12 July 2019

The Rise of African Modern & Contemporary Art

An African 'Ife' style bronze head, probably from Nigeria. Part of a collection of tribal art from across the African continent available at Tabunov Antiques 

This spring Bonhams African Modern & Contemporary Art department declared that they have seen 'an explosion of interest in modern and contemporary art from Africa'(1). Their statement is backed up by evidence of higher than ever prices reached at auction for the specialism, notably at the recent Marceau Rivière Collection of African Art at Sotheby’s Paris (18-19 June 19).

A rare Baule mask from the Ivory Coast hit the headlines after realising a hammer price of 4 million Euros (£3.75m), but there were several big hitters in the 250 lot sale. The highest prices were reached by items originating from the Ivory Coast, as these are the most extensively documented by the art historian Rivière. 

However pieces from across the continent and its diaspora performed strongly across the board. Masks, statues, busts and textiles including Fang works of Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea, Kota works of the Sudan and Kongo art of Angola and the Congo were represented at the lively sale.

The auction will increase the growing confidence of buyers and traders looking to invest in African Art, both  modern and contemporary. But what is causing the draw towards these objects, is it simply market forces? A growing number of experts in the field are now encouraging a re- evaluation of the history of African art on its own terms by advocating for the voices of African artists to be heard above western interpreters.

 This fresh approach is encouraging more interest and excitement among pieces which were acquired in the mid- twentieth century, which may have been misclassified and misinterpreted  at the time by over zealous western curators.

In the early twentieth-century , artists like Picasso and Gauguin famously claimed the power of African art for their own inspiration, removing the objects from their own unique historical context. This arguably contributed to an a historical western conception of African art, lacking any grounding in the realities of tribal culture or African experience.

Without wishing to generalise what is an incredibly diverse field of art objects across a large and varied continent, it could be said that African art is best known for its use of masquerade and metalwork, sculpture and textile.  

Part of our inspiration for this blog was a collection of African tribal bronze and wood carvings now available at Tabunov Antiques who are based at Grays Antiques. These pieces were all acquired from the sale of an extensive collection of tribal art from a West-African estate in the mid-twentieth century . Find out more about some of the objects in this collection below…

Stylised wood carved Thcitchiri shrine figure, probably depicting an ancestor of spirit of the Moba people of Togo or Ghana. 103cm height.

Decorative wood carved post figure of a stylised male with horns, West Africa. 160cm Height.

Decorative Dogon ladder in the form of a Y shape with carved steps, depicting the ladders used to enter the upper level of "ginna" , lineage leaders house. Dogon, Mali. 104cm Height

Anthropomorphic carved bronze bell of the Nupe tribe, Central Nigeria. 32cm Height.

Carved bronze female head, Nigerian 'Ife' style.39cm Height
Highly decorative seated bronze figure in the Benin style, Nigeria, 49cm in height.

7 June 2019

Mayfair Art Weekend 2019

Mayfair is the art capital of London, and we’re proud to be one of over 150 galleries and auction houses established within this historic district.

From the 28th-30th of June our neighbourhood will host the Mayfair Art Weekend, a series of exhibitions, events and happenings taking place across the area. 
It’s a chance to to see Mayfair at it’s very best. This year the programme includes exhibitions of old masters and contemporary performance art, and will host expert speakers, established and emerging artists at a series of private views, evening receptions and in-store events. 

What we love most about this weekend is that the organisers are committed year on year to providing events which are free and open to all, so there’s no reason not to cram full your itinerary.

Keep up with the latest at the official website, and see which happenings take your fancy. There will be workshops and classes for those of you that want a hands-on experience, and plenty of spectacular displays for those who prefer to wander around Mayfair’s pretty little avenues and soak up the atmosphere. 
In anticipation, here’s a small selection of our favourite works of fine art and sculpture currently on offer at Grays. We hope they whet your appetite for a weekend of artistic appreciation and discussion (and with any luck, some sun and champagne…)

Eleazar Albin hand-painted copper engravings ,  early18th century, Available at Patrick Boyd Carpenter 

Gaspar Sensi 'Love and the World' pen and ink drawing, early 19th century. Available at Patrick Boyd Carpenter

Antoniucci Volti 'Femme Assise' bronze, c1960s. Available at Horton London 

Sir Eduardo Paolozzi,  'Feet Plastercasts', c1990. Available at Patrick Boyd Carpenter 

Wood carved Moba Tchitchiri figure, Togo, Ghana. Available at Tabunov Antiques 

Vera Asedovskaya, 'Pears', oiln on canvas, 2001, available at Tabunov Antiques 

22 December 2018

How to Shop Antique For a Sustainable Future

Shop for fabulous fully restored antique jewellery at Diem 

Year on year, global consumption rises whilst our anxieties over just what we are doing to our planet continue to grow. Think-pieces on how to live sustainably, shock studies on consumer impact to the environment and daily reminders from politicians and activists on our carbon footprint swirl around us. Sometimes it can be totally overwhelming, and it's hard not to feel helpless!

But that's where #SustainableShopping comes in - Whilst we do admit to a bias (!) shopping for antique rather than high street items not only helps stem the tide of growing consumerism and the devastating impact it can have on global geography and developing communities, it also helps to foster a different mindset.

Considering investing in antiques helps you to appreciate the craftsmanship of previous eras, and to treasure the time and artistry that went in to producing these beautiful items.

And it's not just their original production you will grown to appreciate, but the care that has gone into maintaining them ever since, through various hands - passed down through families, gifted to friends, restored by experts...

We've put together just three easy ways that you can shop for antiques and build a sustainable future, just a few tweaks to your routine and habits can really make a difference.

The definition of an 'antique' item is an item over 100 years of age. This might seem outrageously difficult, but it's easier than you think to pick up items with age.

Here at Grays you can find jewellery of all kinds: fine and costume , watches, hair pins, tie pins and cuff links, ranging from £50.00- £50,000 in value. And it doesn't stop there. We offer a selection of design pieces for the home, fine art, lace, gemstones, table ware and more...

Visit our website for full listings.

Throughout history, it has always been the norm to care for, restore and mend special pieces, and to pass them on to the next generation. Next time something you love breaks; think: make do and mend! Have it repaired and restored. If you are tired of an item or it isn't completely suitable for whatever reason, why not think about customising or updating it rather than replacing.

Many of our dealers are experts in restoration, repair and re-design.

See a full list of services available here.

We understand that no one wants to preach to everyone they meet, but a little goes a long way ! If you are particularly happy with an antique purchase or an antique gift, let your family and friends know. Spread the word on social media using the hashtags #ShopAntique and #SustainableShopping and  why not pay us a visit #GraysLondon

We'll be doing the same over @graysantiques  

We've selected a few of our favourite pieces now available in store which are over 100 years old, and have been lovingly kept and restored since then . They are just waiting for their next custodian !

Edwardian Sapphire and Diamond Butterfly Brooch, Available at Wimpole
Japanese Meiji Period Silver Presentation Jug, c1880. Available at Joseph Cohen

Antique Black Forest Wood Carver Chair, c1900. Available at Pushkin Antiques
Antique Louis Vuitton Trunk c1900. Available at Pushkin Antiques
Mid-Century Necklace Comprised of Antique Gemstones , Tourmaline and Peridot. Available at Moira Fine Jewellery 
18ct Gold and Carnelian Earrings, c1900. Available at Elton Antique Jewellery

Nickel Brass Based Globe, Art Deco Period. Available at Art Deco Gallery London

29 November 2018

Diane Harby: Love and Antique Lace

Exquisite antique lace, period embroidery and linen, coats, veils, scarfs and stoles are all part of Diane Harby's internationally recognised collection...

Something Old...A Model in Antique Lace

Her busy store is visited by designers and couturiers, art and fashion students, collectors, traders and of course -brides to be!

Antique lace and linen is an incomparable material for luxury clothes and interiors that brings real history and craftsmanship to any design.
We went to her shop on the lower ground floor to find out more...

Diane please tell us how did you come into such a particular and specialised area in the antiques trade?

I have now been trading for as long as I can remember. But it didn’t start this way. Early on in my career, I was a buyer for a big London store. I worked in the corner of Woodstock Street, and I used to collect Art Deco pieces, clothing as well as ceramics. I managed to create a little corner in the shop where I exhibited my own findings and started selling. The shop was next door to Phillips Auction House. Lots of antiques people passed by, and I had antiques dealers customers. My boyfriend at the time gave me the idea to get a place and start selling as I had accumulated a large stock. So at first, I was trading from St. Christopher’s Place, but fairly quickly I moved into Grays.http://www.graysantiques.com/index.php

Given your background in fashion how did you move into lace and linen pieces?

I did certificates in fashion and worked in stores, but I also used to go around the markets. The same as everybody in this business. Of course, now I have done it for so long that I have my own suppliers and people come to me. As a very young person, I always wanted to have my own antique's shop. And somehow, one day I got given a large box of lace. I sold some pieces. Through handling it the whole thing really interested me, and I became more involved. I can now restore and treat pieces. But I only do it for my own stock as I am very busy.

Next to you I see a space with needles and bobbing for mending-do you do any embroidery yourself? 

I can repair really well. It is fragile stock and I have to do what is necessary to keep the pieces in good condition and wearable. It is very important that people can use the pieces they buy. And I can date pieces very well because I understand psychically how they are made. I understand their authenticity from my experience of handling lace for forty years. I know what is handmade, old or new, adapted or worn by people.

Please explain to us some of your magnificent pieces, what do they consist of, and do you have a aesthetic style or technique that is your personal favourite?

Normandy lace is very popular because it is very fine and because of the particular way it is put together. It is like a patchwork. It is very recognisable. On the other hand, Irish crochet is very wearable and it is known for being sturdy. And you can dress it up, or dress it down which makes it a practical choice. A lot of lace is extremely delicate. I have some divine Italian lace and some best quality Brussels lace that needs to be kept in a box at the back of the shop away from light.

Personally, I love Apenzell lace. It has so much character and individuality. But my absolute favourite is this Edwardian French coat. The lace is full of mystique and it can be worn in many diverse ways to create a different image, from almost casual to super formal.

Feast your eyes on a small selection of Diane's beautiful pieces, now available at Grays...

Black Net Scarf, c.1900-1920

Tape lace c.1900-1910

Embroidered net, c.1920-1930

Brussels lace, c.1900-1910

Irish crochet collar, c.1900-1920

Maltese silk scarf, c.1910-1920

Interviewed Friday 16 November 2018 by Titika Malkogeorgou

9 November 2018

Tabunov Antiques: 'If you do inherit a Faberge - well then it is difficult not to like it!'

Alexander Tabunov of Tabunov Antiques been trading at Grays since 2015. He specializes in Russian art and antiques, Faberge pieces, icons, bronzes, enamel, silver and porcelain. We have come to his shop to find out more about him and his incredible collection of unique objects...

Alexander Tabunov in his shop: Unit 124, Lower Ground, Grays

Alexander, please tell us about how did it all start for you?

I started as a market trader in St. James’ selling Soviet memorabilia, but then I moved into antiques like porcelain figures, bronze statues, and silver enamel. I changed direction when the market slowed down in Russia and I received an order to buy a painting from Belarus.

My boss at work wanted a Social Realism painting depicting workers, especially miners. I had no idea how to go about it. But, casually walking down the street, when I was back in Minsk for holidays, I met a painter whose father was a member of the Artists’ Union of the USSR. He took me to his personal studio, and later to other artists’ studios, which I really enjoyed. I was surrounded by about five hundred paintings and chatted about art. I chose two paintings that I most liked to bring back to London.

I wanted to give one of the paintings as a gift but my boss insisted that he wanted to pay for it. After that, I kept getting commissions. I participated in Russian art exhibitions, in 2007 and 2008, in London. I was selling Soviet art, while at the same time I was getting commissions for antiques. So I started looking around, going to auctions, visiting places and learning about the antiques trade.

What made you come to London in the first place?

I came to London from Belarus to study business management. While I was still a student, I started supplying Soviet Russian souvenirs to English customers. Now, I sell Russian art and antiques to Russians and English, and other collectors from all over the world. Sometimes, pieces I had sold to collectors’ years ago, I am now buying back.

Russian antique objects are still a novelty in this country. But there are also very rare in Russia and the prices are high as they are becoming more and more desirable.

How do you feel in this environment given your business background?

I love it so much, it’s my favourite thing in life. I think about it all the time. Everyday my mind is around beautiful objects and how to source them for my clients.

You cover a very diverse area of interest in terms of materials, techniques and style. How do you know what to buy?

I buy what I like. And if I like something it is not difficult to sell it. Otherwise, it might sell accidentally. But if you don’t like something yourself, you don’t show it to customers. You keep it hidden in the corner. In the first place, you need to believe in what you sell. I’ve got a few mistakes to show you. When you buy and sell you learn very quickly. It is expensive to make mistakes. You learn from collections books, auction houses catalogues, and of course you learn from other dealers.

How would you describe your clientele?

They could be anyone. English people like decorative pieces and they love the enamel pieces. But my most expensive items go to Russian collectors and dealers. Usually, I have regulars who come back. Prices also matter. There’s waves of interest. Families from Russia have settled in England, France and the U.S. and they still have precious items to sell, or they might want to add to their collection.

Do people who inherit necessarily like the items or do tastes change among different generations?

Well, it depends on what you inherit. If you inherit a Faberge, it is difficult not to like it.! Because of the artistic quality, the splendid colours, such elaborate and intricate technique. They are exceptionally high quality pieces in every way.

 Interviewed 25 October by Titika Malkogeorgou

Vera Asedovskya 'Conversation', 2004. Oil on Canvas.

Faberge Silver Mounted Ceramic Vase

Antique Russian Silver Gilded and Enamel Key Case, c.1908

Faberge Silver-Gilt Enamel Case
Nigerian 'Ife' Style Bronze Head

Boris Shcherbakov, 'Autumn in Tarkhany' 1984, Oil on Canvas

24 October 2018

Something Wicked: How the Imagery of Macbeth Shaped Our Halloween Traditions

What better way to prepare for the seasonal festival of Halloween than to revisit Shakespeare's darkest tragedy: we take a look at the enduring imagery of Macbeth ...

19th Century Watercolour by George Cattermole 1800-1868. "Macbeth."

Halloween (also known as 'All Hallows Eve') is a yearly festival on the 31st of October, the eve of All Hallows' Day.

The Gaelic Pagans  held the yearly festival to be a time when the walls between our world and the next became thin and porous, allowing spirits to pass through. These pagan traditions were particularly strong in Ireland and Scotland : which may have been one of the reasons William Shakespeare chose to set his darkest supernatural tragedy Macbeth (1604) in the Scottish Isles.

The sense of a 'curse' or evil energy attached to the prose and performance of Macbeth has led to the infamous tradition that bad luck will befall those who speak it's name aloud. Actors in the theatre are instead encouraged to refer to 'The Scottish Play'.

The wild and windswept Highland setting was also chosen by Shakespeare to appeal to the new King James I of England, also King of Scotland, who ascended to the throne in 1603, uniting the English, Irish and Scottish Crowns for the first time.

King James was a patron of the arts , but also curiously preoccupied with the supernatural (even for the seventeenth century!) The King had published his own treatise on witchcraft, Daemonologie (1597) in which he reveals a highly developed fear of black magic and the power of sorcery.

James' fears were symptomatic of an age in which bitter struggles between Catholics and Protestants across Europe created a climate of religious mania and political paranoia. One of Shakespeare's greatest strengths was his ability to tap into the psyche of his contemporary audience: yet Macbeth's  famous witches, ghosts and wild hallucinations have maintained their intensity for over four centuries.

Many of the most recognisable and well-worn Halloween tropes come straight from Macbeth: an eye of newt, a bubbling cauldron...Of course Shakespeare drew on old traditions, but his 'Song of the Witches'  has amplified the image of The Witch in popular culture like no other single piece of art or literature.

Both the Gaelic pagans and Shakespeare's Jacobean audience would have believed that the period surrounding 'All Hallows' was the time when spirits were most likely to appear: and the power of the witch was at it's strongest. It is during this annual festival that we allow ourselves to be a little less skeptical and take a little more seriously the power of charms and spells- if only for fun !

With this in mind, we've found some ingredients from Grays for our very own witches cauldron to summon up the spirit of the season ...

Sterling Silver 'Witch' Salt and Pepper Pots, Available at Marina Oriental Art 

Toe of Frog : Vienna Bronze Frog, 1890, Available at Maraid Antiques 

Fenny Snake and Adders Fork : A Contemporary Enamel and Diamond Snake Bangle Available at Moira Fine Jewellery, A Georgian Ourobos Bangle Available at Rowan and Rowan 
Lizards Leg: Silver and Paste Lizard Brooch c1890, Available at Peter Szuhay 
Wool of Bat: Deco gold Bat Brooch With Ruby Eyes, available at Alfred Toro 

Charm: Victorian Charm Bracelet, Available at Spectrum 

Tongue of Dog: Vienna Bronze Miniature Daschund Pair, c1890, Available at Maraid Antiques 

Owlet's Wing : Owl Carved in Amber, 20th Century, Available at Amber Fortuna 

Cauldron: Burmese Silver Bowl, 19th century, Available at Joseph Cohen 

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