Philip Colleck Ltd: 18th Century Furniture That Sincerely Flatters

Posted on Nov 5, 2009 in Uncategorized

18th-Century Furniture That Sincerely Flatters

By EVE M. KAHN, New York Times  |   Published: November 5, 2009

Furniture makers in 18th-century Europe had to fend off competition from Asia. The Westerners, like their counterparts today, sometimes pleaded with their governments to impose tariffs that could stem the tide of imports, but more often they straightforwardly mimicked lacquered pieces coming in from China and Japan.

The simulations only subtly reveal that they were made by European hands. On glossy red or black tabletops and desks the Westerners painted or molded village scenes with mythical birds aloft that sometimes look like European poultry. The villagers wear embroidered hats instead of traditional Asian pigtails, and the pagoda eaves flare a little too widely over mismatched fence railings.

There’s great folk art appeal to these cultural misappropriations, about 50 of which are on view through next Friday at Philip Colleck Ltd. (, which occupies an 1850s brick row house at 311 East 58th Street in Manhattan. Displayed in parlors improbably overlooking a Queensboro Bridge access ramp, the furniture known as chinoiserie and japonaiserie is surprisingly transporting.

The gallery owners, Mark and Diana Jacoby, are showing a few 18th-century tables actually made in Asia (priced around $15,000), which accurately depict fishermen hoisting nets and weavers incubating silkworms. Craftsmen all over Europe developed various colors and materials to imitate these precedents.

A Venetian lacquered mirror ($9,850) is tinted chocolate brown with gilded palm fronds, and a French table with scrollwork legs ($18,500) is labeled “espresso colored aventurine.”

The lacquer was usually applied to wood, or else convincing substitutes. The Jacobys have found an English papier-mâché sideboard ($78,000) with dragons sculptured on its gilded hinges and an enameled metal table ($8,500) marked here and there with nonsense crisscrosses meant to represent Chinese characters. On an English leather screen with a gold backdrop ($55,000) villagers with auburn hair are gathered on a footbridge.

This bright-colored screen was modeled after a multilayered, heavily carved type of Chinese lacquer that is confusingly named Coromandel, because the main exporters operated along India’s Coromandel Coast. That is, Colleck is head-spinningly offering an English copy of a Chinese ware often misattributed to Indians.

As the furniture suppliers of 18th-century Europe scrambled to meet demand for exotic-looking luxuries, Mr. Jacoby said, “the whole sense of place of origin ended up completely muddled.”

The New York Times 11/5/09