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Life in the Arts Lane - week 109 - L'Antiquaire en Vacances

For the antique dealer the word 'holiday' is a tricky one, most people look forward to their summer respite from the daily slings and arrows of the 9 -5 drudgery. They seek sunny climes where with shade, beach, grilled food, copious quantities of their favourite tipple and a semi-embarassing smattering of a foreign language they can forget the grind and recharge their batteries. But for the antique dealer they have rest forced upon them. If TS Eliot could write that April is the cruellest month we could write that August is. Everyone is away! There are no auctions, the clients are all off enjoying themselves and most of our fellow clansmen have bitten the bullet and given up for a month. So we have to be like sheep and act as a herd and give up too.

I have spent a good few days pulling rubbish out of cupboards and sweeping out long neglected corners. I am in France and I have chopped down trees, dragged rubbish out of the drought dry canals, and even sawn a sofa in half! I have cooked complex dishes from obscure, hard found ingredients and have driven hundreds of miles to stock up on Cremant de Bourgogne but nothing quite fills the gap left by the inability to buy and sell. So imagine my joy when leaving the Friday food market in Chatillon - where I had just completed my weekly acquisition of sheep's yogurt, dried duck breast and a selection of fresh shellfish - and I run into Alain de Schutter. He has a mill in Autricourt from where he trades in a motley collection of architectural salvage and what would best be described as - this and that. He is fair haired with an open boyish face which makes him hard to age. He is delighted to see us and insists - not hard to be persuaded - that we visit. The next day we drive up to his artfully ramshackle mill, his girlfriend is decoratively picking flowers and he is hauling down an oak desk from one of his mountainous furniture stacks. An Alladins cave of almost complete pieces of furniture, panelling and shards of marble proliferate in the barn and around it. His house itself is a triumph of imagination and ingenuity with each room created out of nothing with slices of interesting fragments holding the fabric of it all together. Alongside and in counterpoint there are rooms which are simply not there, complete gaps with no walls, no floor and no ceiling - just the elements. Today the sun is shining and so the prospect is delightful and even magical but in winter it must be gruesome and freezing. We are charmed and enthralled like children in a sweet shop and I buy a tole and wood chandelier and a tole lantern, more for fun than commerce.

The perfect trap in Autricourt - photo writers own

The next day sadly we are heading home but not before we visit Andrew Allfree in Normandy where rather charmingly he lives like Christopher Robin in the 100 acre wood. (Les Cent Acres) He is a bit like Christopher Robin himself - bizarrely he too is fair haired and boyish; both like Alain and like like Christopher Robin. There is a photograph in his hall way of his mother seated in a garden and he stands over her angelically blonde. Perhaps with Andrew there is a whiff of Peter Pan too. He is full of creativity and a sense of a decorative adventure ahead. He has a Chateau that he and his partner bought nearly 30 years ago as a ruin and have lovingly, academically and imaginatively restored. He offers too a barn cram full of treasures as well as a home full of art and delightfully playful touches. We dine in one of a myriad of high ceiling vast rooms, painted a bold colour, off massive plates with massive cutlery we eat slices of a massive salmon, the whole event seems straight out of Alice in Wonderland, even our glasses are boldly scaled - being cloudy rummers from the 19th century and lavishly filled with black red wine - intense and spicy. We discuss the season ahead and he is brimful of plans and ideas for the forthcoming months. Astonishingly I don't buy anything from him even though there are plenty of temptations. The next day over lunch we complete our visit by indulging in summer oysters by the beach and drinking fiercely cold Muscadet.

I am sure that both Andrew and Alain enjoy a good holiday like anything, but like me they are comforted and reassured by the visit to and from the trade. The process of thinking about the potential of and target for a piece is like a tonic, we escape this enforced period of lull and we brace ourselves for the full scale return. Then we can ache for a holiday and complain about relentless work again - what a relief that will be.

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