Galleries are rolling out the ‘big guns’ for Tefaf Maastricht, but sales are slower than usual

Tefaf (The European Fine Arts Fair) in Maastricht is known as the pre-eminent fair for Old Masters and European works of art – and for its displays of fresh Baroque flowers blooming on the walls and strategically placed overflowing banquettes in its paths. For the 35th edition, which opened on Friday instead of its usual March slot, delicate flowers were displayed in thin glass vials suspended from the ceiling, presumably to save space. Those weren’t the only things that had lost weight. The show went from 29,500 m² to 22,500 m² and from 285 to 242 exhibitors over seven days instead of the usual 13, including previews.

Shrinkage is not the result of a lack of demand from galleries. Many older art exhibitors have waited more than two years to show up at a fair, since the March 2020 edition of Tefaf was forced to close after seven days (the Covid outbreak at the fair announced the start of the European lockdown).

Paul Smeets, director of Rob Smeets Old Master Paintings and member of the executive committee of Tefaf, explained the decision to move from March to June for this edition. “We [Tefaf] had to plan months in advance, and last fall we thought March was too risky [because of Covid],” he said. “But we thought having a fair in 2022 was a necessity.” However, the Maastricht Exhibition and Conference Center (MECC), which hosts the fair, was sold out. This week’s slot was only found when Maastricht University agreed to move the location of its exams, which would have taken place at the MECC.

Saint Sebastian (circa 1514-15), attributed to Diego de Siloe ©Lullo Pampoulides; Courtesy of Lullo Pampoulides

Some exhibitors said the long wait has led to an increase in the quality of items at the fair. “There is such a magnitude of stuff here. The two-year gap has helped the galleries bring work here of a rather special quality,” says Andreas Pampoulides, co-founder of Lullo Pampoulides. “Within a short radius of here are paintings worth over 10 million dollars – people have certainly gone to great lengths to get the big guns out.” The centerpiece of its stand is a marble sculpture of Saint Sebastian (circa 1514-15) attributed to the Spanish artist Diego de Siloe, whom Pampoulides calls “the first Spanish sculptor of the Renaissance”. It is priced at £5million.

There were, as usual, other very expensive works at the fair. Colnaghi presents an exceptionally large and fine “penschilderj” – a pen and ink panel painting with a gesso background – by Willem Van de Velde the Elder, The departure of the Dutch fleet from the bay of Vlie, June 9, 1645, at a price of 12 million euros. Other stand highlights include Luca Giordano Triumph of Galateawhich sold for an unspecified seven-figure sum, as well as Rodrigo de Villandrando’s intricate decoration Portrait of a noble womanwho found a six-figure home.

Nicholas Hall brought a Vittore Carpaccio not seen in public since 1987, which will be included in a major Carpaccio exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC in November. Madonna and Child with Saints Cecilia and Barbara, painted in the 1490s and showing the influence of Giovanni Bellini, is “an eight-figure sum”, Hall says, (estimated at $10-15 million). It was reserved by a private collector on the day of the preview. Dickinson, meanwhile, brought what is probably one of the fair’s most expensive modern works, an unusual double-sided painting by Giorgio de Chirico. Mercurio ei metafisici1920, one side and The Ritorno del Figliol Prodigo1924, on the other hand, the price has not been disclosed but is said to be around 12 million euros.

At Vittore Carpaccio’s Madonna and Child with Saints Cecilia and Barbara (1490s) Courtesy of Nicholas Hall

The challenge for many galleries, however, is that May and June are packed with fairs that attract top notch modern and old master galleries, including the New York edition of Tefaf in May, the modern section of Art Basel ( June 16-19), Brafa in Brussels (June 19-26) and Masterpiece in London (June 30-July 6). For many galleries in areas where the supply of top quality items is very limited (unlike primary market art galleries) and where staff numbers are small compared to contemporary mega-galleries, this has presented difficulties. .

Dickinson chose three of the five fairs: Tefaf New York, Tefaf Maastricht and Masterpiece. “We had three shows in seven weeks, including a trip across the Atlantic. It was not easy to produce different sets of inventories – Maastricht and Masterpiece overlap, so they must be completely different,” says Emma Ward, Managing Director of Dickinson. “The pandemic also made it more difficult for us to restock because we were so limited in our movements,” she added.

The Tefaf/Masterpiece clash notably forced galleries to make decisions. Some, like Agnews and Axel Vervoordt, have chosen to do only Maastricht. Some, like Osborne Samuel and Charles Ede, decided to do both. A few, like Offer Waterman and Adrian Sassoon, chose Masterpiece. Most dealers agreed that the biggest casualty was probably the Brafa, which is normally at the start of the year.

The accordion dates meant there were concerns about the number of collectors and museums who would attend, particularly Americans facing a three-week European stay if they decided to visit Art Basel, Tefaf and Masterpiece. Asian buyers were expected to be largely absent, due to the latest wave of Covid which some say also impacted the number of older European collectors in attendance.

Although there were sales on preview day, several dealers said they were slower than usual (the fair declined to release visitor numbers). For anyone more accustomed to contemporary art fairs such as Art Basel and Frieze, it was unusual to see White Cube for the first time – known for its defense of the YBAs in the 1990s – without a feeding frenzy around it. (A senior gallery manager, Mathieu Paris, however, reported first-day sales, including a sculpture by Antony Gormley, EVOO [2014]priced at £500,000).

HOVE by Antony Gormley (2014) Courtesy of White Cube

The lack of crowds, however, created a quiet atmosphere for serious shoppers. Meanwhile, museum directors, specialist curators and patronage groups – a core feature of Tefaf – showed up in force. Nearly 100 representatives attended the fair, including well-heeled American museums such as the Metropolitan Museum, the Getty, the Morgan Library Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago.

In a salon covering eight different areas (paintings, antiques, fine jewelry, tribal, modern and ancient art, design and works on paper), the trends are difficult to discern. Nevertheless, several galleries had sought out works by female ancient painters and this was, according to observers, what the market, especially museums, was looking for.

Jean-François Heim brought a touching Artemisia Gentileschi, Self-Portrait of the Artist as Cleopatra on Her Deathbed, Embracing a Viper, circa 1620. Cleopatra was believed to be around 40 when she committed suicide, but in this image she is a beaming but troubled woman in her late teens or early twenties. Its price is 7.5 million euros.

Artemisia Gentileschi Self-Portrait of the Artist as Cleopatra on Her Deathbed, Embracing a Viper (around 1620) Courtesy of Jean-François Heim

Bijl-Van Urk had brought two paintings by Dutch Baroque artist Michaelina Wautier. A, head of a boy (circa 1660), had sold between 1 and 2 M€ on the day of the opening. Another one-Historical Portrait of a Man as Jacob, Husband of Rachel (1655-1660), priced at €1.75 million, was still available. Richard Green brought in a still life by Rachel Ruysch, dated 1753, for £2million. Lead researcher Susan Morris said there was “quite a bit of interest” on opening day, spurred in part by a planned Ruysch exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and the Toledo Museum of Art.

Rob Smeets Old Master Paintings brought a miniature painting by Giovanna Garzoni, The Virgin of the Chair (1649), which was purchased on opening day by a private American buyer for an undisclosed sum. A rare drawing by Lavinia Fontana (1552-1614) was on hold for an American museum. “Everyone wants something from female old masters now,” says Paul Smeets. “The danger is to buy something [of] secondary [quality]so you are in a good position if you can bring something of high quality.”

Several dealers spoke of growing competition from major auction houses for ancient art, particularly Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Bonhams. This has only intensified during the pandemic, with their big brands, huge marketing budgets, and rapid adoption of online retail platforms. Earlier this month, Christie’s Paris made 114 million euros, more than double the low pre-sale estimate, for late fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy’s collection which was dominated by artworks, sculptures and 18th century furniture.

“There is always a lot of competition in auctions,” says Jorge Coll, managing director of Colnaghi. “But in narrow areas like ours, we need each other. Auctions are necessary because they establish a market in a public way: we need these auction records. But they need us, because we represent a large part of their clientele. And they can’t devote the time and effort to the individual jobs we do.

Most galleries have made it clear that they hope the fair will return to its usual slot in 2023, not least because June’s MECC proved uncomfortably hot. Nevertheless, they were happy to do fairs again. Tom Davies, director of the Daniel Katz Gallery, which has featured art ranging from antiques to 19th century paintings, says: “It’s great to see the fair again. We’ve spent two years watching contemporary art become more and more expensive and auction houses take on more and more importance. If you look at the quality of the material here, it’s like putting a flagpole on the art market, saying look at what we gallerists have.

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