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Furnishings: Surfing for Antiques

Earlier this summer, Thailand’s Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn sent an e-mail to the Accompagnement, Conseils link he found at www.antikaparis.comand inquired about a selection of decorative gilt-bronze objects. The link took him to the Colisée Art & Conseil, a concierge service that then introduced his royal highness to the Antiquités 56 gallery, where the prince ultimately purchased the objects he discovered online. The Colisée receives inquiries from affluent foreign buyers nearly every day, says director Pascal Vimont.

Across the English Channel but only a mouse click away, 46 merchants on London’s Pimlico Road, including antiques dealers Christopher Gibbs and John Hobbs as well as custom-furniture maker David Linley, have developed a web site of their own to familiarize collectors with one of London’s most exclusive art and antiques shopping districts. “The web site is really an information exercise for people looking to see a whole lot of stuff in a short period of time,” explains Zoe Hoare, owner of Appley Hoare Antiques and a member of the committee that developed the site. “It allows them to create an eclectic room from a wide range of shops, mixing 18th-century Italian furniture from Antiquus with Venetian chandeliers from Ciancimino, and 19th-century French paintings from Julian Simon Fine Arts,” she says, “before they even board a plane to finalize their purchase.”

Only a decade ago, most leading art and antiques dealers shied away from marketing their merchandise via the Internet. They doubted that their target audience of wealthy, sophisticated collectors was sitting at home surfing the Net for Louis XVI commodes or Art Nouveau lamps. However, as auction sites have proved, a growing number of collectors, as well as designers working on their behalf, are using the web to locate and bid on rare furniture and objets d’art.

To take advantage of this growing audience, a handful of antiques web sites have gone online. One terrific starting point to begin a search for fine Belgian antiques is www.antiques-world.com, which offers useful information about more than 150 dealers, auction houses, and restoration specialists. Another site, www.belgiuman tiques.com, focuses on Dutch and Belgian dealers.

Other excellent sites include www.antiquaires-sna.com, which is maintained by the Syndicat National des Antiquaires, the governing body that stages the Paris Biennale; www.naadaa.org, operated by the National Antique & Art Dealers Association of America; and www.artantiquedealersleague.com, run by the Art and Antique Dealers League of America. There is even a site called www.antiquetours .biz that customizes buying tours for collectors. These sites are all easily negotiable in English and offer extensive links to upcoming auctions, currency converters, shipping companies, and registries for lost or stolen art.

AntikaParis’ web site is actually an Internet extension of a glossy art and antiques guide the company has been placing in the guest suites of 20 of Paris’ top hotels since 1998. A companion book will be published for hotels on the Riviera next spring. The AntikaParis site allows visitors to search for antiques by each of Paris’ 20 arrondissements or locate key pieces by a particular artist or dealer, and offers a guide to Paris’ flea markets. “The grandson of a Cubist painter named Dalmberg found me after he saw one of his grandfather’s paintings on the site,” says French dealer Michel Cabotse, who trades in 19th- and 20th-century works. “He didn’t even know the painting existed.” And of course, adds Cabotse, he purchased the painting.

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