"No Respecter of Persons"

Terzameron Day 2
March 22, 2020

Tim Martin



Many years ago, at an antique show, I spent about fifteen minutes in increasing desperation, trying to sell something (something amazingly beautiful and perfectly preserved) to the loudest, most obnoxious man I think I’ve ever met. As he bellowed his way back into the aisle, leaving me sweaty, hoarse, and penniless, I suddenly felt a sense of calm, and turned to find one of the few people in the world who I would characterize as the obnoxious man’s exact opposite: the quiet, joy-filled, sensible and sensitive English dealer, Jonathan Harris. Jonathan, with a smile of kindness and amusement, said “Hello Tim,” and, nodding in the direction of the bellower, “that can’t have been much fun.” I laughed with relief and said that I didn’t understand why he never bought from me (he was a well-known buyer) and Jonathan said that next time I should get Eric to deal with him because he was a “respecter of persons.” I knew the phrase “God is no respecter of persons” but I’d never heard it used so perfectly, for indeed this guy was a major-league name-dropper, always bragging about what he’d bought from whom.


If you are familiar with the phrase from dreary-if-apposite-applications like “Death is no respecter of persons”, and “Disease is no respecter of persons”, fear not: I know you did not come here to read about Covid-19. But it leads to a little tribute to a person in my life who was so far from being a respecter of persons that you sometimes wondered if he wasn’t just….ignorant. My stepfather.


There are several such stories, and another may come down the pike later, but for now, since I started writing about failing to sell a masterpiece, I’ll take one tied to the theme. We (Eric and I) walked into Chantilly (the late, lamented, three-star French Restaurant next door to our old shop) for lunch one day, and as we took our seats Eric nodded to Philip Johnson. Stunned, I asked, “How do you know Philip Johnson?”


Eric, also stunned, asked: “Who?”
“Philip Johnson. You just nodded to him.”
“Oh him. Bought a major piece from me once. Eats here all the time. I don’t know how he can afford it. He’s a desecrator.”
“He’s not a decorator, he’s an architect, and I’ll bet he can afford it better than you.”
“Oh. Well. Let’s have a drink.”


When I got back to the shop, our manager Bard Langstaff explained to me that yes, some years earlier, Philip Johnson had come into the shop because he had seen the Huntingdon wine cistern (above) in the window, and had thought it would make a nice statement in the lobby of a house he was designing in Dallas, and so convinced his client, Henry Beck, to buy it. Eric had heard the word “designing”, assumed that it meant “decorating”, and so never had the slightest idea that this was, well, Philip Johnson. To his credit, when I pointed out that he was one of the most famous architects in the world, Eric still didn’t care. No respecter.


Years later we got the cistern back—briefly, and just after 9/11. It’s not the easiest thing to sell, being about the size of a side table and weighing seventy pounds, so in the short time we had it we couldn’t find a buyer and the family, generously, decided to donate it to the Dallas Museum of Art. One of the people who looked at it at a show was that same loudmouth. He had since learned that I was the boss’s kid, and had become a client. He was very impressed by the whole Philip Johnson thing.



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