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Royal Hospital Chelsea + Treasure House Fair London 2023

Back to Life

A menagerie of larger than life size bronze animals from Sladmore, some standing on the David Hockney swimming pool blue entrance floor, greets visitors to this inaugural show.

“London is the city of Europe, even the city of the world. It is still the second most important global art market and it needs a great interdisciplinary art fair.” Harry Van der Hoorn should know. He and Thomas Woodham-Smith co founded Masterpiece, the world renowned fair that ran for 13 years starting in 2010. Masterpiece almost immediately became a firm fixture of The Season. But at the beginning of this year Swiss owners MCH Group, who had secured a controlling stake in 2017, determined the fair wasn’t commercially viable. That created the unimaginable scenario that The Season – while still hosting gardening, cricket, racing, rowing, tennis and opera – would be missing art.

Deep sighs of relief could be heard echoing through the gilded postcodes when the duo launched Treasure House. Like Masterpiece, it’s in a temporary pavilion in the parkland setting of the Royal Hospital Chelsea. Unlike Masterpiece, its orientation and circulation correctly face the 17th century brick building rather than the Embankment. Thomas explains, “Our choice of title reflects the wide range of disciplines and masterpieces of the fair, each piece a treasure in its own right. From my perspective as a Dutchman, ‘Treasure’ is a word that is understood throughout the world and ‘House’ is a mark of respect to the Grosvenor House Fair, a fair that inspired so many of us over the years.”

Out of the 55 exhibitors occupying 2,500 square metres of floorspace, 43 previously appeared at Masterpiece. There are 10 overseas dealers plus four that are only partly based in London. Comfortingly familiar sights include the Ventura Riva yacht this year fitted out by Gucci. The Ballyfin style transport of golf buggies through the hospital grounds has gone but the more direct pedestrian route is easy on the Louboutins. Timing has been pulled forward to the penultimate week in June which does mean the preview clashes with Glyndebourne and Ascot Ladies’ Day. Petertide is a busy time for everyone. Next year, Treasure House is programmed to go back to the last week of June.

In place of Le Caprice restaurant and two Scott’s bars is Table and Candle restaurant, Robuchon Deli and Oysters and Champagne Bar. Different operators, equally good offer, same buzzy guests. Everyone is fabulously sociable, nobody is sartorially challenged. To quote the 20th century photographer Slim Aarons, it’s all about “attractive people doing attractive things in attractive places”. Life is rosé at the Whispering Angel Bar. The restaurant overlooks the courtyard. The bar (Irish Ostra Regal, Jersey and Madlon oysters; Laurent-Perrier Champagne) is half indoors half in the courtyard to accommodate both the alabaster and sallow skinned.Oil on canvas is represented from Post Impressionism (Sir Stanley Cursiter at Richard Green) to Expressionistic figurative art (Frank Auerbach at Osborne Samuel). A masterpiece from the Emerald Isle is the silver gilt sideboard dish for sale by Koopman. Made by James Fray of Dublin in 1828, it was presented to Thomas 1st Baron Manners, Lord Chancellor of Ireland, by the Officers of the Court of Chancery. At 69 centimetres diameter, the sideboard dish has plenty of space for canapés.

Fine art dealer Charles Plante has been involved in the fair world for over three decades, from stalls at Chelsea Town Hall to full room displays at Grosvenor House and Olympia Fairs. He has mounted exhibitions at Stair and Co in London and Mallett’s in London and New York. Last year he held a major sale at Dreweatts featuring many items from his townhouse and country house. Star pieces included architectural drawings by Henry Holland and Thomas Sandby. Charles’ bestselling publications are Inside Out: Interiors and Exteriors 1770 to 1870 (2000), Gilt Bronze Objects 1814 to 1830 (2002) and Tools of the Trade (2006). He has since relocated his business to the US concentrating on San Francisco, selling to “upper class Americans” who buy half a dozen of his drawings or paintings at a time to create French style salons.

“I am astonished how my friend Thomas along with Harry put this fair together in four months,” comments Charles. “They have really pulled if off! I like how the pavilion faces the most famous Wren building after St Paul’s Cathedral. There’s such attention to detail: the walls suspended to a few centimetres off the floor to give the illusion of skirting boards, space age canted ceilings and uplighting set in columns. The decorative approach is avant garde and progressive. There are dealers I love here like Wartski the royal jewellers.”

Treasure House may be smaller than Masterpiece but it is a refined version with a more curatorial vision, and like its forerunner is still larger than life.

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North Great George’s Street Dublin +

Say More Things

Dublin is so rich in neoclassical Georgian architecture, overblown and exuberant in its ‘costly magnificence’. The American Federal style was also inspired by the richness of the Irish interior architecture and the boldness of its 18th century furniture. Many fine examples can be found on the East Coast from Boston to Philadelphia.” American art collector and international tastemaker Charles Plante lives and works on either side of the Atlantic.

North Great George’s Street, north of the River Liffey in Dublin, is all about overblown scale architecture and exuberant interior plasterwork. And the owners of the houses would agree it costs a lot to look this magnificent. Since the 1970s, this street has boasted a remarkable group of owners, not least Ireland’s foremost heritage architect John O’Connell. Former Chairman of the Irish bookshop chain Eason and conservationist Harold Clarke lived on the street from the 1960s until the 1980s. The distinguished antiques dealer Willie Dillon was his neighbour at that time.

Thomas McKeown, Chairman of The North Great George’s Street Preservation Society, lives on the street with his wife Adelaide. “In 1767 Sarah Archdall began selling sites to individuals who wanted to build houses on what was then the Mount Eccles Estate. Building started shortly afterwards and North Great George’s Street was essentially completed by about 1800. Then came the Act of Union in 1801 and the relocation of the centre of fashion to the proximity of Leinster House marked the beginning of a slow decline. Indeed, by the early 1900s a group calling themselves the ‘Georgian Society’ was formed to make a historic record of the fine buildings that were apparently already doomed to destruction. This was prophetic and many of the buildings that are documented in their work have long since disappeared.”

“By the beginning of the 20th century a large part of the street was already in multi family tenements and by the mid 1960s some of the houses had been demolished. At this time there was also an increased awareness of the inherent value of our Georgian heritage. On North Great George’s Street, fine houses, needing major restoration, were available for the price of a suburban semi detached. This was recognised by a number of starry eyed individuals who saw the chance to live in a great house – this prize came at the price of much effort, often in the face of official indifference.”

“The result – appreciated by more and more people – is there to see and would probably not have succeeded if a group had not joined forces to form The North Great George’s Street Preservation Society. One of our main objectives has been to have the street designated an Architectural Conservation Area by Dublin City Council. This would prevent excessive development, particularly of the mews lanes. The reinstatement of damaged pavements and the removal of utility wires and cables on the façades is another.”

“The houses on the street are not going to revert to single family homes any time soon, but hopefully there will be a mix of good quality apartments with a limited commercial element that will maintain the vibrancy that has made it the best place in the city centre to live. The Society will continue to strive to attain these objectives and above all preserve the integrity of the street’s great architecture.”

Senator David Norris, renowned James Joyce authority, bought his house in 1978. “What initially attracted me to purchasing a Georgian house was the sense of space and the way in which light poured in through the great windows. I adore the 18th century plasterwork which decorates some of the ceilings. On top of all this, North Great George’s Street is smack bang in the middle of the city. Along the way I suppose the greatest challenge has been finance. In the beginning none of us had any great deal of money and that is when the Society proved a great support. The other thing was finding appropriate craftsmen who were capable of dealing with an 18th century building.”

Architect John Hanley and sculptor John Aboud bought their house in 1987. “Over the next 30 years we gradually turned the house around. We have always enjoyed living here, even in the early years when winter gales would sweep through the rooms. The space and the light, together with the decorative details and the views to the garden, are a constant source of pleasure. The street itself, rising in stately terraces towards Belvedere House, is a magnificent backdrop to our everyday life. And of equal importance is the fact that here we have a close knit village in the midst of the city, where we are surrounded by neighbours and friends who share our pleasure in living here, and our commitment to its future.” The North Great George’s Street Preservation Society celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2019.

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Wild + Precious

Swimming in the Whirlpool of High Society

Who said we didn’t end up at midnight in Princess Diana’s fav Knightsbridge haunt San Lorenzo three years ago to the day? Or a month earlier join influencers for a day at the races? Or fast forward a few seasons to find ourselves singing black tied carols with London’s finest on Pall Mall till dawn? As for the maquillage, English Heritage have a lot to answer for… Tell us, what are you doing?

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Sandwich Bay + Sandwich Town Kent

Hot Property

We’ve never made a sandwich but we’ve made it to Sandwich. It’s American tastemaker Charles Plante’s favourite English town. Sandwich is filled with a relishable collection of chocolate box cottages and delicious candy coloured shops. All in very good taste of course. We’ll toast to that! Sandwich is sandwiched between Deal and Ramsgate – give or take the odd golf course (Royal St George’s) and even a country park (Pegwell Bay). But first the bay.

The Rockefeller scaled mansions of Sandwich Bay make regular appearances in Country Life, Tatler and The New York Times. They’re more East Hampton than East Kent. Great Gatsby over Great Britain. When one comes up for sale it’s like selling sunrise. Take Rest Harrow. We would. And its 14 bedrooms. It was built in 1910 for Viscount William Waldorf Astor and his wife, a certain Nancy. The Viscount’s father opened the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. Nancy had form too: she was the first lady elected to the British Parliament to take her seat. Her Ladyship was a big believer in seawater: she had it piped straight into her two en suite bathrooms in the madame bedroom. Rest Harrow was recently sold for the first time in its history. Despite being surrounded by a 1.2 hectare garden, the house is gloriously exposed to the prevailing winds and onlooking flâneurs.

Strolling along the coast from Deal, Royal Cinque Ports Golf Clubhouse is the first gargantuan landmark on the landscape. Dating from 1892, an early photograph shows it as a heavily verandah’d Wild West chalet capped by a Tudor style giant gable. Architect unknown. Over the years it has been rendered almost unrecognisable – save for the gable shape – by rendering on a lavish scale and a series of elongating extensions.

Next on our jaunt Sandilands comes into sight, a vision in red brick under a hipped roof. This was bread and butter stuff for the tasteful architect Sir Reginald Blomfield, grandson of the Bishop of London (Right Reverend Charles Blomfield). His turn of last century practice had a specialism in country houses, new and revamped. Among the latter was Chequers in Buckinghamshire. Built in 1930, Sandilands’ spreadeagled plan embraces sea views from an array of angles. No doubt his client Samuel, Lord Vestey, sat on the first floor with binoculars looking at the birds going past. Sandilands is but a taste of things to come.

Rest Harrow is next and then The Dunes. This early 20th century brick house takes the plan of Sandilands and gives it wings. A butterfly blueprint. More obscure than his contemporary Sir Reginald, the well bred architect Charles Biddulph-Pinchard was still versed in country house design. His client was John Lonsdale, 1st Baron Armaghdale. Some of the original multi paned fenestration has been replaced with picture windows and with such views that’s not surprising.

The architectural feast changes with Whitehall. Surprisingly, it’s another Sir Reginald Blomfield special. Built in 1909, Whitehall has a rendered ground floor with stone detailing and a double height slate mansard filled to the rafters with a gluttony of dormers. The effect has more than a whiff of Marie-Antoinette about it, a seaside cottage orné on serious steroids.

Last of the big houses straddling the coast riding high on the waves of success comes Kentlands. We love spilling the beans. All 600 square metres of this house was built for the Heinz family. They might have been American but you don’t get more English that Kentlands. This time Charles Biddulph-Pinchard recycled two 17th century timber framed houses, threw in a barn for the fun of it, and the result is as if a piece of Chester fell from the sky and landed in, well, Kent. These five houses were to be part of a new seaside resort but World War I put paid to that. Instead, a glorious sparseness, an extravagance of hectarage very far from the madding crowd, triumphs.

Sandwich: The Story of a Famous Kentish Port published in 1907 is the 63rd book in the slightly sinister titled series The Homeland Handbooks. Editor Arthur Anderson raves, “Within easy reach of the popular and growing watering places of northeast Kent lies a town which should be visited by everyone with a regard for things ancient and beautiful, with a mind that would be affected by historic associations, and with emotions that can be touched by the story of a brave but chequered existence. Sandwich lies among the marshes left by the sea on its retirement from the bluffs of Richborough and Minster. Placed here among the flats, it is one of the sunniest towns in England. From horizon to horizon there is no single elevation to cast a shadow or to intercept the sunshine. Only when clouds are riding and sea winds sweeping over, are the brightest colours of the town and its gleaming belt of meadow and river obscured. Since the harbour sealed up – and not all the pathetic efforts of the townsmen served to avert the disaster – Sandwich has ceased to play the part to which it was accustomed in earlier days. But its bygone importance and wealth are attested by the remains that give it a picturesqueness such as few places can rival.”

The Pellicane House on High Street is one of the larger houses in Sandwich town centre. It’s a sweet confection of the ages: the 15th century original house was given a makeover 200 years later followed by a Georgian upgrade. The flint faced façade displays a charming symmetry gone somewhat awry and is crowned by a castellated parapet. Marie-Laure Frioux, originally from Nantes, brings French elegance to Market Street with her antiques shop Fleur de France. As for Charles Plante, he’s been an art and antiques dealer in London and America for three decades. He summarises his taste as, “Ruins, urns, neoclassical landscapes and interiors; evocations in paint, pencil and watercolour of the ancient world… neoclassical furniture, porcelain and bronzes – all have been my passion for the past 30 years.”

The Butchery, Cattle Market, Fellowship Walk, Love Lane, Pillory Gate and Moat Sole all beg intrigue and further exploration. Bringing the beach inland, putting the sand in Sandwich, our lunch is at Tan Bueno on New Street which advertises itself as “Costa del Sandwich”. It’s the Canary Islands come to the environs of the Isle of Thanet. There are no sandwiches on the menu. Just tapas, the best thing since sliced bread.

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Musée Nissim de Camondo Paris + Winter

L’Assez Grand Trianon
It’s time to get MAD (Musée des Arts Décoratifs) and go Camondo. The 4th Edition of the Michelin Guide to Paris (1960) states, “The building and its contents were left to the Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs by the Comte de Camondo in 1936, in memory of his son Nissim, killed during the 1st World War. The visit will fascinate amateurs of 18th century furniture and works of art. The museum is arranged as an elegant 18th century home, and is furnished with remarkably sure taste and objects of great beauty.” An explosive profusion of riches.

It’s international art dealer and collector Charles Plante’s favourite house museum. Amsterdam boasts Museum van Loon. Barcelona has Casa Amattler. Lisbon, Medeiros e Almeida House. London, the Wallace Collection. Musée Nissim de Camondo was designed by architect Réne Sergent taking inspiration from Le Petit Trianon in Versailles; it backs onto Parc Monceau in the 8th Arrondisement. In Letters to Comondo, 2021, artist Edmund de Waal describes Parc Monceau as being “… in the English manner with a little lake and bridge and smart flowerbeds full of annual flowers that need to be tended and renewed and weeded so that there are always gardeners head down and meandering paths…”

This three story house built in 1911 to 1914 by divorced financier Moïse de Camondo is separated from the street by a typical Parisian courtyard. The stern steel coloured paint of the casement window frames contrasts with the welcoming honeyed hue of the stone façade. A relatively flat front – a three bay central set back flanked by single bay chamfered links leading to single bay projections – conceals an intricate layout: a butterfly plan spreads out to the rear towards Parc Monceau. This arrangement creates a jigsaw to be filled with geometrically varied rooms within the confines of the external walls.

All three floors are on show from the functional (bathrooms with porcelain sanitaryware by Kula) to the decorative (the Porcelain Room with more Sèvres than a Rosalind Savill book launch) and a collection of salons in between all linked by a fantastical marble staircase hall. The Buste de Négress by sculptor Pierre-Philippe Thomire in the dining room is just one of a myriad pieces of period art. Being here. Doing it. Incessant winter rain emboldens the colour of the stonework, softens the light, intensifies the ambience, creating ghosts in the shadows.

Such beauty from such tragedy. In 1944, Nissim’s only sibling, Béatrice, the last surviving Camondo, and her family were killed by the Nazis for being Jews in 1944. The Camondo family tree was ripped asunder, a dynasty destroyed. The house museum resonates with happier times though. A menu card for déjeuner on the dining room table is dated 2 June 1933: “Melon glacé; Filets de soles Murat; Pouleta pochés à l’estragon; Ris créole; Pièce de boeuf à la gelée; Salade de romaine; Petits pois à la Française; Paillettes au parmesan; Fromage; Granit à la cerise.” Lunch, 11 years earlier…