Pop artist Andy Warhol blew minds when he turned Campbell’s soup cans into art, but his taste in furniture was surprisingly classical, harking back to ancient Greece and Rome. American classical furnishings made between 1815 and 1840—the last great period of handmade furniture—are also called Neoclassical and Empire. It was a time when American artisans, borrowing from French and English sources, turned out klismos chairs, card tables, and recamiers, some brushed with green-based paint to simulate aged bronze and made from the finest figured woods (“rosewood and crotch-grain mahogany from the tropics,” says Leslie).
The retail price, however, is bargain basement. “You can buy classical furniture by the pound right now,” notes Leslie, only half-joking. At regional auction houses, he reports that sideboards go for $1,500 and game tables for as little as $800. The 1815 sideboard with figured mahogany shown here sold at auction for $4,025. Even signature pieces like 7-foot-long sofas with carved claw feet can be found for $800. The other big bonus? There’s no fooling around. “You just don’t find fakes because there’s no money in it,” he says.
But, be forewarned, the reopening of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s expanded Greek galleries may spark a new love affair with this cool, classy style.
Photograph: Courtesy of Cowan’s Auction House
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