Christopher Payne on Adrian Alan’s Indefatigable Energy

Christopher Payne on Adrian Alan’s Indefatigable Energy

C hristopher Payne is a Furniture historian, curator and a former Director of Sotheby’s. He has researched and published extensively on 19th century Collecting, Furniture and Sculpture and is the author of the only monograph on François Linke. His latest book Paris Furniture: The Luxury Market of the 19th Century (Editions Monelle Hayot, 2018) is now an invaluable resource in this field as it presents a vast survey of the majority of the furniture makers working in the French capital, many of whom are represented in this sale.

Adrian is a leader amongst that intrepid band of antique dealers who started at an early age with little capital but a huge amount of energy and drive. There is no doubt that today he has become one of the leading dealers in the world with a stock to match to satisfy the demand from his international clientele.

He started his business in modest premises in a warehouse near the Lanes in Brighton in 1964. In a tradition of dealing which today seems almost antiquated in the digital age, he would drive many thousands of miles a week, eventually piloting his own light plane so that he could view several auctions a day, in Britain or aboard. It is this indefatigable energy that defines the man and this energy and enthusiasm for his subject can be seen at a glance when visiting his extensive Mayfair showrooms.

Always an active participant in my early days at Sotheby’s, my first memory of working directly with Adrian was when I took over the Furniture Department at Sotheby’s Belgravia in 1976. Adrian arrived in a superb, of course second hand, Rolls Royce with a large green glass opaline chandelier in pieces on the back seat and boot. I remember my excitement at such a specimen and Adrian’s consummate knowledge. We carried the chandelier into the storeroom together and the eventual outcome was the start of a long and rewarding professional association. Our mutual interest in furniture and works of art was and still is a constant source of enjoyment. Well over forty years later we are both still putting our heads together to improve our expertise in the domain of the under-researched nineteenth-century. Frequent visits to Adrian’s warehouse would turn up some as yet unknown or unidentified piece – gentle cleaning in his dedicated workshops might, if lucky, give a clue as to the maker. A firm friendship soon developed as a result of our shared interest and I am delighted to introduce this online sale of 100 carefully selected pieces of his stock. Adrian’s enthusiasm, curiosity and energy means he cannot resist buying an unusual object but there comes a time when space has to be found for the next trouvaille.

In what has proved to be a resilient market in 2020 it seems fitting that Adrian Alan Ltd. should decide to reduce their extensive collection - some pieces may well have been in store for many years. Although an anathema to the ‘old curiosity dealer’, Sotheby’s decision to sell this collection online underlines their strength in this rapidly growing market, and with the Covid-19 epidemic has become an essential part of modern business.

Inevitably for a furniture historian my highlights of this auction turn to furniture. Lot 93, the Linke vitrine index number 905 is an inevitable choice. The quality of design, craftsmanship and condition give it status as an art object whilst being eminently practical. Perfect for example to display the 63-piece dinner service presented to Amélie, Princess of Orléans, lot 96.

The armoire lot 31 by Joseph Cremer is a fascinating interpretation of one of the great masters of the Grand Époque. Cremer, a brilliant and award-winning marquetry cutter and designer, has created a smaller version of one of André-Charles Boulle’s cabinets of the early 18th century with a stunning brass-inlaid pattern that fits perfectly with modern design.

The majestic bureau plat lot 12, almost an exact copy of one made in circa 1750 by the eminent Jacques Dubois, is by a mystery maker of the Third Republic.

Despite considerable research and new publications in recent years there is still more to learn about this fascinating period of furniture history – there are still discoveries to be made for the collector. The pair of commodes à l’anglaise by Perreau are the perfect back drop for a grand entrance hall or dining room. The stamp of the Château d’Eu, the royal summer residence where Louis-Philippe entertained Queen Victoria on more than one occasion is a cast-iron provenance.

My favourite for a less palatial home? The small and highly individual bureau de dame by François Linke – a piece that I have always coveted – perhaps now is my chance!

French & Continental Furniture
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