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Period furniture with the elaborate carvings of walnut or oak and stories the panels of the case pieces told. When I opened my own gallery I stayed away from acquiring these pieces until I saw an Armoire a deux corps from an area in Provence where French Huguenots lived. I purchased the piece and to my delight it was well received among many.

It found a home with dear friends of mine who were both architects and even today, I am happy to say that it lives well sitting in the same position I placed it years ago. EXPERTISE IN FURNITURE Several years ago I was yearning for another Armoire a deux corps and saw a beauty in a sale at Christie’s Pariswhich resembled one at the Musée National de la Renaissance, Château d’ Ecouen.

I studied the piece and employed an expert to review my potential purchase outside the Christie’s experts. The normal wear was noted and we all anticipated that it would need restoration. I managed to acquire the Armoire and off it went to my restorer in Paris who had prepared a lengthy document describing what had to be done before the purchase. When the Armoire was completed it was shipped directly to Palm Beach, Florida where it made its debut in my stand at Palm Beach! America’s International Fine Art and Antiques Fair. This Fair was vetted by experts from the United States and Europe in all categories.

The furniture in my stand was vetted by two very well-known experts from Paris, one from Germany and two Museum Directors with expertise in furniture. All went very well and this Armoire was discussed and presented on tours by other experts and Museum groups attending the fair. NATURALLY I WAS DELIGHTED Unfortunately I did not sell the piece however that was fine because I wanted to share the piecewith my Birmingham clientele. After the Armoire was placed in the gallery I was paid a visit from the curator of Decorative Arts and the curator of European Painting and Sculpture fromThe Birmingham Museum of Art. They asked if the Armoire could go on display at the museum among the Kress Galleries. Naturally I was delighted and they prepared a special place for it.

This was in 2007 and by the beginning of 2008 my husband and I began the transition of moving the gallery to Charleston, South Carolina which included the piece at the museum. AUTHENTIC? In October of that year I was to exhibit at the Fall International Fine Art and Antiques Fair at the Park Avenue Armory in New York. I had a wonderful inventory to present at the show as well as the Armoire and was not the least concerned about vetting since this piece had passed the eyes of so many renowned experts. Imagine my surprise when I found a slip in my stand asking me to remove the Armoire.

It was late in the afternoon and the opening party was just a few hours away. I challenged the Vetter’s opinion and was quickly told no, it was a copy made in the 19th century.

I chose not to argue further but had the piece removed and immediately delivered to the New York location of Christie’s. Having obtained the vetting form from the Vetting committee with each of their signatures, I stated my case to the head of European Decorative Arts at Christie’s with whom I have a wonderful relationship with. In my opinion these pieces were dead and finished with a big cloud of uncertainty. I could never in good conscience tell a potential buyer this sort of story. IT WAS AUTHENTIC AFTER ALL Christie’s in New York reviewed the piece quickly, agreed with the vetting committee and refunded my money.

They presented the Armoire at auction again and it sold for little money. It was described as 19th Century with earlier elements. A year later, I was on the internet looking at the offerings of dealer friends in France and there was the Armoire a deux corps. I emailed my colleague and told him the “story” of the piece. He was shocked and informed me that he purchased it from a dealer in Paris who would know exactly what it was. He then said that both he and his father (also experts) were most certain that it was of the period however they would have others also look into the matter. After much “to do” the conclusion by all involved in France was that the piece was in fact authentic. So, the question remains to some, was it real or was it a fake? For me, I believe that it was of the period.

My restorer in Paris would have first suggested there may have been something wrong. Last but not least, I trust my own eyes, the eyes of my experts, the eyes of the Vetting Committee at Palm Beach and heads of both departments The Birmingham Museum of Art. I have no quarrel with the Vetting Committee at the fair whom I know personally and really have no cause to believe there was malice. I do have my doubts as to whether they themselves were qualified to judge the piece since neither of them was truly a specialist in this field.

There are scientific ways to determine the true age of a piece of furniture believed to be this old which is a technique The Getty Museum used with a happy result on a piece now attributed to Hugues Sambin. Perhaps someday my former Armoire a deux corps will undergo such an examination but for now I hope it has a happy home.

About the Author

Mary Helen McCoy

Mary Helen McCoy

Mary Helen McCoy is a woman with a mission – that is, to deliver to her clients the ultimate in period furniture and decorative arts. Her firm is considered one of the nation’s premier sou...