Last week I went to a saleroom to bid for a chest of drawers and I was about to leave when I caught sight of an oil painting. It was a rather beautiful still-life by an unknown artist, the traditional decaying fruit and flowers against a black background, on sale for just £30. ‘Old things are falling out of favour,’ the auctioneer tells me. ‘The last time one could admit to a passion for still-life, without committing social suicide was probably in the Victorian era.’ But I liked it and so, at the risk of losing friends and alienating people, I took it home.
It is one of the more peculiar traits of our age that so much of the world we inhabit is influenced by advertising. Should we be gravitating toward the things that are fashionable – or does this mean we all end up creating the same things in the same colours, over and over again? Presumably, if you’ve been around for as long as say, Jan Breughel, you’ve fallen out of fashion a number of times already – and I find some comfort in this idea. Perhaps everything has its cycle but whilst the merely fashionable will die a death, quality will always be in vogue.
It seems this distaste for old things is gathering pace, not just in galleries (visitor numbers for Tate Modern are much higher than for its elder sister Tate Britain) and in salerooms but also at home. January’s style advice is so often to ‘de-clutter,’ to keep things ‘minimal’ and ‘neutral.’ But homes are not galleries. Homes are where you can be yourself; a home ought to be one place you don’t have to deny your fondness for old things, or a knick-knack here and there.
I happen to like clutter and I don’t think this is unusual. My house is full of old mirrors and gilt frames, grandfather clocks and paintings I like – even if they are not in vogue or made by someone I’ve never heard of. They are things I love and they say something about me. I feel there is reticence in admitting to love old, comfy things for fear of being labelled ‘old-fashioned.’ Everywhere, the perceived wisdom is to throw out Great Aunty Joan’s old rug in favour of something with the words ‘cream’ and ‘plain’ in the title.
Mindful of the perilous toll this appetite for ‘new’ is having on our planet, perhaps we ought to be lending new life to our old things, instead of buying something new and modern. At the risk of swimming against the tide, I say: stand by what you love. Dust off your shelf of porcelain ornaments and your table of family photographs and hold fast to what makes you happy.