Sunday, July 21, 2019

Collecting Bits & Pieces


I love it when I start writing about a subject and then look on line and find I am not the only one thinking along these lines. When it turns out to be the Metropolitan Museum, I am positively proud!

In this case after I picked my title and began writing and then looked up collecting fragments and wouldn’t you know it there were several entries for books in German which I decided I would not bother acquiring and then the headline: “The Dietrich von Bothmer Fragment Collection.”  Of course, it helped get my attention that I knew this famous art historian, curator and  head of the Department of Greek & Roman at the Met.  He came to the Met a couple of years after I was born and retired in 1990.

Dietrich, of course, acquired the important pieces for the museum but ,since Greek vases was the area of art he was most passionate about, he began to collect for himself broken pieces about the time he began to teach. I am sure he brought some of that collection into his classes before taking his students for a tour of the Met’s collection.  Dietrich passed away in 2009 and bequeathed his personal collection to the Met, which for all we know was a deal he made with the director of the Met when he told them he wanted to collect privately in his professional field, something that  was later frowned upon.

Aside from the headline grabbing auction records where people more interested in status than art are buying, there still are plenty of people who have the desire to collect art from various cultures in the old-fashioned way, because they love it.

So why do people collect fragments or even an unfinished drawing.  One looks for areas of art that one can afford, and it may just be part of a whole.  A small sketch might just be the first thoughts of an artist, maybe a record of someone on the street which the artist will use later in a painting.  With sculpture, you might think an entire figure was out of reach but owning a fragment can be something satisfying and part of history.

I started to think of some pieces that we own which are remnants of a bygone era, both historically and for our life time.  In New York, one of my fields as a dealer was  in the European decorative arts of the 17th and 18th century. Most of that was sold because it was part of gallery inventory but I felt we had to keep some pieces so we would not totally lose our past to the world of the Southwest which has brought us to collecting Native American art.

Who wants to throw away a thing of beauty?  Here is a Meissen Porcelain handle with a silver letter opener of later date.  The handle would have originally been for a knife or fork. When the blade or tines were no longer usable someone refitted the handle for a new use rather than throw it away. This particular handle dates around 1740 and is painted with Meissen’s well known “Flying Dog” pattern adapted from the Japanese Kakiemon style.


Meissen, near Dresden, Germany was the first Western factory to produce true hard paste porcelain.  In 2012 a small early Meissen porcelain tea service came up at Bonham’s auction house.  In a sense it was a fragment because it was missing its most important piece, the teapot!  Still at least a couple of people got excited enough about it to shoot the price up to $760,000!

We on the other hand, own just one lonely saucer attributed to one of Meissen’s greatest artists, Christian Friedrich Herold.  He worked at the factory for half a century and when he started out there in 1725, he painted Chinoiserie subjects on the factory’s wares. On the bottom of the dish is a large number 17 in gold which was the gilder’s mark.  Placing gold leaf on porcelain was a sub specialty not done by the painter.



Take a look at this pair of German 17th century lions.  They clearly belonged together but were not just decoration. There is a small piece of gilt bronze on top that looks attached and not molded with the rest.  Turn it over and you find that a screw is holding this to the Lion’s back.  Without this top they are flat and clearly something was on top of them.  Since they are too small to hold a cupboard or chest of drawers, they probably propped up a small cabinet or, more likely a clock.  The clock might have stopped working and the owner had no more use for it, so they threw it out and an industrious person preserved the feet and turned It into a decoration which we enjoy every day.



Bits and pieces, or rather fragments can provide the acquirer with great personal pleasure.