Sunday, July 1, 2012

Masterpiece London - 2012

At this time of year I usually go to London in order to celebrate Independence Day with our original oppressors!  I cannot remember when I was last in the U.S. for the 4th of July.  But seriously, the reason that I come is that the larger auction houses such as Christie's, Sothebys and Bonhams have their old master sales and this stimulates other arts events to occur at the same time.

One of the highlights is the Masterpiece Fair which is now in its 3rd year.  It takes place on the South Grounds of The Royal Hospital, Chelsea.  No, it is not in one of the hospital wards but rather in a huge tent that seems so solid that when I went last year it had to be explained to me that it was not actually in a building with a foundation.

Masterpiece is bigger this year.  There are about 160 dealers in fields as diverse as old masters, antique furniture, ancient, medieval, Egyptian and primitive art, jewelry, motorcycles, yachts and much more. 

I happened by 3 New York dealers that I know who had not been here before.  Merrin Galleries known for their classical art and Alexander Galleries that is exhibiting Old Master Paintings.  Alexander Acevedo, proprietor of the latter said to me, I am enjoying this so much I have met people here that I would never have seen in New York.  That is the reason a dealer does a show and its the gravy if he or she makes back his/her expenses and maybe a bit more.

A big surprise was Collisart, also from New York.  They are showing, of all things, American Art before 1950, not a category you ever see at a European art fair.   Fred Hill and his daughter Daisy Hill Sanders started the company not that long ago and they have a most impressive booth.  Their star picture is a Mary Cassatt, an artist recognized even here across the pond.

Mary Cassatt painting at CollisArt

Another painting in their booth that has caught a lot of attention is a picture that from a distance looks like a van Gogh until you get closer.  I would call it an homage to van Gogh.  It is titled Road on the Moors and it is signed and dated Stuart Davis, 1919.

"Road on the Moors" by Stuart Davis (1919)

As you probably have realized, I love different, something that we have not seen over and over again.  Alberto di Castro and Sperone Westwater have done just that.  This old master and sculpture gallery from Rome has collaborated with a contemporary gallery from New Yorks Bowery.   They showed a terra cotta relief by Massimiliano Soldani-Benzi of 1681 next to an Andy Warhol painting of 1981.

Soldani & Warhol

There is also a row of sculpture busts where I had to look twice before I realized that one or the other might be created hundreds of years before or after the one next to it.  It is a most stimulating challenge for the mind... Not what is expected in a typical booth.

Maybe this surprise factor, of moving from one category of art to another, without warning actually defines this show and makes it so enjoyable to attend.  You never know what is going to be in the following booth.  If it turns out to be a Rolls Royce or motorcycles it causes at least a smile and often great interest.

I became intrigued with just such a non sequitur when I spotted a portrait of Clarence Dillon, founder of the financial firm Dillon Read.  He was also the father of C. Douglas Dillon, Ambassador to France (1953-1957) and Secretary of the Treasury (1961-1965).  In the arts, however, he was known for his relationship with the Metropolitan Museum.  He was not only a great donor he also served as an executive of the Museum for more than 50 years – including terms as President  (1970 to 1978), and Chairman of the Board of Trustees (1977 to 1983).

What may not be as well known is that in 1935 Clarence Dillon bought a major vineyard in France, Domaine Clarence Dillon. Its board still includes only the heirs of Clarence and Douglas Dillon.  Their most celebrated wine is Chรขteau Haut-Brion, so naturally, their booth is devoted to the various Dillon wines with magnums of Haut-Brion on display.

Antonella Schmidt Bernheimer

Of course, there are plenty of booths that show just fine jewelry, or English furniture or old master paintings in a very normal fashion but it is the leitmotif of variety that makes it all so easy to digest.  I heard a few complaints that Masterpiece is not serious enough but serious can sometimes get boring.  As long as I see high quality in whatever the field I can be satisfied and in Masterpiece there is an awful lot that qualifies.

Masterpiece does not run all that long.  It opened with a preview last Wednesday, June 27 and runs through this coming Wednesday, July 4.

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