Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Whatever Happened to the Decorative Arts Collector?

For years now, we've read about internet entrepreneurs, young Wall Street tycoons, and the like who have set out to become serious art collectors, and the high prices that this art (usually Contemporary) commands just proves what a hot market it is. But what about decorative arts collectors? How many young or middle-aged people do you know who collect porcelain, silver, or antique furniture? I'm not really talking about someone who dabbles in a few objects here and there. I mean those people who have a serious and abiding passion for a particular field of collecting.

I think this is one reason why I so admire the late Philip Shutze, the dean of Atlanta architecture. Shutze's architecture, rooted in the Beaux Arts tradition, has an elegance that is both classic and erudite. But did you know that he was also a passionate collector of 18th and 19th century decorative arts? Shutze had a marvelous collection that ranged from Meissen porcelain to Chinese Export. In fact, he purchased many of his pieces from Northeast dealers who also supplied Henry Francis du Pont with much of his collection.

What struck me was not just the breadth of his collection, but the way in which he displayed it. Living in a small apartment on Peachtree St. in Atlanta, Shutze's home was chock full of antiques, objects and books. The man actually lived with and used these precious objects. One look at the photographs and you can tell that this was someone who was a passionate and curious collector. It's evident that an interesting person lived there- someone you might like to know.

Shutze once wrote "It may well be that another generation will see collecting, as we have known it, by the individual come to a grinding halt." Shutze believed this might be due to economic reasons, but I believe it also has to do with the fact that collecting decorative arts is just not sexy. But Shutze did go on to say that "it is the duty of the present generation to preserve what we have of value for the level of taste has sunk to an unprecedented state and our production is blue denim and ersatz." To think that this was written in 1973-74! Now, I'm not going give up my dark blue denim nor some of the pastiche that I have in my home, but Mr. Shutze has inspired me to become a serious collector too. But before I pull my money from under my mattress, I think I'll do my homework first!

A view of Shutze's Dining Room.

The other end of his Dining Room with his "Mandarin" and "Fitzhugh" Chinese Export porcelain displayed on a sideboard.

The living room with a Shutze "tablescape".

Shutze's kitchen and his collection of blue and white Chinese Export which he used on a daily basis.

Image at top: Philip Shutze


  1. His collection is such a treasure that we have in Atlanta (great lacquered pieces too!)

    Michael Smith is someone collecting today who I guess brings sex appeal to the whole thing. But I get your point about a collector with a very serious focus, acquiring pieces that could be left one day to a museum.

    Maybe one day the High will have a Jennifer Boles Dwyer collection!

  2. I am a youngish collector! My late grandmother was an antiques dealer and she encouraged all of her children and grandchildren to collect SOMETHING even if it wasn't fine or fancy. I collect vintage Toleware, antique altar crosses, green Wedgewood pottery, china, vintage Enid Collins purses, brown and white transferware, and various other things. Granted none of this is that expensive, but since I began collecting as a teenager, they have risen in value. My mother is the ultimate collector - too many to name. Check out her house on my blog - House Tour #1 - at . Collecting antiques is like putting money in the bank - you can always get your money back if need be. Great post!

  3. Thank you for sharing..ah to have the means to follow a dream of collecting.

  4. Courtney- Well, that would be awfully nice! But the High seems to relegate the decorative arts in its collection to the "hinterlands" of the museum. I agree with you re: Michael Smith.

  5. I am a "young" collector!

  6. I'm glad to see that I'm not the only architect who collects obscene amounts of china! I'm glad it's an architect I admire so much, too!

  7. Decor Style- Good for you! Now you are a serious collector! It's great to find people who are so passionate about collecting. I'm going to check out the house tour of your mother's house!

  8. Capegirl- I recently wrote a post about Gene Hovis, and he mentioned once that he collected things that were not really "hot". But, if whatever he was collecting became hot or trendy, he moved on to the next thing. He said this was the only way he could afford things.

  9. Newell9:59 AM

    If you haven't already, you should definitely read The Volcano Lover by Susan Sontag.

  10. Wonderful post! I love my "collections", but fear that they only collect "dust" and not value!....LOL

  11. Newell, I have not read that book, but upon your recommendation I'll venture over to Amazon and order it! Thank you.

  12. This is an amazing collection. The blue and white alone is enough to make my pulse race. I have friends who collect blue and white and Imari, which I love, but I also love Old Paris.


  13. Thanks for bringing up this subject. I collect all over the map in terms of geography and items and style. But I believe the thing that's most important to remember is to collect what you love. It should never be about the money. The same is true of art work. I do have a couple of pieces that might actually be museum-worthy but that is an accident not the guiding principle.

    My husband and I once put off buying a new car and took out a loan to buy a Ming dynasty sculpture instead. We figured the car would hold up a bit longer and we'd never regret the sculpture purchase. That was two vehicles ago and the sculpture sits in pride of place in the living room where we enjoy it every day.

    My favorite books on this subject are "Obsessions" by Stephen Calloway, "A Passion for Collecting" by Caroline Clifton-Mogg and "The Odyssey of a Collector" by Charles Carpenter, Jr.

  14. what a treasure trove! this is like an upscale version of the posts that in{side}the loop and i have done recently on collectors.

    ok, i'm going to go back and enlarge all of these photos, one by one, to take it all in!

  15. Absoulutely brilliant post!
    In this age of it being a decor sin to have a cluttered look, this type of fabulous and dedicated collecting is going by the wayside.
    Personally, I love to see collections of this quality and consideration, and who gives a hoot about de-cluttering!
    A few young people like old things, and I am not talking about mid 20th century things kids. And yes, prices are high as things get more scarce. But since so many of the type of things Philip Shutze has accumulated over a life time are not on trend, you can still find affordable prices at auctions.
    So let's get collecting again!
    xo xo

  16. Interesting post about collecting !
    I love houses or flats full of antiques !
    Thanks to the picture , you can tell he was a great " amateur " of arts !
    I would have loved to get into this type of flat !
    MOst of all , I admire poeple that use antiques in their daily life

  17. Based on the response, I think we should start a movement- or perhaps a revolution- and embrace serious collecting again.

  18. I love seeing a collection built with such passion. One of our local antiques dealer is horrified at the plates in my dining room cabinets, "One never displays dishes on which one would eat!" Darn. I think she'd make an exception of the export in the kitchen. Maybe.

    p.s. The Nelson has their best decorative arts pieces in "hiding" as well.

  19. I'm an obnoxious collector. I hate when I read where people write, if I can't use it I won't buy it! Well, what are you going to do with a beautiful piece of Mason? eat it? I love collecting - my first collection was porcelain cats which quickly became any kind of cat. That's the fun of it. GREAT GREAT GREAT article - isn't he just wonderful and that blue and white collection? to die for!!!!!!

  20. Anonymous8:25 PM

    What you had written about Gene Hovis method of collecting had really inspired me. During this down economic time I'm hoping to do a lot of collecting. I love silver, china, and Victorian furniture. Yes let's embrace serious collecting again!! I would love to see you do more blogs on this!! Thanks, Christy

  21. Anonymous2:42 AM

    The book you want read is "Utz" by Bruce Chatwin (1988), a novel about the psychology of the obsession know as collecting. Kaspar Utz, a minor Saxon baron and a passionate collector of Meissen porcelain living in Prague during the Cold War, sacrafices freedom and more to perserve his collection. The why and wherefore are as much of a mystery as the fate of the Utz's 1,000 Meissen figurines after his death. It's a wonderful story - made into a movie with Armin Mueller-Stahl in 1992.

  22. Anonymous11:16 AM

    Love this post. I was just in Atlanta visiting good friends - I am delighted with Swan House and the exhibit of Shutze's collection downstairs.
    As to collectors, the confirmed bachelors of my milieu are mad for post war modernism (I am not one of those). KDM

  23. I bought a gorgeous gilded cobalt blue and white Meissen plate during my honeymoon in Germany and I hope it will become a collection. I'm 28.

    It will probably never be a large one because I don't like having to clean too much. So a lack of time could be why young people rarely collect the decorative arts. That's quite sad because jewellery, paintings, clothes all look yellowed and faded after a hundred years but porcelain is forever. Just look at the king's collection in Dresden.

  24. Thank you all for your comments. Perhaps there are more collectors out there than I suspected!

  25. Living with a collection is just that... might as well use it. I get a kick out of mixing a cocktail in a Prohibition Error (sorry) sterling shaker and setting it down on the 40's cocktail table... Find what you love and surround yourself with it. Eventually mixing up all the things you love may even give you that much coveted "Grand Tour" look.

  26. I missed this post first time around, but was doing a little research on Shutze and came across this! Although I have seen many homes designed by this legendary architect, I have never seen a picture of him nor have I ever seen pictures of his apartment.

    I think it is so interesting to see where prominent architects live. Many architects I know live in renovated older homes. I am a bit surprised that Shutze lived in an apartment given his talent for designing the most beautiful of homes!