Design & Decoration S01 ep2: Frank Partridge, Partridge Antique, [London]
Interview with Frank Partridge
You see French furniture, they had a court at Versaille and people were all competing with the king and competing with each other. Now in England the wealthy were buying for their stately homes which were out in the country. And as a result they were buying to use the pieces of furniture, not to show it off to all their friends.
Well what Partridge is, is we are a firm of antique dealers and our main
business is buying and selling works of art.
KM: When did it all start and why did it start?
Well our business started in about 1900. My great grandfather was one of
about 10 children, and his father died at an early age and he was really
brought up by his eldest brother. And his eldest brother married an antique
dealer’s daughter and in time he then inherited the business. After he learnt
the business, which was after a few years, my great grandfather received 1000
pounds and he started and opened up a shop down in King Street.
He'd only been in business a few days and Mr. Lever walked in and said,
"What’s going on in here", and my great grandfather said, "Well I am an
antique dealer, and I have only just started and these are the things I've got".
And Mr. Lever liked the things that he got and bought one or two things and
then they formed a relationship and that then lead him to buying thousands of
items from us. And he was the biggest collector of antiques the world has ever
Well sadly in 1942 during the war we got blitzed and our building got
completely destroyed and practically all our stock went in the blitz, so we were
sort of temporarily out of business for a while.
KM: That must have been a bummer as they say in good English.
Exactly because in those days there was no insurance.
So as you say, you took it on the chin, and then my father joined in I think in
KM: And then when did you join, when did you come into the fold?
I joined in 1980.
KM: Why are you doing this?
Well I think there were two reasons why I joined this business – one, all our
family money was tied up in this business and secondly we had this tradition of
all male Patridges coming into the antique business, because my great uncle
was an antique dealer and all my great uncles were as well.
KM: What has been the most expensive single piece or single painting that
you have sold?
I think it was a pair of pictures we had which we sold for just under 3 million
It is obviously very pleasing to sell something because you are basically
confirming that you were right to buy it.
KM: Oh ok
But I think that it goes back that most dealers tend to sell to buy rather than
buy to sell. And the difference is that very often we don't like parting with
things because we love the items and that is why we bought them but there is
always something else we want to buy. So as a result because the bank
manager is always saying, "Well how are you going to pay for the next
purchase", you have to sell some things to buy something else.
I would say that I like the Louis Sevres period best of all in French furniture
And the Adam period best in English furniture.
Because the arts have really being perfected. To the end of the 18th century
England was an immensely wealthy country, so there were lots of houses
being built. As a result there was lot of money being spent on doing up these
houses, and you didn't have industry. So as a result all the cleverest people
went into the arts because that is where the money was. Whereas in the
Industrial Revolution of the 19th century then somebody who was a very clever
man with his hands would go and become an engineer. Whereas in the 20th
century if somebody’s brilliant with his hands, then he’s going to be an open
heart surgeon and not a cabinetmaker. It is simply the question of the money.
KM: What is the real difference, in your opinion, between English furniture
and French furniture? I am not talking stylistically, just.
Right the main difference is is with English furniture you are very interested in
keeping the paterna and the age of the piece. Now a piece of French furniture
is really made and designed to be like a work of art as in a picture. Now with a
picture you don't want to see all the grime and the dirt and the wax. You want
to see the beauty of the paint, or where a piece of furniture is concerned the
beauty of the veneers.
And you only see that if the veneers have been cleaned and then varnished.
And so the English furniture is made not as a work of art as a display, it is
made as a practical, functional piece of furniture, and as a result the beauty of
English furniture is not in all these precise veneers but it is in the age of the
piece and the fact that it has got a lovely patternation, and the difference
between modern furniture and English antique furniture is is that the timber
was used in the 18th century was a much tighter grain and as a result is much
finer timber. And so that’s why you cannot make modern furniture made today
to look like antique furniture.
When my father first came into the business a lady came in who looked like a
French peasant. In fact she was all dressed in black, and on her tunic she had
literally half her breakfast, egg all down the collar. And she spotted three very
good pieces of French furniture - one was the most expensive piece that we
had. And she asked the prices of these three items, and she said, "Well they
are very interesting and I’d be interested in buying them, but first of all I’d like
my maid to come and inspect them". So he fortunately asked where she was
staying and what her name was. And she said her name was the Duchess of
Richeleau and she was staying at the Ritz.
So after she got up my father then rang up the Ritz to find out whether there
was a Duchess of Richeleau because he thought that this was some con trick.
And he spoke to the doorman who knew everybody and he said “tell me, is
there a Duchess of Richeleau staying and is she a bit balmy or”. And he said if
she wants to buy something, if I were you I'd be there. So my father dutifully
came in the next morning and in walked an immaculately dressed lady and
said I have come to see the three items that the Duchess has asked me to
look at. So my father showed her the three items and she said they will do
very nicely, the Duchess will be in later on today.
So after lunch the Duchess reappeared and she said “I’ll buy them and I’ll send
you the money next week. Now I’d now like you to come to New York and take
me to Wildensteins to see some pictures. Will you please meet me in New
York in two weeks time?” So my father said “well as you have bought these
items, certainly, why don't I take you to Wildensteins and I will show you
around anywhere in New York.”
So he met her in New York and and they went into Wildenstein and again she
turned up looking like a French peasant and after buying one or two pictures in
Wildenstein she said to my father “Would you please take me out to dinner”.
Instead of dressing in these black clothes she wore a very glamorous outfit
and my father said “I can't help but ask you, tell me the story why is the maid
so elegantly dressed and you go around looking like a peasant?” And she said
“the person who is the maid is actually my husband's mistress and I didn't
want to lose my husband and so I decided to befriend the mistress and so
mistress travels with me as well.”
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Frank Partridge, Partridge Antiques, London