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    A Buoyant Market
by Brook S. Mason
 
     
 
Lucas Cranach the Elder
Bacchus at the Wine Press
$1.2 million
at Feigen
 
Jan Brueghel the Elder
Christ Preaching at the Seaport
1597
$3.2 million
at Feigen
 
Giovani Agostino Da Lodi
Adoration of the Magi
ca. 1495-1520
$1.2 million
at Agnew's
 
Edouard Vuillard
La danse
1899
at Galerie Berès
 
Raoul Dufy
Le bassin de yachtes à Deauville
ca. 1935
$500,000
at Neffe-Degandt
 
John Atkinson Grimshaw
Hampstead
1881
at MacConnal-Mason
 
Daniel Ridgway Knight
Premier Chagrin
1892
$425,000
at Hollis Taggart
 
The International Fine Art Fair, May 12-17, 2000, at the Seventh Regiment Armory, Park Avenue and 67th Street, New York, N.Y. 10021 (212) 642 8572.

A glittering barometer of taste and prices, the International Fine Art Fair in New York reveals the buoyant nature of today's art market and the hefty pocketbooks of collectors who are totally undimmed by recent Wall Street jitters. Boasting a bevy of sales within days of its opening on May 12, this seventh annual fair, organized by Brian and Anna Haughton, is on view at the Seventh Regiment Armory through May 17.

Simply note the newly steep price tags. They're the seven and eight digit kind: $12 million for Titian at Feigen; $11 million for Modigliani at Malingue; an $8 million Picasso at Levy; and a $2.5 million Bacon at Levefre.

For perhaps the best sales record to date, look to New York dealer Richard Feigen, who is touting financier Saul Steinberg's Old Masters paintings. The Lucas Cranach the Elder Bacchus at the Wine Press priced at $1.2 million is already sold. The only Bacchanale in Cranach's oeuvre, this 1530 painting shows Bacchus hefting a pewter tankard and surrounded by inebriated infants. Even the lurid palette of acid greens and hideous flesh tones makes this the poster painting of alcoholic consumption gone wrong.

Feigen's sales tally as of Sunday included a Dirck van Baburen, which was priced at $975,000, a David Teniers the Younger and a Gian Paolo Panini. Plus, Feigen achieved a reserve on the Jan Brueghel the Elder Christ Preaching at the Seaport. The small oil on copper was priced at $3.2 million. So, take note, Old Masters with the Steinberg provenance are a raging success.

Even for those who can't afford a Steinberg painting, the armory fair offered a good opportunity for a close look. For Italian Mannerist fans, for instance, there is a seductive Giovanni Caracciolo of two youths with grapes. From 1600, the painting by the Neapolitan artist (the foremost follower of Caravaggio) is a tour de force of shadow and light. For brilliant lighting, consider Gerrit van Honthorst's Diana Resting with Two Shepherdesses and Two Greyhounds. The coloring is perfection and the price is $1.4 million.

Across the aisle, Agnew's of London has a Giovanni Agostino da Lodi Adoration of the Magi with jewel-like colors of vermilion, sapphire blue and burnt orange. Its controlled composition is riveting. Price for the work, which was formerly owned by the Scottish merchant William Graham, is $1.2 million. The picture was sold by Agnew's back in 1953, when the price was a mere £1,600.

The proliferation on the floor of works by certain painters is an indication of their exuberant popularity. Interest is still high in the marvelous but safe seascapes of Eugène Boudin, for instance, and there are enough Degas sketches of ballet dancers at Malingue, Brame et Lorenceau and Schmit to please even the greediest balletomane. But Edouard Vuillard wins the popularity contest. Galerie Hopkins-Thomas-Custot sold two pastels of interiors and Galerie Berès has an impressive ten works on hand, ranging from pencil sketches to full-blown oil landscapes.

But London dealer Neffe-Degandt takes the prize for the most Vuillards at this fair. He's got 22 in all, priced from $5,000 for a sketch to $650,000 for a large oil. By Saturday, he had written up four Vuillard sales, including one for $125,000. The prize Nabi work on his stand is a singular interior with the artist's sister and Misia Sert. The brushstrokes are big, quick and dappled; the palette, sublime rosy grays and soft green in this study for Deux Femmes brodant sous une veranda, which is in the Musée d'Orsay.

In addition, Neffe-Degandt sold a Raoul Dufy scene of the Deauville resort, reflecting that certain Palm Beach taste. It went for $500,000 to a New Yorker.

The sales also tell how far-ranging collectors' taste is right now. Phillipe Cazeau-Jacques de la Beraudiére sold a Max Ernst within days of opening for a heady $3.4 million. Dating from 1940, The Painter's Daughter is a Surrealist nightmare that features a wild takeoff on 18th-century dress, the precise image of how you don't want your daughters to be portrayed. It's a real Manhattan dinner-party conversation piece.

Fairy paintings are on a high, too. London dealer Jeremy Maas, who curated the 1979 Royal Academy show of Victorian fairy paintings, which traveled to the Frick Collection in New York (and drew record crowds at both venues), has a jewel-like example. It is John Anster Fitzgerald's Fairies in a Bird's Nest, complete with the intricate gilded twig frame that seems to be de rigeuer for such works. It went for an astonishing $480,000 to a West Coast collector. Only several years ago, this fanciful genre was banished to the attic.

Maas also has the best John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-97) on the floor. It's a moody view of Batttersea Bridge with a $100,000 price tag that seems a relative bargain. Further along at MacConnal-Mason, there are three Grimshaws priced from $232,000 up to $263,000. Then Richard Greene is boasting three oils in Grimshaw's signature foggy golden green haze. The price tags are $275,000, $430,000 and $550,000 for one of the Liverpool docks. Why so many? "Collectors like dreaming into the artist's atmosphere," says Green gallery director Penny Marks.

American painter Daniel Ridgway Knight (1839-1924) had been in disdain for a number of years. His early brand of emotional neorealism was just too poignant. Now he's being revived. Dealer Hollis Taggart wrote up Knight's Premier Chagrin of two farm girls in a tete à tete and perched on a stone wall for a hefty $425,000. Part of the appeal had to be that the painting had been exhibited in the Paris Salon of 1892. Plus it was illustrated in the salon catalogue -- a distinction rarely reserved for expatriate painters.

There are more drawings than ever, indicating the increasing number of collectors for this specialty. Top drawings include a Parmigiano at Katrin Bellinger Kunsthandel. It is a Madonna with her hands folded in prayer. This surprisingly fluid sketch is priced at $185,000.

"This time, I've seen more new private collectors here," said London drawings dealer Flavia Ormond. She has an elegant drapery study by Baldassare Francechini, also called Il Volterrano (1611-1680), for a modest $12,000. The smaller items, like several fine pencil portraits of Louis Lafitte (1770-1814) with London dealer Thomas Williams, were snapped up opening night. At $2,000 a pop, they've got to be the best buy on the floor, proving that bargain hunters troll the fair, too.


BROOK S. MASON writes on art and antiques.