I occasionally hear people say that a decorator cannot be a serious antiques collector. I even had one client who bought 18th century furniture from me, but stopped consulting me the day he saw some modern furniture at my place - as if an appreciation of a Mies van der Rohe armchair prevented enjoyment of any earlier furniture.
Such people prefer to safeguard the past - rather than acquire contemporary art or furniture that will enhance the harmony of their surroundings. They seem to forget that the greatest artisans and artists of the 18th century were actually the decorators of their time. An example is Juste-Aurele Meissonier, a goldsmith who also made chairs and paneling.
This attitude betrays a need for security or possession. The only reason to buy is to invest money and to possess. Some collectors are people who have been disappointed in life. Since they've been unable to possess the beauty and love of a human being, they turn to objects. And in buying them - for very high prices - they give themselves the illusion of possessing the creators of those objects, of owning beauty. This quest for objects can sometimes become an obsession, almost a morbid one.
But the art lover who decorates for himself is a person who loves life. He buys without thinking of the investment angle, simply because an object appeals to his artistic sense. I have clients who spend fortunes on paintings, but don't own a single piece of furniture of great value. Yet their homes reveal more good taste and harmony than the spaces of many collectors who have merely accumulated things.
I have always been struck by the link between talent in one artistic field and other fields. When Christian Dior died, he left a collection of modern paintings and 18th century furniture of exceptional quality, which he had put together in just a few years.
Some people will object, saying that beauty is nevertheless beauty. They're convinced that whatever the period in question, and whatever the nature of its economic and social evolution, there are absolute and universal criteria for beauty. They believe in an intrinsic quality. For me, "eternal beauty" and "absolute beauty" are myths. Values considered the most absolute are utterly subject to fashion. Even the greatest artists and the greatest artistic movements, such as Greek Antiquity or the Renaissance, have suffered periods of neglect and misunderstanding.
Andre Malraux distinguished between "decorative" arts and real creation. For him the decorative arts, like Roman art, reflect the way of life and the tastes of a time and a place. But any art object may lose its profound meaning for the people of a later civilization.
This is why I prefer to distinguish between functional art and gratuitous art (nonfunctional). Functional art aims at some concrete use: easy chairs, chests, soup tureens, and musical instruments are functional art objects. Nonfunctional art includes painting, sculpture, and so forth. The evolution of functional art reflects economic, technical, and social changes, but nonfunctional art profoundly echoes the philosophical atmosphere of a period.
Each period has particularly excelled in one type. The Middle Ages marked a peak in religious art, whereas the 18th century attained perfection in the functional art of furniture. In time, every type of functional art tends to become nonfunctional. Objects designed for daily use centuries ago are now collectors' items or museum pieces.
When a client asks me if he will be quite comfortable in a Louis XV easy chair, I advise him that he'd be better off buying one of the shell armchairs of the American designer, Charles Eames. The Louis XV easy chair was designed for people who were much more active than we, and does not meet today's standards of comfort. It should be bought for its aesthetic qualities, as an objet d'art. The same is true of an inlaid chest, which is much less practical for keeping shirts than an integrated closet.
Clients often ask me what I would keep if I had to part with all but one piece. Tough choice! The older I get, the more eclectic my taste becomes. A Louis XV armchair pleases me as much as a modem painting.
So the object I would choose to keep is the one I do not yet know, the one I will discover tomorrow. My greatest pleasure is the pleasure of discovery.