By Helen Costantino Fioratti
An Introduction to
Collecting French Furniture
By Helen Costantino Fioratti
Silver generally bears a hallmark, but not all hallmarks are genuine. A method of transferring hallmarks from an unimportant piece such as a fork or spoon to an important vessel has been discovered and is unfortunately practiced a good deal. More, I am inclined to think, on English silver than on French, as there are odder, expendable English pieces to be found with which to perpetrate the fraud.
Textiles have been and are constantly being copied from the old. Some are magnificent and fabulously expensive, but nonetheless they look as modern as they are. Before the machine age, vegetable dyes were prepared by hand and the silks hand-woven, which resulted in a certain life and brilliance which we do not seem able to duplicate today. However in Lyon, France some splendid copies of the antique are being made by hand which may confound future generations. But just as an expert can recognize a nineteenth century copy of an eighteenth century silk or velvet, so I feel certain that the twentieth century fabrics will bear their own telltale earmarks, no matter how conscientiously they are copied.
Spurious paintings are frequently painted on old canvases and for centuries worthless paintings have served this purpose. The imitations were painted in the style of some great and popular master, and were the more convincing because of the genuine period canvas. The world is full of false Bouchers, Watteaus, etc. and there was a painter in Rome who turned out charming Francesco Guardis as if he were a factory. He had studied and developed Guardi's style and idiom until it became his own and he was able to give his work the freedom that is rarely found in a copy.
Even drawings are faked on old paper, and one of the most popular ways of making a duplicate of a good charcoal or sanguine drawing is the system of transfer. When the original charcoal or crayon is heavy enough to come off on a second sheet of paper pressed tightly against it, an exact duplicate in reverse is the result. But it is not considered an original, and its value is nominal. This method has been used for hundreds of years, since faking has been done through the ages.
Furniture bronzes are one of the most difficult categories to judge. Of course the threads of the screws must be made by hand, and the whole design and workmanship must have the characteristics of the period in which they were made. The gilded, too, tells a story, but since even some genuine pieces have either had their gilding spoiled or been regilded, one cannot always use that as a criterion of authenticity.
The question of taste has always been controversial. There is a Latin saying, and one in French as well, that tastes cannot be discussed or disputed. Nevertheless, it is a fascinating subject of which people differ greatly, and much has been written and said in an attempt to define it. It seems that, above all, a certain innate refinement and knowledge are indispensable requisites, before even attempting to consider the problem. Instinct alone is not enough. "I don't know anything about it; I only know what I like," is a remark heard very frequently. This is often said defiantly, as though the speaker wished to disassociate himself from unsavory and pedantic an accomplishment as real knowledge.
The tastes of many people are based largely upon association, and their subconscious memories influence their likes and dislikes. If as children they were bored or unhappy in certain surroundings, they react against similar ones later in life. Just as an odor awakens memories, so the atmosphere in a house or a room reminds one of pleasant or unpleasant experiences.