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SHOPPING FOR ANTIQUES : Russian Furniture

February 21, 1988|SAM BURCHELL

G LASNOST MAY have splendid repercussions for Southern California antique collectors. The new spirit of cooperation between the two great powers has already opened up many avenues of opportunity that have been closed since the Russian Revolution of 1917.

One of today's hottest new areas for antique collecting is Russian furniture of all periods and styles. It is a difficult and largely undocumented field, however, and one where great caution is required. Recently, for example, certain unscrupulous dealers in Paris emptied their warehouses of undistinguished Second Empire furniture and tried to pass it off as "Russian," in order to capitalize on the new trend.

An incredible amount of European and European-style furniture has accumulated in Russia since the time Peter the Great began the westernization of the country. In 1712, he moved his capital from Moscow to St. Petersburg, near the coast of Finland. It was then little more than a mud flat on which he created--with the help of architects, painters and craftsmen brought from France and Italy, in particular--a splendid and sophisticated European city. Until the overthrow of the Romanov dynasty, the palaces of the nobility and the houses of the rich bourgeoisie were filled with expensive European art and artifacts.

Where is all this furniture now? Most of it, clearly, is still in Russia. The main body of Russian furniture currently available to the Western collector has been out of the mother country for many years--brought out, it is to be presumed, by White Russians fleeing into exile. The richest lode of these treasures is found most often in the Scandinavian countries. It was Sweden, for example, where local antique dealer Charles Pollock found a handsome 19th-Century pedestal table with the Hapsburg crest inset into the top, a piece thought to have been part of the Winter Palace collections in St. Petersburg (now Leningrad). The original is available in his Melrose Place shop, and he has included a simplified version of it in his line of reproduction furniture.

Even if glasnost develops more conclusively, however, collectors will probably never find authentic major pieces such as Rasputin's bed or the czarevitch's toy chest. And even Faberge eggs have been counterfeited. Beware.

Authentic and reproduction Russian furniture is available at Charles Pollock Antiques, 8478 Melrose Place, Los Angeles 90069 (213) 65l-5852 . Quatrain, 700 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles 90069 (213) 652-0243 occasionally carries antique Russian furniture and accessories.

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