You are rich
Imagine that you are rich, very rich, and that you love art. Another possibility: imagine you are a curious die-hard fan of things created by man, without boundaries of time or space. If you recognize yourself in one of these two people, you should urgently make your way to the Tefaf fair in Maastricht.
Having been absent for the past two years, it is now taking place this year – due to Covid – over a shorter timeframe, from 25 to 30 June, instead of in March. The 2022 edition is composed of 243 exhibitors, which is around forty less than usual. But walking up and down its aisles brings great pleasure, as you find yourself in an art history treasure hunt.
Difficult global context
And yet the Tefaf opens, as everyone knows, amid a difficult global context in terms of the economy, geopolitics, and public health, but also only a week after the Art Basel fair. It also overlaps with the dates of the Belgian antiques fair Brafa in Brussels, which is however of an inferior quality. The participants in Tefaf, when questioned, all think the same thing: “to succeed in Maastricht you have to display rare artworks, discoveries.”
Hidde van Seggelen
The chairman of the show, Hidde van Seggelen, remarks: “I cannot deny that there’s a war going on in Europe and the Covid question remains unresolved. But the Tefaf in New York took place in May and it was a great success. People are travelling a lot again. The Tefaf is a major cultural event, for which dealers, collectors and museum conservators travel from around the world. I am optimistic about the fact that these experiences have been greatly missed over the past two years.”
A number of antiques dealers have reserved their most unique or remarkable works for this occasion, following the long months without public showings. This is the case, for example, of Sam Fogg from London who is displaying a sculpture from the German Renaissance. The polychrome Saint Sebastian stands at 1m 20 and has been carved from wood by Jorg Lederer (around 1470-1550) who, according to the director of the gallery Matthew Reeves, is to sculpture what Dürer is to painting from the era, as far as those in the know are concerned.
“Four or five collectors of art from the Middle Ages, or a museum, are likely to make the acquisition,” adds Matthew Reeves. The saint, sculpted with virtuosity and covered in skilful drapery, is on sale for 1.1 million euros.
Not far away, for 1.4 million euros you can buy a stunning Mexican throne in silver dating from 1814 from French dealer Christophe de Quenetain. It was meant to give a royal welcome to the viceroy of Spain in San Antonio, around the time when Texas was still Spanish.
Standing at the entrance to the booth of the Barrère gallery, from Paris and Hong Kong, is a colossal Chinese “Dragon king, protector of the oceans of the North” from the Song dynasty (960-1279). It has marked features and bulging glass eyes… Carved out of a single massive block of wood measuring 110cm tall it is depicted sitting with its hands on its thighs and commanding respect. (On sale for 2 million euros). The dealer of Asian art has observed a decelerating trend in transactions in China over the past two years under the effect of the public health crisis.
Saddlery for the Sultan
At the booth of Kent Antiques from London, which is taking part in Tefaf for the first time, the star item is a horse, or rather what covers it: a luxurious saddlery in gilt silver (saddle and caparison) created for the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire Selim III who reigned between 1789 and 1809. Sixty years later, the Sultan Abdulmecid presented it as a gift to Queen Victoria.
She then waited 30 years to offer it to the Marquess of Lothian in Scotland, who liked oriental objects. The unusual piece, composed of articulated crests adorned in spun metal, was kept at the family home, Newbattle Abbey, until this was offered to the Scottish people and the ceremonial object landed in a sale at auction.According to Bora Kesniker from Kent Antiques, it must be one of the rare complete imperial ottoman harnesses from the 18th century which has escaped being melted down. (On sale for 2 million euros).
Francisco de Zurbaran
The section of old masters works has less surprises than usual, but the Canesso gallery from Paris is presenting, for example, a painting by the famous master from what is known as “The Golden Age” in Spain, Francisco de Zurbaran (1598-1664). The canvas depicting the Virgin as a child in a soft, dreamy scene, with her eyes closed but already surrounded by a halo, exists in several versions.
Painting within the painting
The baroque painter excelled in working with light and the representation of grace. At the back of the composition there are flowers in a vase, a still life in its own right, a painting within a painting. In the field of the old masters identification of a work’s authorship is often called into question, but this “Child Virgin Asleep” has featured in numerous exhibitions with a firm attribution to Zurbaran, like in 2018 at the retrospective on him staged in Bozar in Brussels, among others On sale for 2.2 million euros).
Rare at auction
The Spaniard’s canvases are rare to appear on the market and they particularly interest, according to Maurizio Canesso, the Latin-American market. The painting comes from a collection from the South of France. The record price at auction for a Zurbaran was for a Saint Dorothy, which sold for 3 million euros in 2010.
Among the booths that ought to definitely attract the curious, there is that of the dynasty of French-American dealers, the Wildensteins. This legendary gallery, which is now based in New York and has been subject to controversy surrounding its heritage management, is not ordinarily open to the public. But at the Tefaf this year you can see a few of its treasures, such as a rare and large-scale female portrait by Gustave Courbet from 1857.
In its sober and modern execution “Mademoiselle Jacquet” features on a dark background wearing a black dress. But the centre of the composition is marked by an enormous red bow positioned on her collar, which draws all the attention. The canvas for a long time belonged to a legendary American collector from Washington, Paul Mellon, before being auctioned several times. In 2000 “Mademoiselle Jacquet” sold for 2.4 million euros but in 2014 the same painting didn’t find a buyer, with an estimate of 503,000 euros. At the Wildenstein booth the coquettish figure with the red bow is presented for 1 million euros.
Lastly, one of the most expensive paintings per cm2 at the fair is on display at the booth of the Thomas Salis gallery from Salzburg. He is dedicating his space at Maastricht to an inventory of works that illustrate the collage technique in the 20th century. In 1958 Alberto Burri (1915-1995) made an abstract composition, an assemblage of various materials on board measuring 5.7 centimetres long. It is on sale today for 125,000 euros.
Paradoxically, this fascinating abstract artist is best known for one of the largest works ever made in contemporary art. In Sicily, in Gibellina, in 1984 he transformed an entire village, which fell victim to an earthquake, into a work of art fossilized in concrete. Il Cretto stretches over 12 hectares.
It is, however, the large-scale public works of this kind that contribute to the desire among collectors to possess the expressions of his art on an infinitely more modest scale.
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