Tuesday, March 27, 2007

James Athenian Stuart at the V&A

Engraving and detail: The Tower of the Winds, Athens, built in 50BC, engraving from Stuart and Revett's Antiquities of Athens 1762, octagonal stone town weather station incorporating a water clock, weathervane in the form of the god Triton, sundials, and depictions of eight wind gods (detail). This engraving was the inspiration for many Greek Revival buildings in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. [Pic Steedman

Above: The Temple of the Winds, Mount Stewart, Co. Down by James Stuart, 1782-3, plasterwork by William Fitzgerald, marquetry floor by John Ferguson, one of Stuart's last garden buildings, for Robert Stewart, later 1st Marquis of Londonderry. [Photo: National Trust © NTPL

Below: Fabulous gilt and black metal open-backed vase, for an unknown use at Kedleston Hall, Derby, possibly a plate warmer, probably by James Stuart 1760, made by Diederich Nicolaus Anderson. Patinated copper, with applied ormolu ornament and stained wood base [Photo: National Trust © NTPL / Bruce White and Nadia Mackenzie]

London UK - THE Victoria and Albert Museum in London is showing a New York exhibition organised by Susan Soros on the artist, architect and designer James Athenian Stuart, 1713-1788. The free exhibition is on until 24 June. There is a Greek revival study day on 9 June with talks by Susan Soros, Charles Hind on Greek models, Julius Bryant on Stuart and Adam: Greek v Roman, and Frances Collard on Thomas Hope, and a video about Stuart's interiors at Spencer House in London.

This exhibition covers Stuart's work documenting the ruins of Athens in 1750-1753 and when he got back to England publishing a four volume set of the Antiquities of Athens, of which the first volume appeared in 1762 to huge acclaim but the final volume did not appear until 1816 long after Stuart had died.

In short, he was born into a poor London family, worked as a fan painter, and then spent 10 years travelling, walked from London to Rome making a living painting portraits. In Rome he was adopted by the dilletanti and escorted tourists such as Gavin Hamilton and Lord Burlington to the newly discovered remains of Pompeii at Naples. He then struck out for Athens with architect Nicholas Revett, was nearly murdered in Turkey, and was employed as an army campaign engineer by the Queen of Hungary. On his return he obtained a sinecure restoring the Greenwich hospital which had been damaged by fire, and undertook a few commissions to decorate houses and gardens, not many of which survive.

The Greek revival was tacked on to the neo-Palladian Georgian architectural style, represented in particular by the Doric - considered both in Greek and Georgian times to be a masculine style compared to female Ionic and youthful Corinthian. The iconography of the Greek revival, if there was one, is not touched upon at this exhibition. Greek art epitomized what Georgians such as Alexander Pope thought were the antique qualities of calm, simplicity and noble grandeur.

A criticism of this exhibition could be that it does not delve into Greek revival iconography, specifically Stuart's interpretation, but instead concentrates on patronage and an art-for-arts-sake theme, which seems out of place, more akin to the Aesthetic movement decades later. Susan Soros, founded the Bard Decorative Arts Centre in New York, and knows all about patronage. Her billionaire ex-husband George Soros is a great patron. (He also famously made $10 billion out of British taxpayers by currency speculation during the ERM debacle in 1992.)

The art movement that grew out of the publication of Stuart's books, or perhaps whose books were a reflection of an already growing awareness, was neoclassicism. Neoclassicism was art of an ideal. Artists did not copy it in lifeless reproduction, but imbued with its essence created new classically-inspired works. The high artistic standards meant that art was generally not mediocre, and gaffes of taste and failures of craftsmanship are not common neoclassical failings. Novelty, improvisation, self-expression, and blinding inspiration are not neoclassical virtues; neoclassicism exhibits perfect control of an idiom.

It is easy to forget that Stuart, whose influence stretched well into the nineteenth century, was using baroque craftspeople. He used Peter Scheemakers, father and son, for carving his chimneypieces, baroque and rococo stuccadores, and Georgian carpenters and masons. Mistakes were made, including the pediment under pediment or portico, which is baroque not neoclassical, but the exhibition glosses over these.

No event that ever occurred in the history of architecture in England, and thence throughout all Europe, produced so sudden, decided and beneficial effect as did the works of James Stuart. It surprised and delighted the learned and admirers of art; the majestic grandeur and simplicity of form exhibited in the general outline of its beautiful temples, and the exquisite purity and elegance of detail shown in all the profiles of his mouldings fascinated the eye of taste. The natural form proved how pure was the taste of the Athenians . . . unlike the Romans, there were no pediments under pediments, or under porticoes, or in the interior of buildings - to which absurdities the Romans were so partial, as to draw down the rebuke of Cicero, that his countrymen were so fond of pediments, that if they had to erect a temple in Olympus they would cover it with a roof and decorate it with pediments [Architects Journal 1847]

James Athenian Stuart at the V&A

Whoops . . . pediments under a pediment at Lichfield House, 15 St James's Square, London, by James Stuart 1764-6, built for Thomas Anson, Earl of Lichfield. Stuart called the capitals on the facade 'the greatest grace and ornament of the building'. They were copies of the capitals of the portico of Minerva Polias in Athens. This was the first time the Greek Ionic order had been used in a London building.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Homebuilding & Renovating Show NEC

NEC Birmingham UK 22-25 March 2007 - THIS year's Homebuilding & Renovation Show at the NEC in Birmingham, usually visited by 50,000 ardent DIY builders, reflects the move away from reclaimed, the hijacking of the word for marketing, and more imports of new materials from, especially from China and India.

Baggeridge Brick had a set of display panels of its new bricks, one of which was called 'Reclaimed Shire Sovereign Stock'. "Are these reclaimed bricks," I asked. "Oh no, they are lookalike reclaimed bricks," was the reply. "Then shouldn't they be called 'Reclaimed lookalike Shire Sovereign Stock'," I said. "Everyone knows they are not reclaimed," was the reply. Baggeridge, fourth largest UK brick company, and the largest still in UK ownership, had difficult trading in the past few years. Its brick stocks are up, profits from bricks are down, but profits from landfill are up. A German company now wants to buy it.

Penny Bricks, who still offer reclaimed bricks on their trade literature and business cards, now sell a range of new handmade lookalike bricks. "Do you still sell reclaimed bricks," I asked. "Not really. It's too difficult to get hold of them. These days if we are offered a batch of 2,000 to buy, we just turn them down." Penny Bricks started out as a salvage business but now sells mainly new oak beams, new wood flooring, new bricks, new doors and new 'railway sleepers'. They did at least have a few heavily smoothed and polished reclaimed beam pieces on show.

Midlands Slate & Tile is another formerly salvage company which has moved heavily into new materials, especially new clay tiles (from Turkey?) and at the NEC was showing a new range of natural limestone roof tiles. Rick Doody was in selling mode so I did not get a chance for a chat.

Indigenous is a new imported stone flooring and tile business in Oxfordshire. It had a panel of small stone tiles called 'Reclaimed Jerusalem flagstones'. "Are these tumbled new stone," I asked. "Oh no. These are antique stones dating back to biblical times . . . they could have been walked on by someone biblical," came the reply.

Machell is another ex-salvage business who were selling all new products at the show.

Period Living magazine had an enclave within the show, featuring period craftspeople and products, among which was Peter Weldon offering replica Vietnamese gates with his new built-in underground automatic electric gate closers. They also included a last minute stand by Antique Baths of Ivybridge, with Nick Cowen displaying old baths re-enamelled using their in-house epoxy process. Chris Baylis was there with Castrads, replica Chinese cast iron decorative and column radiators, valves and towel rails. Chris started the salvage business RBS in the early 1990's which he then sold and dabbled in Carribean real estate for a while gave that up and started Castrads last year. "Business has been going very well," he said. Emma Farrington of Period Living has arranged for the magazine to sponsor the talks at this year's Salvo Fair.

Oak frame stands included T J Crump Oakwrights and Border Oak both of whom had erected two storey frames made from French, German and Polish oak, and Carpenter Oak with single storey stand.

Ben Latham of Red Rhino Crushers was showing a mini concrete, stone and brick crusher capable of crushing 2,000 bricks an hour.

Debbie Buggins of the new Self-Build and Renovation Centre in Swindon explained the virtues of having a £2,000 permanent display of reclaimed products at their new centre.

Homebuilding & Renovating Show

Friday, March 16, 2007

Reclaimed Thai teak sells in California

Photo G Grant New York Times

AS Southeast Asia continues to modernize, many teak-wood homes and buildings are being torn down and replaced with Western-style brick or concrete ones. While this architectural turnover has been going on for decades, in recent years American companies like TerraMai have been buying up the old-growth teak wood and selling it to homeowners, writes Luke Kummer NYT.

This trade has raised concerns among US preservationists but not, it seems, those in Thailand who see it in a generally positive light.

"In the last three years, our sales of reclaimed teak have tripled," said Erika Carpenter, TerraMai's co-founder. "People are becoming aware, appreciating the material and designing their projects around it . . .

. . . Read more in the New York Times

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Dyfed Architectural closing down sale

Above: Various lots of architectural salvage and antiques that will be coming under hammer on 24 March in the former Wesleyan Chapel premises of Dyfed Architectural in Haverfordwest

Haverfordwest, Dyfed Wales - GILES Chaplin of Dyfed Architectural Antiques has sold his town centre premises in Haverfordwest and is holding a clearance auction sale of his entire indoor stocks on Saturday 24 March 2007 at 11am.

"The chapel has been sold to be converted into nine flats," Giles said, "so everything must go. There will be lots of smaller architectural stuff like doors and door furniture, bathrooms, fireplaces, bric-a-brac and bits and pieces."

The auctioneers are Clynderwen Auctions, tel 01437 563392, or contact Giles Chaplin on 01437 760496.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Ancient limestone aqueduct coming to Salvo Fair 2007

Knebworth, Hertfordshire UK - AN ANCIENT STONE AQUEDUCT, nearly 200 tonnes and 60 yards long, will be displayed for sale at this year’s Salvo Fair. The carved limestone aqueduct was discovered buried in the grass at a reclamation yard in the Dijon area of France last year by Peter Watson of Cox’s Yard in Gloucestershire. It is at least 300 years old, possibly even Roman. It would have been used to carry water from a spring to a village cistern for drinking and an overflow to a washing area. It will be for sale at the Salvo Fair and could be incorporated into a water feature or used to divert a watercourse.

The cistern was found by Peter Watson towards the end of last year when he was sourcing oak from reclamation yards in the Dijon Macon area of France. Peter said, “It was actually in a timber yard lying in the grass and had been there 10 years or so since removal from a local village. I had to have it! It took 3 artic trailers to bring to England due to weight."

He managed to get some 12" wide pine cheese factory boards onto the last truck to make up the load. The aqueduct served the village's water supply needs in Eastern France probably bringing water from a spring to the village cistern for drinking water and then an overflow into a wash house. A communal meeting place for all the old "scrubbers" of the village!

This area of France is full of limestone buildings, statues and urns, similar in many ways to the Gloucestershire Cotswolds or the Stamford area of Lincolnshire. The aqueduct, or rill as it could be called in England, is 200 ft long (60 metres), 39ins wide and 16ins deep. It comprises 39 sections, each of which has a carved step or rebate at each end enabling a fairly tight and waterproof joint. The total weight is about 45 tonnes.

Each of the 39 sections has a slightly different profile allowing for the fall. Those at the start are carved more shallowly than those at the end. There is not much in it but they are definitely graded, said Mr Watson. There are markings, a small plus or a minus or an H being carved into one or other of the sides of each piece.

"I haven't determined the age yet," said Peter. "It is at least 300 years old and could possibly be Roman. The part of France it came from is full of Roman ruins. More research is needed and ongoing. Who could use it? Obviously landscape gardeners and designers could wish to incorporate a water feature into a large site or diverting a watercourse. It could be built into several layers cascading downhill.”

More than fifty dealers will be exhibiting at this year's fair from all over the Uk bringing 500 tonnes of architectural salvage, garden antiques and reclaimed building materials exhibited for sale. The disposal and recycling of bricks and timber continues reduce the amount of materials available for reuse. Support reclamation and visit the Salvo Fair!

Ruby Kay, Fair Director
Salvo Fair, Knebworth House, Knebworth, Hertfordshire SG1 2AX
Saturday 30th June - Sunday 1st July 2007
11am - 5.30pm
Admission £7
General enquiries: 01225 422300
Advanced tickets sales: 08700 115 007

(Salvo Fair Trade Day is on Friday 29th June, and costs £10 on the gate. No advance tickets.)


Friday, March 02, 2007

Retrouvius on Form

Adam Hills and Pippa Small (centre) of Retrouvius talking to customers on their stand at Form 07 at Olympia London, open till Sunday

Olympia, London UK - AMONG the art salvage stands at this new exhibition were Riviere (an offshoot of Robert Young antiques) found art whimsy, Rabih Hage salvaged wood uncomforatble armchairs, a stand of colourful Kyrgyzstan Felt shyrdaks or rugs, and Retrouvius who, at the opening last night, sold a load of stuff including a portoro gold and black marble bolection fireplace to a London antique shop.

Retrouvius used travertine slabs from Paul Smith's shop as flooring, lamps from the old Rover works at Longbridge, tables and stools topped with old enamel London underground signs, and old charts and maps hung on the walls. They also have a re-edition of a 1948 Ernest Race rocking chair looking contemporary but with a 50's vibe.

Shane O'Neill, top antique statuary dealer, was heard to say as he passed by, "This is so exciting - a breath of fresh air." Adam Hills of Retrouvius said, "This kind of fair is definitely the future. It needs refining a bit. There is some bad art which needs to be got rid of. There is also a lot of old stuff. I sold two armchairs Victorian chairs last night."

Form 2007

Below: Polished and rewired Anglepoise lamp, £195. Canvas charts and maps from 1890 to 1950, French and German, £100. Industrial steel drawers, powder coated or lacquered steel, £895. Reclaimed wood table with enamelled steel Northern Line map, £1,234. Coated welded steel bar rocking chair designed in 1948 by Ernest Race of Race Furniture who have put these back into production exclusively for Retrouvius, £395.