London West, UK - Gervais Duc set up Architectural Antiques in Hammersmith in around 1980 having started out by dealing in antiques. "I bought a fireplace one day and before I had finished doing it up, three customers asked if they could buy it. So I went out and bought two more. And the business snowballed from there," he told SalvoNEWS in 1992. He was a Londoner of Swiss French extraction who often visited France, buying antiques from flea markets around Paris.
Simon Wharton wrote, 'I knew Gerv from eighteen years ago when I very first started dealing in antique French fireplaces. He was massively helpful to me in the early days, freely and generously giving of advice on fireplaces and of his extensive array of contacts and clients. Down the years we became good friends and collaborated on many projects. We used to meet on occasion at the big déballages in France to go buying together - I was always surprised by how many dealers he knew, from Naintre to Macon and particularly from Paris, he knew them all. His mantra when buying was that it takes the same energy to sell a box of matches as it does a diamond. I shall miss him.'
In 1992 his basement storeroom had two hundred or so mainly marble chimneypieces, mostly French, which were being restored in a small workshop at the back of his high street shop by Harry, his trusted marble mason, who was apprenticed and worked for many years at Whiteheads in Southwark. The nineteenth century apartment blocks of Paris were passed down from generation to generation with strong tax penalties against resale and each flat had a grenier or basement store so when they removed chimneypieces and other internal fitments these cellars became storehouse of style from which Gervais bought to be stored in warehouses in Paris run by his friend Claude. Demand in 1992 was not particularly high, and prices were low so only a small number came on to the market. Gervais partner then was Antonia, who restored carved pine and pine and gesso overmantle mirrors.
Adam Hills wrote, 'He was a philosophical character who, I learnt at the funeral, had in earlier years lead a varied and wild life, but pulled everything together in later years to amass an unrivalled amount of stock. Whilst he could apparently be quizzical and erratic to deal with he endeared a huge loyal following to his circle of close friends and over a long period he was a pivotal guide to hundreds of people trying to get their lives back together as they recovered from substance abuse.'
Someone else wrote this: 'Gervais was helped to get his life back on track many years ago as a result of which he generously gave his time helping people who were struggling to get clean, by sharing his time and experience with them. He worked quietly but tirelessly at this for decades, and was part of a large community of recovering addicts who met to help others. Gervais was much loved in this recovery community, and respected for his longevity of service. His presence was characterised by being the only person there covered in marble dust, sometimes literally from head to toe, but which never stopped anyone from listening to him and benefiting from his assistance.'
Lee Walsh wrote, 'Gerv was one of the greatest characters in the antique fireplace market and is a great loss to us and the rest of the trade. Every time he came to deliver us one of his fireplaces he would pack as many bags of rubble from his workshops as he could fit in his van, so that he could fill our skip for us. We'd while away many an hour chatting and joking in our yard especially about the above. We will remember him with much fondness and things will not be the same without him. He will be sadly missed by all at Westlands.'
Gervais could display a fiery temperament. His epic battle over parking tickets mainly outside his shop in the borough of Hammersmith was featured in newspapers and TV but (in 2006?) he lost eventually at a not inconsiderable cost.
Katrina Phillips wrote, 'I'd like to say that Gervais was one of the kindest and most generous people I have met in this business. He took time to help others, which is rare. He took me to Paris and showed me the ropes at Les Puces, introducing me to the best dealers and the best cafe. The last time I saw him was only a few weeks ago, when he came to visit me in my shop. I was sampling essential oils behind my counter, creating a scent. He was intrigued and we spent a hilarious hour doing blind scent tests on him. I kept the oils that he liked to one side, and am going to create a natural scented candle from them as a gift to his friends, of which there are many. I will miss him. We shall all miss him.'
Gervais Philip Adrian Duc died of a heart attack on 28th July 2017 aged 61, and leaves his wife, Lesley, and a daughter.
Gervais' memorial gathering at the Tabernacle, Powis Square was held on 6th October. It was a moving tribute to him. Many family, friends, colleagues, and people with reason to be grateful to him - people he had supported in their recovery from addiction - attended. A mourner has said that, 'Inside his gruff exterior was a . . . gruff interior' but that 'within the gruff interior was a large, radiating, golden heart.'
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Gervais Duc of Architectural Antiques of Hammersmith was a Salvo Code dealer
Also with thanks to Salvo Code dealers Retrouvius, Wharton Antiques and Westland London, together with others, for their kind inputs to this obituary.
Photo of GD taken from Facebook
Salvo Directory 10 Aug 2005
Story Type: News