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At the entrance to the International Fine Art Fair

Thomas Gainsborough
Wooded Landscape with Herdsmen and Cattle and Rustic Lovers
at Talabardon & Gautier, Paris

Alexandre-Marie Colin
Portrait of Eugene Delacroix
ca. 1830
at Elwes & Hanham, London

George Grover
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I
ca. 1958
at Peter Nahum at the Leicester Galleries, London

Jan Brueghel the Younger
Animated Landscape with a Village Feast
at Galerie d'Art Saint-Honoré, Paris

Jan Brueghel the Younger
Animated Landscape with a Village Feast (detail)
at Galerie d'Art Saint-Honoré, Paris
Art Market Watch

Right smack dab in the middle of the spring auction season in New York, the 10th annual International Fine Art Fair, May 9-14, 2003, has turned the Seventh Regiment Armory on Park Avenue into an art-lover's dream. It sounds like hyperbole, but it's not -- the show, which includes 62 top galleries from the U.S., Europe and Japan, features one treasure after another. "The dealers just keep raising the quality," said Brian Haughton, who organizes the fair with his wife, Anna. "What else can they do?"

The fair brings together from "Renaissance through modern masters," so an eclectic approach can be helpful. Scott Cook of Cook Fine Art in New York, who is a first-time exhibitor at the fair this year, brought classic modern drawings by Henri Matisse and Odilon Redon, a Mysterious Woman by Fernand Khnopff, a large oil and tempera work on paper by Wifredo Lam and a delicate pencil portrait of Lady Pellew (1817) by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. "He would do them for something like 500 francs when he was at the academy in Rome," Cook said. "Lunch money." Today, the price is $450,000.

Cook Fine Art also boasts one of the most contemporary pieces at the fair, a bright cadmium monochrome painting with three dramatic slashes done by Lucio Fontana in 1959. Priced at $585,000, the work was drawing considerable attention.

One prize at the booth of Paris gallery Talabardon & Gautier, another first-time exhibitor at the fair, is a drawing in black and white chalk on blue paper by Thomas Gainsborough of a Wooded Landscape with Herdsman and Cattle. The drawing -- which contains a hard-to-find pair of lovers -- is a study for the painting in the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven. Price: $400,000. Talabardon & Gautier also features a wall of plein air landscapes from French artists from the Grand Tour in Italy, including the notably early 1787 View of Marino and the Forest, Afternoon by Jean-Joseph-Xavier Bidauld. Still another treasure is an 1850 study of feet and hands after Rubens by Eugene Delacroix, a 19th-century drawing whose unfinished energy makes it particularly appealing to a 21st century sensibility.

Delacroix himself is the subject of a small oil portrait (done, rather informally it would seem, on the lid of a wooden cigar box) by his friend and colleague Alexandre-Marie Colin, in the booth of Elwes & Hanham from London. Painted in about 1830, the young artist is shown in a top hat, sitting casually on a stool in his studio, smoking a pipe. He has yet to become the lion of French painting, but he has aristocratic pretensions all the same, as evidenced by the flash of gold from his signet ring.

The picture also contains what is probably "the earliest banana in French painting," said Ben Elwes, pointing out the discarded peel on the studio floor. Elsewhere in the booth is an early pen and brown ink sketch by the Austrian stage designer Josef Ignaz Platzer for the set for the premiere of Mozart's Marriage of Figaro in 1786 in Prague. The portrait of Delacroix is priced at $130,000, while the Platzer drawing is $10,000.

The London dealer Peter Nahum has split his booth between works by 19th-century academic painters like Richard Dadd and Arthur Hughes and post-war British painters such as Barbara Hepworth, Victor Pasmore, Terry Frost and Merlyn Evans. Evans, who is Welsh, is represented by a large 1963 abstract triptych in blacks, browns and earth tones called Hero, Duel, Martyr (1963), whose subject references arc from the Bay of Pigs to the Kennedy assassination -- events that somehow manifest themselves in the pictures' tectonic forms. The painting is priced at $160,000.

But one star piece at Nahum is not for sale -- a Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I (ca. 1588) attributed to George Gower that is a version of the Armada portrait in London's National Portrait Gallery. Fresh from last year's exhibition, "Women Who Ruled: Queens, Goddesses, Amazons 1500-1650" at the Davis Museum in Wellesley, Mass., the painting is "an emblem of feminist power," according to Nahum. The savvy queen crafted its intertwined iconography of white and black, purity and strength, to help reinforce her power -- a symbolism that extended from white pearls and white lace even to banishing painted shadows from depictions of her face.

Spotlighted works by Flemish painters of the early Renaissance fill the booth of the Paris Galerie d'Art Saint-Honoré. Gallery director Maurice Kruch was on hand to provide a magnifying glass to view the delicate details (and comic humanity) of the approximately 290 figures in the masterful Animated Landscape with a Village Feast by Jan Brueghel the Younger. Measuring ca. 55 x 94 in., the picture has it all -- a church, a village scene, a market scene, fishermen in boats and even, in the lower left corner, a group portrait of the Brueghel family, including a representation of the artist as a boy and the family dog (who appears in other paintings as well). The price: $2.4 million.

Hanging right next to the Animated Landscape is an elaborate still life of flowers done on copper by the same artist, while elsewhere in the booth is an immaculately detailed set of four "Fables of Aesop" by Jan van Kessel the Elder (an in-law of the Brueghel family) and a meticulous Allegory of Summer by Martin van Valckenborch I that shows picnickers, reapers and even tiny nude skinny-dippers by an island castle.

Much more awaits -- the fair is on till next Wednesday. Admission is $15.

The fair's gala preview on May 8 raised about $700,000 for the Lenox Hill Neighborhood House, the oldest and largest social service agency on the Upper East Side, whose programs include the women's shelter on the third floor of the armory where the fair takes place.