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Magazine    September 2001

The Man Who Would Be King

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Across the street from l’Elysée, the French presidential palace, is an elegant 18th-century house that has been transformed into a series of ten spacious, spectacularly furnished salons. It is here that 18th-century French antiques dealer Jean-Marie Rossi, the doyen of Paris’s antiquaires, holds court. This is the Paris antiques shop—rather gallery—where the Rothschilds and other wealthy collectors, directors from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Louvre, and the world’s most prestigious designers find impeccable and pristine 18th-century French and European furniture and other museum-quality French antiques, such as rare porcelains, gilded objects and numerous other vestiges from a rich past. This is Aveline.

Aveline represents Rossi’s passion for exceptional antique furniture and objects made by the most celebrated craftsmen of France, Italy, Germany and Russia, though the dealer equally might favor a piece of furniture by the American architect and designer Frank Lloyd Wright and the Swedish cabinetmaker Johan Berglund. “I am very insistent on quality,” he says. “And the more original a piece is, the better.”

Thus Rossi usually buys at auction and from established private collections throughout the world. In 1996, he bought from the Getty Museum a circa 1823 Charles X secretaire decorated with Sèvres porcelain plaques and gilded bronze and attributed to Alexandre-Louis and Louis-François Bellangé. (J. Paul Getty had originally acquired the piece in 1938.) A large and velvety Savonnerie, circa 1790-1800, came from the Charles de Bestegui collection at the Château de Groussay. And a recent acquirement from the Rothschild collection: a pair of porcelain and bronze gueridons (small round tables on a pedestal) that Louis XVI presented to his cousin the queen of Spain.

Some of Rossi’s acquisitions are more like conquests—he paid 3.55 million francs for a small armoire by Johann Heinrich Riesner at Sotheby’s auction of the Karl Lagerfeld collection last year, after losing the piece to Lagerfeld at a Sotheby’s auction in 1996. And some antiques he has trouble parting with. “It took 22 years to sell a circa 1755 Japanese-style lacquered commode from the collection of Pompidou. I didn’t want to give it up too quickly,” explains Rossi. “I always like to have a few very good antiques to make a nice frame for the other pieces in the gallery.” Not that those “other” pieces are shabby. Aveline’s inventory might include a pair of circa 1785 carved and gilded tabourets (above left) from the collection of the Archduke of Hapsburg, a boulle cabinet inlaid with intricate designs of tortoiseshell, silver and brass by Levasseur, a commode from the Palazzo Borghese or a striped velvet sofa by G. Jacob with three oval backs bordered by intricately carved and gilded wood frames.

Rossi has been dealing in antiques since 1956, and now he is teaching the business to his daughter, Marella, an art history graduate of the Sorbonne who has had additional studies at the Louvre, Versailles and Christies. Marella, like her father, is an innovator. The 27-year-old launched Aveline's website last year because, as she puts it, “It is normal for someone in my generation to be on the internet.” And expanding the market beyond France and New York, Aveline’s two customer bases, apparently has paid off.

“The internet brings us clients from Canada and all over America. They don’t buy from the internet; they’re introduced to the level of our antiques and then they visit,” Marella explains. “We sold a man from Dallas a suite of chairs, bergères and canapés, a console and a wardrobe. It was amazing. Usually new customers come by themselves, then return with a decorator—often someone we know.”

Choice pieces from Aveline's past and current inventory can be viewed at www.aveline.com.

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