At a time when the world has been shaken by a series of catastrophic election results, France is growing increasingly nervous about the approaching presidential contest in April.
Running counter to these trends is the Tefaf antiques fair in Maastricht, taking place until 19 March.
Here the French kings are still highly prized.
French antiques dealer Didier Aaron’s stand, for instance, is dominated by a majestic 2.6-metre-tall portrait of Louis XVI by Antoine-François Callet (1741-1823), one of the great historical painters during the reign of the monarch who died on the guillotine, priced around 350,000 euros.
In the booth of the London dealer Colnaghi is a highly unusual work: a life-size polychrome wooden sculpture of St. Louis, the French king of the Middle Ages who was venerated in Andalusia at the end of the 16th century. It is by the hand of the great master of Spanish hyperrealism, Juan de Mesa (1583-1627), who was famous in his lifetime. It is tagged at 6 million euros.
Put simply, there isn’t another fair in the world that assembles this many treasures for lovers of art history, from ancient to contemporary art.
Among the 270 stands at this commercial show, certainly the most expensive work – 25 million euros – is to be found at the stand of the Basel-based gallery Henze & Ketterer & Triebold.
The item in question is a large portrait (135 x 92cm) from 1934 by the German expressionist painter Max Beckmann (1884-1950) who has just been handed an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. The canvas shows Naila – a pseudonym concealing the real name of his mistress – huge green eyes, wrapped up in her large coat. The painting has stayed in the hands of a single family since the 1950s.
25 million euros also happens to be the record price ever paid for a Beckmann at auction – a self-portrait purchased by the famous New York collector Ronald Lauder in 2001.
There is no shortage of wonders from every era in Maastricht.
The stand of English antiques dealer Rupert Wace has a marble Aphrodite sculpted in the 2nd century of the Roman Empire, copied from a Greek model. Height: one metre. Price: 1.5 million euros.
In an antiques market marred by controversies over problems of origins, this grace here has an enviable pedigree stretching back to a 17th century Roman collection.
A comparable Venus was sold by Sotheby’s in 2006 to the Michael C. Carlos Museum in Atlanta for $968,000.
In a more primitive, dare we say almost cubist style, the Galerie Kevorkian in Paris is offering a 51cm-tall female figure in basalt, produced in the Golan region in the Middle East between the 7th and 5th century BC. In a style that is to our eyes very modern, it is selling for around 100,00 euros.
No doubt about it, the art brut founder, France’s Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985), would no doubt have venerated this Neolithic divinity. Speaking of which, Paris gallery Applicat-Prazan is selling a painting by Dubuffet on behalf of Moma, New York. ‘Topographie châtaine’ (1959), an abstract and sombre oil painting and collage, carries a 250,000 euro price tag.
The most striking booth at this year’s edition of Tefaf belongs to Dickinson, the London and New York-based gallery, and serves up a breathtaking list of credits.
Positioned at the entrance to the fair, the booth includes a a double portrait of two women by Edvard Munch, the father of the well-known ‘Scream’ (2.4 million dollars), an exceptionally rare and large painting from 1948 by the Dada and surrealist painter Francis Picabia who is currently the subject of a Moma exhibition (3.8 million euros), and a portrait of a woman painted by Constantin Brancusi in an classical style (520,000 euros).
But the true star of the stand is a watercolour by Paul Cézanne showing the Sainte Victoire Mountain in a highly sketched style and making characteristic use of the white of the paper as a colour . Tagged at 4.5 million euros it belonged to the legendary collectors Leo and Gertrude Stein.
Patrick Van Maris, the Tefaf CEO, concludes:
‘We made it clearly known to our participants our requirements in terms of quality. Every year at Tefaf there are a large number of professionals who are rejected. We want it to be known that our organisation shows the world’s best dealers. This is why we are also currently developing two fairs every year in New York, the next one taking place on 3 May. These are windows on the world to encourage people to come to Maastricht’
He explains how, in his opinion, the fair is perfectly aligned with the demands of the market:
The all-conquering Patrick Van Maris even promises additional developments to the Tefaf brand in the coming months.
From 10 to 19 March. Maastricht. www.tefaf.com