Edition Eight – Motifs Of The Modern Traditionalists

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Exploring an art & design odyssey with Peter and Leonora Petrou


Born out of a separation and a nation divided in 1947, built onto farmland and imagined by Master Planner and Modernist Le Corbusier, Chandigarh was and remains an outward expression of one "nation's faith in its future" as described by the first Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru. Some fifty six years since its completion, while rigid planning laws and striking Brutalist architecture of this Planned City continues to divide much social and political opinion, it is somewhat fitting that a city symbolised by a hand "that is open to give and open to receive" is India's wealthiest city per capita.

With different varieties of trees lining each street and a road system that would see no door open onto moving traffic, it's inclusive and unified series of sectors were a design to be celebrated and would see Le Corbusier place his map of the city onto each and every manhole cover over the city's 44 square miles. "It's a symbol of great design" says Peter Petrou, director of his eponymous business that has been dealing in the ethnographic and often eclectic Art and Design for over forty years. "Le Corbusier was a visionary and this is an important part of his legacy" offers Peter's wife and partner in aestheticism Leonora.

Left: Le Courbusier's Map of Chandigarh Right: A collection of Lozi Baskets
Good design transcends time, the age of an object doesn't bestow value.

With Peter having served an apprenticeship with an antique dealer and Leo having studied Art, Peter Petrou Works of Art was founded in 1974 and elected to BADA membership in 2001. Interestingly, both Peter and Leo acknowledge that their success has been as much about having a sensitivity to design than a formal education alone. "I have a Law Degree" laughs Peter "However, much of what we do is not only about knowledge but about having an aesthetic eye" he adds. "You understand more deeply about a people and a society through art - it's the mark of man" says Leo, recognising their choosing not to specialise in one particular field, rather keeping their tastes broad and their aesthetic eye open. Internationally recognised for their innate ability to confidently fuse Modernism and Traditionalism, their unique brand of Art and Design has seen them awarded the Country Life Object of the Year award three times and exhibitors at London's Masterpiece Fair since 2012.

Left: Peter Petrou with Country Life Object of the year award Right: Chatsworth Bed by Joseph Walsh (Image by Andrew Bradley, 2015)

"We're in the fashion business" says Peter, as he leans on a hand-polished milled aluminium and plate glass table by German designer Daniel Rohr. "We first met him in Earl's Court at DesignersBlock - we knew immediately we'd found something special" says Leo. A limited edition of eight plus two artists proofs, 'The Colander Table' is the result of over a years experimentation with the material and the process of CNC milling, which offers a level of exactness and precision that creates an optical illusion. "The curvature, the highly polished surface and the glass means things seem to float." says Peter as Leo places a hand painted paper maché didactic flower by Robert and Reinhold Brendel from 1800's on the glass plate. The effect is extraordinary and the moment so aptly captures this sense of 'juxtaposed design' which has become their trademark.

You understand more deeply about a people and a society through art - it's the mark of man.

"Good design transcends time, the age of an object doesn't bestow value" says Peter. A Council member of the Board of Directors of the British Antique Dealers Association, his foreseeing the importance of applying the 'rules' of fashion to an industry with strong ties to tradition, has coincided with a growing interest in Art and Design as a complete entity. "People are interested in Art and Design and objects but they don't want to be a collector in just one field" - an ethos which has very much helped connect London's premier art fair Masterpiece to a broad range of cross-collectors: Connoisseurs, lovers and appreciators of art and design in all its guises.

Left: The Colander Table by Daniel Rohr Right: Now extinct, an intact Elephant Bird Egg

In their gallery study - which feels not unlike walking into a Wonder Room - a Coconut Stool from the Caroline Islands in Micronesia, a Narwhal Tusk on a custom made base and an intact and now extinct 'Elephant Bird Egg' - one of few known in existence - leap out of the pages of folklore and sit opposite an arrangement of 20th century tables and the iconic bent plywood chair by 'Makers of Simple Furniture' Gerald Summers. "Sculpture has always interested us both. There's something deeply appealing about a beautiful object. Perhaps we know why something appeals, other times you can't put your finger on it, it just works" offers Leo as she examines a group of Dong Son Crotal Bells from Cambodia and Burwood Toggles on custom made bases. Believed by the Chinese to contain the life-force of the tree, they were used to secure pouches to one's person - "You've got to remember, the pocket was a relatively modern invention" laughs Peter.

There's something deeply appealing about a beautiful object.
Joseph Walsh's 'Lilium I' commissioned by Peter and Leo to be exhibited exclusively at BADA in March 2017.

In looking to the past through a 21st Century lens, Peter and Leo's role of bringing into focus the new has seen them commission and work with masters of modern sculptural furniture making Joseph Walsh. "Be sure to look up Joseph's Chatsworth's Bed" beams Leo as they recall their history working with the artist and his trademark 'Enignum' dining table, the genesis of which was the result of carving away that which was not needed. One of a select few agents working with Joseph, the coming 2017 BADA Fair in March will see them exhibit an exclusive piece by Joseph entitled 'Lilium'. "Joseph is a master of his craft" continues Leo, "We're proud to have been on this journey together and sharing our passion for his work"

Exhibiting at PAD in London's Berkley Square some weeks later, while the fair celebrates its 10th Anniversary in the heart of the capital, Peter and Leo's stand once again stands as a testament to centuries of Art and Design. Contrasting the human, the naive and the honest with the precision and refinement of 21st century design, a recent console table by Joseph Walsh is flanked by an 18th Century Chinese gold lacquered wood sculpture of Budda, a pottery Askos from Puglia, Italy from around 350 B.C, a Japanese jardiniere with turtles and a monumental two door cabinet of Macassar Ebony inlaid with Bird's Eye Maple.

Perhaps we know why something appeals, other times you can't put your finger on it - it just works.
Left: A Chinese Gold Laquered Wood Sculpture of Buddha Right: A Group of Sven Kwa Zulu Earplugs

"This is such an incredible piece. Number four in a limited edition of six" smiles Peter, "We're lucky to have it, they went very quickly." Designed by Job Smeets and Nynke Tynagel, the duo from Belgium and Amsterdam create what could be best described as 'high furnishings'. Pieces made without compromise using hand crafted techniques to create unique pieces of furniture, the level of skill on display could be best described as a modern day equivalent of the work of the Arts and Crafts masters. "A piece from the collection to which this was part was included in an exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum" says Leo.

From Leo and Peter's personal collection - an Egyptian Cosmetics pot from the temple complex Karnak. From around 2000 B.C. to 30 B.C, the 2,000 year old pot retains a thumbprint visible on the inside.

It was once said by Charles Eames "Eventually everything connects - people, ideas, objects…" Peter and Leonora Petrou's commitment to art and design is a living embodiment to this very principle. Uniting early expression, the humanness in art and design both Peter and Leo continue to help us see the beauty around us, encouraging us as they do to remember the hands from which the world came into being, inviting inspection and appreciation for a 3,000 year old thumbprint that reads: We were here.

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