bag of nerves when it comes to these matters. He usually wields the paddle but on this occasion, I found the strength to raise my own. As luck would have it, the experience was not at all intimidating. It did help that I was the only interested bidder. Sold! to the lady who almost fainted from the rush of excitement when the gavel finally dropped. We were going home with not one but two shelves full of delicious creamware plates and serving dishes (seen in the second top photograph of this post).

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The winning lot!
Photo: Chronica Domus


Accompanying the stack of ten plates is a large shapely serving dish in the same hand-painted geometric pattern.  

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It is hard to believe that this pristine Wedgwood serving dish is over 200 years old
Photo: Chronica Domus


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A pair of Spode creamware supper dishes painted in a similar orange and black
enamel to the Wedgwood pieces are also included in the lot
Photo: Chronica Domus


The story of the winning ceramics doesn't quite end here.  A further serving dish included in the lot yielded a clue as to the previous owner.  It is always an exciting prospect to ponder where such humble household articles began their life, how they were used, and who cared for them along the way.  

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Aha! A clue to where these dishes once lurked
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Who might Grant-Davidson be I wonder?
Photo: Chronica Domus


A collector's label affixed to the underside of the dish prompted a little Internet sleuthing which soon revealed the identify of Grant-Davidson as the author of the following book:

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Yes, that's right, my new old creamware dishes once formed part of the private collection of internationally recognized ceramics expert Mr. Wallace James Grant-Davidson.  

Mr. Wallace James Grant-Davidson proudly showing off part of his ceramics collection

Mr. Grant-Davidson, a historian and authority on Welsh pottery, was also an extraordinary lifetime collector of eighteenth and nineteenth century British porcelain and ceramics.  Following his death in 1999, Sotheby's was charged with dispensing the collection which included pieces of Whieldon, redware, stoneware, pratt-type wares, delftware, Staffordshire and Sunderland lustreware as well as creamware.  The collection was broken up into 270 lots that raised a sum of £110,975.

It is a rare privilege indeed to be privy to information on the provenance of newly acquired items at auction beyond, of course, what the seller provides the auction house.  This is why I was so pleased to discover the collection label attached to the underside of one of my plates.  The label led me to some fascinating information released by Sotheby's in the run up to the sale.  It identifies exactly where these dishes last resided during their two-hundred year history:

"The whole house was decorated with the china", Mrs. Margaret Grant-Davidson said; "every room had pieces on the walls, it covered the walls in the study, the bedroom, the dining room and even up the stairs!  My husband was a true collector, he brought what he liked.  I was married to him for more than 60 years and he was so meticulous and kept everything.  It is taking me a long time to sort things out and I am still finding things that I never knew we had.  I have kept many items as the house would be bare otherwise". 

It is pleasing to imagine that a humble Welsh house in Swansea was once home to such an extraordinary and well-loved collection of ceramics.  And now, here in my own humble abode, half way across the world, Mr. Grant-Davidson's dishes have somehow found their way to me.  I wonder where they'll end up next?  Until that day dawns, I look forward to using and enjoying my creamware, and setting it atop my period appropriate English mahogany dining table, alongside period glassware and silver.  Who knows, perhaps table and plate might have already met at a long-past luncheon or dinner party. 

Now, if you'll please excuse me, I'm off to hatch a plan for my creamware's coming out party ...

Sunday, September 23, 2018

A Visit to Gore Place

Nota bene: While poking around the back-of-house section of my blog recently, I was surprised to discover an unpublished post I wrote last summer following my visit to Boston and upstate New York.  Here is that post today for your reading pleasure.


I can't recall which book it was that I first saw an interior photograph of Gore Place, the 1806 Federal-era grand country estate in Waltham, Massachusetts.  Since that first sighting, the house has been on my "must see" list.  As luck would have it, Gore Place is just a stone's throw from Boston so I took the opportunity to visit with my family on our way to upstate New York back in late-June.

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Photo: Chronica Domus


Upon arrival, we were enthusiastically herded greeted by Rocket, the resident Border Collie dog.  Rocket forms part of Gore Place's welcoming committee along with this gentleman:

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Please meet Mr. Thom Roach
Photo: Chronica Domus


Our tour of the house and sprawling grounds was patiently and knowledgeably orchestrated by Mr. Thom Roach who delighted in the fact that we were an eager bunch bursting with questions about the house and its contents.  As the sole participants of his tour, we were fortunate indeed to have Mr. Roach's undivided attention.  "For a historic house", he tells us "Gore Place happens to be a little under the radar".  Perhaps by writing about it here on Chronica Domus, all that might one day change.

The bucolic fifty acre estate belonged to Christopher Gore, a prominent lawyer and politician, and his wife Rebecca.  Mrs. Gore was very influential in the design of the house and worked with Jacques Guillaume Legrand, a Parisian architect, to realize her dream of creating a stylish and comfortable country retreat. Much of Gore Place's furniture was made locally and remains in the house today. Visitors can identify these pieces by the informational tags attached to them.

Entering the house through the east door, we step into an inviting entrance space complete with an elegant curved cantilevered staircase. Mr. Roach points out evidence of an early version of a central heating vent tucked beneath the staircase.

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Gore family portraits line the staircase walls
Photo: Chronica Domus


We are then ushered into the Great Hall.  This is the space I had seen photographed in a book long ago, and which had stirred my desire to one day make a pilgrimage to Gore Place.  In that photograph, the hall was set up as a dining space, complete with a Chinese export porcelain laden table, klismos chairs, and French Empire candelabra atop twin pier tables positioned in front of mirrors to capture the glow of candlelight.  Stepping into the Great Hall today, I was somewhat taken aback by its eye-popping transformation.  Save for the distinctive floor pattern, I barely recognized the place!  Here is the hall today ...

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One of two fireplaces that heats Gore Place's Great Hall during cooler weather
Photo: Chronica Domus


... and this is how it looked around the time I saw it photographed in a book many years earlier:

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Photo: Damie Stillman
Source


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The Great Hall set up as a dining space much as it looked when I first
espied it in a book long ago
Source


The Great Hall has metamorphosed into a far more vibrant space due to the recent addition of the bold pink and blue block-printed French wallpaper and border, recreated from a document found in the house.  The hall, I learned, now appears as it did shortly after the house was built in 1806.

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The Great Hall's floor is made of cooling Pennsylvania King of Prussia marble
Photo: Chronica Domus


If I am perfectly honest, I much prefer the soothing tone of the painted walls, as historically inaccurate as that may be.  Those Federal-era decorators were no shrinking violets, that's for sure!

Next, we enter the oval-shaped drawing room.  The triple-hung windows, when not shuttered as on the day we visited, reveal south-facing views of verdant lawns beyond.

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This is one of two handsome Federal mahogany sofas gracing the oval drawing room
Photo: Chronica Domus


Mr. Roach delighted in revealing to us Mrs. Gore's china closet, ingeniously situated between the oval walls shared by the Great Hall and the drawing room.  If that's not an efficient use of an awkwardly-shaped space, I don't know what is.

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Tucked between the drawing room and the Great Hall is a small china closet whose shelves groan with Chinese Export and Old Paris Porcelain - Mrs. Gore placed the closet there for efficiency and for its proximity to the basement kitchen
Photo: Chronica Domus


The library is located in the east wing of the mansion and is a particularly comfortable room in which to study.  This is due to the plentiful natural light that streams in through four large windows.  The handsome fireplace was carved by Samuel McIntire.

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The nine foot round mahogany library table dominates the room and provides
ample space for studious pursuits
Photo: Chronica Domus


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A pair of silhouettes hang on the library's walls - might they 
possibly be Mr. and Mrs. Gore?
Photo: Chronica Domus


In a nearby small parlor, a table is set with seasonal ingredients available to the family in 1806.  This is the salad course.

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Photo: Chronica Domus


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If only every slab of fresh creamy butter was such a work of art!
Notice how the bread roll is tucked into the napkin, exactly as Mr. Gore's butler,
Mr. Robert Roberts, would have placed it
Photo: Chronica Domus


When we first arrived at Gore Place, Mr. Roach ushered us into the house through the east door.  We now stand at the west entry of the house which was primarily used by Gore Place's visiting tradesmen.  The room is sparsely but beautifully decorated with silver candle sconces, Windsor chairs, two clocks, and few other embellishments.  I rather liked this unfussy space.  The flooring is constructed of the same King of Prussia marble as is found in the Great Hall.

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 Photo: Chronica Domus


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Keys found around the property hang on what appears to be a decorative, and
covetable, brass George Washington curtain tie back
Photo: Chronica Domus


Below shows the small room that Mr. Gore utilized as his office.  With its cheery apricot colored walls and the four windows filling the room with light, I can well understand Mr. Gore's desire to spend time here.  Tackling the business of bill paying and other administrative tasks would certainly become a more pleasurable undertaking when conducted from the confines of this cozy and well appointed office.  

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Mr. Gore's comfortably furnished office
Photo: Chronica Domus


Below shows yet another dining table.  This room is where the family ate their breakfasts.  Boiled eggs are on this morning's menu.  Interestingly, when the Gores lived in the house, eggs were a seasonal food item and unavailable during the winter months.  

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A striking floorcloth is placed atop the gray painted floorboards in the breakfast room
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Time to go upstairs
Photo: Chronica Domus


With all the setting of tables, stoking of fires, and running up and down flights of stairs, is it any wonder that the poor butler was so exhausted!  Fear not, for he enjoyed his own special place to sooth his weary feet upstairs on the mezzanine level in the butler's chamber.

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A foot bath at the ready to receive the aching feet of Mr. Robert Roberts, Mr. Gore's trusty butler
Photo: Chronica Domus


Every butler's duty revolves around his master and attending to his wardrobe needs.  Below is a corner of Mr. Gore's dressing room.  It is here that Robert Roberts assisted Mr. Gore with his daily dress and with the care of his master's wardrobe.

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Mr. Gore's dressing room 
Photo: Chronica Domus


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An early-nineteenth century popcorn maker at the ready in one of the upstairs rooms
Photo: Chronica Domus

It's all fun and games as we walk into the oval billiards room, situated directly above the downstairs oval drawing room.  The room happens to hold the second oldest surviving billiards table in the United States.

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The billiards table fills almost the entire oval room and looks particularly smart
with its epaulet-like pockets
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Mr. Gore purchased the billiards table in 1805 and it remained in this room
until 1910 when it was sold to a local family for $15 - it returned home in
1935 when the house became a museum
Photo: Chronica Domus


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A tranquil corner of the guest bed chamber with a beautiful painted wallpaper that
would not look so out of place in a modern interior
Photo: Chronica Domus


Making our way through the remainder of the upstairs bed chambers and sitting room, we again find our way downstairs via the main staircase.

Chronica Domus
Although not so obvious in this photograph, the stair treads are painted to resemble the gray 
and white marble of the entrance hall's floor which was quarried in Pennsylvania
Photo: Chronica Domus


Once outside the house, Mr. Roach walks us over to the immaculately restored carriage house.  Built in 1793, the structure housed wagons and horse-drawn carriages.

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Photo: Chronica Domus


The carriage house is divided into four sections; a tack room, a harness room, the horse stalls, and a carriage room.  Believe it or not, the structure has endured two moves in its long history and is now, thankfully, back in its original spot on the property.

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The tack room is as neat as a pin
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Any horse would be delighted to be put up in these stalls
Photo: Chronica Domus 


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Photo: Chronica Domus


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A country carriage, along with the Gore's city carriage sit in the carriage house today
Photo: Chronica Domus


Mr. Roach's pride in showing us around Gore Place was more than evident, and his enthusiasm was contagious.  We thoroughly enjoyed our visit thanks to him and left with a better understanding of how life was lived in this marvelous Federal-era country estate.  Our only regret was not setting aside enough time to explore the remainder of the property and farm.  There is always next time I suppose.

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Borrowing ideas from the English landscape style of Humphry Repton, the Gore's
planted broad lawns and many trees on the property
Photo: Chronica Domus


Please do make it a point to visit Gore Place when you next find yourself in nearby Boston.  It is a mere thirty minute car ride from the bustle of the city and well-worth your time.

Gore Place & Farm
52 Gore Street
Waltham, Massachusetts
Tel: 1 781 894 2798
https://goreplace.org/


Sunday, September 16, 2018

Late Summer's Tomato Haul

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Photo: Chronica Domus


It's late summer and the tomatoes in my garden have been superb this year.  Funny thing is, I've practically ignored the poor things believing I had picked the last plump and tasty fruit weeks ago.  It turns out, I have been wonderfully mistaken.

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Surely, this must be the final clump of tomatoes of the growing season, right?
Photo: Chronica Domus


Not counting on benign neglect to be such a growth booster, my family and I have been hauling in the (we think) last flush of tomatoes for the past two weeks.  They just keep coming and coming.  I stopped watering the plants weeks ago which has only served to sweeten the bounty would you believe.  Perhaps that is what the pros call 'dry farming'.  Whatever it is that is going on, this gentlewoman gardener is just glad for it.

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These large egg-shaped fruits are Japanese Black Trifele tomatoes, 
picked when their shoulders turn green
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Do you remember last year's tomato post and the White Current heirloom tomatoes I grew?
Well, here they are again, all volunteers!
Photo: Chronica Domus


As you can well imagine, the kitchen has been abuzz with activity centered around our ongoing tomato harvest.

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Tomato sauce made with a mixture of the Japanese Black Trifeles and the White Current tomatoes
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Romano beans purchased at the farmers' market cooked in ...yes, you guessed it
(I used French heirloom tomatoes St. Pierre which did not yield as much fruit
as the Japanese variety I grew this year)
Here's the recipe from the New York Times
Photo: Chronica Domus


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And what would summer be without setting aside some tomatoes for everyone's favorite salad?
Photo: Chronica Domus


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A classic Caprese salad made with homegrown heirloom Black Cherry
and White Current tomatoes, both varieties were, happily, harvested from volunteer plants this year
Photo: Chronica Domus


Aside from all the cooking, one of the greatest pleasures of having such a bountiful garden is sharing our crop with good neighbor friends.  I hear reports that my friend Jeannette's young daughter is an avid consumer of tomatoes and she rates the White Currents as particularly sweet.  Sweet for the sweet, isn't that what they say?

Do you have a favorite variety of tomato you look forward to eating during the summer months?  How about any good recipes or ideas on how to use my excessive bounty?  I'd be very pleased to hear about them if so.

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