Can a 22 -year-old fair withstand a move to a new location and bear the addition of yet another new specialty show in the same venue? A resounding yes is the reply as reflected in British show organizers Brian and Anna Haughton's International Ceramics Fair now paired with their inaugural London Asian Art Fair held last week.
Both took place at the Commonwealth Centre in Kensington from June 11-14 and collectors showed up in droves, as did curators from Winterthur, the Getty, British Museum and a host of other top institutions. Even Sir Timothy Clifford, who heads the National Gallery of Scotland, made an appearance for the event, which clearly captured the academicians' seal of approval.
But then this is no ordinary show. The Ceramics Fair has long attracted serious collectors like Metropolitan Museum of Art benefactor Jayne Wrightsman and Lord Rothschild, titular head of the banking family.
Some fair buffs may discount the ceramics event as merely minor leagues but they are missing the point. Like no other such fair, this show boasts a multitude of museum quality examples. There are regional museums, which cannot hold a candle to the ceramics here.
What makes this fair even more distinctive this year are several show-stopping collections. London private dealer Robyn Robb is presenting a bevy of English Worcester porcelain turned out by the celebrated James Giles during the 18th century. Giles is best known for his delicate rendering of flora and birds with brilliant coloration.
Proof of the degree to which Giles wares are prized? By day three of the fair, Robb achieved practically a sell-out stand. By the final day, Robb claimed the June fair her "best ever." Sold were a pair of Worcester hexagonal vases with painting and gilding by Giles. Brilliantly colored and with a deep blue ground, the vases are a fine specimen of painting. An Australian collector snapped them up for $72,000.
Also Brian Haughton is showing another serious private collection -- early blue and white porcelain with an emphasis on Worcester.
Then another remarkable collection can be glimpsed with London dealer Adrian Sassoon. He's got choice Vincennes and Svres porcelain in beau celeste -- that richly royal King's color -- turquoise or the precise shade of the sash of the Order of the Saint-Esprit. It was first used for Louis XV in 1753.
All of the examples are from the celebrated Hillingdon Collection, formed by the London banker Charles Mills in the 19th century. Sir Joseph Duveen purchased much of the collection, which was later donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Talk about an impeccable provenance. Like Robb and Haughton, Sassoon has produced a catalogue on his offerings.
No one should miss a pair of small Vincennes "orange tubs" intended for bulbs. The painting of birds within panels edged in gilt epitomize a certain 18th-century grandeur. They are priced at just over $67,000. Some collectors had already snapped up several of the lavish porcelain examples.
Yet Sassoon covers a wide spectrum by also featuring contemporary British ceramics and glass. Included are the works of Kate Malone, who turns out quixotic vessels bearing the appearance of fruits like a knobby pineapple in glazed stoneware. Sassoon racked up a staggering 60 sales, proving the market is back in high gear.
Americana buffs will appreciate the ceramics on view with Jonathan Horne. He carries early English pottery right up through Staffordshire, all of which was found in colonists' homes. Yes, there are the charming English Delft tiles but also museum-quality examples.
Consider a Staffordshire bust of King George III. The glazing is mega star bright. "Only one other example is known," says Horne. The other recorded bust can be seen in the V& A Museum.
Part of the pleasure of taking in these two fairs is the setting. On two circular floors, the stands are double and triple the routine size and that spaciousness makes appreciating the wares far more appealing. There's no crowding up of the arts or dealers wedged into tiny stands.
So the design of this fair sets a new standard as do the arts on view. Yet why the distinctive pairing of Asian art with ceramics?
Historically, it makes sense in terms of the endless artistic cross-fertilization between East and West. Also, it has been common for collectors of Staffordshire pottery to dip into Chinese Export porcelain wares for generations. After all, Asian art enthusiasts favor Japanese and Chinese ceramics as accent pieces for their Eastern sculpture and screens.
Collectors of arts from the East are growing so in number that they affirm support for this new fair. The Asian fair roster includes 14 dealers and among the stellar participants are London's textile dealer Jacqueline Simcox and furniture specialist Grace Wu Bruce.
Grace Wu Bruce is touting a remarkable collection of scholar's rocks, considered an important element of Chinese culture for their meditative and esthetic qualities. What makes the 25 examples on hand so distinctive is their age. They are predominantly Ming and date from the 16th to the 18th centuries. Their price of $374,000 testifies to their rarity. There is "thousand layered stone" from the Gobi desert and gleaming malachite.
Further along, Priestly & Ferraro are displaying a Tang Dynasty pulse pillow. In amber glazed stoneware, this small pillow dates from the 7th century and was used to rest one's wrist while a physician took one's pulse. Today, it's a tabletop item and priced at $6,400.
David Priestly also has a pair of Song Dynasty ceramic houses. They are pure folk art of their time -- 13th-14th century. What makes them such a rarity is that the form is really common to the later dynasties. The glazes are drippingly abstract.
Malcolm Fairley, who specializes in Japanese works from the Meji period, achieved a major sale to a museum. He sold an 1891 bronze of a mythological figure holding a temple bell to a British institution. Collectors also bought up netsuke, inro and Satsuma as well as other metal and lacquer work from him.
Clearly, it's such spirited sales that speak of the buoyancy of the market. While most of the UK antiques trade has been slumbering since the horrific event of 9/11, now it's remarkably revived. Plus, these sales tell of this fair's astonishing success on the international show circuit.
BROOK S. MASON writes on the fine and decorative arts.