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Art: Best of the Best Antiques Dealers: Peter Tillou

Jocelyn Humelsine

Peter Tillou is depositing his assets in the 1904 landmark bank building in Torrington, Conn., after purchasing, fully restoring, and rescuing it from certain commercial demise. The building will reopen this fall as Tillou’s antiques gallery, housing the entire inventory from his recently closed showrooms on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and in Litchfield, Conn. “It’s such a handsome building,” Tillou says, “all brick and marble, a real thing of the past.”

The past is, of course, Tillou’s present and his future. Working seven days a week, the 50-year veteran of the antiques trade can’t get enough. “It’s a process of inquisition. The eye can’t resist anything that’s beautiful,” says Tillou, who is happy to report that “quality and beauty are back, especially in consideration for collecting. It once again matters that an item has good patina.”

It is uncommon for a dealer to be an expert in such a wide range of categories, and Tillou acknowledges that it’s a difficult task. “It’s vital to stay up to date with everything,” he says. “I’ve been so busy. One month it’s an Asian show, the next maybe an American furniture show, and so on.” His stock runs the gamut from early American blown glass to Old Master paintings (he also owns the Rich Gallery in London, which specializes in Old Master works) to classic cars to his exten-sive personal collection of pre-Columbian art. Til-lou is also an expert on 17th- and 18th-century European and American furniture and ancient Asian and African relics.

The 8-year-old boy who sold found coins, Indian relics, and stamps to local merchants in his native Buffalo, N.Y., became the young man who took leave from Ohio Wesleyan University, setting off across the Northeast, dealing antiques and artwork out of the trunk of his car. Tillou attributes his success in part to the early support of his mother, a well-known portrait artist of the day and a trustee of Buf-falo’s Albright-Knox Art Gallery.  

His lifelong colleagues and his clients credit his success to a genuine kindness that imbues every business or personal interaction.

Early on, he learned the benefits of buying solely on merit—insisting on quality of material, original condition, and historical importance, versus a famous name or hefty price.

Perhaps the most priceless inheritance from a father with a genius for recognizing quality and an artist grandmother would be the very talent of collecting. Jeffrey Tillou, Peter’s son, is himself a recognized Litchfield dealer with his own gallery. Jeffrey is renovating the earliest frame building on the Litchfield village green, circa 1867, to open this summer as his showroom. “He’s a natural,” says Peter. “He has a wonderful eye. A collector’s talent is like an artist’s. You’re born with it. You either see it quickly or struggle with it, and Jeff sees it.” As does his father.

 

Peter Tillou Works of Art, 860.567.5706 (by appointment); The Rich Gallery (Old Master paintings), +44.207.930.9308

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