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Vanessa Philips


Having worked with art expert Stephan Welz at his first auction house for 25 years, Vanessa Philips became a director at his subsequent company, Strauss & Co fine art auctioneers and consultants, on its inauguration in 2009. Cape Town-based Vanessa initially trained as a ceramic restorer, but her repertoire as a specialist now includes furniture, silver and glass. Was yours always the profession you wanted to enter into? Yes! My first love in the art and antique field was ceramics, and having worked as a restorer I became more interested in the background, use and value of artefacts. Many objects that come up at auction are not only beautiful to look at but had a utilitarian purpose in their time, and may well have belonged to interesting families and characters.  For example, we offered a group of small silver collectables for auction, which were in general use throughout the 19th century. They include vinaigrettes, novelty pin cushions and vesta cases. These intriguing little boxes are not necessarily of high value, but more of social interest, and are exceedingly well made. What should first-time collectors look out for when buying antique silver? I would suggest that you look for quality, condition, maker and design. Fortunately most silver is hallmarked, from which you can establish the date, country and maker of the piece. Objects made by superior and acknowledged makers will always hold their value. Condition is important, however dents can be removed and repairs successfully undertaken. Seek the opinion of an expert if unsure. I would advocate purchasing useful objects such as a pair of candlesticks. What are the most memorable pieces you’ve ever worked with? House sales have been the most challenging and fun, often packed with interesting and useful objects. There was, for example, a 19th century red and gilt lacquered Chinese marriage bed, complete with balcony, which was sold by Strauss & Co at a recent auction of the contents of Keerweder– a fine eighteenth century Cape Dutch home in the Franschhoek Valley. This bed dismantled into small sections, which fitted together like a puzzle, making it easily transportable and highly decorative. House auctions often include not only wonderful furnishings and paintings, but everyday accoutrements such as linen, cutlery, china and the proverbial croquet set. The two most unforgettable and finest pieces of furniture which come to mind though, are an 18th century Cape coromandel and silver-mounted buffet, and a 19th century William IV expanding circular mahogany Jupe dining table. The 18th century buffet belonged, by repute, to Baron von Plettenberg, governor of the Cape from 1771 to 1785. This was the most expensive piece of furniture ever sold at auction in South Africa, establishing a record of R1 058 300! The Jupe dining table, circa 1835, is a masterpiece of technical engineering and craftsmanship, and expands with the insertion of eight leaves, to allow seating for six to eight people Any tips for displaying porcelain and ceramics at home? Apart from the obvious display cabinets and good lighting there are many other ways of displaying porcelain in the home. Groupings of vases on the tops of cupboards and tables add visual interest. Objects displayed on perspex, gilded or painted wall brackets can be attractive features. Jardinières filled with orchids, exotic plants and small trees can make a room more interesting. Consider filling bowls with fruit – what could more pleasing to the eye than fresh lemons or oranges placed in a blue and white Chinese bowl? What one artwork would you own if you could? I would love to own ‘Still Life with Three Vessels and Checked Tablecloth’, painted by Jean Welz, which we sold at the inaugural Strauss & Co auction in 2009. Any upcoming auctions we can look forward to? I would have to say Strauss & Co’s October Cape Town auction, when we’ll be selling a private collection of very fine 18th and 19th century Cape furniture. The collection was assembled over the past 25 years, by a discerning collector who was inspired by the elegant sobriety and simplicity of Cape furniture, the primary forms which characterise the style, and use of distinctive indigenous timbers. What’s your ultimate luxury indulgence? A bottle of Frédéric Malle’s Bigarde Concentrée– a bitter orange essence with a touch of rose and cedar. In fact, the sheer indulgence of being able to choose and wear any number of scents that are produced by Frédéric Malle’s Editions De Parfums would be bliss. Second choice would be anything from the Santa Maria Novella emporium. Perhaps a Terracotta Pomegranate, soaked in the Officina Profumo Farmacentica di Santa Maria Novella’s pomegranate cologne. The scent lasts forever and is hauntingly mysterious. Interviewed by Raphaella Frame-Tolmie