As the Dow finally chugged past 10,000 for the first time in what feels like a gazillion months, Brit art-fair organizers Brian and Anna Haughton debuted their 21st International Fine Art & Antique Dealers Show at the grand red brick Park Avenue Armory, Oct. 16-22, 2009. The fair demonstrates both signs of the new austerity and a huge dichotomy in taste.
With dealers still reeling from these recessionary times, the show has changed substantially. Skipping this installment were London picture dealers Richard Green and P.D. Colnaghi as well as New York painting specialists Bernard Goldberg and W.M. Brady. In their place is Red Fox Fine Art of Middleburg, Va., which happens to be prime horse country, and the gallery specializes in, you guessed it, fox-hunting pictures. Other new dealers are Waterhouse & Dodd of London and Wienerroither & Kohlbacher of Vienna, with a selection of top-tier Austrian fin de siècle art from the likes of Gustav Klimt and George Grosz.
But aside from dealer defections, the event reveals more evidence of today’s financial uncertainty. When the economy tanks, cocooning takes center stage. But in minding the hearth and supping at home, we have two wildly divergent styles. The stands of Steinitz of Paris and Axel Vervoordt of Gravenwezei, Belgium, though both indisputably treasure troves of the first order, are at opposite ends of the style spectrum. With Steinitz representing over-the-top interiors and antiques from centuries past, Vervoordt has made himself the prince of a new kind of design minimalism, a new vision of chic. His style is notoriously eclectic and stunningly pared down.
To comprehend the stylistic sensibility of Steinitz, Vervoordt and what lies between in this newly muted and cautionary era, saunter down the aisles of the fair at the very least, step into those two dealers’ stands.
In 18th-century France, the height of luxury was exquisitely carved paneled rooms, and Steinitz trims up his stand floor-to-ceiling with 1760 bosierie with a handsome provenance. The room panels come from the Patino estate in Portugal. That particular look is a knockout, and costs $1.5 million.
Smack dab in the center of the room is a Pierre Garnier desk for $2 million. It’s huge and made of kingwood. The Louis XV ebeniste Garnier was ahead of his times in creating the ultimate power desk: super rich but severe, with reeded columns at the corners.
Spare but devastatingly chic
Long before French interior designer Christian Liaigre served up his cocktail of luxury living, clean lines of furniture mixed with buddhas and ancient artifacts, Axel Vervoordt was mixing top antiques and the best of contemporary art, here, notably Lucio Fontana paintings, in creating his own stylish environments.
On offer on his stand is the 1962 Fontana Untitled, its gilt surface glimmering, for $5.5 million, and nearby are Axel’s own contemporary designs: a huge, polished slate cocktail table paired with a streamlined sofa covered in white duck. Also note the 1790 Jacob chair, which once belonged to the artist who played a pivotal role in the French Revolution: Jacques Louis David. At $320,000, that mahogany and gilt throne-like chair is a comparative bargain.
Elsewhere on the fair floor are other style trends, as follows:
New Hollywood glam
There’s a new twist to Tinseltown style from the Roaring ‘20s and it’s got a French accent. Gerard Widdershoven, who heads up the highly successful Greenwich Village dealership Maison Gerard Ltd., has brilliantly created a 1925 bedroom packed with furnishings by Jules Leleu. The 1925 bed and side tables are exquisitely lacquered in mahogany and amboyna woods with delicate ivory inlays.
Proving the appeal of Leleu, by Sunday Widdershoven had sold a 1926 desk by that designer for $78,000.
With the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven headlining the show "Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill" (opening Oct. 15), that 18th-century tastemaker who really set the gold standard for collecting in his times and his penchant for the Gothic Revival is having another moment in the sun. And that particular style which was laced with reverential religious overtones is more apparent than ever at the fair.
Top of the tree is a pair of Gothic Revival bronze lanterns with the newly participating London dealer Michael Lipitch. The items date from 1850 and their design is a nod to turreted castles. They’re priced at $240,000. Nearby is a 1775 mirror in the same style. The exhibition at Yale is bound to boost the value of antiques in the style favored by the influential author of The Castle of Otranto.
In the last recession, entertaining at home was on a high. This time, lavish dining replicates that of the 18th- and 19th-century booms. Lately, Lewis Smith of the London silver dealers Koopman Rare Art has been selling up a storm of pricey silver. To entice even more collectors, Smith air-freighted over a treasure trove of silver gilt and silver dinnerware for the show.
Pride of place is given to a massive George IV tray. It was produced by silversmith Philip Rundell for the third Duke of Northumberland. It boasts cute double paw feet and fabulous engraving. The price is $310,000. By Sunday, Smith has already racked up substantial sales of silver, including a tureen suite and entrée dishes.
Fragments and fragments
The logic of pairing Cubist artworks, including a rare Juan Gris painted still-life with pear and bottle (at $1.4 million) with a Roman marble of a draped female body (sans head and arms), was irresistible to New York dealer Hicham Aboutaam of Phoenix Ancient Art. Even the plinths are trapezoidally shaped, and move on casters. Several sales in the six-figure range are already locked in. "I’m having fun," Aboutaam said, who was manning the booth on Sunday with his young son.
Beaded fashionista bargain
Beading as on dresses is de rigueur and London dealer Harris Lindsay is sporting a graceful Viennese 1908 table, its top intricately beaded with a pattern of a clutch of irises. Priced at only $32,000, the bentwood beech table can be considered couture style furniture. Christian Lacroix and John Galliano would swoon over it. The table is a rarity and could be unique.
Home and hearth
In these still turbulent times, tending the fireside is perceived as the ultimate luxury and this 1900 fireplace surround in gleaming glazed green ceramics with Manhattan dealers David and Constance Yates is especially distinctive. Emile Muller featured a fearsome head of Medusa in the center of the piece, which is in perfect condition. For $175,000, the surround makes a real style statement.
History, lifestyle, architecture, period interiors and photography are all wrapped up in one unique tome at Potterton Books. That Sussex dealer is showcasing a 1906 photo album depicting the interiors of No. 27 Berkeley Square. That particular enclave was then and still is among the most exclusive addresses in all of London. The home was owned by archaeologist Sir Robert Ludwig Mond and the snaps are by Bedford Lamere. They give a glimpse at stylish living before the Wars. Costing only $8,000, this is the best buy in the entire fair.
Brit blue chips
Sales at London’s LAPADA antiques fair this September were strong, especially for "brown furniture," England’s rendition of 18th-century and later furnishings. With that in mind, there are several outstanding examples here and they include the pair of Regency mahogany side cabinets at Ronald Phillips Ltd., which bear a regal provenance. They come from George IV’s quarters at Windsor Castle and date from 1812. They cost £880,000 sterling or a staggering $1.4 million.
Just across the way, London dealer Michael Lipitch has a museum class mirror. It’s 1760, by Thomas Chippendale from his acclaimed Brocket Hall commission and no less than the august Chippendale Society has authenticated the mirror with original gilding. That rarity is priced $2 million.
With some dealers clinching sales in the early days of the fair, we just might be seeing the first signs of market recovery.
BROOK S. MASON is U.S. correspondent for the Art Newspaper, and also writes for the Financial Times and other publications.