ECLECTICISM, at a uniformly high price, will take center stage at the 32nd annual Winter Antiques Show, opening here Jan. 25. There's nothing new about eclecticism -- that harmonious blend of furnishings from various periods. But at this show it takes on added interest because visitors can view and buy objects spanning a particularly broad time frame, from ancient Egypt to antebellum South.
A highly international look -- very 19th century, very rich, very lush, and often exotic -- is imposing itself upon the American collecting and decorating scene, says Mario Buatta, show chairman and a New York interior designer.
This expensive eclecticism, he explains, was established by a few well-known European and American interior designers and is currently in vogue with some of their wealthy trend-setting clients.
``It involves a romantic mixture of European styles, including Biedermeier and `stylish Victorian,' and is very busy with fabric, fringe, pattern-on-pattern, and resonant color,'' he says. ``The ornate decorative furniture is often elaborate in detail.''
The genteel sort of English country house look, Mr. Buatta reassures, will remain extremely popular well into the future, and fine English antiques are still dominant in the American market. But it's the robust and exotic pieces from countries like Russia and India that make such a startling difference in this year's show.
``Many people who bought only classic French, English, and Italian antiques are somewhat bored and want to add a few pieces that are more dramatic and exciting,'' says Gene Tyson, a dealer in New York for the past 31 years. ``And decorators who are doing very contemporary rooms are also looking for more exotic and glamorous accent pieces with which to spice them up a bit.
``That is why we are offering an ornate Indo-Portuguese chest fashioned of padauk wood, ebony, white ivory, and gilded silver for $85,000,'' he adds, ``and a set of six mahogany dining chairs made in France in the first quarter of the 19th century for the Russian upper classes for $54,000.''
Russian and Indian things have a unique cache of their own, Mr. Tyson has found, and they will join fine English Regency pieces in his show booth this year.
The various ``Year of India'' exhibitions at major United States museums this past year, and a growing fascination with things Russian, have also helped build interest in antiques from both India and the Soviet Union.
Peter Schaffer, of A la Vieille Russie in New York, says his display will be almost totally Russian. It will include rare stone vases carved of malachite, rhodonite, and jasper in the Russian Imperial Lapidary Works, as well as furniture. ``Most Americans,'' he says, ``are just beginning to realize that some great furniture in mahogany and birch was made in 19th-century Russia, and the demand for it is growing.''
New York dealer Garrick C. Stephenson is showing a set of four Anglo-Indian open-arm chairs, made about 1880, of ebony inlaid with ivory and with patterned cane seats; Michael Goedhuis Ltd. will display a resplendent Indo-Portuguese writing desk.
The Winter Antique Show will, as always, exhibit the finest of American, English, French, and Oriental antiques from 75 leading US dealers. It represents a visual feast of the old and beautiful. Included will be antique textiles and needlework, quilts, rugs, prints, paintings, porcelain, silver, and armor.
Most dealers involved in the show speak of diminishing sources and difficulties in finding the finest examples. Several mention moving from the 18th into the 19th century in their search for quality. Didier Aaron of New York, for instance, notes that the early part of the 19th century is now a most popular period. Whether the furniture be called Biedermeier, Regency, or Empire, and whether it was made in Sweden, Russia, France, England, or Germany, he explains, ``it is very architectural, goes very well with modern decoration, and is still not too expensive as compared with prices for fine 18th-century pieces.''
Earle D. Vandekar, who owns antique shops in both London and New York, notes that far more people are interested now in English pottery of the 18th and early 19th centuries than they were in the past, ``particularly Leeds creamware, Whielden, and the toby jugs and figures made by Staffordshire potters Ralph Woodand and his son.'' He also sees increasing collecting interest in fine 18th-century English porcelain.
In other geographical areas, the Edward H. Merrin Gallery Inc. of New York will again exhibit classical antiquities, Egyptian artifacts, pre-Columbian pieces, Peruvian textiles, and American Indian masks.
Doris Leslie Blau, who deals in decorative carpets in New York, says that during the last three years she has seen a decided turn to European carpets -- ``English needlework, French aubussons [tapestry-like rugs made in Aubusson] and savonneries [handmade carpets with a pile or similarly woven tapestries]. They are mainly florals and the designs tend to be stylized and airy. They have a young and opulent look, and many people now prefer them to carpets made in the Middle East.''
For the first time, Deanne Levison, an Atlanta dealer, will show Americana with a Deep South accent. She is bringing as many pieces as possible that were either made in the South or used by Southern families in Southern homes. ``As research on the furniture of the South is published,'' she says, ``the general interest grows. We have combed all the Southern states looking for worthy pieces to bring to New York, but finding great things that are still intact has been a difficult task.''
As for prices, the only direction they go is up. Yet show manager Russell Carrell says he sees little reluctance to pay the higher prices. ``Fortunately,'' he adds, ``a new generation of antique buyers has grown up that doesn't remember former prices and doesn't indulge in comparisons.''
This year a certificate of guarantee will be offered to any purchaser who requests it, along with the usual bill of sale. This guarantee, signed by the exhibitor, gives the date of origin, describes the piece and any restoration or replacement of parts, and assures repayment of purchase price to a customer who is not satisfied.
The Winter Antiques Show takes place at the Seventh Regiment Armory, on Park Avenue at 67th Street, Jan. 25 through Feb. 2 and is open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sundays from 1 to 6 p.m. Admission is $7 and all proceeds, except sales, benefit the East Side House Settlement in the South Bronx.