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TEFAF Maastricht


by Brook S. Mason
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The European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht, Mar. 16-25, 2012, now in its 25th anniversary year, continues to dazzle. Though begun as a predominantly Old Masters show, and with examples from the Golden Age of Netherlandish paintings and earlier still supreme, the event is currently 265 dealers strong, and boasts 29 specialist committees vetting sections from armor and textiles right on to contemporary art.

By the second day, a surprising number of sales were scored, despite a shaking European economy that has both Greece and Spain teetering financially. This time around, Americans were the predominant buyers, in some quarters at least. Just look at the business that London Old Master picture dealer Johnny van Haeften clinched in the opening days. In all, he sold eight paintings and the majority went to Americans, including a Jacob van Walscapelle Still Life of Flowers with a Branch of Peaches, ca. 1679, for $880,000. It’s a comparative rarity, as van Walscapelle painted only 30 pictures in his entire lifetime. And “that price doesn’t buy a tenth of a Gerhard Richter,” said Van Haeften, who is a founding member of TEFAF.

Van Haeften’s success is an indicator of the newfound buoyancy of the market, as his first-two-day sales for 2012 are far greater than his results for the entire run of last year’s show. Could the Dow hitting a stupendous 13,250 this past Friday have had any impact on his sales?

Right next door to van Haeften’s stand, Konrad Bernheimer, who heads up the Bernheimer-Colnaghi dealership based in both London and Munich, sold a Peter Paul Rubens Crucifixion, ca. 1618, to an American, natch. It went to Boston Museum of Fine Art patrons Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo, who reside in Naples, Fla., for a hefty €3.5 million. That picture had been locked away in a Spanish private collection for more than a century.

London dealer Mark Weiss also got in on the rapid sales trend. He wrote a sales receipt for a massive portrait of Henry VIII, 1600, English School, for £2.5 million. That storied king is shown in regal garb and sporting a ruby and gold chain.

At Tomasso Brothers Fine Art from Leeds, a 1472 marble relief portrait of King Ferrante of Naples by the Florentine sculptor Gregorio de Lorenzo, who died in 1504, went to a European private for €350,000.

Also going to an American was a compelling portrait of Jacques-Louis David, 1817, by Francois-Joseph Navez at Galerie Jean-Francois Heim from Paris. It is only one of three renderings by Navez of the artist who chronicled the French Revolution. The other two paintings are in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Brussels.

“Twenty five percent of our sales are to Americans,” said Heim.

Indeed, a staggering number of Americans are strolling the aisles. The Getty, the National Gallery of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Wadsworth Athenaeum and the Bruce Museum are just some of the U.S. institutions taking collectors in tow on the floor. Even first-time TEFAF visitors Adam Weinberg, director of the Whitney Museum of American Art, and fashion designer Calvin Klein strutted the aisles.

But it’s the megacollectors on the international scene who make TEFAF a star-studded scene. They include Prince Amyn Aga Khan, Sheikh Saud Al Thani of Qatar and Queen Noor of Jordan.

The Chinese also turned out in full force for the first time, with one group numbering over 100. That’s in part due to TEFAF advisor Michel Witmer, who held collector forums in Beijing and Shanghai in advance of the fair. “The Chinese are becoming a major force in the international art market,” said Witmer. Five years ago, the Chinese market was totally nonexistent.

The Chinese were buying up a storm at the show. One took a 19th-century blue and white porcelain vase at Vanderven & Vanderven Oriental Art. “We know for certain a lot of mainland Chinese are coming,” said Floris van der Ven.

TEFAF’s also courting Latin Americans and staged a similar event in Sao Paulo. And, preparing the next generation of TEFAF loyalists, Sotheby’s Institute led more than 200 students through the fair.

But it’s not only paintings appealing to deep-pocketed collectors. The decorative arts are pulling in buyers as well. By the second day of the fair, a gleaming gilt bronze Republican multidial clock by Francois-Joseph Hartmann, ca. 1799, was red-dotted at the stand of Zurich dealer Richard Redding Antiques Ltd. for a cool £1. The clock was reportedly acquired by one of Napoleon’s generals a mere two years after Hartmann put on the finishing touches.

Another impressive sale was notched at the London-based Koopman Rare Art, where Sir Robert Walpole’s very own inkstand, date 1729, by Paul de Lamerie, considered the greatest silversmith ever, sold for a hefty $5 million to an American private client. Walpole was Britain’s first prime minister and there is a mate to his silver crested inkstand and the Bank of England owns it.

Another sale at Koopman Rare Art was a pair of George II candelabra by George Wickes, 1744, which had been in the collection of the 20th Earl of Kildare. The works went to a private collector at £1.75 million pounds. That’s a considerable sum for that kind of candlepower.

Antiquities were having their day in the sun, too, with the London dealer Charles Ede Antiquities writing up a stunning 16 sales alone by the second day of the fair. They included a black ground Greek vase, 6th century BC, going to a private museum in France for €175,000. His London colleague, Rupert Wace Ancient Art, snared a buyer for a 4th-century Etruscan gold diadem tagged at €120,000. And an American scooped up an Egyptian limestone relief depicting Queen Hatshepsut of the New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, 1479-1457 BC, for a price north of $500,000.

Summing up the sales receipts, van der Ven pronounced TEFAF, “still the greatest fair in the world.”

BROOK S. MASON is U.S. correspondent for the Art Newspaper, and also writes for the Financial Times and other publications.