costa's hummer

Friday, April 1, 2011

Peruvian Vargueño

I like to collect unusual furniture in the gallery. I sold a wonderful mid 19th century scottish sideboard with monk and lion carving a few years ago. I have an amazing english art nouveau opium cabinet at present from the E.S. Henry Co. in Birmingham, England that dates to about 1883. It is decorated with a pediment of opium pods splitting open and oozing their sap. A highly carved NorthWind chair from Stomps-Burkhardt Co., Dayton, Ohio. I love to live with these things here, spending an inordinate amount of time in the gallery, and sometimes am sad when they move away to new homes. I am destined to be a caretaker.

Several weeks ago a woman brought in pictures of a very unusual piece that had long been in her husband's family, a distant relation working in Peru at the turn of the century for the W.R. Grace Co..

W.R. Grace was a company in Peru that was started by an Irish immigrant, William Russell Grace in 1854,   who fled Ireland during the potato famine and built an empire.. Grace started working the guano market, which could be used for both fertilizer and gun powder and eventually branched out into shipping, machinery and chemicals.

We dickered a bit and I bought the family heirloom. The piece that I purchased is a vargueño, a classical piece of spanish colonial furniture that owes much to the moors stylistically. In fact, if what I have read is correct, it was one of the first pieces of spanish furniture, since the moors tended to sit on the floor. Vargueños date back to the 1600's.

Vergueños or vargueños either sat on open pedestals or above a cupboard like this one. Typically they are much more ornate internally than on the exterior. Some vargueños have the little cubby holes decorated with silver or ivory, a real throwback to their arabic heritage.

The tops of the cabinet are joined in a lattice construction that dates back to the 17th century, a joinery that kept the underlying members straight.

This is a magnificent piece and totally unrestored. Walnut. Diminutive in size, it is covered in figural carvings that seem heroic rather than theological in origin. A gold David like figure is mounted on the center drawer. Lion heads pull out and hold the drop front in place. It is beautifully fitted with hand made hardware. Lion's paw feet.

I am not sure if the family member had the piece made for him in 1910 or found it during his tenure. It owes something stylistically to the italian renaissance. Stop by for a gander and get acquainted.