The International Art and Antiques Fair opened last week at the Olympia Exhibition Hall, Kensington, west London and continues until 15th June. I attended, as I do every year, excited, hoping to find some small treasure. My interest is Chinese art and antiques, which I have bought and sold, and collected for more than thirty years. I try to visit most of the Art and Antiques fairs in the UK and some in Europe and the US each year.
From a Chinese art point of view Olympia was a disappointment for me. Although I saw a few interesting pieces, the objects I would have liked to buy were too expensive or restored. I was resigned to leaving empty-handed. Not only empty-handed, disappointed, because I had not been really excited by anything I had seen and I had walked miles. Exhausted I headed for a coffee stand.
Unable to find a seat in the coffee shop, I sat on a long bench opposite a stand selling silver. Although I occasionally buy Chinese silver to sell, I have never been interested in collecting silver, always seeing it as too bright and needing too much attention to keep it that way. I rarely look at silver dealers stands, but as I sipped my coffee I looked at the objects this dealer was selling and quickly realised that many of them were much more than just silver. Gilded, silver beakers, tankards and large covered cups that looked like pineapples mingled with religious objects: a gilded monstrance, a rock crystal cross and various reliquaries. None of these objects were ordinary and they were all eighteenth century or earlier.
The man selling these items lifted various pieces out of the cabinets, cheerfully, giving information in excellent English with an accent I did not recognise. I looked at the name above the stand: Peter Szuhay – B59.
Somebody asked the price of a beautiful rhino-horn cup with a gilded, silver foot. I know nothing about European rhino-horn works of art, so when the potential buyer left and I had finished my coffee, I asked Mr Szuhay if he would show it to me.
We chatted about the cup, now standing between us on top of a glass showcase filled with jewellery and I discover that Mr Szuhay is Hungarian, has lived in London for over thirty years and has a permanent stand in Grays Antique Market, Davies Street, in London’s West End, near Bond Street underground station. He is a leading expert on Continental silver and works of art. He showed me various beautiful pieces early silver, mentioning the famous towns of Augsburg and Nuremberg, of which, even a Chinese art dealer has heard. He also has an interest in later silver and he showed me some 19th century Russian silver and a magnificent 20th century silver fish-server by the Scandinavian master silversmith, Georg Jensen.
I noticed that, what I had initially dismissed as jewellery, in the showcase beneath the cup, was in fact an array of beautifully carved stone cameos and intaglios. I am used to seeing shells carved into portraits, mounted in brooches, usually from Italy and dating from the mid-nineteenth century until quite recently, but these pieces were something quite different and very exciting.
By now we were on first name terms and Peter showed me a selection of these carved stones, dating from the late nineteenth century back to Rome in the third century AD. Exquisite, tiny works of art, some signed by sixteenth century master carvers. We were interrupted and while Peter sold a Chinese silver box, which I had not even noticed was there and I walked to the other side of the stand, where he had a second jewelery showcase.
Here he was displaying, what appeared to be, a group of much more ordinary gold signet rings. But, when he returned to talk to me again, Peter put me straight. They were actually English Medieval rings of gold and silver. Some were signet rings others were guild rings or iconography rings, worn by pilgrims and etched with icons of Saint Christopher etc. There were sixteenth and seventeenth century Posy rings: mostly plain gold bands bearing sentiments etched around the inside of the ring, in Olde English. This was an area of collecting I had never considered. I have never had much interest in jewelery as adornment, but Peter’s jewelery was a lot more than that – it was sculpture, design and graphic art and everything had a story and a history attached. These small masterpieces were a revelation to me.
I did not buy anything from Peter Szuhay at Olympia, although he did make my day and gave me something to write about. I did however promise to visit his shop in Grays Antique Market and I will, and I’m sure I will buy something from him soon. Peter also offers a selection of his stock at: http://peterszuhay.co.uk