Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Dog Days At Jean-Marc Fray French Antiques

Micky, a West Highland Terrier and Lucky, a Beagle, were hard at work last week at Jean-Marc Fray’s French antique gallery in Austin, TX. The doggie duo comes in to the gallery periodically to test the new arrivals for comfort and stability, and to comment on design impact and placement in the gallery.

So far the spring shipment has received a “paw’s up” on all accounts from Mickey, and a howling vote of approval from Lucky, (especially for the Art Deco leather sofa… so comfy!).

Mickey and Lucky assess the positioning of the Chesterfield club chairs…

Dog tired after a full day…

Posted by Jean-Marc Fray French Antiques at 07:50:00 PM
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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Villa Kerylos

A Greek Dream… A Modern Villa
By Cynthia Fray

Growing up on the French Riviera was a constant source of inspiration for French antiques dealer Jean-Marc Fray. A native of Nice, where art and architecture are surpassed only by breathtaking landscapes and the shimmering brilliance of the Mediterranean Sea, Jean-Marc often escaped as an adolescent to the local museums and noble palaces for reflection, wonderment or comfort. Nice was something of an international Mecca for 19th century European aristocracy (a summer destination for the Russians, the English and Parisians), and a haven for artists as well. The combination of great wealth and exceptional artistic talent in that area produced a profusion of opulent estates and summer villas, exquisitely furnished with art and antiques. These landmarks have made the French Riviera one of the richest destinations in all of Europe for architecture and art. Today, as an antiques dealer residing in Austin, Texas, Jean-Marc frequently returns to these places with great fondness and respect, where a sense of nostalgia and pride leave him brimming with inspiration time and time again. One of his favorites, where time seems to have come to a halt centuries ago, is the magnificent Villa Kerylos in Beaulieu-Sur-Mer…

A Reinvention
Built by two fervent Hellenists, Theodore Reinach, a Greek scholar and owner of the villa, and Emmanuel Pontremoli, architect, the Villa Kerylos dominates the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, on the very point of the Baie des Fourmis in Beaulieu-sur-Mer. It is an exceptional site – an archetype of good taste, refinement and beauty, as well as a symbol of intellect and appreciation of history and architecture. Inspired by the noble villas on the island of Dellos, Kerylos is no mere imitation; it is a reinvention; an authentic Greek home, with astonishingly luxurious decorations and furnishings commissioned and crafted by the most prestigious interior decorators and artists of the time. The patterns of the frescoes and mosaics, the furniture design and the motifs in the tapestries and fabrics were inspired directly from antique documents. Rare materials were used extensively such as Carrara and Sienna marble, Australian prune wood, American walnut, and Angelica wood inlaid with ivory. Elaborate gardens of Greek plants surround the villa offering an idyllic setting for meditation and reflection. An expensive endeavor at the time, it cost over ten million francs to build this tribute. Even still, Villa Kerylos cannot be dismissed as just another aristocratic whim, for it is much more than that – it is a veritable link between modern society and ancient Greek civilization.

The Experts
Son of a wealthy Parisian banker, Theodore Reinach was a child prodigy who grew up to become a Doctor of Law, Doctor of Literature, archeologist, papyrologist, numismatist, musicologist, professor and distinguished member of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres, (not to mention deputy for the Dept. of Savoie). He was a well known and highly regarded Hellenist and, like his two equally accomplished brothers, a man of great discipline and principles who diligently pursued his studies with the conviction that knowledge acquired through extensive study was meant be shared for public benefit. The grand plan for Villa Kerylos was a testimony to the man himself – at once a reflection of his extensive knowledge of Greek history and art, his passion for Mediterranean culture, and a treasure to be admired and shared by all, under the stewardship of L’Institut de France – a gift he granted France in his final will.

Emmanuel Pontremoli, an architect and archaeologist from Nice, winner of the prestigious Grand Prix de Rome in 1890 and an elected member of the Académie des Beaux Arts, shared Reinach’s passion for ancient Greece. When Reinach offered him the job, he fell in love with the idea and spent 6 years, from 1902 to 1908, creating the Villa Kerylos. [The Greek word “Kerylos” means Halcyon or kingfisher which in Greek mythology was thought to be a bird of good omen]. Pontremoli understood that a mere reproduction or recreation of a Grecian villa would not work for all sorts of practical, technical and aesthetic reasons, so he decided to build something completely original “along Grecian lines”. Accuracy therefore, was not the basis for this project, but rather freedom – artistic license in the decorative decisions he made and aesthetic principles from which he would draw his inspiration; for this reason, in his opinion, Villa Kerylos, was destined to be a success.

The Serpent, the Sphinx and Sophocles

In keeping with the style of many Mediterranean houses, the Villa Kerylos is built around a peristyle – a vast central courtyard surrounded by twelve monolithic columns in white Carrara marble. Almost every wall in the villa is decorated with mythological scenes selected by Reinach himself and painted using antique methods. Numerous mythic symbols can be found throughout the villa, such as the serpent and sphinx, the protective spirits of the household who keep watch from the peristyle, a mosaic of cock, hen and chicks in the entry way offering an allegory of the family, and a marble statue of Sophocles standing guard nearby.
Four main rooms surround the peristyle starting with the Library. The Library is the most spectacular room with its soaring ceilings and remarkable furnishings – inlaid oak sideboards and cabinets modeled after furniture discovered in Herculaneum in 1762, Egyptian chairs and stands which Reinach used, since he stood when he wrote, and a magnificent bronze and alabaster chandelier. All the furniture was crafted by Bettendfeld, a cabinetmaker from the Faubourg-Saint-Antoine in Paris. The variety of the different species of wood, the delicate inlays of ivory and use of woven leather contribute to the originality of the project. The room faces east for maximum morning light and contains many reference works on classical art. Reinach had an inscription placed on the south wall which one could interpret as the Kerylos motto: “Here, in the company of the Greek orators, scholars and poets, I have created a peaceful retreat among immortal beauty.”

Farther along lies the Triklinos (room with three couches), or banquet room, where guests sat (or laid) on leather couches and dined on tripod tables placed in the middle of the room. “Three tables are placed there”, writes Pontremoli, “according to an antique arrangement. Behind one of them was a banquet couch that stood somewhat higher than the others, such as those painted on antique vases. In this way, the master of the home could preside over the meal in a posture we have all seen on these vases.”

The room next door, the Andron (the men’s room, used for entertaining guests) contains a domestic altar in honor of the “the unknown god” from an inscription St. Paul read on the altar of Athens. In the adjoining family meeting room, or Oikos, an interesting folding piano, specially designed by Pleyel for Kerylos, stands out among the lemon wood furniture. This was just one example of Pontremoli’s ingenious attempts to incorporate the modern conveniences of Belle Epoque villas into the luxury setting of a classical Grecian villa. Other examples can be found in the Balaneion (baths): the drains and the water faucets are concealed under bronze plates, the bronze soap and sponge-holders with openwork design are modeled after the strainers in the Naples Museum, and the shower area boasts a circular shower head for “rain showers”. The bath is done entirely in Carrara tiger marble.

The bedrooms are located on the upper floor. The first room belonged to Reinach’s wife, Fanny Kann, the niece of Charles Ephrussi (it is important to note that Kerylos was financed in large part by her personal fortune – over 9 million francs). This predominantly blue room is called Ornites (the Birds) and is dedicated to Hera, Zeus’ wife, goddess of marriage and femininity – hence the peacock and swan details. Theodore Reinach’s richly decorated bedroom is called Erotès, dedicated to Eros, God of love. This symmetrical room faces the sea to the south. The walls are painted a deep Pompeian red, with gold palm leaves, cupid figures and flying doves in the frescoes. The floor is a large mosaic depicting Dionysus on a trireme, surrounded by dolphins.

The location of the Villa Kerylos, the details in its design and the selection of its exquisite furnishings reveal the very spirit of this extraordinary place – a notion that might be summed up by the Greek word “Xaipe” which greets the villa’s visitors in the mosaic of the entrance floor; it means “Rejoice” or “Enjoy Yourself” which no doubt its owner, family and honorable guests (Cocteau and Eiffel were frequent guests and neighbors) most assuredly did for many years. Today, as art lovers, history buffs, architects and romantics walk through the halls of this enchanting place, another Greek word comes to mind that might have proven equally appropriate as an inscription: “Enthousiazein , or “Be Inspired” – an invitation that you will discover is quite easy to comply with. (Jean-Marc Fray can vouch for that… ).

Villa Kerylos
Impasse Gustave Eiffel
06130 Beaulieu-Sur-Mer
Open year round.

Posted by Jean-Marc Fray French Antiques at 07:11:00 PM
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Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Art of Painted Furniture

By Cynthia and Jean-Marc Fray

A Gift for a King

Although the origins of painted furniture can be traced as far back as ancient Egyptian sarcophagi, one might suggest that widespread presence and popularity of painted furniture in Europe really originated in France in the 17th century, under the reign of Louis XlV. During this time, Les Compagnies des Indes Orientales (the French, Dutch, and English fleets created for developing trade between Asia and Europe) were importing the first lacquered pieces, or “lacquerware,” from China and Japan. In fact, a small red lacquered Japanese table, given to King Louis XIV by the Ambassador of Siam in 1692, created such a frenzy throughout the courts of Europe that it became a veritable catalyst for a new trend in the decorative arts: the art of painted furniture.

French Chinoiserie

By the middle of the 18th century, European craftsmen were well aware of the techniques and materials used in Far Eastern lacquerware. In France, the Martin brothers (from the Martin dynasty of cabinet makers) perfected a varnish or vernis that looked identical to Japanese lacquerware; they were promptly appointed official vernisseurs for the King. These varnished pieces, fabricated à la facon du Japon or “japanned,” were crafted for royalty, painted mostly black or sometimes blue (exceptional pieces only) and decorated with Chinese figures, animals, and flowers-common decorative themes found on Asian imports. This chinoiserie was often raised and gilded with gold leaf or gold paint.

18th-Century Venetian Knock-Offs to Neoclassical Designs

Meanwhile, in Venice, where painted furniture was enjoying tremendous success, and where the demand for such pieces far outweighed the supply, a less time-consuming technique for decorating with paint and varnish was developed: la lacca contraffata or lacca povera (“counterfeit” or “poor” varnish). Colored engravings were cut out and glued to pieces previously prepped with gesso or a combination of thin canvas and gesso, and were then hand-painted. Then the pieces were thickly varnished so the decoupages looked like they had actually been hand-painted directly on the wood’s surface. The Venetians had a fondness for pastels and most of their painted pieces crafted during this time were painted and decorated in soft pastel tones. In the mid-18th century, as the trend for neoclassic designs gained momentum, painted furniture took on a classic look with Roman and Greek motifs replacing much of the chinoiserie seen before.

In Spain and Portugal, after a lengthy Moorish period that had endured since the 15th century, cabinetmakers and craftsmen began to follow the trend set by their French and Italian neighbors. Many pieces were painted red and gold. Catalonian beds were rich with religious and pastoral motifs. In England, the “japanned” pieces under Charles II were a hit among aristocrats despite high price tags. Thomas Chippendale and the Adams brothers, after extended visits to Italy, began decorating the interiors of many notable manoirs across England in neoclassical style, making prolific use of hand-painted pieces.

Painted Furniture as Popular Art

By the late 18th century, big city trends had made their way into the provinces. Prominent, wealthy countrymen had developed a taste for bourgeois interior furnishings and started imitating their noble contemporaries with painted pieces crafted by local cabinetmakers, costing a fraction the price. Suddenly, it was everywhere, and everyone was painting furniture. All across Europe, it became quite apparent that art of painting furniture had reached the masses by penetrating the vast world of “popular art.”

Painted furniture, as works of popular art, had multiple purposes. Initially it was an endeavor to imitate the higher classes of society, but also an artistic attempt to hide a poorer (and less expensive) quality of wood, in addition to being a playful way of lightening the mood of a home. Some cabinetmakers preferred painted pieces simply because they could imitate sculptures and decorative moldings with paint, without taking on the detestable and time-consuming task of hand carving in ordinary wood.

Decorating with Painted Furniture

Furniture was painted all over Europe and Scandinavia well into the 19th century. This art was sometimes passed onto other objects such as breadbaskets and wedding trunks. Each region had its own traditions, its color preferences and representations derived from religious and medieval imagery. Floral bouquets and fruit were often symbolic choices; architectural themes were derived from Italian marquetry. Other allegoric motifs were used to represent important life events or religious beliefs. Today, one of the strongest decorating trends, and perhaps a very durable one is the use of “tone-on-tone” color schemes to create a certain ambiance, using different shades and textures within a given color. Introducing antiques with pigmented finishes or painted ones is often essential in accentuating an underlying color scheme. These antiques will give depth and texture to a home’s decor. They will gracefully balance the use of painted natural woods, while providing artistic interest, and they will catch the eye in a delightful way without overpowering the overall scheme.

Posted by Jean-Marc Fray French Antiques at 04:12:00 PM
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