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So what are we going to see in 2022?

At this time of year, many people look forward to how their industries and markets may change in the coming 12 months. I have had little time to dwell on this thanks to being happily busy with sales. However, I have noted other sets of predictions and find myself agreeing with many of them. Among the most insightful regarding the art and antiques trade are those from Antiques Roadshow expert Mark Hill, written in partnership with the CEO of the company he now works with, Ronati.

Here is what they have to say:

Business on the go. Technology will continue to develop to help dealers become even more versatile in using their time well. As they get out and about more on buying trips and away from their desktops, the need to turn round stock at a faster rate will become a priority. That means that technology supporting the trade will become increasingly mobile.

Expect more hybrid events. Timed and live auctions have merged to create hybrid events, virtual viewing rooms now complement live gallery exhibitions, and even fairs are finding ways of presenting art and antiques in more than one way. Business will look for opportunities that are effectively “inoculated” against lockdowns and travel bans.

Lines will become more blurred between traditional forms of service provision. Auction houses have long acted as dealers via the private sale, while dealers now hold auctions. Fair organisers will look to expand their interests beyond the fixed term of an event by supporting exhibitors in other ways. Other businesses will also look to cast a wider net of influence.

Continued next week

Detective work that can unveil a masterpiece

Beautiful though it was, it had been branded a fake for more than a century after being exhibited at the Guildhall in London in 1899. It had the subject matter and style of the great J.M.W. Turner, but alterations that appeared to have been carried out by someone else.

Now, though, years of research and technological assessment have turned those doubts on their head and the il painting of Cilgerran Castle in Wales has been sold as a genuine Turner for £1 million.

It’s a great result all round, but how do experts make such decisions? Before the advent of modern techniques like X-Ray spectometry and other means of non-invasive checking, it was largely a matter of written records, comparisons with other known works by the same artist and the connoisseurial eye. Everything from composition to brushstrokes can count and there is no doubt that these days science plays a bigger role than ever before. Confirming one artist’s painting, for instance, was possible by analysing tiny particles of hair towards the bottom of the canvas. He had become so intensely involved in painting that his stubble had been caught in the oils.

Occasionally, a previously hidden thumb print or perhaps an earlier painting in the artist’s style will emerge by scanning the work. Even these can be faked though, so you need to be careful.

Nonetheless, this sort of detective work can be as captivating as the art itself and simply adds to the fascination that attracts so many people to our world.

Check those attics and the cupboard under the stairs

Brown furniture is out, so they say, but I disagree. While the heavy and imposing presence of mahogany – once that most desired of woods – may have fallen away in popularity, plenty of pieces crafted by the hands of the most consummate designers down the ages still attract a keen following.

For me, the Arts & Crafts movement of the late 19th and early 20th century provided one of the most creative and enduring periods, giving us William Morris, Charles Rennie Macintosh, Ernest Gimson and Gordon Russell, among others.

The art critic Nikolaus Pevsner described Gimson as “the greatest of the English architect-designers”, a worthy title, but one earned not without competition from the other greats. Macintosh, of course, was Scottish.

Russell, who lived until 1982, put down his saw and plane at the end of the 1920s to manage what became a furniture factory, putting out beautiful cabinets, tables, chairs and other pieces that are treasured to this day. But it is his own hand-crafted pieces that are most sought after.

Just east of Petersfield, you can still visit the active workshop of the late Edward Barnsley, though you will need deep pockets to commission something special.

To the north of England, the modest but no less accomplished hands of Robert ‘Mouseman’ Thompson added his signature carved mouse to every piece from 1919, creating not just an avid fan base inspired by the honest solidity and supreme craftsmanship of his oak cupboards, bread boards and chairs, and by the captivating rippled surfaces of his chests of drawers and tables, a feature created using an adze to catch the light in the most enchanting way.

Look them all up on the internet and then tell me brown furniture has had its day. Alternatively, bring your examples to me on one of our valuation days.

Check those attics and the cupboard under the stairs

Every time I stage a valuation day at our Fernhurst rooms I’m reminded of that classic episode of Only Fools and Horses where the Trotter family’s heirloom, a discarded pocket watch, turns out to be a lost Harrison worth millions. The image of their battered Reliant Robin parked on double yellow lines outside Sotheby’s in Bond Street is priceless. Finally Del Boy and Rodney became the millionaires they’d always dreamed of being.

It’s just as exciting for the valuer when something special is handed across the table at one of these valuation days. It’s surprising just how many people really do have something of value in the attic or in the cupboard under the stairs.

Headline-grabbing finds of recent years have included a rather battered looking box used as a TV stand that turned out to be the Mazarin Chest, an extremely rare Japanese antique valued at £6.3 million.

Another was the portrait of a man in a ruff picked up at a Cheshire antique shop for £400 in 2004. Ten years later it was spotted as a genuine Van Dyck on the Antiques Roadshow and valued at £400,000.

One of my favourite stories is of the New York family who bought a fairly plain looking white bowl at a garage sale for $3 only to find out later that it was an ancient Chinese treasure over 1,000 years old and worth $2.2 million.

Now I’m looking to make a discovery. What have you got for me? You can bring in an item or photo any time. Check in your attic and see what you find!