Sunday, March 28, 2010

Drawings Week in Paris

Across the pond again, this time to Paris. More luncheons, dinners and lectures and one great fair, the “Salon du dessin”. This is drawings week in Paris and a great deal is going on.

Many of the graphics dealers in Paris who do not exhibit at the Salon hold their own exhibitions showing their tempting wares. The auction houses schedule drawings sales to occur this week in order to take advantage of all the collectors who have come to town. A true highlight takes place the night before the opening of the Salon in the drawings study room of the Louvre, only for invited guests. Drawings are put out without frames and no labels for the cognoscenti to study. There is always a theme and this year it was collectors’ marks. When used they are put directly on the drawing and can be most helpful in tracing a drawing’s history. The Fondation Custodia in collaboration with the Graphics department of the Louvre have updated the famous catalog of marks by Frits Lugt on a new website, launched this week. Here you can research any marks that you may find in your collection. During the Salon there is a colloquium on the same theme and this year it was about how to use the new website and how a web based inventory can be supplemented and added to over time. Then there were more talks on the advantages and pitfalls of relying on what the marks tell us.

But, of course, the highlight of the week and around which all the rest revolves is the Salon du Dessin. It takes place at the Palais de la Bourse, which is the old stock exchange, a majestic and imposing place to hold an exhibition. It is certainly a more auspicious venue that the fair grounds in Maastricht and this fair does it proud.

Assembled here are about 40 of the best dealers in the world showing only stellar works of art. There are just watercolors and drawings, no prints of any kind.

What made the 2010 fair particularly exciting was what seemed like an opening night feeding frenzy. The fair opening runs from 4pm until 10:30pm and I walked in during the 3rd hour. The crowd was incredible in spite of a transit strike in Paris and there were red dots everywhere. In one booth I walked into I spotted 3 works that I coveted but I was too late. Another excited dealer said to me, it is incredible. We have made 4 sales already I have two pieces that I think will go in the next day or two and glancing behind my back he added and I think my colleague is about to sell another one. This kind of action has not been seen at an art fair in a number of years.

The next day I spoke to a dealer who had done Maastricht and the Salon which starts two days after in another country and he said that Maastricht was ok but this was much better sales wise.

There is no way I could pick my favorite piece in the fair. There is high quality in all areas of European drawings and watercolors from the 16th through the 20th century.

One of my favorite booths is one of anonymous drawings. Each exhibitor is invited to submit a drawing that they have not been able to identify. The prices range from a low of 600 euros for a portrait of somebody’s aunt without a date or country of origin even suggested to a lovely sheet of a mother and child which is surely Venetian 16th century at 14,000 euros. But why would anyone buy an anonymous drawing?... well, that is for another blog.

Friday, March 19, 2010

A question I have no answer for

Why are there moments that one can easily find the same artist at many galleries at the same time?

It happens at every fair, many dealers exhibit the same artist from the secondary market. At TEFAF this year there seemed to be many more Emil Nolde (1867-1956) watercolors than one would normally expect to find at a single venue and they were mostly watercolors of flowers.

A less well known artist, who seems to have come more to the fore recently, is François de Troy (1645-1730). During his life time he was extremely well thought of but, in the 20th century his son Jean-François de Troy became more popular. There was also much confusion. When I first went to the Louvre photo archive to research De Troy they had these two artists mixed up in their boxes. Now, many years later, it has all been straightened out. Since I was interested in this artist for many years, I found several of our paintings in these boxes as well.

Now at TEFAF the Didier Aaron gallery had two François de Troys. One they sold on opening night to an American museum and the second, which was a lovely small picture representing the signing of a contract, was still available when I left Maastricht.

This, of course, made me think about two wonderful de Troys in my own inventory. One is a portrait of a Louis Claude Le Blanc (1669-1728), French Minister of War. The other is a family portrait relating to a picture that de Troy did of his own family. In this case, however, the artist has done a commissioned work and we do not know who the sitters are.

The two sculptures on each side of the fireplace representing charity and justice point to the fact that the picture represents a Magistrate and his family.

In the background, one can see two young servants bringing a table out to the family with afternoon tea. In reality it was probably not tea, but a much greater delicacy, hot chocolate, which attested to the fact that the family was well-to-do. It was not unusual to show a sitter at his and her very best displaying all of their finery in order to demonstrate their position and success in life. This was, of course, one of the main reasons to spend the money to have one’s portrait done.

For more intrigue from the details do take a look at the paintings section of our website,

Monday, March 15, 2010

From Maastricht, with love

I arrived with my associate, Vincent Hickman, in this lovely little town in the southern Netherlands to attend the opening of the amazing TEFAF fair. It has to be the greatest and most important fair for art from ancient times to the modern era anywhere.

There were 10,500 visitors who came for opening day and 80 private planes arrived at the small Maastricht airport for the event, more would follow later during the run of the show. There were probably 2,000 more attendees than came a year ago demonstrating that people are feeling more secure financially and socially. I have been here almost every March for the last 15 plus years and yet, it never ceases to amaze me.

It is not a static fair. It ebbs and flows with different markets dictated by the tastes of collectors and the fashion of the times. Though some years ago the drawings dealers bowed out en masse because of lack of sales, they have now all come back in a whole new section of dealers for works on paper, including drawings, prints, photographs and books.

In total the fair has over 260 exhibitors this year. Some worry that the fair is getting too large, but I believe that as long as they maintain a certain level of quality both for exhibitors and the art they show TEFAF will continue to thrive. The show is vetted by experts who are dealers, curators and scholars and their vigilance helps to keep that level of quality high.

What makes it manageable for the visitor is that the fair is divided into sections so you can just go to see old masters or modern or decorative arts or classical art or works on paper. You must pace yourself and don’t try to see it all at once any more than you would want to see the entire Louvre in one day.

If you are into multicultural phenomenon this is the place to be. Maastricht is on the borders of Germany and Belgium and a short distance from France you can easily make side trips to art centers such as Aachen, Cologne and Brussels. Exhibitors come from 17 countries. I noted that as I walked across one aisle, approximately 5 yards I heard people speaking French, English, German, Italian and Dutch. A little further on I heard a bunch of languages that I did not understand including Chinese.

How can they sell all this art? Well, of course, they cannot but when you have this much choice of top quality goods and so many collectors who came to this town only to attend this fair a great deal does go. One British dealer told me he does between 25% and 35% of his annual business here! That is not necessarily all done in his booth but he makes connections, accepts reserves and over the following months finalizes sales which would not have happened without TEFAF.

Museum directors and curators come in staggering numbers often with trustees in tow and they buy as well. During the few days I was here I noticed coming from the States staff from, The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, The Detroit Art Institute, The Metropolitan Museum, The Art Institute of Chicago, The Minneapolis Museum of Art and The Wadsworth Athenaeum to name some.

For those who are looking for a field of interest in which to collect, for the seasoned collector who wants to see what might still be available, or simply for the art interested this is a must. More than once this weekend I heard the lines, “I have never been here before but I heard how incredible this fair is and I still can’t believe it.

Come, pace yourself, enjoy the lovely country side the possibility of short side trips but each day hit the fair and see something new.

After 3 days of only visiting the fair we are breathless in every sense.

Monday, March 8, 2010

You could see this in Maastricht, but won’t......

....because it happens to be in my gallery collection in New York.

It is a wood carving by Aubert-Henri-Joseph Parent (1753 Cambrai - 1835 Valenciennes) also known as Aubert Parent. A critic of the late eighteenth century pronounced "One hardly expects to see such delicacy united with elegance in such a small space”. Come and see for yourself.

The only comparable artist was the Dutch master Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721) who had won the patronage of the English court with his bravura wood carvings. While Gibbons was known for his robust realism, Parent combined the accuracy of scientific observation with a refinement and delicacy in tune with the taste of the late 18th century.

Louis XVI was a fan, hanging a Parent carving, presented to him on the occasion of a royal visit to Parent’s home town of Valenciennes, in his private dining room in Versailles. This of course led to patronage in court circles. When things got too hot for Parent during the French Revolution he fled to Switzerland, where he became a lecturer on Classical art at the University in Basel and directed archeological excavations. Later he went to Berlin where he received a pension from Friedrich Wilhelm II, King of Prussia, and finally returned to France in 1813. Describing himself as a Sculptor, Designer and Academician he never gave up carving.

His work was much in demand and his amazing talent as a wood carver garnered him admiration all over Europe. Today one can find some of his few surviving works in major museums around the world including the Getty, the Metropolitan, the Musée des Arts Decoratifs, the Trianon de Versailles and the well known sculpture museum in Frankfurt, the Staedel. Another is recorded at the Schlossmuseum in Berlin.

When I acquired the present present work at Sotheby’s, London, many years ago they showed it upended and did not realize that it was signed on the lower right in graphite, aubert parent fecit 1827.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Will I see you in Maastricht ?

The calendar tells me it’s March so I am headed for Maastricht. I certainly wouldn’t want to miss TEFAF (The European Fine Arts Fair) at the MECC.

Yet another art fair? Why all the fuss?

Art lovers from all over the world have booked their accommodations months in advance in or near this little town on the Maas river which has been a center of trade since the Middle Ages. They will meet and greet each other in the huge modern fair facility known as the MECC (Maastricht Exhibition and Congress Center) where TEFAF takes place.

This year 260 exhibitors expect to host over 70,000 visitors during the fair which runs from March 12 - 21 with the by invitation only opening on March 11. This is not a place to go for the avant garde or the cutting edge. This is where all the curators and collectors for every other field come.

The fair grounds in Maastricht are huge. So much so that the first couple of times that I attended I was continuously looking at a map to get my bearings and even to find my way to the egress, or the loo, for that matter!

Nowhere else can you survey the offerings in so many fields. When two provincial fairs combined to form the dealer-run TEFAF in 1988 the original focus was on Old Master paintings. Recently master drawings have become an important presence. There are not that many dealers in medieval and Renaissance objects because there is not much available to collect but those who do exhibit are the leading dealers in the field. Decorative arts such as the furniture and ceramics from previous centuries, particularly Germany and the Netherlands, can be found in plentiful array together with continental ceramics and silver. Oriental art is well represented and established modern art has entered the picture with a section of the fair now devoted to the most important galleries from the U.S. and Europe.

I am always writing that in order to make decisions in art collecting you have to make comparisons and this is the ideal place to do it. If you are trying to choose a field to collect in you will see more different fields than in most museums and what you see will be of museum quality. In no single country can you find as many dealers in Dutch 17th century paintings. Here you can compare the offerings from dealers in The Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, France and England. If you just like art or trying to choose a field in which to collect you will see more different fields than in most museums, and usually of museum quality.

The fair is vetted by great experts including dealers, curators and collectors to add to the security of the collector.

You have to see it to believe it and experience it to know what fun it is. But a warning. While people do come for a day, DON’T the first time. You will only be frustrated and it will be just too much. One of the vetters, a prominent collector, is there for several days of vetting before the opening in his specific area of expertise and then stays three of four more days to see all that he had not yet viewed. Go and let it all sink in. There is a fancy restaurant as well as a cafeteria open all day so you can take your choice and stop regularly for coffee breaks as well even in the exhibition hall.

Oh yes, if you are with someone who is not an art enthusiast but loves jewelry many of the finest jewelers in the world are well represented to cater to those who live for it.

You might also plan on taking a day off from the intensity of TEFAF. Maastricht is located at the southern tip of the Netherlands, just a few miles from Germany and Belgium and France is also within a short drive. Years ago, before cell phones, I had my phone card pulled because the AT&T watchdogs could not believe that their card was used in three different countries within 24 hours! Because of that centralized location you can make some wonderful day trips from Maastricht to other great art cities and return with your eyes refreshed to take in more and more and more acquirable art.