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Il Guercino
Esther, Fainting, Supported by Two Assistants
at Flavia Ormond



Edouard Vuillard
Le salle Gaveau
at Galerie Hopkins-Custot



Edouard Vuillard
Le Kimono
1905
at Galerie Hopkins-Custot



Sir John Everett Millais
Sophie Gray
1857
$2.5 million
at Peter Nahum



Pieter Brueghel the Younger
The Bird's Trap
at De Jonckheere



Pieter Boel
Elaborate still life with fruits, vegetables, a salver and swan before a distant landscape
1657
at Richard Feigen



Lucas Cranach the Elder
Madonna and Child with St. John
at Jack Kilgore
Market Upswing
by Brook S. Mason


The International Fine Art Fair, May, 11-16, 2000, at the Seventh Regiment Armory, Park Avenue at 67th Street, New York, N.Y. 10021

The Dow may be teetering, the Nasdaq in a decided slump and the economy faltering, but one particular index indicates that today's art market is definitely robust. That measure is best taken at the eighth annual International Fine Art Fair, which by its second day had seen a flurry of sales.

Red dots were conspicuous at many a stand in the 64-dealer show. Simply consider London's Lefevre Gallery, where director Martin Sommers sold up a storm. The lineup includes a Redon flower painting, a Pissarro interior, a precious Boudin picture of peaches in a basket, a Daubigny watercolor, and even a Balthus drawing, one of his somewhat steamy, lanquid pre-adolescent nudes. Most are in the six-figure price range.

Works on paper are on roll like never before and Paris dealer Neal Fiertag sold half his stand. It's true, his prices were hardly staggering, the four- and low-five-digit kind, for works by David, Daumier and Corot along with a host of minor artists. But then this just could be the new impulse buying.

Fiertag's sales also speak of taste trends. More and more collectors are turning to drawings. And judging by the abundant volume of works on paper, from Renaissance red chalk studies and 19th century charcoals right up to 20th-century delineations of figures, this fair is approaching an American version of Paris' Salon de Dessin. The roster of eight specialist drawings dealers include Flavia Ormond; Nissman, Abromson; Katrin Bellinger, Jill Newhouse; Mia Weiner; Thomas Williams; Dr Martin Moeller; and W.M. Brady. And practically every painting dealer is touting some manner of works on paper, from Galerie Cazeau-Beraudiere with several Matisse drawings and on.

The prized drawing on the floor has to be with London dealer Flavia Ormond. It is Il Guercino's image of Esther fainting, supported by two assistants, and is a masterful work indicating how the 17th-century artist built up volume and movement with a deft touch.

Aside from drawings, another distinct feature of this year's fair is the stunning amount of work by Nabi artist Edouard Vuillard. Right now, Vuillard is clearly the millennium's Boudin and Renoir rolled up in one. Remember that Boudin's seascapes and Renoir's portraits were long considered de rigeur for many a Park Avenue apartment in the mid-20th century.

Galerie Hopkins-Custot has the star Vuillard picture, Le Kimono from 1905, for a reported seven figure sum. This work is the height of the stylized decorative surface, from the pattened Oriental carpet, wall paper and fabric-skirted table to the kimono-clad figure. Who else has got the Nabi painter's intimate interiors and portraits? Galerie Beres, Galerie Schmit, Jill Newhouse, Richard Feigen and Neffe-Degandt. Neffe-Degandt sold his top Vuillard, a stippled landscape from 1897, for a six-figure amount.

New York dealer Jill Newhouse has got a spectacular Vuillard pastel portrait of Georges Benard from 1931. Also don't miss the Delacroix watercolor of the Normandy cliffs on her stand. Dating from 1849, this example captures the scene brilliantly with the briefest of washes of taupes and moss green.

But the best buy for a Vuillard has to be with Crane Kalman, who has a rendering of madame at her sewing machine for $100,000 and the artist's mother reading from 1910 for only $50,000.

Why such unusually modest prices? "We're offering the attainable, the gettable," says Andrew Kalman, reflecting how some dealers are choosing lower price points to woo clients.

But this fair is more than a mere shopping emporium; there are enough museum-quality examples to please any level of art enthusiast. London dealer Peter Nahum has mounted a comprehensive exhibition of 70 pre-Raphaelite, Symbolist and Visionary paintings, watercolors and drawings. What distinguishes this grouping is the number that have been exhibited in museum shows, like Burne-Jones' Baconesque Souls on the Banks of the River Styx. While paintings from this period suffered in price in the '70s, once composer Andrew Lloyd Weber of Phantom of the Opera fame began building a stupendous collection, others followed suit. And prices continue to climb.

Take the jewel-like Sir John Everett Millais portrait of his sister-in-law Sophie Gray, done in 1857 in an unusually confrontational pose. It's priced at $2.5 million. Other Pre-Raphaelite artists at the Armory include Sir Edward Burne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Ford Madox Brown. Now Nahum is seeing considerable interest from U.S. museums and collectors. "Grownups raised on cartoons and video games respond to these more pictorial works over contemporary art," says Nahum. Drawings by Burne-Jones can be had for less than $8,000.

Old Masters fans should take in the stand of De Jonckheere for the offerings by Osias Beert and Pieter Brueghel the Younger. Beert's flower paintings were popular at Maastricht and the Brueghel is one of those infinitely detailed snow scenes with an ice-covered lake complete with skaters cavorting. It costs $1 million.

There is a vibrant Jacob Jordaens study of two Africans for a hefty $600,000 at the stand of Bob Haboldt, but then it's a museum-quality picture. In some cases, 17th-century paintings are practically affordable. Richard Feigen has a massive still life with the requisite brass salver, squashes and gourds surrounding a snowy swan. It's by Pieter Boel (1622-74) and only $150,000.

Yet while Old Masters remain a luxury currency of the day, more 19th and 20th century works are on view than ever. Even New York dealer Jack Kilgore, who specializes in Dutch and Flemish paintings, is sporting a 19th-century rendering of Mary Magdalene.

"I sold a 19th century landscape last year," says Kilgore from his stand, hung with masterpieces by Salomon Ruysdael and Joos de Mooper, along with Lucas Cranach the Elder's exquisite Madonna and Child with St. John, which bears his signature dragon symbol. The Cranach is under $1 million.

Striking a bright point in the decorative arts, Hollis Taggart is showing a rare Max Kuehne chest of drawers. Dating from the '50s and ablaze with ferns as well as flowers, the chest and is gessoed, lacquered, silver leafed and water colored, too. This is one example that will snapped up quickly. The price is only $27,000. The gallery already sold a Kuehne painted tray with an exuberant flower painting -- a sale that is yet another sign of the art market's upward trajectory.


BROOK S. MASON writes on the fine and decorative arts.

 
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