Category Archives: art

Large pink diamonds are extremely rare and when the Argyle mine in Australia closes they will become even more difficult to source.

TEFAF 2020

Wiik, Schjerfbeck och finska designklassiker på konsthandlarnas största mässa

På Kvarnbacken - Maria Wiik. Bild: Åmells Fine Art/Pressbild
I På Kvarnbacken har Maria Wiik med snabba penseldrag fångat, och samtidigt väckt, minnen från barndomens eviga somrar. Bild: Åmells Fine Art/Pressbild

Konferenser, sportevenemang, festivaler och mässor avbokas i coronavirusets spår, men myndigheterna i Maastricht beslöt att den trettiotredje upplagan av världens största antik-, design- och konstmässa fick öppna som vanligt. Sedan tvingades också den stänga fyra dagar tidigare än planerat.

The European Fine Arts Fair (TEFAF) i Maastricht är den mest betydelsefulla antik-, konst- och designmässan i världen och det är säkert anledningen till att endast tre av totalt 285 konsthandlare beslöt sig för att inhibera på grund av coronaviruset. Under förhandsvisningsdagarna (som enbart är öppna för inbjudna) sågs många besökare och handlare jovialt testa den spetsiga armbågshälsningen.

Vanligtvis kan TEFAF räkna med att hundratals museirepresentanter och stenrika privata konstsamlare lite diskret dyker upp. Men i år var mässan märkbart lugnare. Ett antal ansedda amerikanska museer avrådde sina kuratorer från att resa utomlands. Kinesiska samlare, som under det senaste decenniet har fått en allt mer framträdande roll, lyste med sin frånvaro. Flera gallerister bekräftade också att amerikanska och norditalienska samlare inte dök upp.

Överdådig monter

Numera måste alla konsthandlare som vill delta genomgå konstmässans gedigna uttagningsprocess. TEFAF bemödar sig i dag också att inte bara bjuda in etablerade och anrika konsthandlare. Man vill ge yngre gallerister hjälp på traven och TEFAF Showcase ger fem mindre gallerier en chans att för ett förmånligt pris ställa ut på en av världens främsta konstmässor. Men det krävs stora resurser och starka nerver för att spela i konstbranschens högsta liga. Genast efter att man har blivit uttagen till TEFAF är det dags att börja planera montern.

Bara för hyran, inredningen och belysningen måste man budgetera kring 100 000 euro. Förmögna gallerister anlitar en förstklassig dekorbyggare som garanterar att själva utställningsutrymmet också blir ett blickfång. Den parisiske konsthandlaren Christophe de Quénetain har i år skapat en monter med ett halvt dussin joniska marmorkolonner och ett parkettgolv som heter duga i ett kungligt slott. Det känns som att stiga in i en påkostad filmdekor och Quénetain avslöjade att han har spenderat närmare 300 000 euro på den tillfälliga utsmyckningen. Men han hade redan bevis på att hans överdådiga inredning faktiskt också lockade kunder med motsvarande tjocka plånböcker.

Konstmuseet Sinebrychoff

Finländska konstsamlare och museikuratorer återvänder också år efter år till Maastricht för att leta efter dyrgripar. I år stod bland annat antikmässan på Konstmuseet Sinebrychoffs vänners program. Att de blivit överväldigade av alla fantastiska intryck var uppenbart när jag intervjuar tre av de 22 museivänner som var på plats.

– Det är ofattbart att man kan samla så mycket fin konst som dessutom är till salu på ett enormt ställe, säger Henrik Strömberg.

Han blev speciellt imponerad av en samling originalgravyrer och böcker i bästa möjliga skick av Albrecht Dürer som det tyska antikvariatet Dr. Jörn Günther erbjuder. En liknande hög kvalitet på stick från renässansen hittar man inte i Norden, enligt Strömberg.

Arthur Aminoff, som äger Galerie Donner i Helsingfors, besökte TEFAF senast för drygt tio år sedan. Mässan har sedan dess vuxit på alla fronter.

– Överlag är vidden och bredden på utbudet frapperande. Det känns här som att vandra i många museer samtidigt.

Tomasso Brothers skapar alltid för TEFAF
Tomasso Brothers skapar alltid för TEFAF en monter som i sig är en sevärdhet. Fula rostiga kontorsmöbler har förvandlats till “stiliga” piedestaler för antika skulpturer. Bild: Tomasso Brothers/Pressbild

Trots att Aminoff själv är konsthandlare förvånade han sig över de höga priserna som somliga utländska kolleger tar för föremål som han vet att ganska nyligen har ropats in på auktion för ett betydligt lägre pris. Bland hans favoriter var en liten terracottafigur föreställande fertilitetsguden Priapos av Johan Tobias Sergel som fanns till salu hos Tomasso Brothers för 130 000 euro.

Vincent på lumpbod

Konst- och antikmässan är en gigantisk fyndplats för föremål med museikvalitet. På paradplats hänger en tidig oljemålning av van Gogh föreställande en bondkvinna framför en enkel bondgård. Verket är ovanligt stort och nästan soligt, men den osannolika proveniensen är nog intressantast. Tavlan såldes 1967 på en bondauktion i England för fyra pund. Ett år senare dök den upp i en lumpbod i norra London där en italiensk journalist köpte den för 45 pund. Italienaren hade lagt märke till signaturen “Vincent” i nedre hörnet och anade (efter att ha sett en van Goghutställning) att han hade gjort ett kap. Han visade sitt förvärv för den framtida chefen för Tate Gallery och med hjälp av holländska experter verifierades målningens äkthet. Sedan dess har den haft flera amerikanska ägare och nu har Londongalleriet Dickinson värderat landskapet till 12 till 15 miljoner pund.

Amerikanska Hammer galleries har ett helt rum fullt med toppverk av impressionister och Tre dansare i gula kjolar (1886) uppvisar allt vad man kan önska sig av en oljemålning av Edgar Degas. Sockervaddsfärgerna praktiskt taget dansar framför ens ögon. Detta mästerverk har figurerat i otaliga utställningar och priset är därför stratosfäriskt på 45 miljoner dollar.

Edgar Degas Tre dansare i gula kjolar (1886)
Edgar Degas Tre dansare i gula kjolar (1886) är ett praktexempel på konstnärens djärva kolorit och ovanliga bildvinklar. Priset är också präktigt – Hammer Galleries tar emot bud norr om 40 miljoner dollar. Bild: Hammer Galleries/Pressbild

Schjerfbeck och Wiik

Norden är som vanligt ganska välrepresenterad på TEFAF. Svenska och danska möbler från andra halvan av 1900-talet, finländska formgivare som Tynell, Kaipiainen och Wirkkala har detta sekel förblivit på modet. Några verk av Carl Larsson och Edvard Munch figurerar också år efter år, men det är framför allt Vilhelm Hammershøis finstämda, gråvittonade interiörer som samlare och museer är ute efter. Efter förra årets positivt uppmärksammade utställning på Royal Academy i London hade jag förväntat mig att se flera verk av Helene Schjerfbeck. Men jag hittade endast Stam och tallar (1914) som målades från Schjerfbecks fönster i Hyvinge. Förutom den märkliga rosalila stammen i förgrunden noterar man fauvistiska drag i färgbehandlingen. Men Münchenbaserade Daxer & Marschall har tydligen inte lyckats sälja verket sedan de första gången ställde ut det på mässan för två år sedan, för samma pris på 220 000 euro. Det hjälper kanske att sänka priset?

Maria Wiik var en av Schjerfbecks närmaste väninnor och deras omfattande brevväxling är avslöjande. Wiik var en skicklig porträttör och älskade att skildra barn. Den somriga oljemålningen På Kvarnbacken (1890-talet?) ger prov på att hon var en av våra mest spontana friluftsmålare. Proveniens är konstbranschens hårdvaluta och enligt den svenska konsthandlaren Åmells uppgifter har verket inte visats på någon utställning sedan 1902. Kan det verkligen stämma? Åmells Fine Art begär 91 000 euro, men i dessa oroliga tider måste man ju kunna pruta lite?

The Paris-based Eric Philippe, who can be seen in the picture, devoted his whole stand to Finnish design, photo: Albert Ehrnrooth

Scandinavian paintings at Tefaf

In the good ol’ days every Broadway show had weeks of previews out in the sticks. The European Fine Art Fair (Tefaf) only needed two previews to get it right. TEFAF Maastricht, 8-18 March 2018, see also my previous blog.

Despite some early grumblings the new arrangements that Tefaf Maastricht put in place turned out to be a resounding success. The Early Access Day (8 March) and the following (admittedly less prestigious) Preview Day setup led to an increase in sales and more room for serious collectors, museum curators and myself to have a look around. The corridors of the exhibition space were  slightly widened, which also was a subtle improvement.

The temporary oyster shack in front of Helmer Osslund's View from Storberget, Nordingrå. Photo:Albert Ehrnrooth

Early Access Day and the temporary oyster shack is hitched in front of Helmer Osslund’s View from Storberget, Nordingrå. Photo:Albert Ehrnrooth

The positive feedback from the exhibitors was essential, but a pleasant bonus was the fact that the number of museum representatives visiting the fair also reached a new high. Which other antique fair can claim to attract some 300 curators and representatives from the world’s most prestigious museums? On top of that some 60,000 paying visitors came to Tefaf over the nine days that followed the previews.

In my previous blog I already mentioned and posted a picture of ‘Lilacs’ by Vincent van Gogh which was sold by Hammer Galleries. It probably became the fair’s most expensive artwork selling for a sum close to €7,7 million. The magnificent Bulgari Clock, which I also featured previously, is likely to have come a close second on the top sales list. Rumour has it that it sold in the region of €7,5 million. It remains guesswork because a few galleries are sticking with their opaque policy of not revealing prices. When it comes to transparency there is still room for improvement at Tefaf . A couple of gallery owners have told me that their insurance company stop them from publicising prices. In that case we need to get on to the insurance companies.

In this final blog about the Tefaf art fair I will look at some Scandinavian artworks that were on offer in Maastricht.

‘A trunk and pine trees, landscape at Hyvinge’ (1914) by Helene Schjerfbeck (€ 220,000) was offered by the Munich dealer Daxer & Marschall. Helene Schjerfbeck (1862-1946) is undoubtedly Finland’s most well-known artist. She studied in France, and briefly also in St. Ives. She was influenced by the Symbolist movement, but Cézanne, Manet and Degas also made an impact on her work. This oil and charcoal painting (see picture) was made in the artist’s home town of Hyvinge, where she had moved in 1902 together with her mother.

Landskap och tallar, ett landskap från Hyvinge (1914), Helene Schjerfbeck, photo:Albert ehrnrooth
Landskap och tallar, ett landskap från Hyvinge (1914), Helene Schjerfbeck, photo:Albert Ehrnrooth

The delicate composition with the pink tree trunk in the foreground is reminiscent of Japanese woodblocks. But where had I seen this picture before, quite recently? A little googling did the trick. It went  under the hammer at Uppsala Auktionskammare last June for €80.000.

The same gallery also had a very fine interior by Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864-1916). It is a reasonably early work (1895), painted before his grey-toned, tranquil scenes of home life became almost over-familiar.

Pigen dækker bord (Maid setting the table) by Vilhelm Hammershøi features an armoire that could be harboring some dark secrets....photo:Albert Ehrnrooth
Pigen dækker bord (Maid setting the table) by Vilhelm Hammershøi features an armoire that could be harboring some dark secrets….photo:Albert Ehrnrooth

The maid setting the table has a dynamic air about her unlike all those reading and contemplating women in other Hammershøi pictures. This painting has an interesting provenance for Swedish readers. The writer and publicist Olof Lagercrantz used to own this work. The price: €650,000.

Dickinson displayed a slightly intriguing,  small-scale portrait of  Queen Christina of Sweden (1661) by Wolfgang Heimbach. Christina is posing with a crown and orb, while holding some sort of baton.

Where this painting of the abdicated Queen Christina is set remains unclear, but she is no Greta Garbo. photo: Alnert Ehrnrooth
Where this painting of the abdicated Queen Christina is set remains unclear, but she is no Greta Garbo. Note that she is wearing men’s shoes. photo: Albert Ehrnrooth

Slightly curious because she had abdicated and moved to Rome seven years before this portrait was painted.  Kristina, that was the spelling of her name before she converted to Catholicism, was among many other things an avid art collector. She received a stash of priceless paintings when the collection of the Holy Emperor Rudolf II was seized by the victorious Swedes at the end of the Thirty Year War in 1648. She continued to add to that collection and acquired works by among others Raphael and Titian. Unfortunately this treasure  was dispersed.  According to London–based Dickinson this painting has been in the same collection for a long time and was last exhibited in 1966.

Helmer Osslund is seen in sweden as an early modernist.Before the storm (1910).
Helmer Osslund is seen in Sweden as an early modernist. Before the storm (1910).

Helmer Osslund was deeply influenced by synthetism, a style closely associated with Paul Gauguin. Osslund’s panorama landscapes depicting beloved views in the (old) northern province of Ångermanland remain popular, at least in Sweden. Galerie Michel Descours did manage to sell Osslund’s expressionistic Before the storm (1910). I am not sure if the Swedish art  gallery Åmells sold Osslund’s more typical and autumnal View from Storberget (see second picture from the top).
This year Verner Åmells’ pièce de résistance was Cleopatra (1883) by Julius Kronberg, which until recently hung in a Swedish manor house. Its size and theatricality makes it ideally suited as a backdrop for an old fashioned touring production of Händel’s opera Giulio Cesare or a revival of a 1898 actor-manager production of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. Gazing up at the vast expanse of canvas I am not too surprised that Kronberg is today largely forgotten, but many Swedish people have unwittingly seen his work either at the Royal Palace, Hallwylska Museum or the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm.

TEFAF Highlight: Cleopatra by Julius Kronberg @amellsfineartdealer
Do you like it large? This is super-large. Cleopatra by Julius Kronberg, 410x225cm.

Åmells also offered Inferno, painted by the writer August Strindberg’s. This work now seems to do the rounds as it was auctioned only last year at Bukowskis for €1,9 million. We are given a visual glimpse of the author’s inner demons. He wrote an autobiographical novel (in French initially, not Swedish) titled Inferno in 1896-97 and the painting was  conceived a few years later.

Strindberg was not really a painter. But he could express himself with paint. Although his Inferno laways reminds me of a waterfall. An infernal waterfall.
Strindberg was not really a painter. But he could express himself with paint. His Inferno effort always reminds me of a waterfall. An infernal waterfall.

Axel Törneman’s full frontal nude ‘Modell i blått’(1915) appeared at Ambrose Naumann’s gallery.  I should perhaps mention that at Uppsala Auktionskammare the hammer price for this quite attractive painting (the breasts were surely modeled after bowling balls?) last year was 26.000 SEK (€ 2,500). And that price came in  below the estimate. I am not sure what Ambrose is playing at, but he is offering the blue model for $30,000. Ambrose is the son of the well-known art dealer Otto Naumann (who has retired).

No Finnish gallery has ever exhibited at Tefaf, despite the ever increasing popularity of classic 20th century Finnish design. I spotted ceramics by Birger Kaipiainen’s and Paavio Tynell’s lamps in at least three different galleries. Paris-based  Eric Philippe is an early devotee of Finnish furniture. This year he devoted his whole stand to eleven Finnish designers. He was particularly proud of the two chandeliers (see picture) by Tynell, pointing out that only three pieces were ever produced. Eric declined, with a perfectly charming smile, to reveal the price for the pair.

Two chandeliers(1954) by PaavoTynell, they were produced for the club house of the paper mill Myllykoski
Two chandeliers(1954) by PaavoTynell, they were produced for the club house of the paper mill Myllykoski

TEFAF New York Spring will be at Park Avenue Armory,  4-8 May

Medici and Westminster Pietre Dure Tabletop designed by Giorgio Vasari at Robiland + Voena gallery, photo:Albert Ehrnrooth

THE BUCKET LIST ANTIQUE FAIR

Behind the glass there are  some 12,000 orchids, buttercups and various other pink and white flowers that seem to drift in a nine metre wide cloud. Every year the entrance to The European Fine Art Fair  (TEFAF) in Maastricht  is turned into a horticultural masterpiece by Ten Kate Flowers. Visitors pose eagerly against this spectacular floral backdrop and the display is on a par with what is on offer at the fair.

The entrance to the fair is an ideal backdrop for selfies and hobby posers. ©albertehrnrooth

In the run-up to the opening day of TEFAF (8-18 March), the Dutch papers were reporting quite extensively about the new arrangements. Instead of one preview day, there are now two. The newly christened ‘Early Access Day’ is reserved for super-VIPs with a maximum of 5,000 attendees. The second so-called ‘Preview Day’, sees 7,000 invitees inspect the antiques, modern and contemporary artworks on offer. In previous years the single preview day was the busiest of the whole fair with up to 10,000 visitors. But gallery owners complained that too many people were predominantly interested in the free finger food, the alcohol beverages and the party atmosphere. The buying public, serious collectors and museum representatives clearly became tired of having to slalom their way between finger-licking and wine-swigging attendees to get to the next booth.

The new chairman of the Tefaf foundation, Nanne Dekkinga, has introduced some changes that already have had an effect. From now on, only the privileged 5,000 that have an invitation for the first day will receive complimentary food and champagne, whereas the preview day guests just get the non-alcoholic beverages for free. It is up to the gallery owners, who hand out most of the invitations, to weigh up which clients deserve to be called VIPs. Inevitably the (second) Preview Day tickets will feel like ‘second rung’ tickets. The gallery owners  (who were complaining) have stopped complaining, because it turns out that sales were up for the opening day, despite some grumblings from B-list guests. (Somebody told me that many invitees on the second day are Dutch celebrities). Well, enough about this A- or B-list business and on to the real matters at hand:  some of my favourite highlights on offer at this year’s fair and a look at some of the sales that already have been achieved.

The Bulgari Clock truly is a Gesamtkunstwerk, photo:Albert Ehrnrooth
The Bulgari Clock truly is a Gesamtkunstwerk, photo:Albert Ehrnrooth

The 31st edition of Tefaf sees  275 dealers representing 21 countries. A few days before the fair starts nearly 190 experts grouped in 29 committees check every single object to make sure that it is what it says on the label. The vetting at Tefaf is extremely stringent.

J. Kugel takes pride of place and has done so at every fair since the Paris-based gallery started coming to Maastricht in the early 1990s.  They are a perfect representative of the exceptional standards that Tefaf likes to show off.  Alexis and Nicolas Kugel are the fifth generation of antique dealers that originally came from Russia. Antique furniture may have lost some of its allure but high-end antiques are still in demand and Kugel mostly offers museum quality furniture, clocks and objets de vertu.

The Death group on top of the Bulgari Clock rotates every hour, photo: albertehrnrooth
The Death group on top of the baroque Bulgari Clock rotates every hour, photo: albertehrnrooth

This year their standout piece is the Bulgari Clock (pictured right), an ivory and silver-gilt astronomical clock (Augsburg 1637-39). It is a perfect example of a collaborative effort involving the work of goldsmiths, an ivory carver and a clockmaker. Depicted are the Seasons, the Planets, the Elements, Death, Venus as well as some other exquisitely carved reliefs. So here we are at the top end of the fair in one of the most prominent  booths. But straight away I’d like to take you to the far end of the fair where the tiny (11 m2) ‘Showcase’ booths are located.  The Showcase section is a platform for smaller galleries and a chance to try out a seat at the big table. The rare and antiquarian books dealer, Camille Sourget, is also Paris-based.  She has applied a few times in the past and  finally made the grade. The rent is relatively cheap at the far end (€8500 a booth), but the space is very limited. This hasn’t stopped Camille from creating a very inviting and colourful display for bibliophiles like myself. She shows me Abraham Ortelius’s magnificent ‘Theatrum Orbis Terrarum'(1570) atlas (€230,000). She has already sold William Lewin’s beautifully illustrated and fantastically titled ‘The Birds of Great Britain with their Eggs, accurately figured’ (1789-1794). It contains 232 original gouaches and sold in the region of €88,000. Two other volumes containing hand-coloured plates of birds have also found a new owner. Camille inherited her shop from her father; “because he didn’t have a son” she says laughing heartily.  Camille has had a very successful week and I am sure that she will try to get a place in the main section next year.  But she will have to consider if it is  worth the price (€100,000 a booth).

The colourful Camille Sourget has a rare and antiquarian bookshop in Paris well worth a visit, photo: Albert Ehrnrooth
The colourful Camille Sourget has a rare and antiquarian bookshop in Paris well worth a visit, photo: Albert Ehrnrooth

I always spend two days at the fair but never feel that I have seen everything. When I talk to colleagues they will always mention something that I have clearly missed, which can be quite frustrating.  But it was difficult to miss one of two van Goghs. I think ‘Lilacs’ (1887) is fairly unremarkable oil painting but admittedly the colours are very vivid and expressive. Hammer Galleries from New York sold it to a private collector for a sum in the region of €7.7 million.

Would I buy this painting if I saw it at a local auction (without the van Gogh signature)? Probably not, although I might have bought it for the frame. Lilacs by Vincent van Gogh, photo: Albert Ehrnrooth
Would I buy this painting if I saw it at a local auction (without the van Gogh signature)? Probably not, although I might have bought it for the frame. Lilacs by Vincent van Gogh, photo: Albert Ehrnrooth

Finally a couple of personal favourites from a long list. On Instagram (see pictures on the right)  I have already published a number of pictures of artworks that caught my eye.

Paul Gauguin stayed for nine weeks with Vincent in the Yellow House in Arles in 1888 . For a while they did feed off each other and van Gogh was particularly prolific, but it all ended when the unhinged Vincent sliced off part of his ear. The two leopards were probably studied by Gauguin when a Grande Ménagerie visited Arles. We know that Gauguin made several other sketches of exotic animals on that occasion. The sleeping Tahitian woman must have been added later. On the verso is a self-portrait in profile with studies of two Breton women.

This is a page from a sketchbook by Paul Guaguin. Other pages fdo turn up occasionally at auctions. photo: Albert Ehrnrooth
Watercolour, pen and brown ink study. This is a page from a sketchbook by Paul Guaguin. Other pages do turn up occasionally at auctions. photo: Albert Ehrnrooth

The Tödlein (little death) figure in the picture below is dressed as a pilgrim. There are all kinds of creepy crawlies burrowing into his rotting and sinewy body. The Austrian Balthasar Permoser may have sculpted it around 1685. Munich-based Julius Böhler is hoping to get €850,000. This memento mori made out of boxwood was owned by the operatic baritone, Titta Ruffo, who was a colleague of the Great Caruso. Listen to his very solid rendition of O vin, discaccia la tristezza from Ambroise Thomas’s opera,  Hamlet, by clicking here  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TpC2v8VbQWI

These memento mori Tödlein figures were quite 'popular' during the 15th century and the baroque. Height 38 cm photo: albertehrnrooth
These memento mori Tödlein figures were quite ‘popular’ during the 15th century and the baroque. Height 38 cm photo: albertehrnrooth

 

Tefaf finishes on Sunday 18 March, but I will bring you another update before long.

Look out for the two Tefaf fairs in New York: May 4-8, 2018 – Park Avenue Armory and October 27-31 at the same venue.

 

Titian (dit), Vecellio Tiziano (vers 1489-1576). Paris, musée du Louvre. INV746.

CHARLES I HAD A HEAD FOR ART

Did Charles I’s marvelous art collection play a part in his downfall and consequent execution? No other royal, apart from possibly George IV, devoted as much money and time to acquiring works of art.

He may have lacked political nous but the stunning ‘Charles I, King and Collector’ exhibition at the Royal Academy in London makes it clear that this Stuart was a true lover of paintings, carvings, and engravings. In little over two decades the king managed to amass some 2000 works of art.

The Royal Academy is  celebrating its  250th birthday and their gift to the nation is to reunite 140 of the most stunning paintings, tapestries, drawings and sculptures that were acquired by Charles I nearly 400 years ago. Reunite, because Cromwell, after the beheading of the King in 1649,  sold off most of the magnificent collection. This meant that  many of the works disappeared abroad.

Seeing this show is like discovering a completely new museum with nothing but masterpieces. The majority of the works come from the present Royal Collection, which today contains some 7000 pictures. Compare this with the National Gallery in London which ‘only’ owns a third of that amount.  But some of the highlights  are on loan from the Prado, Louvre and Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum. A number of those works rarely travel abroad but an exception was made for this ambitious project.

This triple portrait was sent to Rome and was used as a reference by sculptor Bernini to create a marble bust (which was lost in a fire). Charles I in Three Positions, 1635–36 by Anthony van Dyck Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen
This triple portrait was sent to Rome and was used as a reference by sculptor Bernini to create a marble bust (which was lost in a fire). Charles I in Three Positions, 1635–36 by Anthony van Dyck Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2018

The first room introduces us to the artists and art buying agents that worked for the King.  Cue splendid self-portraits by  Anthony van Dyck and Peter Paul Rubens. Van Dyck’s famous ‘Charles I in three positions’ and Rubens’s uncharacteristically stiff  rendition of  ‘George Villiers, the 1st Duke of Buckingham, on horseback’ are also noteworthy. It is all very fine and impressive,  but I think a more powerful introduction to the exhibition would have been achieved with van Dyck’s  two  equestrian portraits of Charles I. These monumental works are placed midway through the show. They both portray the King dressed in harness and make it clear that he is in control and ready for action. If there was one lesson that Charles learned during his visit in Madrid (see below) it was that owning  and displaying great artworks could increase your status and power among the aristocracy and foreign ambassadors.

For a true patron of the arts  it was also essential to commission works of art and have artists working for you in-house. Enter Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641) who had been an apprentice of Rubens. Van Dyck settled in London in 1632 and within a year he was appointed the King’s ‘Principal Painter’.

Van Dycks two equestrian portraits are  here joined by ’Charles I in the Hunting Field’ which the Louvre was willing to lend. This is the most personable portrait of the King that I know. ‘The Merry King’ looks positively relaxed, helped by the fact that he is grounded (that is, not on horseback) and wears no armour.  His expression is less aloof, stubborn or blank than usual. I don’t care if it creates a false image,  van Dyck gives it a genuine sense of honesty.

The King looks almost friendly and confident, displaying some swagger. Charles I in the Hunting Field, c. 1636, by Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641), This is a work that is rarely lent to other museums Musée du Louvre, Paris, Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (musée du Louvre)
The King looks almost friendly and confident, displaying some swagger. Charles I in the Hunting Field, c. 1636, by Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641), This is a work that is rarely lent to other museums Musée du Louvre, Paris, Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (musée du Louvre)

In an adjacent room there are even more  royal portraits by van Dyck, but they are not all terribly gripping. But his portrayal of the Five Eldest Children of Charles I ( 1637 ) is another highlight. The future King (Charles II) poses comfortably and takes centre stage. He looks straight at the viewer, but am I wrong in thinking that he is just slightly cross-eyed? I love the fact that he is not looking a day older than his 7 years, while at the same time with regal bearing attempting to laconically control the massive mastiff dog sitting next to him. His baby sister Anne is particularly well captured and a lesson in how  a small child’s fidgety motion can be suggested in a ‘frozen’ image.

If this exhibition had been organised chronologically it would have started with James I (1566 -1625), who was clever, but showed scant interest in the arts. Apparently he was physically quite repulsive and therefore it should come as no surprise that his wife, Anne of Denmark, preferred pictures to men. She enjoyed walking alone in the picture gallery. In many ways it was Anne who gave the impetus for starting a Royal collection.

Henry Frederick, James and Anne’s eldest son, showed some interest in commissioning paintings but died very suddenly in 1612. On his deathbed he gave his brother Charles a small equine bronze statue by Pietro Tacca, which is shown in the exhibition. The 12-year old Charles became the heir apparent, but he was a physically weak child, short in stature and for a while he was made to wear reinforced iron boots. Charles overcame his weaknesses by practising strenuous exercise (running around the palace grounds, etc.).

Eventually the Prince of Wales decided to look for a wife.  Charles traveled in 1623 incognito to Madrid together with his best mate George Villiers (later the Duke of Buckingham). He intended to woo the younger sister of Philip IV, Infanta Maria Anna. It was a pretty daring move because the Spanish were certainly not allies even if the war was over. The so called ¨Spanish Match’ negotiations didn’t go to plan because the Infanta had no intention of marrying a non-Catholic. But the visit was not completely unfruitful. Charles had a chance to study the finest collection of paintings in the world, amassed by Philip ‘el Grande’ who almost certainly would feature in a top ten of the greatest patrons of the arts throughout the ages. The Spanish king gifted Charles a number of important paintings  and sparked a genuine interest in art in the jilted Prince of Wales. Charles returned to England and almost immediately started devoting himself seriously to collecting art.

The long and short of it is that Charles acquired a head for art in Spain. But it wasn’t Spanish paintings that he had fallen in love with. It was Renaissance art from the  Italian Peninsula that took his fancy.

Read my next blog to find out how Charles’s agents managed to outwit many other royal competitors  who were trying to buy an outstanding collection that the Gonzago family had put together over the period of more than a century.

 

Charles I, King and Collector is on at the Royal Academy of Arts in London until 15 April, 2018

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Axel Gallén's Lake Keitele (1905) may seem like a straightforward lake view, but there is much more to it. National Gallery, London

GALLÉN’S LAKE KEITELE AT THE THE NATIONAL GALLERY

Review of exhibition Lake Keitele, a vision of Finland at National Gallery, London. Until 4 February 2018.

Have you ever heard of the Finnish artist Axel Gallén? Or does Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865-1930) ring a bell? I am impressed if you recognise one of the names, because Axel and Akseli are one and the same person. I’ll explain later.

Outside of Finland and Sweden Akseli Gallen-Kallela is today virtually unknown, but a century ago the respectable Uffizi Gallery in Florence commissioned his self-portrait. He was considered to be Finland’s leading artist and internationally reasonably well-known. Together with the composer Jean Sibelius, his exact contemporary and friend, Gallén was also seen as one of the major contributors to the narrative of the awakening Finnish nationhood. But after the Finnish Civil War (1918) Gallen-Kallela’s work became uneven in quality and he found it hard to adapt or even appreciate all the new and modern styles of painting that conquered the major capitals of Europe.

The National Gallery, (NG), in London has two excellent reasons to draw attention to Gallen-Kallela. The museum acquired in 1999, a very fine landscape,  or more correctly lakescape, by Axel Gallén. It remains the only Finnish work in their collection. The second, and most important, reason for staging this exhibition at this point in time is the fact that it coincides with the centenary of Finland’s independence (6 December, 1917).
The National Gallery’s exhibition ‘Lake Keitele, a vision of Finland’ is staged in room no.1 and can be visited for free until 4 February 2018. There are thirteen works on display and in all of them a lake features in one way or another. There are four paintings with the title Lake Keitele and they all depict the same subject, except for some minor variations. The picture owned by the NG is, despite it not being the first version, the finest of the four.  Painted in 1905, it shows a panorama view of a lake with an island in the middle ground and the opposite shore in the distance. The sky is barely visible but it is mirrored in the water. Intriguing and slightly mysterious are the diagonal and geometric patterns caused by the wind on the vast expanse of water.
You could admire this image like a perfect picture postcard of a Finnish lake at the height of summer. And yes, it is first and foremost an ode to nature. But the sun is shining but the blue and green colours are not particularly warm, so perhaps something else is going on as well? The cool and silvery colours and the sense of isolation hint at a Symbolist message.
Axel Gallén (officially – he changed his name in 1907 to Akseli Gallen-Kallela,  had previously painted a number of works that suggested an allegorical voyage. The island Haapasaari in the Lake Keitele picture would have reminded many contemporary people of the famous painting Isle of the Dead by the Swiss Symbolist Arnold Böcklin. Prints of the painting were mass-produced and it was a common sight in many middle-class homes.

Another factor that needs to be taken into account when looking at Lake Keitele is Axel Gallén’s interest in the Finnish national epic, Kalevala. He painted many scenes from that collection of poems in the 1890s which established him at home as a firm favourite. His international recognition came in 1900 when some of his furniture and fabrics were exhibited in the Finnish Pavilion at the Paris World Fair. His four Kalevala-themed frescoes made a big impression as well and he received two silver and one gold medal for his works.

The Oceanides (1909) are the daughters of Oceanus. This painting shows influences from the Fauve or Die Brücke movement Photo:Finnish National Gallery/Janne Mäkinen
The Oceanides (1909) are the daughters of Oceanus. This painting shows influences from the Fauve or Die Brücke movement
Photo:Finnish National Gallery/Janne Mäkinen

The Kalevala was put together in the 1830’s by the physician and linguist, Elias Lönnrot, who made many field trips to Finland’s most eastern province, Karelia. He gathered many ancient songs and poems that previously had only been passed on orally. We can’t be sure how much of The Kalevala consists of traditional material and what Lönnrot made up himself to construct  an overarching story resembling a creation myth on a legendary scale. (Lönnrot had gathered stories and poems on his many field trips that weren’t all necessarily part of the same narrative. ) After the publication of The Kalevala in 1835, it was very quickly recognised as the most important work written in the Finnish language. It also gave the Finnish independence and language movement a strong sense of identity.
Akseli Gallen-Kallela, as he is constantly referred to in the exhibition, kept returning to The Kalevala myths throughout his career (with the exception of the years he spent in Africa).
There are no figures in the Lake Keitele paintings but Gallén (the only name with which he signed these works) hinted that something else was going on, apart from a  view of a beautiful lake in the middle of Finland. Gallén stated that the steel-grey geometrical patterns across the lake, caused by wind and underwater currents, also suggest something else; the traces that Väinämöinen’s copper boat has left. Väinämöinen is a wise hero with an enchanting singing voice and magical powers . He is also forever on the look-out for a wife. So, we are to assume that Väinämöinen has rowed past several times in the picture, leaving silvery wakes up and down the lake. If that interpretation was what Gallén intended, then so be it.

There is a third, ‘nationalistic’ interpretation of the Lake Keitele painting. Listen to the curator of the exhibition, Anne Robbins’ explanation:

The artist's wife Mary Gallén on the lakeshore at Lintula with Keitele in the background, Gallen-Kallela Museum, photo: Tuukka UUsitalo
The artist’s wife Mary Gallén on the lakeshore at Lintula with Keitele in the background, Gallen-Kallela Museum, photo: Tuukka UUsitalo

Finland was still part of the Russian empire (until 1917), but as an autonomous Grand Duchy (the Tsar was in principle Grand Duke and not Tsar in Finland); Finland retained a reasonable amount of independence and its own Diet (legislative assembly). Tsar Alexander III started to change all that by trying to force Slavic values on the Finns. This Russification process intensified under Nicholas II and began to seriously undermine Finland’s autonomy. Nationalist movements grew rapidly and various political parties, that previously had had little in common, now found common ground in their resistance against the Russification campaigns. I could write a number of blogs on this subject (see also my previous blog), but in this context I just want to reiterate that Gallen-Kallela was seen as the foremost artistic representative of the nationalist movement.

Rouse Thyself Finland! (1896) The original version of Sibelius's tone poem Finlandia had the same title. Stained glass. Gallen Kallela Museum, photo: Hannu Aaltonen
Rouse Thyself Finland! (1896) The original version of Sibelius’s tone poem Finlandia had the same title. Stained glass. Gallen Kallela Museum, photo: Hannu Aaltonen

The exhibition includes an early stained glass design which contains a fairly obvious political message. It shows a massive white rose (Finland’s heraldic symbol) rising over a lake landscape. The title alone, Rouse Thyself Finland!, would have given the authorities a fair idea of what the subject is realy about. T

The rest of the paintings are mainly decorative, but there is a lovely portrait of Axel’s wife, Mary Slöör (see picture above) with Lake Keitele in the background, which provides evidence of the fine portraitist that Gallén was.

This small, but informative exhibition begs the question; isn’t it about time for the National Gallery to devote a major show to  art from the Northern countries?

Lampedusa cross (right) by Francesco Tuccio and installation made of two drowned migrant children's shirts and recycled mudguards and burnt matches representing refugees coming across the Mediterranean in boats. Photo: Albert Ehrnrooth

IT IS ENTIRELY INEFFABLE

Living with gods: peoples, places and worlds beyond
Exhibition at British Museum until 8 April 2018

If there was ever an exhibition worth the price of the entrance fee just for one object, then this is it. The opportunity to see the oldest known figurative sculpture, depicting a half man/half lion creature, should be reason enough to visit  Living with Gods at the British Museum.
It is very likely that this so called Lion Man is a religious object. The smooth surface of the upper (lion) body indicates handling by humans passing the object around (for centuries?) in some kind of ritual. Radiocarbon dating  indicates that the sculpture carved out of the ivory tusk of a mammoth is at least 40,000 years old.
The very alert looking beast was discovered in a cave in south-west Germany just days before the second world war broke out.  Not until 30 years later did an archeologist start to piece together the many fragments that originally had been gathered. This century more splinters were found in the Hohlenstein-Stadel cave and five years ago this powerful figure was revealed. Now only about 20% of the body is still missing.
To appreciate the evocative narrative of this figure you do not have to read academic treatises or even a catalogue entry. I get an immediate picture of how our archaic German Hominini ancestors would have communicated with their God(s) or the forces of nature through this bipedal animal.

Lion Man head. This figure found in a cave in south-west Germany is evidence that people 40,000 years ago practiced a form of religion. Photo: Oleg Kuehner

Because the Lion Man is such an exceptional object, there is a danger that everything else can seem rather mundane.
Yes, there are rather ordinary articles on display: wooden phalluses to boost fertility, an Albanian baby blanket, communist propaganda rubbish and a few other rather unremarkable items.
And despite the fact that there are relatively few artefacts on display,  they have been very carefully chosen and they all come with a story.
This is very much an exhibition that wants to spark and engage your own thoughts and make connections between different faiths. The point is, maybe, we are all quite similar and have been throughout the ages. Well, that should be no great discovery, but strangely enough IT IS.

And there are some great works of art on show as well.

The painted memorial posts from Arnhem Land (Australia) that  normally hold the cremated remains of people, are stunningly decorated with tiny swirling fish. These hollowed out tree trunks are normally left to rot along the coast, thereby returning the dead person’s spirit back to nature. These particular posts have been created for art’s sake, but they still relay a message.

Shoals of tiny fish. Three larrakitj memorial posts, Arnhem Lan, by Wukun Wanambi 2014
Shoals of tiny fish. Three larrakitj memorial posts, Arnhem Lan, by Wukun Wanambi 2014

All the major, and some minor, religions are represented in this exhibition, but this is not an attempt to relate the history of our relationship with our God(s). The aim is to search and identify some patterns and shared stories that bring communities together (within a religion).
For the visitor there is enough physical space between the display cases to allow some room to reflect. I was discovering all kinds of parallels, dichotomies and quirky facts about religions and their rituals in the process of studying the objects.

I asked Jill Cook, the curator of Living with Gods ,what she was hoping that visitors  would take away from this  exhibtion?

I also loved the bronze Shiva Nataraja Chennai sculpture. Its form is so energetic. The supreme being dancing creatively, while trampling a child… hold on what is going on here?  Correct me if I am wrong, but the child symbolizes ignorance.  A large Shiva sculpture was also placed outside the CERN nuclear research centre. Listen to Jill Cook explain why the physicists and engineers decided that this Hindu deity is relevant and a metaphor for the world that they are exploring.

Shiva Nataraja Chennai, India, 1800-1900 As Nataraja, Hindu deity Shiva performs a perpetual dance of creation and destruction.
Shiva Nataraja Chennai, India, 1800-1900 As Nataraja, Hindu deity Shiva performs a perpetual dance of creation and destruction.

All communist societies try to do away with religion. The Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was the first man to journey into outer space — there was apparently no sign of God in space and this was used as a kind of satirical propaganda coup by the (at the time) rather simple  leaders in the Kremlin. Still the Soviets failed completely to eradicate the Russian Orthodox Church .  The Moscow Patriarchate is nowadays closely linked with the state.

The most moving two works are shown in the last display case. They are both contemporary and can be seen at the top of this page. The Lampedusa Cross is also shown below. Jill Cook describes that work in the audio, but the other work by a Syrian artist is equally powerful. The two children’s t-shirts that are hanging like rags, have each an identification scribbled on them: Unknown Boy no. 741 — 15-11-15 and Unknown Girl no. 872 — 19-12-15. These unidentified children were found on the island of Lesbos. They have no grave, no memorial. What happaned to their parents, family? Who knows? Soon they will be forgotten. Are these people at least Known unto God? Just like the unknown war dead buried in huge cemeteries.

 

The Lampedusa Cross
The Lampedusa Cross. A very simple but effective memorial to  refugees and asylum seekers who came to Europe for a safer life, but found themselves being resented by people who felt threatened by their presence.

 
The conceptual art work It is wholly indeterminate (1970) by Robert Barry is the final piece in the exhibition.  It consists of a text on a white wall, reading:

“IT IS WHOLLY INDETERMINATE
IT HAS NO SPECIFIC TRAITS
IT IS ENTIRELY INEFFABLE
IT IS NEVER SEEN
IT IS NOT ACCESSIBLE”

This text poetically (and satirically)  sums up the idea of the Beyond which many of us try to comprehend through a system of belief, which we call religion. But the American artist originally didn’t have religion in mind. His target was the slightly smug 60s art scene, but most people would agree that the words — or is it a message? — are a perfect fit here.
We are living in an era that is full of some imagined, and some real uncertainties. Many of the current conflicts are based on religious beliefs and there is even a nuclear threat on the Korean peninsula. In a not so distant past many people would in similar situations have found some solace through their faith.  And yet in today’s world the decline in church attendance seems unstoppable.  Instead people turn to concepts like ‘mindfulness’ that are in a way even more ineffable than ‘pure’ religion. Mindfulness is of course a therapeutic method that finds its point of departure in Buddhist teachings.

Holding a minute silence, laying down a bunch of flowers (still in its cellophane)  wherever a person has died, are fairly new rituals that have replaced religious traditions like saying prayers.  Maybe little rituals like these will eventually be incorporated in a new religion.  We are due one. The last major Christian religious revolution was the Reformation. That was exactly 500 years ago.

It is unlikely that this exhibition will leave you cold, disengaged or bored. But reserve some time for an opportunity to reflect and maybe discuss the positive sides of religion. Sorry to proselytize.

 

You can also listen to Neil MacGregor’s fascinating radio series  connected to this exhibition:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09c1mhy/episodes/player

 

 

 

The Vesconte Maggiolo planisphere and world map is yours for a cool €10 million at Daniel Crouch Rare Books

SALES AT TEFAF CONFIRM UPWARD TREND

TEFAF,  10-19 March, 2017, Maastricht

Art fairs are essential for the dealers. This is where nowadays most of the networking with clients, colleagues and museum curators is done. It is also the best place for the art tourist with a limited budget to find out what he/she can afford,  never-in-million-years afford or what will just have to remain a dream.

What I love about an event like the European Fine Art Fair (Tefaf), which has been held in Maastricht since 1988, is that you don’t have to feel intimidated by the location or the price tags. In London, Paris, New York and  Munich the shop fronts of some of the most respectable art dealers can seem forbidding. It starts with the fact that you often will have to ring a doorbell to get buzzed in. If it is a jeweler you are visiting, you will be let in by a security guard with three months of  try-to-look-bored-training.  The worst thing that can happen is that you upon entering realise that you are the only visitor in the gallery. The girl in attendance, and it always seems to be a young woman, starts tapping away at double speed on her Poweri Macbook, with a look of  ‘can’t-you see-I’m-busy’ or just total nonchalance. She will barely acknowledge you ( a skill which takes three months to master) and wouldn’t dream of starting a conversation. She can spot a mile off that you are not going to be a client.

Lucio Fontana doesn’t stand a chance when confronted by a real work of art (see jacket and haircut)

This sort of learned behaviour you will not come across at a fair where you can just glide in and out of the stands of some of the most haughty antique dealers. You can act that you are a potential client and remain in the driver’s seat.

For the dealer there  is a risk of ‘fair-tigue’, because nowadays to be taken seriously  you have to participate in at least 3 or 4 major shows every year.  The street level gallery space and home base has this century diminished in significance. You can’t do without it, but it doesn’t really attract new clients. There is also the digital platform which can be very valuable, but clients who buy artworks worth more than £100.000 will always want to see and feel the object.

This is another reason why a fair is ideal for visitors with minimal funds. You get to stand very close to an object, you could even study it with magnifying glasses. You can touch it or in some cases hold it (if you ask very nicely and pretend that you are interested in buying it). You can’t do any of that in a museum. So, work on your acting skills.

Speaking of museums. Curators and directors from some of the most well-known ones always try to find time to visit Tefaf and they come with intention to purchase. This is the last weekend of the fair and a number of important sales have been agreed. Quite a few museums from across the globe have been busy buying, but the Rijksmuseum profited from a private collector . He  acquired the gloriously illustrated 12-volume series of books entitled Historia Naturalis which were created for Emperor Rudolph II of Habsburg. The generous collector has agreed a long-term loan of the work to the Rijksmuseum.

Historia Naturalis consists of 750 watercolours of animals and plants compiled 1596-1610 by Rudolph II’s court physician Anselmus de Broodt

Tomasso Brothers Fine Art sold an unique sculpture by the  Mannerist artist Giambologna (1529-1608) to an European collector. The statuette was re-discovered 40 years ago and is the earliest recorded work by the Florentine sculptor and the only one carved in wood. It depicts the great general and politician Julius Caesar in a classical position and nude, which wasn’t uncommon in Roman days. The  asking price was €1,5 million.

Giambologna’s Julius Caesar is carved in wood and only 46cm in height, Tomasso Brothers Fine Art

The TEFAF Global Art Market Report is always eagerly anticipated and it is one of only a very few reports that in the past have provided, what seemed like, reliable figures on the dealer sales and the auction market.

In previous years Clare McAndrew has conducted the survey and provided the statistics. But Clare now works for Art Basel and Rachel Pownall , who is a Professor of Finance at the University in Maastricht, has stepped into her role. She immediately introduced a new methodology which shaved off some $ 19 billion dollar from the value of the art market. Suddenly the total sales value went from        $ 63.8  in 2015 to $45 billion this year! Yes, everybody knows that there have been some destabilising political factors over the past year, but this massive loss (if it is that?) seems odd, to say the least.

There could be several reasons for this rather dramatic re-evaluation. Pownall’s estimation is based on data from government statistics and the United Nations, as well as auction and sales data. But out of the 7000 dealers worldwide Pownall approached with a survey, only 350 responded. The auction houses were much more helpful providing figures for private sales as well. The problem is that art dealers are notoriously opaque with supplying any information on sales.

Hades abducts Persephone,
Guatamalan school, 18th century

Without going into the details about Pownall’s methodology, her report also concluded that the art gallery dealers and private sales now account for 62.5% of total global art sales, which would mean an increase for this sector of almost 20% compared to the previous year.( Last year Clare McAndrew stated that private sales and auction sales each constituted about 50% of the total).

Pownall also thinks that a lot of the wealth, when it comes to art purchases, is still in Europe, despite all the hype about the strength of China and the fact that the USA remains the biggest art market in the world. The UK is still the biggest art market in Europe and the third largest in the world. The fall in the value of the pound after the EU referendum in June has benefited many dealers in London. Old Master paintings and antiques have become popular with Asian clients and the weaker pound has almost certainly helped.

This monumental seated Buddha weighs 350 kg and was created during the early Ming era (14th century), Vandenerven Oriental Art

The real growth market now seems to be online sales and many of the respondents reported increasing business through online platforms and their own websites. But smaller galleries still have a tough time. The major ones seem to reap the real benefits.

Meanwhile we have very recently seen major auctions at both Sotheby’s and Christie’s achieve several new records for contemporary artists. Therefore 2017 looks quite promising despite the fact that the real fallout from Brexit is still unknown. The economic outlook for the US is quite rosy, but Trump’s erratic behaviour and bizarre tweeting could still cause all kinds of unwelcome surprises.

With hindsight I note that the two blogs on this year’s Tefaf don’t mention design but this is not a deliberate omission. I promise to concentrate on that sector a bit more next time. This is such a versatile fair and it is easy to overlook major works, but I did notice this year a serious lack of photography.  Could it be that photography simply doesn’t sell like it used to, because it is so difficult to control the amount of editions of a photograph. Then a woodcut of a photograph (see blog below)  is a much more attractive idea.

Next year’s TEFAF will be held March 9-18,  2018

Maria in Guadaloupe (2005) by Franz Gertsch

TEFAF, FINE ART FOR WHAT IT IS WORTH

TEFAF  in Maastricht, 9-19 March

The Maastricht Treaty is already a fading (bad) memory for most British people that voted for Brexit.  But the city of Maastricht deserves to be associated with some positive things as well.  André Rieu, the world’s most popular violinist, hails from this city in the Southern Netherlands. If Rieu’s schmaltzy way with the classics is not your cup of tea,  the European Fine Air Fair (Tefaf)  will most certainly not disappoint.

There may be better fairs for contemporary art or design, but there is no other event that is as comprehensive as Tefaf.  Old masters and antiques still dominate , but there are plenty of dealers  that specialize in contemporary painting, design , jewellery,  rare books, drawings, Oceanic art …. you name it, the list is endless. This year there are 275 galleries from 21 countries represented at this magnificent showcase .

Kim Simonsson’s moss people can be seen at Jason Jacques’ stand

Most of the tens of thousands of objects are of museum quality and it is no wonder that every year over 200 curators and directors from the world’s leading museums, visit Tefaf to see if they can find something they can add to the collection.

This year there are no headline-grabbing works of art, like last year’s recently identified early  Rembrandt. But in general I found this year’s show one of the most satisfying fairs out of the five Tefafs I have visited in total. I am sure my verdict is purely subjective, but at the same time I think this year the mix of recent, ancient, modern, old and contemporary is close to perfect.

My favourite contemporary work is ‘Maria (2001) in Guadaloupe’  by the Swiss artist Franz Gertsch, whose work is presented by the Norwegian Galleri K.  You can see part of Gertsch’s giant woodcut in cobalt blue in the featured image at the top of the page. The source was a 30 year old slide taken by the artist of his nude girlfriend sleeping in the shade on the Carribean beach. This picture he transferred on to 380 x 528 cm sheets of Japanese paper. It required 3 large woodblocks to produce the image, but the result is stunning.  The turquoise colour filters out the soft pornographic element while at the same time making it more sensual. Unfortunately the piece doesn’t quite fit above my bed and the prize needs to come down from here to Guadaloupe (SFR 400.000) before I can even contemplate building an extension to my bedroom.

I am also a fan of Kim Simonsson’s sculptures and the New York gallery Jason Jacques that represents his work. Kim’s moss people (see picture above)  relate to the special magic radiating from the ancient woods of my and Simonsson’s country of origin, Finland.  When you walk alone in a remote Finnish wood you can get the feeling that you are being watched by these kind of fluorescent green creatures of the forest.

A carved pink-brown agate naturalistic potato box. Made by Fabergé workmaster Michael Perchin, St.Petersburg, 1890. Owned by A La Vieille Russie, New York.

Tefaf is like visiting four major museums at the same time. And when you return the following year there is a whole new collection with another 30.000 object from across the ages. This fair can boast  objects  dating back 7000 years.

The fact that the fair is held in the Netherlands means that you will always find some very impressive Dutch Old Master paintings . Johnny van Haeften, who is also one of the founding fathers of Tefaf, always comes up with the goods. But this year his showpiece is somewhat problematic.

The pendant portraits of A man and a woman holding a pair of gloves have been painted by Frans Hals in 1637.

A portrait of a man and a woman holding a pair of gloves, Frans Hals. Johnny van Haeften tests a cautious market.

The couple would have exchanged the gloves with one another during  the ceremony that celebrated the signing of the betrothal contract. The identity of the sitters is unknown but we know their age and because they are dressed so soberly in black, experts believe they were Mennonites. The style is typical of Hals and he conveys  a lively naturalness  that few of his contemporaries could equal. The man, holding a hand on his heart,  is more self-conscious and artful, whereas his ruddy cheeked wife seems slightly  bored – or is there a smile about to break through?

The problem is that last October Sotheby’s revealed that A portrait of a man that the auction house had sold in 2011 for about $10 million , was a very clever modern forgery.  Obviously the buyer was reimbursed  but it made many experts who had declared that the portrait was a “national treasure” look like fools.

Dressed to match

I think Van Haeften’s portraits are considerably better than the forgery and definitely more convincing. But buyers are for now very cautious and this may not be the time to sell a Frans Hals. Or maybe it is. You could try to get a bargain. The paintings have now been on the market for a while.