Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Prestige Furniture

The side table above  with heads and faces emerging in profusion from arabesques of carved giltwood  was created about 1720 in Rome. Glory undiminished, it now lives in California at the Getty, sharing space with equally sumptuous but more restrained groupings of mostly French pieces, including the map case immediately below.

French "antiques" still enjoyed a unique prestige in the United States during the middle decades of the 20th century. Not coincidentally, those were the decades when J. Paul Getty was most actively seeking publicity as the world's richest man and personally building the core of  the furniture collection he would bequeath to the museum.

J. Paul Getty enacted on the largest scale and for the last time what the fiction of Henry James had described a couple of generations earlier  the conquest and appropriation of European high culture by American money. Later generations of Americans would wield decreasing amounts of power and would feel far less reverence for the European past.