Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Holiday Shopping Card

Support the American Cancer Society
October 28th – November 6th, 2011

Join us in supporting the annual Austin Holiday Shopping Card campaign benefiting The American Cancer Society. Purchase a $50 Holiday Shopping Card at Jean-Marc Fray Antiques and receive a 20% discount on any regularly priced item in our gallery – and at hundreds of other Austin area stores – from Friday, October 28 through Sunday, November 6, 2011.

For more information, contact us or go to the Holiday Shopping Card website.

Get your holiday shopping off to an early start,
 and shop for a good cause!
Posted by Jean-Marc Fray French Antiques at 08:12:00 PM
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Thursday, October 20, 2011

La Traviata Goes Modern at La Fenice

Our most recent buying trip in Venice was a huge success (incredible things arriving very soon!) but culturally inspiring as well. Not only were Jean-Marc and Jean-Noel tempted by the Biennale, Venice’s amazing biennial art exhibition held at the Giardini and the Arsenale and throughout Venice (running through November 27th), but “La Traviata” was playing at La Fenice and tickets were still on sale!

Entrance of La Fenice.

They lucked out and scored some tickets. It was opening night of Robert Carsen’s controversial “sex-and-money” version of Verdi’s La Traviata. A perfect Italian evening, resplendent in every way – here’s a glimpse of this iconic opera house and the surprising modern set of La Traviata:

Entering the Teatro.
Inside La Fenice.
Robert Carsen’s modern set for La Traviata.

The “greenback forest” in La Traviata.

Inspired by Verdi’s description of his opera as “a subject from our own time,” Carsen turns Violetta into a prostitute from the 60’s, when sexual and social boundaries were collapsing. The sex-and-money theme carries through from start to finish, opening with men tossing dollars into Violetta’s hands as she reclines on an enormous bed. Act II takes place in a forest blanketed with dollar bills and the party scenes are gay and blatantly sexual – especially Flora’s party which takes place in a Vegas casino with cowboys and cowgirls in glittery costumes and bare bottoms!

Scene from Flora’s party in La Traviata.
Cowgirl in Vegas in La Traviata.

Quite a show! We loved the mid-modern sets with touches of Art Deco here and there… stunning Murano glass chandeliers, silver-leafed furniture, and glamorous mid-century modern mirrored furniture.

Violetta’s bedroom in La Traviata.

The auditorium at La Fenice is not hard on the eyes either, with its frescoed ceiling, its spectacular chandelier (an exact reproduction of the massive 12-branch bronze chandelier by Giovanni Battista Meduna, architect for the reconstruction of the theatre after a previous fire in 1836), and the dimly lit gold-leafed sconces that embellish the box seats and make for a very romantic setting indeed.

Box seats at La Fenice.

La Fenice chandelier.
Wall sconces at La Fenice.

A fitting introduction to this impressive theatre, as La Traviata made its world premiere here in 1853 and was the first opera production to open in the rebuilt Fenice in  2004. Bravissimo!

Posted by Jean-Marc Fray French Antiques at 08:42:00 PM
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Thursday, October 13, 2011

A History of French Styles: Empire

 Empire – 1805 to 1815

The Coronation of Napoleon Bonaparte Emperor of France

After many years of political instability, Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself emperor of France in 1804. As the Empire period began, the economy boomed and a new haute bourgeois aristocracy who would desire fine furniture and decoration appeared.

French Empire Solid Mahogany Bergères

Empire furniture is usually large and architectural elements such as columns and pilasters are common. Mahogany and rosewood, as well as ebonized wood were quite popular. Furniture would be decorated with brass and ormolu and inlaid with ivory or mother of pearl. Upholstering was done with embroidered fabrics and heavy brocade, often in bold stripes. Strong symmetrical designs replaced ornate carvings and rounded romantic shapes. Chairs often had stiff, square or rectangular backs and animal claw feet.

French Antique Empire Walnut Gueridon

In its plainest form, Empire style is dignified and striking; however, furniture and decorative arts of the period are notable for exhibiting a confusion of motifs. Artisans of the time were still heavily influenced by classical Greek and Roman design. A Napoleonic campaign into Egypt brought back a desire for Egyptian motifs, such as sphinxes. Napoleonic symbols were used regularly, specifically the initial N, the emperor’s monogram, and the bee (his emblem). Other design elements regularly found in Empire pieces are dolphins, swans, and mythical creatures.

Empire Style Brass and Crystal Chandelier

See examples of Empire style furniture in our inventory.

Posted by Jean-Marc Fray French Antiques at 06:37:00 PM
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Monday, October 03, 2011

Mirror Magic

Classic and elegant Louis XVI-style mirror with laurel wreath fronton, 23-carat gold leaf, and original mercury beveled glass.

What better way to add a little magic to a room than with a mirror? Mirrors offer their subjects light, depth, even drama, immediately setting a mood for any room they inhabit. Since their inception ages ago, mirrors have evolved from mere stone to glamorous sheets of silver-coated glass; they have served multiple purposes, as objects of contemplation in the East to coveted elements of decoration in the West, revolutionizing Renaissance painting along the way. Their impact on our world and our perception of the world is tremendous and most certainly cause for, well, reflection…

Louis Philippe Silver-Leaf Mirror


The Venetian Secrets
History’s earliest mirrors were inspired by the “magical” reflections that appeared in pools of water. Polished stones and horns were used wet to create the same effect. Ancient Greeks and Romans fabricated hand mirrors in highly polished bronze or copper. Some were made of tin, silver and gold.
Glass mirrors were most likely produced for the very first time in 100 AD, however, widespread production of glass mirrors did not occur until the 16th century, mainly on the island of Murano (Venice, Italy), where glass-makers produced sheets of clear glass backed with an amalgam of tin and mercury. These crystalline” mirrors were crafted out of hand-blown glass cylinders that were cut in half, flattened, polished and backed with mercury floated over tin foil. A special reflective mixture in which gold and bronze was added gave the Venetian mirrors a certain “magical quality” making everything look more beautiful than it actually was. Their unsurpassed quality fetched outrageous prices from royalty across Europe earning the Venetians a monopoly on mirrors for hundreds of years. It comes as no surprise that the mirror making techniques were fiercely guarded by the Doges of Venice, who forbade any of the glass makers to emigrate.  Craftsmen were threatened with death by poisoning if they compromised their secrets. Consequently, a wave of industrial espionage erupted – perhaps the first recorded instance in history – and artisans and assistants alike succumbed to the temptations of bribery. By the mid-17th century, Venetian mirror-making techniques had spread across Europe (Paris, London, Nuremburg…) and manufacturers, such as La Manufacture Royale des Glaces et Miroirs, founded in 1665 by France’s Minister of Finance Jean-Baptiste Colbert, were fully operational.
The Hall of Mirrors (Galerie des Glaces) is the central gallery of the Palace of Versaille
“Avant Première” in Versailles
The French, in particular, were astute students who learned quickly and started inventing techniques of their own. In 1682, poured glass was mastered in France by Bernard Perrot, a technique whereby molten glass was poured into large cast molds and rolled smooth with special rollers. Mirror-makers were now able to make sheets of glass, almost 3 times their previous size (up to 9’ long by 3’ wide)! Later that same year, King Louis XIV, (who had just settled into the newly renovated Château de Versailles) unveiled the much celebrated Gallerie des Glaces (or Hall of Mirrors) to the French public – its 357 stunningly beautiful mirrors were met with gasps and cries of admiration. It was a spectacular début for poured glass, and an event that marked the official “launch” of La Manufacture Royale des Glaces et Miroirs into the spotlight of fine French mirror-making (incidentally earning the French mirror factory a monopoly on mirrors for the royal court for the next 20 years…).
Venetian Mirror with Copper Mirror Frame
Survival of the Fittest
In the late 19th century “argenture” or silver coating replaced the mercury amalgams used to make mirrors, thereby eliminating the grayish reflections typical of mercury glass and significantly reducing the cost to produce mirrors.  Craftsmen started integrating mirrors into pieces of furniture, such as wardrobes and sideboards, and large mirrors appeared in the design and decoration of public spaces for the first time.  The Venetian glass-makers suffered greatly during this period and in order to survive they had to get very creative in the decoration of their looking glasses. They fabricated more elaborate mirrors, adorned with Rococo scroll motifs, flowers, fruit vines, and leaf designs made of glass or etched into the glass panes themselves. Faceted mirrors, or Venetian mirrors framed with individually hand-cut, beveled and polished glass, became a Venetian trademark – exquisite and unique in their ability to catch and reflect light.
Sacred Objects vs. Decoration
The proliferation of mirrors in the Western world was due primarily to its role as a decorative object or as a tool of self-assessment and vanity. It is important to note, however, that in the Eastern part of the world, the mirror played a very different role: one of contemplation and spirituality. In the East, mirrors were never used as decoration or displayed on walls, but rather as instruments for gazing at the “mystical self”. Safely guarded in boxes or mounted on shrines, these sacred objects were thought to encourage the imagination and stimulate thought. Only small steel mirrors were used for grooming purposes, and were generally confined to bathing rooms.
Italian Antique Silver Leaf Mirrors

But who can deny the decorative power of a beautiful mirror? Its ability to create light and a sense of space is undisputedly without parallel. Magical, enchanting, even mesmerizing, mirrors were prized possessions not just for their fine glass, but for the beautiful and elaborate frames that surrounded them as well. Crafted out of exotic woods, marble, ivory, stucco and glass, the frames kept pace with the decorative trends of the times. They were hand-carved, gold-leafed, silver-leafed, painted, studded with precious stones or bits of glass. From Rococo mirrors, with elaborate floral motifs, cherubs and arabesques, to simple, yet elegant mirrors made under the reign of Louis Philippe, they were an integral part of each design period. Even their shape evolved with the trends – oval mirrors and round convex mirrors were popular throughout history and starburst mirrors made frequent appearances.
Spanish Gold Leafed Sunburst Mirror
Renaissance Revolution
But perhaps one of the most interesting facets of the history of mirrors is its catalytic influence on art and individuality.  Filippo Brunelleschi, an accomplished 15th century Italian architect, discovered the laws of one-point linear perspective thanks to a mirror and revolutionized painting forever. Leonardo da Vinci made frequent use of mirrors, calling them the “masters of painters” for their ability to render reality more powerful and vivid than could be seen by the naked eye. Furthermore, mirrors provided artists with a so-called “third eye,” without which history’s greatest self-portraits, such as those of the likes of Rembrandt or Van Eyck, would have never existed.
Portrait of a Man by Jan van Eyck

It is fascinating to note that the Renaissance concept of the individual (as separate from a group) developed about the same time and in the same place as the proliferation of mirrors. Although some might argue that religion, free will, or growing economies may have accounted for the separation of the individual from a wider group, mirrors, nonetheless, must have played a role in this progression since they allowed people to observe themselves very carefully in a new and introspective way.
An ornate mirror hangs in designer Rose Anne de Pampelonne’s family’s Paris mansion

Today, mirrors have become an intrinsic part of our daily lives and an essential element in decorating. Both functional and beautiful, they brighten our rooms, dazzle our guests, satisfy us, challenge us and broaden our horizons in more ways than one. Antique mirrors, in particular, have a powerful effect on their surroundings. As historical objects of great beauty and symbols of tremendous wealth, coveted and exchanged by royalty, scrupulously maintained and protected over the years, they have the ability to transform a room; they exude luxury and opulence, and somehow are able to bestow that sense of inherent worth onto their environment – quite, one might think, by magic.
Posted by Jean-Marc Fray French Antiques at 08:57:00 PM
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