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Excerpts from “We’ll always have Paris.” A story of wealth, obsessions, and the emperor’s ransom collected and dispersed by Christopher Forbes, Connoisseur.

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“We’ll always have Paris.”

A story of wealth, obsessions, and the emperor’s ransom collected
and dispersed by Christopher Forbes, connoisseur.

by Dr. Jeffrey Lant

Excerpts from Chapter 2

I didn’t know that Kip Forbes was selling the work of a lifetime
until the hefty plum colored catalogs (2) arrived and, in an instant,
maybe less, left me to ogle night and day, you are the one; in
the roaring traffic’s boom; in the silence of my lonely room, with
apologies to Cole Porter. I lugged them everywhere.

As soon as I dug in, I knew all my worthy and well-meant promises
to “go slow, there wlll be other auctions” went out the window, as they had gone out so often before. This is what happens with connoisseurs.
We mean well but we are putty in the hands of the particular objects
of our affection. We mean well, but that, when decisions must be
made, means nothing. Don’t scold us for our acquisitive dispositions. It could happen to you.

We can’t help ourselves. In for a penny, in for a pound, or a whole lot
more. We ought to have a help group entitled “,
Anonymous,” but it wouldn’t do any good. Even if we were shackled
by Houdini, we’d find a way out. Others may like a thing, but we connoisseurs are obsessed, a feeling we try to disguise, never to admit upon pain of death.

My heart sinks.

I noticed right away that Christopher’s trove was being auctioned off
by Osenat, the Peck’s Bad Boy (1907) of auction houses. They often
snag the best Empire artifacts, from important documents and autographs to over-the-top fauteuils and hard-to-find encoignures; reasonably estimated and so close the deal that justifies exceeding your limit. Oh, if only the story ended there. But it doesn’t.

For example, try asking them for a condition report, as I do with
despair because Osenat seems incapable of providing this necessary and timely intelligence, absolutely necessary in the determination to  proceed, or not.

I email and say, “Please send me a condition report for such and
such a lot.” In my early dealings with Osenat I was so naive as to
expect a precise and helpful response. Silly me. So, I ask again
and again and again; all to no avail and much exasperation. Take
the matter of the royal and imperial photographs available in
abundance thanks to Kip’s ardor and persistence.

Now, I happen to have an extensive collection of such photos,
nearly all autographed and as such exceedingly rare. I add to it
whenever such items come up, though I admit the signed photo
of Alexis Romanov (1904-1918), the last Tsarevich of a doomed
and tragic dynasty, was at $50,000 a bit steep.

Despite numerous requests to tell me which photos were autographed by their subjects, yes, despite my dogged efforts I never did get a response. This is the Osenat way, and it is most irritating. However, it gets even worse….

To make telephone bidding work, it is necessary for the bidder, the
Osenat representative transmitting the bids, and the auctioneer
to be in perfect sync. However here, too, Osenat stumbles. In one
famous instance (of several) the auctioneer was simply not paying
attention.

As a result a pair of the most stunning Empire pedestals in verde
mare marble were sold to a lucky Russian lady, not to me. Hell
hath no fury as a connoisseur slighted. It took me over ten years
to get my hands on them. They adorn the Blue Room where I am
writing you now.

I have never seen a pair with such chic and panache, and have still
not forgiven M. Osenat for keeping me from them for an infuriating
decade.

The same thing happened in the Forbes sale. There was an impressive photograph of Prince “Plon-Plon”, otherwise Prince Napoleon Bonaparte,(1822-1891), one of history’s most unattractive characters. He didn’t matter much so long as Napoleon III’s only son “LuLu” was alive. He wasn’t called the Prince Imperial for nothing.

However, once he was killed by Zulus (1879), Plon-Plon stepped forward as the Number I reason why the Bonapartes and their post 1870 chances of restoration ended with the thrust of an assegai.

He was detestable was Plon-Plon. Of course, I had to have him in my
collection where imperial princes of any dynasty trump all. Kip had two Plon-Plons. I “owned” one for a week until I inquired after my bill and was told “my” treasure was sold the next day to a luckier punter than me . This is all too typical of my checkered experience with Osenat.

Just one more finger pointing…

The first two days of the Forbes sale took place March 5 and March 6, 2016.
Instead of numbering all the items sequentially they numbered each catalog from 1 thus creating some serious muddle, especially for collectors like me who always go over each item with our own advisors, the trusted folk who work for me, not the auction house. I never imagined some of them knew such  indigo lingo as I heard because of this needless error. Thus did Osenat make clear they are still not ready for prime time and a worldwide clientele.

So why, then, did Kip Forbes bestow his golden patronage on such a
place? As he told me, it was because the larger and more well known
auction houses would not have taken the whole collection, over 1300 items,  thus declining the hundreds of documents.

Selling such documents is an Osenat specialty, and hence just right for Kip whose intense interest in autograph documents mirrors that of father, brother,  grandfather, world without end, amen, amen.

‘You’re lovely, absolutely lovely.’ Connoisseurs, the objects of their desire, the gnawing obsession.

Proudly presented from www.writerssecrets.com Article Series.

by Dr. Jeffrey Lant

Author’s program note. One of the loveliest songs ever written, short though it is, was composed by Stephen Sondheim for his 1962 musical “A funny thing happened on the way to the forum.” It’s called “Lovely”, and he wrote both book and music.

The song only lasts for 2 minutes and 28 captivating seconds… but once you’ve heard it even a single time it will circulate throughout your brain for life. It’s the kind of song that forces you to create situations where you can sing it, use it. For instance, I have recommended singing it to your Significant Other the very minute you come home this evening… always accompanying your admittedly croaky voice with flowers, candies, and ardent declarations delivered on one arthritic knee. That Significant Other will no doubt gibe, giggle, and give every indication of busting a gut laughing, but they’ll be touched to the core. And Sondheim, a master in every way, wrote it for just that.

Go now to any search engine and let the music frolic around you. You cannot be anything other than happy, for you see you are the person Songheim celebrated in this tune…

… You that is and every object desired by every single connoisseur and collector on earth. And that, given the incessant collectors we are, is just about everyone.

“You’re lovely”.

I am what is called a connoisseur, that is a master of matters artistic and of taste… the kind of person who can say with credibility of any object on earth just what is, and even more important, what is not of value to civilization. It is back breaking work, what with millions of artifacts to find, subject to minute scrutiny, and, the object passing the most stringent of tests, arranging the contortions, financial and otherwise, which lead to acquisition and a lifetime of unadulterated love (with dollops of shrewdness and cleverness to sweeten the mix.)

This process, for me, begins with a catalog from any of the great auction houses on earth… with names like Sothebys! Christie’s! The Dorotheum! Et al, great and small. These produce the siren songs that capture my attention and cause me endless nights of torment and insistent cogitation… these are the places, the very holiest of holies for connoisseurs, that wreck havoc in the minds and pocket books of even the most well heeled on earth. And of course these long-standing institutions with instantly recognizable names (at least to connoisseurs) are expert at catching their fish (that would be you and me, dear friend) and keeping them on their gilded hook c. 1250 A.D. once the property of the Queen of Bohemia. Look at yourself in the mirror and remember: you are about to go fishing in the most teeming waters on earth where your expertise will be tested against the very best… whose skills, wiles, courtesies and insights have been honed over centuries… all designed to capture you… the unceasing object of their potent desires.

Catalogs you pay for, versus catalogs hand endorsed and wafted to you.

When I began collecting so many years ago, the Internet was not dreamed of, much less a universal factor of life. And so collectors like me had to rely on the sales catalogs produced by the many divisions of the major houses. If you have never seen such a catalog you will not understand that these in no way resemble the short and flimsy cousins produced by, say, companies selling roasted meats. No indeed. These companies share a word… but nothing more. For the auction house catalogs are nothing short of the erudite and lavishly photographed “coffee table” books of yore, with only one difference: in these catalogs every single thing is for sale, could be yours, and which you are allowed, indeed encouraged to want… fervently, wildly, devotedly. Yes anything, everything could be yours… for a price.

In the beginning of course, when these long-established houses (with the grandest dating from the 18th century) do not know you, you must pay for the privilege of getting a catalog. And, as if to warn you about what is to follow, even these catalogs are steeply priced, at $50 or more each.

But when you are that all-important entity — a demonstrated connoisseur — you may request any catalog for free… or, when you are more well-known, too, specialists will send you their latest, a card enclosed with their compliments. One such specialist so beguiled yesterday sent me the latest sales catalog from Sotheby’s Amsterdam, for they have sales from noble and royal houses which beguile me, and regularly seduce me from the thrifty ways of my plain-living, luxury abhoring Puritan ancestors. They look down on me now with disdain and disapproval… But that is their problem, not mine.

“I’m lovely. All I am is lovely.”

No one can aspire to being a connoisseur without the “eye”; that is the practiced ability to perceive, not just to see, an item. This is the work of a lifetime… for, you see, ages previous to ours did not have just or only masters; there were many lackluster crafts people… and, such is fate… they often survived where the superior productions of their more gifted brethren may not. Yes, Fate is fickle that way.

To develop your eye requires incessant labor… the willingness, indeed the desire, or better yet, the obsession… to examine, scrutinize, and, at all times, improve your ability to know what you are looking at, and why it either is or is not worthy of… you. This all starts when an item you see in a sales catalog, or on the Internet, looks at you (for the object most assuredly selects you, as much as being selected by you)… when, I say, that item looks at you and says without any modesty at all… “I’m lovely. All I am is lovely. Lovely is the one thing I can do…”

But is this claim true… or merely a ruse… to ensnare you? This is where you must have help… or you are on the way to a very expensive mistake, a mistake which is almost always avoidable if you do your homework; which entails finding, listening to, and following the advice of experts who have spent a lifetime perfecting skills and knowledge you don’t have but which you desperately need right now. Such experts can be acquired, first, from the auction houses themselves and then by referral from the auction houses.

Direct, candid, honest to a fault.

One of the most gratifying and unexpected things you’ll learn as you develop as a connoisseur is the honor and honesty of experts. Their candor is a by-word and rare in our world of mendacity and practiced deceits. In short they tell the truth. And no matter how thoroughly you mature as a connoisseur you will always rely on it… as I do. My chief support is London-based Simon Gillespie, conservator of paintings, friend, goad, willing ear, magnificent eye. Sometimes he brings possible acquisitions to me; sometimes I to him. In the case of the striking floral still life pictured above, by Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer (1636-1699) it was, first, my find; then after Simon’s review, very much his as well. The song sung by this lovely painting by one of the greatest masters, had not been sung in vane. I had taken the bait… as how could I not… for I already knew the man and his work; one of his magnificent ouevres was mine already, hung here to enliven the gray winter days of Cambridge… and never anything other than winsome.

Thus the duet.

Each object, every artifact which could be collected must sing out about its merits, particularly when those merits are not immediately apparent and only as a result of some master conservator’s ministrations, the work of a Simon Gillespie, absolutely essential to the long-term value and preservation, for such necessary experts see below the damages, scarred surfaces and problems which accrue in these objects over time — and these were immense and challenging in the new Monnoyer. In short, they see the “lovely” in items anything but. And the lucky ones (for they are lucky indeed) are snapped up (often at bargain prices), about to be returned to their original condition, a thing of beauty, a joy forever.

And it is the connoisseur who makes that decision (always after soliciting the best advice) and makes the necessary investment of time, money, patience, and belief. And who then is more than qualified to sing back to the object of his affection these words by Sondheim:

“You’re lovely, Absolutely lovely. Who’d believe the loveliness of you?”

I would. I did. And now it is mine, “Radiant as in some dream come true.”

Your comments on this article are invited, post your comments below.

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About the Author

Dr. Jeffrey Lant is known worldwide. He started in the media business when he was 5 years old, a Kindergartner in Downers Grove, Illinois, publishing his first newspaper article. Since then Dr. Lant has earned four college degrees, including the PhD from Harvard. He has taught at over 40 colleges and universities, quite possibly the first to offer satellite courses. He has written over 20 books, thousands of articles and been a welcome guest on hundreds of radio and television programs. He has founded several successful corporations and businesses including his latest at …writerssecrets.com

 

His memoirs “A Connoisseur’s Journey” have garnered five prizes that ensure its classic status. Its subtitle is “Being the artful memoirs of a man of wit, discernment, pluck, and joy.” A good read by this man of so many letters. Such a man can offer you thousands of insights into the business of becoming a successful writer. Be sure to sign up now and get a copy of his memoir at http://writerssecrets.co

 

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