Among the highlights at The Art & Antiques Fair Olympia this summer is a French Regence rosewood commode once in the collection of the eccentric English socialite Lord Berners (1883-1950).
A wide circle of creative friends formed around the British aesthete.
Cecil Beaton, Edith Sitwell, HG Wells and Salvador DalÍ were among the visitors to his Oxfordshire home Faringdon House. Berners’ interests included composing music, writing novels and launching the tradition of dyeing pigeons on the estate different bright colours.
The interiors of the Georgian home were similarly eclectic, combining period furniture and mirrors with the strange or modern, such as Recency waxworks or 20th century portraiture.
The commode is offered at the fair by Robin Martin Antiques for £28,000.
“By the standards of the rest of my stock it’s quite plain,” says the dealership’s Paul Martin. “But it has a bold shape and lovely soft colouring. The veneer is laid in different directions which has a sort of jazzy effect.”
For a French commode, he adds, it is also relatively small, measuring around 2ft 7in (79.5cm) high. It features an unusual formation of drawers – four small ones at the top and two long on the bottom.
Like many of the pieces he brings to the fair, the chest was selected for its quality and colour, but also has a decorative appeal that will be likely to interest the fair’s clientele.
Though it continues to offer a selection of objects for dedicated collectors, there is a stronger emphasis on attracting those buying for interiors today.
Now in its 47th year, the fair has evolved over time, including a series of recent shifts overseen by organiser Clarion Events.
Updates for this edition, which runs from June 19-28 this year, include stepping away from last year’s strategy which positioned the fair under the umbrella of Clarion’s House & Garden Festival (June 19-23). The two will no longer share an entrance and continue to have different opening and closing times. Two days have been added to the fair’s run, too.
Also different is the event’s branding, marking its identity.
“There are new themes such as the environment and sustainability running through the marketing campaign,” said fair director Mary Claire Boyd.
“We are also promoting the revival of interest in brown furniture, alongside other key messaging, to attract the international collectors and buyers.”
Around 110 dealers attend this edition, offering objects at prices ranging from around £100-1m.
They include Wimpole Antiques, watch specialist Timewise, Kaye Michie Fine Art offering Modern British art and furniture dealer Patrick Sandberg, among others offering jewellery, porcelain and more art and furniture. Returning dealer Aaron Nejad said: “The fair kept changing its format. Now it’s settled on a strategy and has redefined itself.
“The organisers understand their market and their audience, which makes it good for decorators and foreign visitors who might be in town to visit other events.”
Nejad deals in rugs and carpets including a piece of 18th century Indo-Portuguese embroidery.
Positioned in the latter half of June, it is the first big dealer event of the busy London summer season.
As well as the wealth of commercial options, the fair offers a series of talks. Topics include Antiques in Interior Design, The Pleasures and Perils of Collecting Ceramics, a history of British studio pottery, and Arts & crafts and Art Nouveau jewellery.