04 December 2012

Mary Helen McCoy Fine Antiques - giving new homes to French treasures

One of the nicest things about Facebook is the friendships that are made - with people one would almost certainly never meet, otherwise. This is how I met my wonderful friend, Mary Helen McCoy. Although we have not actually met face-to-face, I have been so impressed by her genuine character and caring personality. Over the past couple of years that we have been exchanging photos and comments (especially our common love of historic French style) on Facebook, I have come to respect Mary Helen's intense knowledge of and interest in her specialized field of expertise - top quality French antiques - as well as her generosity in crediting others where credit is due.

Mary Helen McCoy grew up in Birmingham, AL, and learned early on about European and Southern culture and decorative arts from her mother and grandmother. The picture below shows the beauty that Mary Helen was surrounded with, as a child.
Mary Helen with her mother in her childhood home

Self taught, with a good head for business, and incredibly industrious, Mary Helen began learning the arts of sales and management in Birmingham, at an upscale specialty department store chain, named Parisian's. That was in the late '70's... I wonder if Mary Helen ever imagined at that time, that a store called Parisian's would lead to her future business, traveling to the city of Paris to purchase exquisite French antiques for customers stateside!

She began her career in antiques in 1987, as the buyer for Wardemond Galleries, an antique gallery in Birmingham. She first traveled to England and New York City to make her purchases. Then in 1990, she took her first trip to France and was immediately and completely smitten with French antiques. She studied every book and resource she could find to learn everything there was to know about the history of French furnishings, amassing a huge library in the process. Since that time, she has become one of the foremost dealers of fine French antiques in the world. 

Soon after working at Wardmond, she established her own business - Mary Helen McCoy Fine Antiques - which included not just buying antiques, but also designing for very discerning clients. Working alongside architects and landscape designers, she procured exterior architectural and garden elements, as well as interior furnishings, for clients who appreciated and collected the finest in French decorative arts.
Mary Helen McCoy at a recent job site - a classy lady even in a hard hat!!

During the late 1990's, Mary Helen made numerous trips to France, buying specific items for individual clients - some of which are enough to make me swoon: an 18th c. roof, which filled up three full 40-foot containers (!), ancient stone pavers for a garden walk, garden fountains, oak paneling, marble mantles, antique flooring in wood, terra cotta or stone...the list is to die for.
What a gorgeous hearth and mantle piece! This is in a recent installation for a client.

Working with an iron/metal atelier in France, Mary Helen also began designing custom ironwork for both interior and exterior applications, including lighting, gates and furniture. She even designed custom curtain rods and hardware, ornamented by snails, butterflies and frogs to coordinate with Scalamandré's classic Jour de Juin chintz, shown here:

How lucky is the little girl whose parents hired Mary Helen McCoy to design her bedroom with this fabric and custom drapery hardware to match?!! (Scalamandré's "Jour de Juin" was inspired by a charming embroidered French waist coat from the 1700's.)

Mary Helen has worked with some of my favorite interior designers, including Bunny Williams, Charlotte Moss, Mario Buatta, Thomas Britt, Betty Sherrill, and Betty's daughter Anne Pyne of McMillen, among others. Below is a spectacular and rare Louis XVI Period carved cherry Bibliotheque from the Paris Region. It was purchased by Bunny Williams for her client at The Palm Beach International Fine Arts and Antiques Fair 2002.
I wish I had a clearer photo of this, but just look at the spiral carving detail running down the center front of this piece - so delicate!

Mary Helen's specialty is finding and selling important and rare furniture from the French provinces.
This is a photo of an exceptional and rare Louis XV Period carved walnut two drawer commode from Provence (my favorite region). These commodes in their best form and condition can command as high a price as some Parisian cabinetmakers. This piece was sold to a client and collector.
I absolutely adore the beautiful cut-out carving ornamenting the base of this commode. In my dreams, I would love to own this piece and display reticulated china on top of it.
This is an exceptional and rare French Louis XV period, carved, solid mahogany, Bordelais armoire that opens with two beautifully paneled doors. According to Mary Helen, the finest mahogany was imported to Bordeaux and other port cities in France from the colonies in Central and South America. Only the finest of wood was used to make impressive furniture for the Bordeaux region.
Note the beautiful carving of a canon in the cartouche above the doors - absolutely gorgeous detailing! Perhaps this is a harbinger of the revolution to come, as the piece dates from 1750-1760.
 An exceptional and rare French, late 18th century, fruitwood armoire from Lorraine with marquetry flower vases and ivory inlay between two areas with cube marquetry. This armoire represents some of the high quality work executed in the Lorraine province during the last quarter of the 18th century.
Lovely colored detailing
 At the base are two drawers above an apron inlaid with torches and quivers surrounded with ribbons. Beautiful brass hinges and pulls accent the piece.
I love this pair of French late Louis XVI/Directoire period, repainted beechwood fauteuils with curved backs. These chairs were made in Paris, 1780-90.

Lovely bluish-green patina with exquisite woven silk

One of Mary Helen's dearest friends and mentors was the late Pierre Rouge from Macon, in the Bourgogne region of France. He was an expert on the furniture of the Hache family, which Mary Helen loves. When she first met M. et Mme. Rouge, they were very formal and stand-offish, but once they realized that Mary Helen knew her stuff, they loosened up, invited her and her husband, Ron, for champagne, then lunch, and a lasting friendship began. 

Over the years, M. Rouge found fabulous pieces for Mary Helen and even convinced her that, if she would buy and show an extraordinarily expensive Louis XIV period commode by Hache, she would forever after command the respect and admiration of the international antiques world. Mary Helen's 80-year old mother, who was with her in France, sealed the deal when she told her that she just had to own that piece. Sure enough, when she exhibited the piece at Palm Beach, the world took notice. She was written up in the New York Times, Le Figaro and all the major art and antiques publications in Europe.

Pierre Rouge and his daughter, Françoise Rouge, have written a book on the Hache family, detailing the history of these famous furniture makers.
Included in the book are several pieces sold by Mary Helen, not the least of which is the special commode, above, that M. Rouge advised Mary Helen to exhibit at the Palm Beach Show. It truly is outstanding.
Look at the "Thank you" page of the book, below, and you will find Mary Helen McCoy's name.
Above are two rare and important Louis XIV marquetry commodes with bronze mounts, by Thomas Hache signed HACHE A GRENOBLE, that M. Rouge and Mary Helen McCoy bought together. They are similar in form however the darker one is just a bit smaller than the other.
Mary Helen exhibited both at Palm Beach America's International Fine Arts and Antiques Fair 2007.
The lighter one was also exhibited at The Fall International Fine Arts and Antiques Fair at the Park Avenue Amory, New York 2008. The darker one sold to a collector and client after the Palm Beach Fair. The lighter one sold to a client from California to go in the same room as as another he had previously purchased from Mary Helen.
This photograph is a picture of the darker Hache commode in situ at Mary Helen's client's home.
Above it hangs part of a series of 18th century Chinese painted panel scrolls which she procured for the client from a dealer also exhibiting at the Palm Beach Fair. The gilt bronze candlesticks are Louis XVI Period, and were purchased for this client at an auction in New York.
Another of my favorites is this delicate French, walnut game table (Table à Jeu) of the Louis XV/Louis XVI transitional period stamped, “Hache Fils à Grenoble” by its maker, Jean-François Hache (1730-1796). The removable, checkerboard marquetry top was made for playing chess. The inner marquetry forms the pattern for a backgammon boardand is made of various woods that include walnut, ebony, and tinted sycamore. On one side is a slide to reveal a drawer for game pieces and dice; however, the game pieces are missing from the table.
Jean-François Hache was a member of a famous dynasty of 18th century cabinetmakers that included his grandfather, Thomas, and his father, Pierre. The Hache family played a major role in France for over a century. Today, the pieces of furniture they made are in high demand.

(This table is also featured in Pierre Rouge and Françoise Rouge’s book, Le génie des HACHE, Editions Faton, 2005.)
 An important pair of Régence Period carved beechwood fauteuils, also from M. Rouge,
 which would have originally been painted and/or gilded now presented in a natural state with an ochre wax. These fauteuils exhibited at The 1992 Biennale des Antiquaires held in Paris every other year which is put on by the prestigious Syndicat National des Antiquaires.

Mary Helen had them covered in silk damask from Tassinari et Chatel, the oldest silk manufacturer in Lyon, which has been in business since 1680, and used to weave silks for the kings of France. Tassinari silks are in all the royal chateaux of France.

Here is a great video of Tassinari et Chatel. For those of you who don't speak French, the beautiful bright yellow silk damask shown was woven for the White House (la Maison Blanche). The multi colored floral, shown right after that, is from the bedroom of Louis XVI. It incorporates 27 colors and gold thread! 
Mary Helen McCoy with her son, Michael, exhibiting at The Fall International Fine Arts and Antiques Fair NYC 2008
 One of a beautiful set of four French Empire period, mahogany and mahogany veneer fauteuils with inverted backs that have carved decoration of roses and palms. The arms rest on carved winged swan necks. The arched feet are carved with lotus leaves. The beautiful silk needlepoint upholstery, with a different flower decoration for each chair. The upholstery, which is not original to the fauteuils, was added in the late 19th or early 20th century.

The fauteuils are stamped, “L. BELLANGE”, by their maker Louis-François Bellangé.
Louis-François Bellangé (1759-1827) was the younger brother of the famous ébéniste, Pierre-Antoine Bellangé and uncle of Alexandre-Louis Bellangé. He became supplier of furniture to Napoleon I. His furniture can be seen at the Château de Rambouillet, Windsor Castle in England, The Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.
Egyptian motifs, such as this lovely, stylized swan, were common adornments during the Empire period. These chairs are from Paris and date to 1810-20.
Above and below, a pair of rare Louis XV Period carved walnut fauteuils by Pierre Nogaret.
They are stamped Nogaret A Lyon. Silk Damask fabric Mary Helen used was from Tassanari et Chatel
Nogaret was the most important chair joiners of the provinces. His work is on the same par as many of the Parisian makers. In 1745 he became a master joiner.  He made most of his seating from black walnut and they were left primarily in a natural state.
These chairs were sold to a client/collector for her master bedroom.
This close-up of the back of one chair shows the original stamp of the maker, Nogaret.
A French Régence, beautifully carved, walnut canapé with elegant shape and proportions from the southern Bourgogne region of France, c. 1730-40. This canapé was recently recovered in a Scalamandré silk damask fabric, and is 78" long.
The chairs were shown in Mary Helen McCoy's booth, above, at the Palm 
Above, a highly important and rare Louis XIV Period marquetry commode, Parisian, c. 1700.
Mary Helen told me, "Although Hache is a favorite of mine, this exceptional commode was probably my most favorite of all the commodes I sold. Had I not needed the money in 2009 I would have never sold it and saved it for retirement. I sold it to my client and collector and it is now in her living room on the opposite wall from the Hache commode." I agree with Mary Helen - this is one of the most spectacular and pleasing pieces of marquetry I have ever seen!
While these pieces (above) are too grand for my own personal taste, they are clearly exceptional.
This photo was taken in Mary Helen's Charleston Gallery, which was closed over a year ago.
 A French Restoration Period three piece garniture consisting of a gilt bronze and Paris porcelain clock by Derniere with Tazzas sit on an important carved and gilt wood Régence German console with an outstanding French carved and gilt wood Régence mirror. 
Mary Helen sent the clock and the console to Christies NY to be sold in 2009. As Mary Helen said, "I was able to sell them and make a profit which goes to show that quality retains value even in a recession." She still has the mirror in her inventory. She says it is the best mirror she has owned. It was exhibited at The International Fine Art and Antiques Fair 2008, NYC at the Park Avenue Armory in situ with the console here.

The following are some other pieces from Mary Helen, which I particularly admire:
A fine French Louis XIV, carved and gilded wood, six-arm chandelier
A rare pair of French faïence bouquetières d'appliques from Bordeaux in Louis XV commode tombeau form. (18th c.) These bouquetières have holes in the tops for inserting individual flower stems, to create a bouquet.
A fine and rare example of a French, 18th century, soupière en faïence (two-handle, faïence soup tureen with lid) from Marseille with a rich, finely painted polychrome decoration of flowers and insects on a rocaille form. Red fish and shellfish surmount a domed cover. Two handles with shells and four scroll feet support the bowl. The fish and shellfish theme was prevalent along the Mediterranean, where fishing was a livelihood and fish was eaten (and still is) at many meals.
I just adore this example - a French faïence bowl with the scene called, “Arbre d’amour ” (The Tree of Love), from Nevers, dated 1804.
In the 18th century, the Nevers faïenciers created “faïence populaire”, an affordable earthenware, often painted and glazed with scenes of every day life. The theme of the “Tree of Love” is probably the most famous subject since it was used from the 1730's to the end of the 19th century.
This bowl was created specifically for “Fille Menoi” (Miss Menoi), possibly for a special occasion. This polychrome scene depicts the misfortune of the ladies who are trying to cut down the Love Tree where their lovers are hidden.
The bowl from Nevers, above, as it later appeared in a client's home

A rare pair of French barbotine (majolica) vases with relief of birds, made during a period of Oriental influence (called chinoiserie style), from the factory in Sarreguemines, France. The vases are signed on the bottom.
A rare pair of French wallpaper panels from the décor “Gobelins” entitled, “L’Amour Gronde” and “L’Amour Grondant”. The panels were wood-block printed on a blue background. The décor was first manufactured by Zuber in 1866. The design was inspired by Boucher.

This rendition dates to the late 19th century, printed in a limited edition. These panels are amongst a rare set that is no longer available. They are in mint condition since they were never previously hung.

This is a late 16th- or early 17th century, Flemish tapestry representing a king either in Roman or Greek costume greeting a lady with a horse. A signature on the back attributes it to the Reynbouts family of weavers.

Above, one of a collection of German hand-colored copper engravings by Johann Christoph Volkamer from Nurnbergische Hesperides (1708-1714), probably inspired by Ferrariu’s Hesperides (Rome, 1646); but whereas Ferrariu’s beribboned bunches of fruit and flowers are set against a plain background, Volkamer has filled in the lower part of his plants with delightful views of the gardens and palaces of Germany, Austria, and Italy. Volkamer, who was a wealthy Nuremberg merchant, had a fine orangery and engaged a variety of artists and engravers to execute his plates.
A French, oak trumeau mirror from a boisserie (wood paneling), c. 1740-1750. The oak, which is beautifully carved, includes the insignia of nobility. This sort of carving is typically found in the northern region of France near the Belgian border.

I love the legs on this French Régence period table. Made of light walnut, its graceful legs rest on four distinct cloven, hoofed feet (pieds de biche).
While this piece is not French, I simply had to include it here - a highly significant and rare German, 18th century, marquetry bureau created with Italian marquetry in ivory, stained horn, ebony, sycamore, rosewood, purplewood, walnut, and pewter by Antonio and Luccio de Lucci of Venice, dated 1686. 
I first saw these pictures of this bureau when Mary Helen McCoy posted them on Facebook, and I truly fell in love with it. The gorgeous marquetry by the Lucci brothers of Venice, is so detailed and intriguing, telling allegorical tales...I could look at this every day and never tire of it!
Again, not a French piece, but I love this Spanish, walnut library table, with iron stretcher between carved legs, c. 1700. The top of the table is made from a single cut of walnut.

Above, several photos of Mary Helen's gallery in
Charleston, SC, which she had for three years and closed over a year ago. (Most unfortunately, the gallery opened in March 2008 - the same week that Bear Stearns collapsed, which no one could have predicted.) Mary Helen McCoy Fine Antiques is currently a private dealer, however, I imagine this industrious and passionate woman will have another public gallery in the not-too-distant future.

Mary Helen McCoy has won acclaim and well deserved awards over the years. She has been invited and inducted into four of the most prestigious international antiques organizations: 

For more information, check out her website, www.maryhelenmccoy.com.

1 comment:

  1. Hello dear Kate! I hope all is well with you...so wonderful to see this post!
    What a spectacular career...and a dream job, really. The beauty and workmanship are exquisite on everything...just stunning...
    Enjoy the festive season!
    - Irina


Share on Tumblr