Value My Stuff sat down with our continental furniture expert, Martin Snape, for a Q & A. Learn more about why Martin continues to love furniture and get insight into a specialist's valuation.
After receiving your degree in architecture, what led you to join Sotheby's rather than become an architect? I came into the business almost by accident; after a few false starts, at first studying sculpture and history of art, later to do architecture, the course of which I discontinued, I got a position as a trainee paintings specialist in a new auction room in Warwickshire which was eventually to become Phillips in Knowle.
With the objects come the people of course. I cannot imagine many businesses that offer such a wide-ranging group of human types...Initially I concentrated on pictures and later became interested in the decorative arts, mainly ceramics and furniture. I studied and qualified as an Associate of the Incorporated Society of Valuers and Auctioneers, which was later absorbed in into the RICS of which I subsequently became a Fellow.As soon as I joined the auction business I knew that this world was for me; within twelve months I reckon I learned and saw more fine and decorative art than in the whole of my student days. The unexpected range of objects whether of the finest exalted quality or downright tawdry, constantly provided instruction, experience and often amusement.
With the objects come the people of course. I cannot imagine many businesses that offer such a wide-ranging group of human types; frequently colleagues and I mutually pinch ourselves to check whether we're participating in an Ealing comedy, such is the preponderance of eccentric characters and situations.
What do you love about furniture?Furniture has a particular draw for me as it is so closely integrated with architecture which is one of my great enthusiasms; the often classical proportions have a natural echo in the furniture that is made to fill it, very often literally taking the form of miniature buildings. It is not really practical to collect buildings, so furniture is a very convenient way of acquiring the aesthetic on a practical scale.
Could you say that you have a favourite period of furniture?
People often ask me what is my favourite period for furniture design. A difficult call; seeing so much internationally over the years, I find I've developed a taste for a wide range of styles.The 18th Century will always hold its place as a golden age though, where it seemed impossible to make an ugly piece, such was the augustan sense of balance, materials and craftsmanship particularly in France and England. My personal preference here would be for Kentian tables, chairs and mirrors in first half of that century in England, and for full-on rococo in mid-century France, especially the wonderful commodes of this time. The Baroque of Italy, Spain and Germany also appeal and I have a particular fondness for English gothic revivals whether for an 18th century "gothick" Windsor chair or a Pugin table of the mid-19th century; the Arts and Crafts movement also with its bold experiments with pre-classical vernacular design.
What are some of the most amazing collections you valued and went on to sell?
Three stand-out valuations that resulted in stunning sales:
1. Thurn und Taxis, St. Emmeram, Regensburg, Bavaria, 12th-15th October, 1993.
2. Markgrafen und Grossherzöge von Baden, Neues Schloss, Baden Baden, 5th-21st October, 1995.
3. Chatsworth House, Attic Sale, 5th-7th October, 2010.
These all involved multi-week valuations with teams of fellow specialists. The German castles were typical of much work that I was involved with particularly in the 1990's, and offered a rare opportunity to handle central European royal and imperial objects that would never have been offered for sale before.
Chatsworth, England's greatest palace was a treat, the month's long valuation embracing as it did four different collections condensed into one. Many discoveries were made which led to the so-called "attic" sale of surplus decorative items.