Names of Antique Furniture Maker
These are the kinds of ''serious'' antiques that top New York interior designers like Thierry Despont, Howard Slatkin, Robert Denning and Robert Couturier seek for their clients. Mr. Perrin tried to explain: ''There's more and more interest in 18th-century French furniture now, as opposed to English furniture, because French furniture is more original. When you are educated and have some culture, you come to the French. English furniture, after all, is inspired by the rest of Europe. It's not so creative.''
Andrea Blunck Frost, the head of the English and Continental furniture department at the William Doyle auction house, has a different theory. ''I see people buying French antiques because they are tired of the English country house look, '' she said. ''Maybe the Ralph Lauren look is passe. People want things that are prettier, less masculine and lighter. People have money now, so they can afford dainty pieces that require care.'' On Oct. 22 William Doyle will auction English and Continental furniture, including a signed Louis XVI bergere with a low estimate of $3, 000.
Alistair Clarke, director of European furniture at Christie's in New York, speculates that people buy 18th-century French chairs to sit in. Imagine! ''The 18th century was the age of supreme comfort, '' he said, ''and no one has ever made a more comfortable chair than the French. The mark and the line and the carving all count, but for Americans it's very important that the chairs be comfortable.''
Mr. Denning finds French chairs fairly reasonable in price, but then he has decorated some of the grandest homes in America. ''I encourage my clients to buy a whole salon set at auction, 8 or 10 Louis XVI chairs and a sofa, '' he said, ''even though Americans are frightened of things that match.''
Khalil Rizk, the president of the Chinese Porcelain Company, alternates exhibitions of Asian ceramics with European furniture. Many of the 50 chairs on display (some are on loan) were designed for palaces and are signed by masters, but that doesn't mean they are boring. ''Rizk has a very good selection of chairs, including some in natural wood, '' said Mr. Clarke, of Christie's. ''The demand for bois naturel has been very, very strong in Paris for 10 years and is now coming to New York.''
One natural mahogany upholstered chair Mr. Rizk is selling for $25, 000 has a lot of personality and a very low seat. Designed to be drawn up to the fire, it is called a chauffeuse a la Turque because it has an exaggerated arched back and saber-shaped rear legs, which were meant to appeal to the taste for things foreign and exotic (Turkish then meant anything east of Vienna). The chair, circa 1790, is stamped G. Jacob, one of the most famous of the 18th-century furniture makers. The daring lines explain why he was a favorite of Marie Antoinette, ''who was always fond of novelty, '' as James Cummings wrote in the Chinese Porcelain catalogue.
''I'm showing these chairs as sculpture, not as furniture, '' Mr. Rizk said. 'I stripped down the walls of the gallery, which are normally covered in sumptuous fabric, so people could see how well the chairs work in a contemporary setting.''
One large armchair, called a fauteuil a la reine (because it has a flat back), is an unsigned masterwork of the Regence period (1715-1723). Its armrests terminate in carved, wildly out-turned scrolls of walnut. It is upholstered in a tiger-pattern silk velvet that Brunschwig et Fils sells for $1, 800 a yard retail. This chair ($50, 000) is in a style often called gout Rothschild; that is, it is a first-rate antique made even more splendid by the sumptuous upholstery: it's over the top in the best sense.
Not that Mr. Rizk has a monopoly on fine French chairs. Tony Victoria is the president of Frederick P. Victoria and Son on East 55th Street, which is known for its unusual l8th-century chairs. ''I only buy chairs that knock my socks off, '' he said. ''What I love in chairs is that they are the most personal of the decorative arts - you sit on them - and there is a close collaboration between the supplier and the consumer.'' He outlined the challenge of trying to imbue a chair with character: ''There is only a limited area in which to dazzle - seat, back, legs - and you have to do it with line and form. The appreciation of a chair is a subtle event.'' Mr. Victoria is selling, for $70, 000, a Louis XV chaise d'amour (yes, a chair for making love) and, for $55, 000, a Georges Jacob Louis XVI canape (settee) with individual upholstered round seat cushions that looks like the George Nelson marshmallow sofa of 1952.
The fine French antiques in Christie's ''Arts of France'' auction include many being sold by Nancy Richardson, whose Manhattan apartment was decorated by Henri Samuel of Paris, widely considered the best designer of the last 30 years. One piece, estimated to sell for $40, 000 to $60, 000, is a Louis XV lit a la Turque, a bedlike couch with curving padded sides that terminate in scrolls.
Price estimates in the Christie's sale range from $12, 000 to $2.5 million, and the wide range was done on purpose. ''We haven't been doing enough to promote the French decorative arts in this city, '' Mr. Clarke said. ''There is a thirst for knowledge.'' This is the month for New Yorkers to slake that thirst.