Published: November 5, 2002
By Carol Sims
NEW YORK CITY — Tom Devenish, a longtime force in the antiques industry, died on October 31 at Lenox Hill Hospital after six days of hospitalization following a fall on a sidewalk. He is survived by his former wife, Louise Devenish of Riverdale, N.Y., their son Desmond, a resident of Los Angeles, as well as two children from his first marriage, Clive Devenish of San Francisco, an antique toy dealer, and daughter Linda Devenish, of Ithaca, N.Y., a PhD in communications and a professor. He is also survived by Clive’s children: Nicole, who is working in media relations for Vice President Dick Cheney, Zack, Courtney and Ashley.
Mr Devenish will be dearly missed by his family. His associates and peers in the antiques industry will remember him as an irrepressible stickler for authenticity, ethics and quality. The bittersweet combination of his professional brilliance and acidic personality made him a memorable individual. He will be missed by clients who could rely on his impeccable eye for quality, and by dealers who seek to emulate his high standards.
Mr Devenish was a landmark at the prestigious Winter Antiques Show, New York City. “He was a tremendous asset to the Winter Antiques Show. He was always one of the top top dealers with the best merchandise,” recalled his friend Enrique Goytizolo, proprietor of Georgian Manor Antiques, Fairhaven, Mass.
Mr Goytizolo remarked on Mr Devenish’s fairness on the vetting committee for the Winter Antiques Show. “As long as a piece was authentic, he could appreciate its contribution to the show, regardless of whether or not it was expensive,” said Mr Goytizolo. “He was a man of tremendous passion for the business and he was very outspoken. All of his criticism was meant to better the show. When he allowed you into his world he was a very warm nice person. He always spoke with great affection for his parents and was proud of the fact that they were notable performers in the era of Chaplin.”
Mr Devenish also participated in the Grosvenor House Art and Antiques Fair in London until differences with the executive committee forced him out of the show without a specified reason. Not to be intimidated, Mr Devenish promptly set up shop at the nearby Connaught Hotel, just three blocks away from the Grosvenor House. That was in the year 2000, when he was approaching his mid-80s. He repeated his successful rivalry in 2001.
Mr Devenish was just weeks away from opening his new store at 1043 Madison Avenue, at 79th Street. For decades he had maintained his antiques business at 929 Madison Avenue, but after that lease ran out he decided to relocate the business. He purchased what used to be the famous Madison Pub and converted the space into a beautiful five-level store that was to be a showcase for his top tier English antiques.
“He never gave up,” said Louise Devenish who was married to Tom Devenish for 15 years. She met him in her late 20s and was immediately fascinated by his knowledge and love of antiques. He was a widower at the time. His first wife, Yvonne, had also helped him with his business when he first opened a store in the 1950s on 57th Street.
“He loved the business,” said Louise, who is also owner of Louise Devenish Associates, Appraisals and Decorative Arts Consultants. “It was his life. He was known for the very finest English furniture in the country. He began to see his merchandise as works of art and not just beautiful furniture for the rich. What he sold in the 1960s for $50,000 is now worth a million. He had intuitive knowledge — not necessarily book-read knowledge. For example, he never learned French but he could translate it if he was trying to find out more about the maker of a piece — back in the days when he also sold French furniture.”
Perhaps some of that intuitive knowledge was inherited. Tom Devenish was born in Islington, London, and was keenly aware of other Devenishes in the furniture business, also from Islington. There was a Joseph Devenish, upholder of St Paul’s Covent Garden in 1712 and a Thomas Devenish, upholder and cabinetmaker 1770-96 (as identified by Sir Ambrose Heal’s book London Furniture Makers 1660-1840).
Throughout his 50-plus-year career he helped build some of the most important private collections in the country. He also sold pieces to the Chicago Institute, the de Young Museum in San Francisco and what is now the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass., among others.
A memorial service took will take place Tuesday, November 5, at Frank Campbell’s Chapel, 1076 Madison Avenue.
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