Many, many years ago (the early 90’s) in a land far away from Palm Beach (Breaux Bridge, LA), I was wandering around a wonderful antiques shop and came across a completely charming little oil portrait on canvas measuring (including the frame) barely 12 ½ x 10 ½ inches. It was utterly elegant in its simplicity; a handsome little man in 1850’s dress peering out placidly but pleasantly from his gilded confines.
No name. No artist’s signature. The dealer had neither. He thought, perhaps, it was French, but couldn’t swear to it. I didn’t care. I loved it.
I don’t remember how much it was. Not much really; but, regardless, it was more than I had at the time (“Much” is relative, you know). So, I took my final look and went on my way to wherever I was bound, but I never quite forgot it.
I should have bought it. I knew it. It was beautifully done and its size had made it so unique, but the memory soon slipped down the list of “things that got away” that every antiques collector mentally catalogues.
Nearly five years later, I was stocking my own antiques business and, finding myself passing through Breaux Bridge again, I stopped in the same shop. It was as wonderful as I remembered and I set about choosing my purchases to flesh out my own retail space back home. I did not see the little portrait.
So, as the last of my things were being packed and my credit card mercifully cleared, I mentioned off-handedly to the proprietor that I had once seen a portrait there that I had just loved and regretted not buying it. As I finished, he turned and stepped into his office from which he returned holding the small gilded frame. He said that he had always deliberately over-priced the portrait because, frankly, he’d never really wanted to sell it (Don’t judge. Every antiques dealer in the world has done this at some point.).
I professed my love of it myself and when all was said and done, I drove back to Palm Beach with the portrait (bought for a full 1/3 less than the price listed, thank you very much) laying on my passenger’s seat (I can be very persuasive…or maybe it was just “persistent.” Regardless, the result was the same.).
The moral of the story, I suppose, is that an antiques collection is such a personal thing. It represents us to others and, in a sense, reminds us of who we are…and were. I will never look at this portrait without remembering the first time I saw it and the reaction I had and the regret of not feeling as though I could afford it and, then, knowing that I should have MADE myself afford it. And, of course, ultimately the full-circle serendipity of finally making it mine.
“Meant to be,” some would say. “Lucky,” if you ask me.
The point is that sometimes “things” are more than things, and they get woven into the fabric of our lives. Just like who we love, we love WHAT we love for a reason.
As antiques collectors, it’s important to hone our instincts about our selections and listen to our inner voice.