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TEFAF Maastricht


by Brook S. Mason
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Celebrating its silver jubilee, the European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF), Mar. 16-25, 2012, at the Maastricht Exhibition and Congress Centre, is once again claiming its rightful position at center stage of the global art shopping network. By the numbers, some 70,000 visitors peruse the wares brought by 265 dealers in what is now the fair’s 25th edition.

Making TEFAF Maastricht 25 all the more interesting is its widening global reach. The fair is courting collectors from both Asia and South America, staging “collectors’ forums” this year in Shanghai and Beijing as well as Sao Paulo. Even the TEFAF website includes a Chinese version.

That strategy worked, as the fair was filled with Chinese visitors, and Latin Americans, too.

As always, the crucial question is what not to miss at the fair, which has 25 different sections, no less, from antiquities and Old Masters to modern art and contemporary design. A selection of ten top examples is listed here.  

1. Boulle cabinet set on carved, gilded base Galerie J. Kugel, Paris
This intricately inlaid cabinet with tortoiseshell, pewter and brass depicts the victories of Louis Quatorze. Made by Henry van Soest of Antwerp, the 18th-century cabinet belonged to King Philip V of Spain, grandson of that French king. The price for such a unique piece of furniture is just a shade under $4 million. In terms of taste, think of the lavish Givenchy collection. Kugel is bound to sell the cabinet early on. “Today, the market at the top is no longer so thin,” says Nicholas Kugel. Now newly rich Chinese along with the proverbial Russians, Americans and Brits make up the audience for such obviously rich antiques.

2. A late 14th-century Indian bronze at Ben Janssens Oriental Art, London
This ceremonial bronze of an unknown figure is made from a single cast. Both its modeling and condition are impeccable. “These days, we’re seeing ten times as many Indian visitors to the fair,  compared to a mere five years ago,” says Janssens, who serves as chairman of the TEFAF executive committee. Even so, he believes the bronze is likely to go to a European or U.S. collector. The price is $450,000.

3. Carved and gilded ibex horn cup at Kunstkammer Georg Laue, Munich
Dating from 1758, this cup was made for the court of Salzburg, as only members of the court were permitted to hunt the Alpine ibex, a horned goat-like creature. The cup is carved with hunting scenes and floral decorations typical of the Baroque period. Signed by Martin Gizl, the cup is priced at $471,000. “I’m seeing both private collectors and museums as well seeking kunstkammer objects made from exotic materials,” says Laue. Because of the fragile nature of exotic materials like ibex horn, many examples were never used. Driving the price is demand, which was borne out by results in Christie’s celebrated Yves St. Laurent sale.

4. Han period bronze oil lamp at Vanderven & Vanderven Oriental Art, s-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands
Certain to appeal to Chinese collectors, who up until recently stayed away from tomb objects, is this funerary object in the shape of a tree with 12 branches, topped by a crane. “Its especially large scale makes the lamp highly unusual,” says Floris Vanderven. He tagged the lamp, which dates from 206 BC to 220 AD, at $1.58 million

Equally tantalizing is a Tang-period mass of Chinese coins. A wooden box filled with these coins was buried for the afterlife but the box rotted away, leaving the currency bearing an appealing patina and approximating a contemporary sculpture in terms of esthetics. This currency assemblage is priced at $145,000.

Less than an hour into the vernissage, a mainland Chinese collector had snapped up a 19th-century blue and white Chinese vase from Vanderven.

5. Imhof prayer book at Sam Fogg, London
“Simon Benig (1483-1561) was the greatest medieval manuscript artist we know of,” says Fogg of the prayer book. This particularly exquisite book is small, a mere four by five inches, yet contains 11 paintings, 30 miniatures and 28 borders. It’s Benig’s earliest book and made for the Imhof family of Antwerp, which may explains its price of $4.6 million. “Clients traditionally have been from Europe the U.S. and Latin American but lately we have been selling to a Middle Eastern clientele, which I find extraordinary,” says Fogg.

6. Silver inkstand belonging to Sir Robert Walpole at Koopman Rare Art, London
Sir Robert Walpole served as Britain’s first Prime Minister and commissioned this inkstand, which sits on raised, shell-headed scroll supports. It’s by Paul de Lamerie and bears the Walpole crest of a stag and antelope surrounding the prime minister’s coat of arms. “It’s of the highest quality and de Lamerie brought on a master chaser and a master engraver, with William Hogarth involved in the design,” says Timo Koopman. The only other Walpole inkstand is in the Bank of England. The price is a princely $5 million.

7. Devotional dedicated to Saint Ursula, both carved and painted, at J. Zeberg Antiques, Antwerp
Depictions of religious females in early 16th- century sculpture is generally restricted to the Madonna, so this carving of Saint Ursula flanked by St. Catherine and St. Barbara is exceedingly rare. What also distinguishes the exceptional Late Gothic triptych altarpiece from the Low Lands is its fine painting and carving along with its original polychrome surface on walnut. It costs just under $100,000. St. Ursula should appeal to feminists as that 4th-century saint took 11,000 virgins on a pilgrimage to Rome. Mid-trip, the barbaric Huns massacred them.

8. Sancai period ox at Littleton & Hennessy Asian Art, New York and London
The Hong Kong shipping magnate Sir Anthony Hardy not only assembled a top-notch collection of bronzes but also Sancai porcelain. Dating from the 8th century, this ox is painted in yellow, brown and white tones characteristic of Sancai wares but the blue is exceedingly rare. According to James Hennessy, the Hardy holdings of Sancai ceramics are the most important group of that Chinese specialty to come on the market. The ox is $589,000.

9. Scagiola-topped German table at Carlton Hobbs, New York
The Renaissance technique of scagiola was applied with a mixture of paint and plaster, but finding scagiola tabletops in prime condition is highly unusual. The table on offer bears a woodland hunting scene and was reportedly made for Maximilian I of Munich. It’s priced at $470,000. “Lately, there’s been an incredible upswing for decorative material,” says Hobbs. One index is the fact that Hobbs now has 20 pieces out on approval.

10. Salvador Dali lips brooch at A La Vieille Russie, New York
Dali first based a lips brooch on those of tinsel town starlet Mae West. Later, he turned to the jeweler Kaston, who happened to also be a violinist with the Metropolitan Opera, to create one based on Marilyn Monroe’s lips. Her ruby lips encase a mouth of pearls. It costs only $40,000.

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