Buying at Montpellier

The deballage at Montpellier was vast. A milling crowd of dealers had already filed past the ticket collector into a glass atrium. At 8h precisely the doors to one side opened and we poured out into a large open space where lorries were being unpacked at speed.

Cavernous halls stood around another open air selling area – an overwhelming abundance. But the place was well organised with cafés and a champagne bar. In the Terrace Marchand, a massive covered trading space, a couple were arranging a number of canvases in pale turquoises, blues and pinks. They were by Therese Debains who had lived in the early part of the last century. The dealer gave me a copy of an article about her. Always interesting to read of the lives of others and the serendipitous encounters with someone who can make a difference. I added three of her large canvases to a growing collection bought on this trip: eighteenth century portraits, still lives of flowers, a cup, a bowl. I had also found beautifully detailed engravings of the gardens of Versailles, peopled with men in tricorn hats and women in wigs and satin gowns.

I had never come across “Miss Fanny” before. Small Georgian figures had been painted onto cardboard. The heads were interchangeable rather than the other way round. These characters came along with a small bound book telling the story of “Miss Fanny.” Utterly charming. The price however was sky-high.

Two tall metal grape gathering hoppers and a pile of red check linen quilt covers were quickly bought. A man walked past with a chihuahua tucked in his jacket. Corinne with her wonderful fabrics was there. ‘Ouf‘ she said ‘I didn’t even take everything out of the van at Béziers. But it is all here now’. Two women methodically opened out sheets between them and swathes of white linen caught in the bright light. I gathered an 20130219_093527The dealer’s déballageassortment of buttons, rolls of faded taffetta ribbon, tiny pairs of papier maché clogs, lace and a faded pink floral bedspreads stuffed with lambswool. Scraps of blue and white ticking, faded rose and white squared fabric and toile de Jouy made a colourful bouquet clutched in my hand. Corinne and I shared threads of conversation between customers and, after I had bought my fill, I kissed her goodbye.

From a Breton dealer I bought a large ‘fronton‘ pediment, eighteenth century, iron-hard wood, traces of pale blue paint still lodged in the carved scrolls. A diminuitive radassier, a traditional Provencal rush seated bench for three, was only just holding itself together out on the tarmac. It had been fashioned from two rush seated chairs with an extra section added in the middle. It would go straight to my restorer to be given the will to live again.

Towards lunchtime some dealers began opening bottles of wine while others were beginning to load up. I had by no means finished my buying but had to start collecting my purchases. An Italian chandelier sat alone on the floor in one hanger, the rest of the van packed and the dealer waiting for me. There was already an exodus of vans from the site as I brought my van nearer to the main gate. The palm trees in front of the main buildings waved frantically, cardboard boxes skidded along and bubble wrap blew around. Graham reappeared, having taken the tram into Montpellier for the morning and was put to work. He carefully carried out the wilting radassier. Sylvie and Jean were there and insisted on helping too. Jean carried a heavy box of white platters to the van and Sylvie helped with the canvases. I could only nod when they rightly said that a larger trolley would make life easier.

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