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On a sunny Friday afternoon, as we strolled down Pimlico Road in London, debating where to find the best almond croissant, a strange wooden creature in a shop window caught our eye. This unexpected encounter drew us away from our debate and into Patrick Jefferson’s gallery
Art Feature: The Masterpiece
Pièce de Maîtrise
The wooden creature that piqued our curiosity is a 3.23m tall “Pièce de Maîtrise” or Masterpiece, that Patrick thinks may have been built by architect François Dumollard in Perpignan, France around 1870, a testament to the craftsman’s skills. Unlike the small-scale models of stairs and roof structures that a quick Bing search (you read right, Bing) for “piece de maitrise architecture 1900” might yield, this piece is grand, unique, and somewhat strange. It’s a piece of art that invites questions and sparks conversations.
The owner of this treasure trove, Mr. Jefferson, is an antique dealer, curator, and storyteller who weaves tales around his curious and surprising objects. He shares the story of how he found the giant Masterpiece, the waiting game he played to finalize the purchase, and the intriguing background of the piece itself. The details of the story, like the strokes of an artist’s brush, add layers of depth and meaning to the artwork.
The Zaida Table
As we continued to converse about the pieces in the shop, we turned to a beautiful round table with a tabletop that looked as if sunshine reflections were hitting it through the water. The table in question, The Zaida Table, dating back to the 1900s, belonged to the Earl of Roseberry and was serving its purpose as a ‘dinner’ table on his yacht.
As we neared the end of our visit, Patrick asked us if we could figure out which of the pieces in front of our eyes could be the rarest of all. Even though it was sitting there in front of us, I would never have guessed it.
Log of Zitan
A log of wood (can be seen here), standing tall in a visible corner of the shop that didn’t seem to yield much curiosity at first sight, now comes to life through the added background information Mr. Jefferson shares with us.
The log of wood, which seems almost a vulgar way to describe it, turns out to be a piece of Zitan wood. After Mr. Jefferson sent a small chip of the wood to the laboratory to approximate its age, it turns out the wood dates between 1476-1637. Keeping in mind that this wood grows very slowly – it takes about 300 years to grow 30 feet (about 9.1 meters) in 10-inch (25.4cm) diameter [source] – this log of rare and now endangered wood could well be over a thousand years old. If you’ve never heard of this type of wood, you’re not the only one. As it turns out, Zitan wood has an interesting story. Quoting a Christies Article on Chinese furniture:
it had been used for the Imperial Qing Dynasty furniture“
and due to its rarity and history, prices on such furniture are high.
The Passion in Creating Art and Collections
I am tempted to believe there are many similarities between an artist and a passionate, well-intentioned antique dealer. Both are expressing their passion, albeit in slightly different ways. Both are looking to create or find meaning through either the search for something within, for the artist, or something outward, like a mysterious and surprising piece of art they are trying to get their hands on.
To tell the truth, if Mr. Jefferson were to write a book about his adventures in dealing with antiques, I’d reserve my copy today.
Artists pour their passion into their work, creating pieces that are personal and meaningful. Similarly, collectors embark on a journey to find art that resonates with them, pieces that fit well within their curated collection. This drive to create and collect mirrors our pursuit of purpose and passion in life.
Just as the Masterpiece stands tall, showcasing the craftsman’s skills, we too strive to master our own lives, to create a life that reflects our skills, passions, and values. And just as Mr. Jefferson curates his shop with care and intention, we too curate our experiences, choosing what to keep and what to let go.
Practical Insights: Embrace Curiosity
1. Find Your Passion:
Just like an artist or a collector, find what drives you, what makes your heart sing, and pursue it with all your might. Reflecting back to childhood might hold clues to what it is that makes you feel this passion. For me, the memories of traveling, playing tennis with my grandparents, seeing them entertain people at dinner parties, and doing the things they liked doing, has brought a lot of clarity to my own wants.
2. Master Your Craft:
Be it your profession, a hobby, or a personal project, strive to master it. And most importantly, learn to communicate stories that captivate.
3. Curate Your Experiences:
Be mindful of the experiences you choose to keep and those you choose to let go. Curate your life as you would a precious art collection. You do not need everything, even if you could experience and have everything. You only need the things that make you feel the drive.
My visit to Patricks store has deepened my appreciation for antiques and the stories that surround them. The interaction with the antiques dealer made me think about the way art is presented and how information wrapped in good storytelling can alter the perception almost more radically than the art itself. Works of art need their artist as well as a whole team of people. From the – hopefully informed – gallerist, curator, collector, restorer, rarely can a piece of art survive let alone thrive on its own.
My second conclusion is more of a suggestion to myself. I usually don’t go out without a goal in mind, but I might have been able to explore more antique stores and have conversations earlier if I had allowed myself to explore the city like a tourist.