(From a time before Covid….)
It’s impossible not to feel a quiver of anticipation in the growing crowd of international dealers waiting for the gates to open at the Deballage. And then, hop, it is 8h and in we surge. First to the dealer who sells impressive and beautiful mirrors. I held firmly on to two magnificent mirrors so they didn’t get sold immediately. Then to the Spanish dealer who always has a stunning console or chest of drawers that calls to me, and so on, and so on. A wonderful, stimulating, rich feast of offerings.
I stopped to gaze over an array of objects on the ground. A couple were engaged in conversation with the spritely but wizened dealer. He turned and announced himself to me with a flourish as a “Marchand de Bonheur”, a dealer of happiness, and then started to tell me that he was 87 and his wife had left him and that, oh, he was utterly bereft. The couple laughed and said, there he goes again, “il dit n’importe quoi”, you must only believe one word in three!! So we all laughed and Brutus, the ageing, wirey terrier, looked on as if he’d seen it all before. How I love these random vignettes of colourful exchange.
Another dealer, always philosophical and poetic, passionately expounded his views of Erasmus’s “L’Eloge de la Folie”, In Praise of Folly, and, for good measure, threw up his arms as we talked about smart phones, “Does no-one look up at the sky any more?!” I did manage to buy a very nice oil painting from him, which soothed him a little.
Aside from the buzz of the fast paced Deballages, images that endure from these buying trips are the white, stony garrigue dotted with rosemary and thyme; driving on the Languedocienne autoroute, a smudge of mountain on the horizon, into a Turneresque pink and amber dawn; flamingos in the salt lagoon; the bright greens of the umbrella pines; the winding streets of a Provencal village climbing with bougainvillea. Everything vivid and so bright.
And things constantly evolve. Dealers might change their look, their pricing, their working relationships. And so it goes. But human contact and good humour remain. One dealer said, “I know you can’t afford our prices Gilli, but look, just for the pleasure of looking…….” and this is of course always a good, seductive line. There will usually be a willingness to negotiate and find an acceptable solution all round – and if not, well, we move on.
The shippers were parked up at the back of the exhibition park, busy ferrying wardrobes, tinkling chandeliers and other large items on their trolleys. I went to check in with Barry and produced a little ceramic sheep out of my pocket. He very seriously wrapped it in bubble wrap and tape for safe transit, and we laughed. The packing crate was marked up “Gilli’s smalls and a sheep!”