LONDON — Some art market research companies would have us believe that the heyday of art fairs is over and that the so-called “event-driven” marketplace is on the wane. It only requires an hour or two walking around London’s most prestigious art fairs during an unseasonably warm June to dispel such gloomy prognostications.
LONDON — The capitol city is suddenly awash with sculpture. Henry Moore is everywhere; Helaine Blumenfeld’s reputation is growing; Giacometti is hogging the art market headlines; a major Barbara Hepworth survey is about to open at Tate Britain; Greek-born sculptor Sophia Vari is aiming to make a splash in Mayfair. Read more
LONDON — It is 2015 and so once again it is almost time to head to Venice for the 56th edition of the Venice Biennale. A welcome piece of pre-Biennale news was the announcement that the Ghanaian contemporary artist El Anatsui is to receive the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement Award. This is good news for El Anatsui, but it is also welcome news for London’s October Gallery, which has represented El in London for many years.
The October Gallery is known for its support of what one might loosely call “World Art,” or what the gallery terms the “Transvangarde,” the trans-cultural avant garde. El Anatsui’s creations are a fine example of work in this category. Okwui Enwezor, the curator of this year’s Venice Biennale (the 56th), said of the award: “El Anatsui is perhaps the most significant living African artist working on the continent today. The award for which I am recommending him is an important honor to an artist who has contributed immensely to the recognition of contemporary African artists in the global arena.” Few would disagree with that. What makes El Anatsui’s work so extraordinary is his ability to repurpose the detritus of the urban world into beautiful objects. The art market, through its own immutable logic, has repurposed them again, by turning them luxury commodities. His gorgeous, lustrous wall hangings are actually made from discarded aluminum bottle tops flattened out.
When shown at swanky art fairs they tend to stop people in their tracks and are in huge demand when they appear at high-end auctions. One example, titled Path to the Okra Farm, sold at Sotheby’s in New York this time last year for $1.4 million (£860,580).
And so to more mundane matters. With the UK general election just days away (May 7), the British public is currently suspended between weary indifference toward the political classes and genuine concern as to how long the recession will continue. Nightly news bulletins and opinion polls confirm the deep disillusionment felt by many UK nationals about the state of the economy and the prospect of further cuts ahead.
Into this feverish climate and with impeccable timing, the Sunday Times chose to publish its annual “Rich List,” which revealed the extent to which the country’s wealthiest individuals have grown even wealthier, despite the recession. The report confirmed that the rich more than doubled their wealth over the last decade.
While this may generate even more resentment and envy among those who struggle to make ends meet, it will be greeted with open arms by the artists, dealers, auctioneers and advisers whose job it is to supply luxury goods to the super-rich. One of the most celebrated of these suppliers, and now a fabulously wealthy individual in his own right, is the American artist Jeff Koons, a survey of whose work opens this coming month at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery as part of the touring “Artist Room” series.
Quite what the gentlefolk of Norfolk will make of Koons’s various creations remains to be seen. For example, vacuum cleaners are only too familiar to the thousands of men and women who push them around on a daily basis in return for the minimum wage, but it’s doubtful they’ll ever have encountered three Hoovers in a glass case in an art gallery. However, these aren’t just Hoovers, they’re works of art that would have an eye-watering price tag were they to appear under an auctioneer’s gavel.
One example fetched $11.8 million (£6 million) at Christie’s New York in 2008. However, that price information is unlikely to be made public in the Norwich show, which aims to present Koons not as a manufacturer of expensive luxury goods for the world’s super-rich, but as an artist and innovator.
As William Galinsky, artistic director of the Norfolk & Norwich Festival, explains: “This will be the biggest Jeff Koons exhibition in Britain for a decade and an unmissable opportunity for visitors to see the work of such an important, influential and fun artist.”
We look forward to the local Norwich press reviews. By way of sharp contrast, moviegoers may remember a few of the wonderful locations used in Mike Leigh’s recent film, Mr. Turner, about the great 19th century English landscape painter J.M.W. Turner. One of the film’s most memorable locations was Petworth House in West Sussex. Still occupied by the current Lord and Lady Egremont, whose family has owned the property since the time of Henry I (1068-1135), Petworth House and Park are now administered by the National Trust and are a popular destination for tourists with a hunger for classic British heritage.
Given all this background, it is not surprising that the park has been selected as the location for a new fine art and antiques fair opening on May 10. It will be held in a marquee in the 700-acre deer park, which surrounds the late 17th century Grade 1 listed mansion in the quaint Sussex town of Petworth. Unsurprisingly, given the venue, the event has attracted some of the most prestigious dealers and so visitors will be treated to a mouth-watering array across all categories.
Among the things that caught our eye was Edward Seago’s atmospheric, summery oil entitled On the Dunes, on show with Haynes Fine Art of Broadway, priced at £100,000-£150,000 ($152,000-$228,000).
A smart Regency brass-inlaid sofa table marked £9,500 ($14,450) is among Freshfords Fine Antiques’ offerings.
A piece of contemporary garden sculpture titled Joie de Vivre, by Penny Hardy, is to be shown by local pioneering contemporary art and sculpture dealers Moncrieff Bray Gallery and is priced at £1,500 ($2,275).
If the weather stays fine, this could turn out to be one of the most popular fairs of the summer, although it will have some way to go to compete with this year’s Masterpiece Fair in London at the end of June. Watch this space for news of that. And finally, a brief note about an interesting event opening at Bowman Sculpture in Mayfair this month. This is an exhibition of work by the current doyenne of traditional British sculpture, Helaine Blumenfeld, which will be shown alongside selected works by the late, great Henry Moore.
The show celebrates and restages an innovative exhibition held at the Alex Rosenberg Gallery in New York in 1985 where the two artists’ works entered into a silent “dialogue.” American-born Blumenfeld has arguably become the most significant British sculptor working in the time-honored techniques of marble carving, which she practices in her studios in Pietrasanta, Tuscany (a set of skills entirely alien to the Koons generation). However, her smaller-scale bronzes are also in many public and private collections around the world. It will be fascinating to see the extent to which her sculptural “voice” has developed in the 30 years since the New York dialogue.
The exhibition, which coincides with a new large-scale work by Blumenfeld being installed in London’s Berkeley Square, runs at Bowman Sculpture May 22 to June 30.
LONDON — Here the main political parties have begun the breathless sprint towards voting day for the general election on May 7. Never before has the likely outcome been so unpredictable, nor induced so many yawns from the public. Meanwhile, British summer time has officially begun. Daffodils line the roadside and the trees are brimful of blossom. This would normally put a spring in one’s step, but the unsavory prospect of the looming general election tends to take the shine off things.
On the upside, those of us fortunate enough to have attended this year’s installment of the European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) in Maastricht, were treated to another intoxicating taste of available fine and decorative art. This brightened the month of March considerably, despite us being unable to make the purchases our hearts desired. Still, the entrance foyer looked stunning and as usual the fair provided another stimulating, if exhausting, visual treat.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the wealth that descends on Maastricht for TEFAF week, the organizers have been celebrating another successful year. This rather chimes with the latest findings of their annual research report, which indicated that the art market is blooming like the Dutch tulips that adorn the fair.
Prior to the 2008 global credit crunch, the TEFAF report was registering annual global revenues of around 47 billion euros. It is often said that when a recession strikes, the art market feels the pinch later than other asset classes and rebounds sooner. That would seem to have been confirmed by this year’s report, which shows that while most European economies are languishing in the financial doldrums and the majority of working families are struggling to stay afloat, the art market has again taken flight. Its global revenues now stand at 51 billion euros, the highest ever recorded total. This might come as good news to those who see the art market as a foretaste of an imminent, broader economic recovery. Wiser minds know that it is little more than confirmation of how the rich continue to get richer, despite the economic crisis.
One does not have to be at TEFAF for long to get a sense of how seriously the trade takes these events, some claiming to do up to 50 percent of their annual business during the 10 days of the fair. The stand of Munich dealers Röbbig offered the clearest indication of how some dealers regard it as no longer enough to simply bring the stock. It also has to be shown within a convincing recreation of the interior of a Parisian aristocrat’s ancien régime hôtel, or the palace of some minor Hapsburg prince.
Peter Osborne, director of London-based Modern British dealers Osborne Samuel spoke to Auction Central News about the punishing travel schedule that dealers now have to undertake in order to keep pace with the event-driven global market. “This is the way it is now, and this is the future,” he said, commenting on the number of fairs stacked into a four-month period from March to July across several continents. “You simply have to go with it.”
The TEFAF fair traditionally has one or two blue-chip works of art in the Old Master category, but this year it seemed notably short on true masterpieces. It was, however, packed with antiquities of one kind or another, a worrying development given the widespread looting of ancient sites across the Middle East and developing world. We spotted a Cambodian statuette with no provenance to the label, a surprising omission at a fair as prestigious as Maastricht, particularly given how Cambodian temple sites are still being ravaged by subsistence looters. (Fig. 4) One assumes that this particular object has a legitimate provenance, even if it wasn’t clearly displayed as one might expect.
Should we take comfort from the fact that TEFAF is strictly vetted? Well, it has just emerged that a painting recently identified as having been looted by the Nazis from a Viennese family in 1944 was offered for sale at TEFAF just a few years ago. An enquiry to TEFAF’s organizers as to how this might have happened is yet to receive a response.
The picture, Portrait of a Gentleman by El Greco, was seized by the Gestapo in 1944 from the noted Viennese industrialist Julius Priester, along with the entire Priester family collection. The portrait has now been restituted to the descendants of Julius Priester by the Commission for Looted Art In Europe working with Art Recovery International, the new London-based due diligence service for the international art trade.
Before moving on to a few other interesting events in the UK in the coming month, a brief mention of one or two of the more striking objects at the TEFAF fair. London and New York dealers Mallett have been enjoying a significant resurgence of good fortune over the past couple of years, seemingly since moving to their new premises at Ely House, Mayfair. Their TEFAF stand looked terrific, combining traditional furniture and works of art with a few selected works of modern design. These included a “Fig-Leaf” wardrobe by Dutch designer Tord Boontje, although the term wardrobe doesn’t really do it justice as the accompanying image shown here makes clear.
Fans of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe might have nightmares with this in the room, but instead of opening onto Mr. Tumnus, a tree-form coat-hanger appears. Every leaf of the doors has been individually designed and enameled, making it a classic example of what is now being described as “meta-luxury.” Its innovative design and exquisite craftsmanship amply justified its price tag, which good manners (and the fact that it had sold) prevents us from disclosing.
Elsewhere Parisian dealer François Laffanour’s Galerie Downtown had teamed up with top-drawer art adviser and consultant Philippe Ségalot to present a superb display titled “Masterpieces of Shaker Design. Star” of the stand was a birch trestle table by a Massachusetts maker dating from 1840. It was long enough to accommodate the entire cast of Amish barn-builders from Harrison Ford’s Witness movie and yet it was constructed from a single plank of a noble birch tree.
Priced at 250,000-300,000 euros ($270,000-$323,000), it had been reserved for a client, demonstrating, like the wardrobe mentioned above, that objects of extraordinary rarity in any category are likely to find buyers.
By now, most people will be suffering from a surfeit of fairs news but on a more local and affordable level it is worth casting a brief glance toward the Cotswolds Art and Antiques Dealers’ Fair, which opens on April 16 until April 19 at the famous Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire. Now in its fourth year, the fair will host 24 exhibitors, all members of the Cotswolds Art and Antiques Dealers Association, so it comes with a stamp of quality. We have been alerted to far too many objects appearing at the fair to mention them all here, but we were struck by a splendid papier-mâché tea caddy decorated with a scene of cattle in a landscape by Henry Clay, circa 1800. It is priced at 5,500 pounds ($8,150) from Hampton Antiques, while Catherine Hunt Oriental Ceramics will no doubt be hoping for Asian interest in a transitional double gourd blue and white bottle vase priced at 13,500 pounds.
Finally, the ever-reliable Jerram Gallery in Sherborne, Dorset, is about to stage a mixed exhibition of new landscapes and still lifes by Charles Jamieson, Elsa Taylor and Vivienne Williams, which opens on April 11 until April 29.
Exhibitions like this are a welcome reminder that the so-called “art market” comprises not only the high-ticket masterworks that so preoccupy the wealth-obsessed media, but also includes affordable work shown by regional galleries keen to support local artists and to serve the many less well-heeled, but no less passionate, collectors.
Next month we’ll be previewing an exhibition of works by Jeff Koons in, of all places, Norwich. Quite what the gentle folk of East Anglia will make of Jeff’s ironic take on popular culture remains to be seen.
LONDON – Fine art fairs, contemporary art fairs, affordable art fairs, photography fairs, antiques fairs, decorative antiques and textiles fairs, works on paper fairs, craft fairs — fairs, fairs everywhere, in every major city all over the world, twenty-four-seven, it would seem. Given their ubiquity, it is a wonder that the dealers who attend these events aren’t flat on their backs suffering from some kind of neurological art-fair breakdown. Who knows, perhaps they are.
London and Hong Kong-based contemporary art dealer Ben Brown recently told the Daily Telegraph that in just a two-and-a-half-week period beginning in March he expects to travel 20,000 miles, “or almost the total circumference of the globe” to participate in three important international fairs in New York, Maastricht and Hong Kong. Brown estimates the cost of his Phileas Fogg-like perambulations will be close to £250,000, but told the Telegraph, “I wouldn’t be doing it if I thought I couldn’t cover my costs.”
One of the obligatory stop-offs for major dealers like Brown is the grand European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) in Maastricht in the Netherlands, which opens to the public on March 13.
This is where the world’s most important dealers bring their finest stock, and where some of them expect to do up to 33 percent of their annual business during the 10 days of the fair. The world’s wealthiest collectors come to TEFAF to acquire; the most important museums come to keep tabs on what is on the market; and those who can’t afford to buy at these price levels come for the pleasure of looking, or to educate themselves, or merely to partake of the general welcoming ambience.
The Maastricht event is also important as the moment when the annual TEFAF Art Market Report is published by Dr. Clare McAndrew’s Arts Economics research company.
It will be interesting to see whether this year’s report will confirm that the market has finally climbed above its pre-2008 credit-crunch crash level of €48 million. However, given the rising number of art transactions that are conducted under a veil of secrecy and the traditional confidentiality of the international art trade, any market analysis probably needs to be taken with a healthy pinch of salt.
Only recently, another art market analysis company, Skate’s, gloomily announced that, “the heyday of art fairs seems to be over,” pointing out that 2014 was the first time when “the total attendance for the top 20 art fairs in established collectors markets declined on a year to year basis.” According to Skate’s art fairs report, the flagship global art fairs such as Art Basel Miami Beach, TEFAF and Paris Photo, “all posted audience decline in 2014, particularly notable since those fairs serve largely different segments of global art trade.”
No doubt the dealers would scoff at these Cassandra-like prognostications, knowing that attendance doesn’t matter; it is the number of high-profile buyers that counts. Most dealers will feel secure in the belief that if they take the right stock they will do well. London dealers Tomasso Brothers Fine Art will be seeking a buyer for their superb bronze equestrian portrait of Savoy’s Great Duke, Carlo Emanuele I by the great Florentine sculptor and bronze caster Antonio Susini.
Dating to circa 1620, the work is believed to have been commissioned to mark the marriage in 1619 of Duke Carlo Emanuele’s son and heir Vittorio Amadeo to Christine Marie, daughter of King Henry IV of France and Marie de Medici. That’s quite a provenance and its asking price “in the region of 1.5 million euros ($1.6 million)” reflects its historical importance.
Given the BBC’s recent exposé of the sheer scale of the antiquities looting in the war-ravaged Middle East, it is perhaps unsurprising that antiquities dealers are now under more forensic scrutiny than ever before. The material being removed from ancient sites is somehow finding its way, in wholesale quantities it seems, onto western markets, although little seems to be being done to control the flow.
London-based antiquities dealers Charles Ede Ltd. knows better than most how important it is to conduct comprehensive due diligence on the material they buy and sell, the firm’s managing director James Ede being one of those who has long lobbied for a more ethical industry. He believes the Roman period Egyptian portrait he is taking to Maastricht will be the oldest portrait at the fair.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is offered with an exhaustive provenance from a number of illustrious European collections following its original excavation in Cairo in the late 19th century. The Ede stand at the strictly vetted TEFAF fair will be enlarged at this year’s event, suggesting that some of the more prestigious dealers clearly are having no difficulty sourcing material.
As we reported last month, there is now a new agency in London dedicated to issues of due diligence and art recovery. Art Recovery International, set up by London-based, American lawyer Christopher Marinello to offer a more ethical approach to the provision of due diligence that what is currently available, have just moved into smart premises in London’s fashionable Mayfair district.
The firm is encouraging collectors and members of the art trade to drop into their Clifford Street offices to meet the team and learn more about how the company seeks to transform the business of art recovery. “We are delighted to take a place alongside some of the world’s most prestigious dealers and art institutions,” said Marinello. “Our company provides a valuable resource to the art market and we are committed to fostering excellent working relationships with our clients both in London and around the world.”
Not so very long ago, museums would not have deigned to even whisper the name of an art dealer, such were the strictly policed boundaries between the pure discipline of art history and what was widely perceived as a dubious art trade. But meaningful changes have taken place in academia in recent years such that more and more attention is now being focused on the socio-economics of art dealing and collecting. Nowhere will that change be more apparent than in the forthcoming exhibition at the National Gallery devoted to the work of the great 19th-century art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel.
Durand-Ruel is virtually unknown outside academic circles despite having virtually single-handedly championed the Impressionist painters when they were unknown and unappreciated. The National Gallery’s forthcoming exhibition, “Inventing Impressionism” from March 4 to May 31 seeks to throw light on the Parisian dealer’s contribution to the Impressionist story and will give a sense of the circle of painters and collectors who helped turn Impressionism into one of the most popular art movements of all time.
Durand-Ruel’s determination to spread the word in promoting the Impressionists led him to stage exhibitions in America and London, the exhibition at the Grafton Gallery in London in 1905 being one of the most notable, albeit not in sales.
French painters in the Durand-Ruel circle included the earlier Barbican School artists and some of them painted memorable images on their visits to London, which compare with the iconic views of the Thames left by Monet, Pissarro and others.
It will be interesting to see whether the National Gallery show genuinely does full credit to Durand-Ruel or is just an excuse for yet another turnstile-spinning Impressionist exhibition.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that one of the capital’s most intellectually engaging private gallery exhibitions has been extended until the end of March due to keen public interest. James Hyman Gallery is the UK’s leading commercial gallery for vintage 19th- and 20th-century photography and their most recent thematic exhibition, which features photographs from the earliest days of the medium, “The Age of Salt: Art, Science and Early Photography” will now continue until March 31. The show takes as its starting point one of William Henry Fox Talbot’s greatest works and one of the finest prints outside a museum. Titled “Veronica in Bloom” (1840), the rare print dates from the very moment in which the birth of the photographic medium was announced – a treat for fans of early photography.
LONDON – “I refuse to be exhibited like a prize bull whose chief attraction is his past prowess,” said Sir Winston Churchill in one of his less familiar utterances. His words echoed down through the decades this week as Prime Minister David Cameron and other members of Parliament assembled beneath Oscar Nemon’s bronze statue of Churchill in the lobby of the House of Commons to mark the 50th anniversary of the great man’s state funeral.
Unsurprisingly, the occasion was another opportunity to celebrate Churchill’s “past prowess,” although some commentators chose to draw attention to the war-time leader’s more questionable attitudes toward people of different ethnicities. But if the stature of a politician were to be measured in the number of statues and busts portraying him (or her), few would come close to Churchill whose bulldog gaze stares down from pedestals the world over.
For example, a recent indication of Churchill’s still towering reputation in the United States came in 2013 when a new bronze after the original work by Croation-born British sculptor Oscar Nemon (who made the statue of Churchill in the House of Commons) was unveiled in Statuary Hall, off the Capitol Rotunda. On that occasion, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry remarked that Churchill would “remain forever an inspiration to those in the Capitol and across the continents.”
Despite having created some of the most memorable portrait statues of the man, Oscar Nemon (1906-1985) remains a somewhat overlooked figure in Churchill lore. Lady Aurelia Young, Oscar Nemon’s daughter and the wife of Sir George Young, a former Leader of the House of Commons in David Cameron’s government, told Auction Central News that, “When Churchill unveiled Nemon’s portrait statue in the Guildhall in 1955, he said: ‘I greatly admire the art of Mr. Oscar Nemon, whose prowess in the ancient realm of sculpture has won such remarkable modern appreciation. I also admire this particular example, which you, my Lord Mayor, have just unveiled, because it seems to be such a very good likeness.’” Churchill, a talented painter in his own right, also tried his hand at sculpture and made a bust of Nemon in tribute to his good friend and portraitist.
It was surely no coincidence, given the anniversary of the funeral, that a number of other versions of Nemon’s portraits of Churchill have turned up under UK auction hammers recently. In December, Sotheby’s dispersed items from the collection of Lady Mary Soames, Churchill’s youngest daughter. Included in that sale was a small resin bust of Churchill after the work by Nemon.
For some reason, Sotheby’s estimated this at just £300-£400, a risible forecast that was summarily demolished by a hammer price of £35,000. Had Sotheby’s followed the example of Christie’s by levying the notorious “reward fee” for beating their own upper estimate — an innovation recently greeted with uproar from the trade (and from many regional auctioneers to boot) — they would have earned a very nice additional bonus. Happily they have not … at least not yet.
The highest price from the Soames sale was the £1.5 million ($2.26m) that changed hands for The Goldfish Pool at Chartwell, one of Churchill’s own more accomplished watercolors, which had been a little more realistically estimated at £400,000-£600,000.
Meanwhile, on Jan. 27, Bonhams offered an interesting miniature gold bust of Churchill formerly in the collection of the late British-born Hollywood film star Stewart Granger (1913-1993) which realised £7,500 ($11,300).
Interviewed on the BBC’s long-running Desert Island Discs radio program in 1981, Granger was asked, as all guests of the program are, which luxury he would like to take to the island. His first reply “A blonde?” was rejected by presenter Roy Plumley. Granger went on to choose his bust of Churchill. “Churchill was my great hero during the war,” he said. “I thought he was absolutely fantastic. And Nemon did this statue of him which is now in the Houses of Parliament and Aspreys were clever enough to get Nemon to do some miniatures and I think he did 15 in gold and 200 in silver. I had a few bob to spare, so I went into Apreys and I bought one in gold…and wherever I go he goes in the bag with me.”
Some may conclude that taking a gold bust of Churchill on one’s travels constitutes a significant insurance risk. Had Granger been robbed of his treasured objet d’art, to whom would he have turned? Happily today there are a few more options open to those who suffer losses than there were in Stewart Granger’s day. Dealers, museums and private collectors are now obliged to conduct comprehensive “due diligence” checks into whether an object being offered for sale comes with clear provenance and good title. Until recently there were few reliable places to go to conduct such checks but there is now a new kid on the “due diligence” block. Last week saw the launch at the Royal Institution of Art Claim, a database established by the Art Recovery Group, which has brought together innovative technology and what it describes as “an intuitive user interface and integrated image-recognition software” to provide “an unprecedented degree of reliability and range for professional due diligence in the art market and cultural heritage sector.”
The Art Claim database and related services are the brainchild of London-based American lawyer, Christopher Marinello, who identified the need for a more ethical approach to due diligence than anything currently being offered. Marinello and his colleagues welcomed art market consultants, art insurance professionals, art journalists and others to the Royal Institution to mark the launch of the new service.
And so to one of the most popular events in the capital’s winter fairs season. The Works on Paper Fair, which again takes place at London’s Science Museum, will feature another mouth-watering display of works from across all periods and in a broad range of media. The highlights this year include a rare etching after Rembrandt (1606-1699) titled The Writing Master. This 18th-century impression, after the original dated circa 1658, is a portrait of one Lieven Willemsz Van Coppenol (circa 1599-1677), who began his career as the headmaster of the French School in Amsterdam, until illness caused his early retirement. Thereafter he pursued his passion for calligraphy, hence the title of the work. It is for sale at an as yet undisclosed price with Elizabeth Harvey-Lee.
Paul Sandby (1730-1809) is one of the most admired of English 18th-century British watercolorists. As a result, his works are included in some of the most prestigious public and private collections, including that of the late Queen Mother who had a particular penchant for his landscapes. Thus there is likely to be great interest in the fine example to be offered by dealer Charles Nugent at the Works on Paper Fair. Roche Abbey, Yorkshire, in watercolor and bodycolor, is for sale priced at £28,000 ($42,070).
Another item with mentioning is a composition sure to underscore the perennial appeal of the Venetian vedute — William James Muller’s (1812-1845) watercolor The Rialto, Venice. It will be for sale at the fair with dealer James Mackinnon priced at £9,500 ($14,275).
And finally, a note about one of the most potentially exciting finds in the sculpture realm. A pair of very fine large bronzes from a UK private collection have been subject to renewed scrutiny by scientists and art historians led by Paul Joannides, emeritus professor of art history at the University of Cambridge.
Ever since the 19th century, the figures, depicting male bacchantes riding panthers, have been attributed to the Dutch sculptor Willem Danielsz Van Tetrode (circa 1530-1587). However, Professor Joannides has now uncovered what appears to be compelling documentary evidence that may tie the bronzes to the great High Renaissance master himself. They will be on display at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge until Aug. 9. Meanwhile, the obvious question on the lips of art market watchers is: Will they eventually be consigned to the auction block? Now a pair of Michelangelo bronzes would make the headlines.
LONDON – Happy New Year from London, once the center of the global art market but now in third place behind the USA and China. A recent report compiled by the British Art Market Federation (BAMF) attributed this fall in the UK’s status in part to the negative impact of the Artists’ Resale Rights Levy. However, few doubt that globalization has also played a part, shifting the wealth-generation from west to east, so to speak.
On a more holistic level there is a broad consensus that 2014 represented something of a bumper year for the art market, with billion-dollar auction sales in the blue-chip sector affirming a return to the pre-crash levels of 2005-2008. Yet it was also a year that saw an inordinate number of high-profile fakes and forgeries scandals rocking the market. Whether this can be taken as evidence that rising prices encourage the criminal fraternity would be hard to prove. However, there is little doubt that the apparent proliferation of fakes and forgeries is starting to have a knock-on effect on professional practice. Auctioneers and dealers are sharpening up their due diligence and installing that little extra caution into their appraisals and cataloging procedures.
Such awareness appears to have guided the hand of the auctioneers at Dee Atkinson & Harrison in East Yorkshire at the end of November. Their general auction of antiques and fine art included an interesting pen and ink sketch of a young man reclining on a sofa.
Anyone familiar with the draughtsmanship of British artist David Hockney would surely have assumed this to have been from his hand. The fact that Hockney currently lives in the seaside town of Bridlington, just 15 miles from the Driffield auction rooms, may have encouraged some to assume it to have been one of the artist’s masterly portrait drawings of the early 1970s. In the event, the auctioneers played safe, cataloging it as “20th Century School … indistinctly monogrammed and titled Peter March 1973 and gave it an estimate of £300-500. The hammer price of £2,800 ($4,350) suggests that some bidders saw Hockney’s hand at work.
The regional salerooms saw quite a few good prices as the year drew to a close and none were more notable than that achieved by the Essex auctioneers Sworders at their Country House Sale on Dec. 9. The catalog included an historically important carved and painted wood ship’s figurehead from the Brazilian slave ship Piratenim, modeled as a South American gaucho. It had been acquired by the vendor’s grandfather from an antique dealer in Worcester in the 1940s, although sadly we don’t know what he paid for it on that occasion. It is safe to assume, however, that it would not have been a great deal of money, such folk art at that time lacking the academic importance that recently encouraged Tate Britain to mount a major exhibition devoted to such objects.
Sworders estimated it at what seemed like a perfectly justifiable £5,000-8,000 and even alerted the National Maritime Museum to its imminent sale. In the event it sailed up to £50,000 ($77,760) thanks to the determination of a U.S. private collector bidding on the telephone. Here was yet another sad instance of a national museum finding itself unable to compete with the ever-wealthier private sector.
Turning to the new year, there are a number of exhibitions on the immediate horizon with an alluring French theme. Norwich Castle Museum is to hold an important exhibition of works by the great French ‘modernist’ Édouard Manet from Jan. 31 to April 19.
The artist is reasonably well represented in UK collections, with the Courtauld able to boast his famous Bar at the Folies Bergères and the Ashmolean in 2012 acquiring his Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus of 1868 after an export bar and a successful campaign raised almost £8 million saved it for the nation. (Fig. 4) The Norwich show, titled “Homage to Manet,” will doubtless draw huge crowds, not least because it will include the Claus portrait as well as works revealing Manet’s influence on British artists working in the broadly Impressionist style.
Manet remains connected in the public mind with the Impressionist movement (despite the artist’s own protestations otherwise) which always gets the turnstiles spinning.
London sculpture specialist Robert Bowman continues to stage exhibitions at his new Duke Street gallery that manage to be both academically interesting and market-friendly, embracing contemporary and 19th-century categories. His current exhibition is devoted to the work of the great French 19th-century realist sculptor Aimé-Jumes Dalou (1838-1902). Following the fall of the Paris Commune in 1871, Dalou spent the remainder of the 1870s in England where he exerted a profound influence on British artists of the so-called “New Sculpture” tendency. The works on show at Bowman Sculpture typify his small-scale bronze work before his return to Paris and the public monuments for which he became rightly famous.
The show comprises both loans and some works for sale, which start at around £7,000 ($10,900).
Coincidentally, Robert Bowman was also the guiding force behind a most enjoyable private view in early December at Leighton House Museum in Kensington of a small selection of 50 important Victorian paintings from the collection of the Mexico-based Spanish businessman Juan Antonio Pérez Simón. Frederick Lord Leighton was one of the most illustrious artists of the Victorian era and the house’s exotically tiled interior was the ideal environment in which to view some of the finest Victorian paintings in private hands. (Champagne somehow tastes better in a room clad with Islamic tiles.)
The collection is said to be the world’s finest after that owned by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and features superb works by most of the greatest artists of the period, including Alma-Tadema, Rossetti, Burne-Jones, Millais, Waterhouse, and Godward. The show is open to the public until March 29.
As January dawns, the big question on everyone’s lips is what 2015 might hold for the art and antiques trade. One thing we can be fairly sure about is that the market will continue to move ever closer to the Internet. It is now 15 years since the web really began to make its presence felt in the industry. Some of us can remember UK dealers and auctioneers bluntly refusing to embrace the new-fangled technology, insisting that computers had no place in such a traditional marketplace. How times have changed.
This year is also likely to see the rich get even richer. The most recent market survey from The European Fine Art Foundation (TEFAF) reported that there were 32 million millionaires worldwide in 2013 and 42 percent of those were based in the U.S. The research also found that at least 600,000 of this global group are mid-to-high level art collectors. That augurs well for the top end of the trade. London soldiers on.
Happily that style of shopping is yet to reach the art and antiques sector where a certain genteel restraint is still the order of the day. No, instead the American flavor referred to comes from two events this month, one in a London gallery, the other in a Yorkshire auction room.
London’s October Gallery is about to stage an exhibition devoted to the work and influence of William S. Burroughs, one of the leading figures of the 1960s counter-culture. Meanwhile, up in North Yorkshire on Dec. 6, the Leyburn auctioneers Tennants will sell a major collection of mainly British porcelain, furniture and works of art accumulated over the past 80 years from UK galleries and auctions by a long-standing client of the auction house based in Virginia, USA. What is the going rate for an older American flag, I hear you ask. Lot 270 is estimated at £60-100 ($95-$1,560).
William Burroughs’s association with the October Gallery’s founders dates back to 1974. It was a friendship that led to the gallery staging Burroughs’s first UK exhibition in 1988. Burroughs died in 1997, but his off-center influence can still be felt, as the October show seeks to demonstrate.
Internationally renowned as the spiritual home of the Transvangarde, October Gallery promotes innovative creative projects by established and emerging artists from around the world. Located just a stone’s throw from the British Museum, it continues to provide a meeting place for discussion, experimentation and cross-cultural collaboration for artists, musicians, poets and performers and is thus the most appropriate place for “Can You All Hear me?” the current show of Burroughs’s work. The exhibition, which runs from Dec. 4 until Feb. 7, will include a number of Burroughs’ own abstract works and “talismanic objects” in a range of media.Burroughs had an important influence on many of his contemporaries in Britain and beyond and the exhibition will communicate something of his impact on London-based and international avant-garde artists, poets and musicians such as Lilian Lijn, Genesis Breyer P. Orridge, Shezad Dawood, Cerith Wyn Evans and Brion Gysin. Gysin’s “cut-up” technique was in turn to exert a major impact on Burroughs. The October exhibition is sure to keep the Burroughs flame burning.
Turning to more traditional matters, Yorkshire auctioneers Tennants’ sale on Dec. 6 of the surplus contents and reserve collection of their Virginia client contains some real treasures. In many ways it is the sort of coherent collection that was relatively common under English hammers in the 1970s and early 1980s, but is rarely encountered these days. There is English porcelain aplenty here, including a selection of lovely Worcester cachepots on stands by Flight & Barr and other makers.There will no doubt also be huge interest in the sale from Chinese dealers and collectors keen to buy back examples of their own material culture, although my expert industry contacts tell me that Chinese export wares are yet to catch on among Asian buyers. It will therefore be interesting to see who competes for the monogram-decorated Chinese porcelain dinner service, circa 1790, that is forecast to realize between £2,000-£3,000 ($3,125-$4,700).
One of the most interesting items in the sale is a very elegant and simple American Windsor ash and maple stick-back bench settee.The auctioneers have been careful to hedge their bets somewhat in speculating on the origin of this, suggesting “Philadelphia, Pennsylvania or Rhode Island,” possibly by Joseph Henzey or John B. Ackley. Once again, it will be interesting to see where this ends up, given the combination of its obvious historical interest and its clear interior decorator appeal. It has been estimated at £2,000-£3,000 ($3,125-$4,700) but one suspects its lovely Shaker-like shape and warm color could see it sail over that.
Finally, one of the most potentially expensive items in the sale is a George III silver épergne of pagoda form by Thomas Pitts, London, 1762.The catalogers clearly had some fun doing justice to the extraordinarily ornate construction of this confection, with its swing handles, pierced baskets and dangling bells, all of which are expected to help steer it to a hammer price in the region of £50,000-£70,000 ($78,225-$109,500).
From small porcelain teacups and saucers to massive, scaled-up porcelain teacups and saucers of the kind that would bring a double-take were you to encounter one of them in a field somewhere in the English countryside. Unless, of course, that field was in a sculpture garden like Broomhill Art Hotel and Sculpture Garden in North Devon. Broomhill’s annual Sculpture Prize has become quite a coveted award for practicing artists making large exterior pieces. Launched, in 2009, the prize has an annual fund of £15,000 ($23,500) offered to new and emerging UK based sculptors. Each year, 10 short-listed artists selected by the judges receive £1,000 each to create a proposal, which is then exhibited at the Broomhill Sculpture Park in the annual summer Exhibition. The winner gets £3,500 ($5,475) and the work goes into Broomhill’s permanent collection. That may not seem like a lot of money, but the award also represents valuable recognition for artists seeking to assert themselves in today’s highly competitive contemporary art world.
The 2014 judges had the usual thorny, but clearly enjoyable, task of weighing up a range of highly imaginative, accomplished and occasionally wacky creations.Their winner this year was Tian Zhu’s Hiccup, an enormous teacup buried in the earth. A graduate of the Royal College of Art, the artist has said of her sculpture, “I would like my work to serve as a ‘hiccup’ – to interrupt and to disturb.”
And so finally, to a piece of interesting London art market news. It is now common knowledge that the European sanctions imposed on Russia as a result of the Ukraine conflict and the country’s alleged involvement in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 are hitting the country where it hurts most — its economy.
Those geopolitical developments may also be having an indirect impact on the art trade. MacDougall’s, the specialist London-based auctioneers of Russian art, held one of their regular sales of Russian material on Nov 26, selling over £7.7 million ($12 million) worth of art. However, despite some high prices, such as Nicholas Roerich’s And We Continue Fishing, from the “Sancta series,” which made £1,228,500 ($1.9 million) and Ivan Shishkin’s Pine Forest, which fetched £1,215,600 ($1.9 million), the general outlook was cautious.
MacDougalls’s founder director Catherine MacDougall said afterwards, “Clients have money but are not in a great mood to buy, given the political and economic situation. Nevertheless, the general trends continue — top lots sell, sometimes exceeding the reserves.”
If there is one thing the art market hates, it’s uncertainty.
LONDON – The mighty Frieze fairs are over for another year and for once all the post-event chatter was focused not on which celebrity flew in for the opening night, but how one particular stand managed to inject some imagination into what is in grave danger of becoming a tired retail format. Helly Nahmad, son of the much talked-about Nahmad art brokerage dynasty, broke with convention by turning his stand into the interior of the home of an imaginary art collector circa 1968. (Fig. 1)
The interlinked rooms were furnished with 1960s period chairs, beds, desks, shelves groaning with artists’ monographs, and even a black and white television showing scenes from nouvelle vague cinema classics and news clips from the Paris student riots. A Miles Davis track played in the background and even the ashtrays bulged with cigarette butts as if our chain-smoking aesthete had just popped out for a Pernod.
“He’s not living to entertain people here, he’s living and breathing art,” Nahmad was quoted as saying about his absent subject. His comment was apparently intended as a critique of today’s investment-fixated socialite collectors and not, as a few more jaundiced commentators suggested, as an obliquely coded snipe at his New York-based art-dealing brother (also called Helly) who was recently released after serving a jail term for his role in organizing illegal poker soirées for his rich Hollywood film star friends.
Nahmad’s “Collector” diorama is being viewed by many as what could be a game-changing intervention into high-end art fair stand design. It may be some time, however, before it exerts its influence on the more staid tradition of middle-market antiques fairs such as the LAPADA Fair in Berkeley Square and the forthcoming Winter Olympia Art and Antiques Fair taking place from Nov. 3-9. That said, the recent LAPADA Fair was, by all accounts a resounding success.Rebecca Davies, the new chief executive of LAPADA (the Association of Art & Antiques Dealers), said the fair enjoyed “fantastic attendance figures, topping all previous years,” with “a new interesting crowd of young collectors visiting in the 30-40 age bracket.”
Many of the world’s wealthiest individuals are now choosing to make London their first or second home, with overseas investors having a marked impact on property prices. These emerging economies are also driving up prices in the art market as Russians and Chinese seek to buy back important examples of their cultural heritage. This week sees the beginning of Asian Art London, the capital-wide festival that brings Asian collectors flocking to visit London’s leading specialist dealers, so the buying frenzy is set to continue.
With some 150 cities in China expected to have populations of 1.5 million or more by 2020, the country’s museum-building boom is in full spate. All those museums need filling with art, and thus it is no surprise that China is now such an active presence in the global market, particularly for Chinese porcelain and contemporary art.
The Ming exhibition now on at British Museum is rekindling interest in China’s 15th century blue and white wares and the art trade is responding with a range of relatively affordable ceramics aimed at “entry level” collectors. We hear much about the replicas being churned out of Jingdezhen, home of the famed Ming porcelain kilns, but not everything if quite so problematic. A new wave of beautiful contemporary Chinese ceramics are also coming out of Jingdezhen, albeit bearing a striking resemblance to their ancient cousins.
New York gallery FitzGerald Fine Arts, who also have bases in Jingdezhen and Beijing, will be located at the Weiss Gallery in Jermyn Street during Asian Art London, where they will be showing a range of contemporary wares made in Jingdezhen.
And so to one or two other interesting exhibitions opening in London this month. Modern British dealer Osborne Samuel in Bruton Street is launching an exhibition of photography in association with London dealers Beetles and Huxley that will span a broad range of artists, periods and subjects.
Works by legendary photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Walker Evans, Cecil Beaton, Robert Mapplethorpe, Bill Brandt and Man Ray, to name just a sample, will be shown alongside previously unseen self-portraits by the recently widely acclaimed American street photographer Vivian Maier.
Also on view will be a rare and unusual group of exploration photographs, including some of Frank Hurley’s iconic photographs of the Shackleton Expedition, plus a selection of original, rare NASA photographs from seminal space missions. These are sure to capture the imagination in a month when the American space program saw a setback with the explosion of the unmanned Cargo Space Shuttle in Virginia and with Christopher Nolan’s epic new space movie Interstellar poised to hit UK film screens.
Another inviting photographic exhibition opening this month is a display of photographic images by the great Latvian-born ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, opening at ContiniArt in Mayfair on Nov. 29 and continuing until Jan. 31. Baryshnikov the dancer is considered by many to have been the true heir to Rudolf Nureyev, but his work as a photographer of dance is less well-known. It will come as no surprise that his experience on stage has given him extraordinary aesthetic vision as a photographer and his work is alive with a sense of color and movement and the dynamic energy of bodies under the controlled stress of dance discipline.
The work of Turner Prize-winning contemporary artist Gillian Wearing will be familiar to most enthusiasts of contemporary art. Her work has also made extensive use of photography, most notably in her 1993 work, Signs that Say What You Want Them To Say and Not Signs That Say What Someone Else Wants You To Say. Now she has made a work of public sculpture in traditional bronze titled A Real Birmingham Family.An alternative title might have been A Work of Public Sculpture That Says What Real Birmingham Families are Like and Not What the Media Wants You To Think They Are Like. The subjects of the work, the Jones family, consist of two sisters, Roma and Emma, both single parents, and their two sons Kyan and Shaye. They were selected in August 2013, as “a real Birmingham family” by the artist and a diverse panel of community, cultural and religious figures. The work is now on display in Centenary Square outside the new Library of Birmingham. Given the work’s innovative take on the conservative tradition of public sculpture, it will be interesting to see how A Real Birmingham Family goes down with the broader Birmingham public.
And finally, we regret to report the theft of two works of contemporary sculpture from FOLD Gallery in Clerkenwell, in the East End of London. The two works, by the popular young British artist Tim Ellis, went missing from the gallery last Saturday.FOLD Gallery director, Kim Savage, said, “It appears the gallery was broken into for the sole purpose of obtaining certain sculptures on display from the Tim Ellis solo show. Four of the 11 sculptures were selected, each with a bold and common aesthetic. What convinced us this was a ‘steal to order theft’ was that none of the paintings, which hang like banners and would be easily transported, were touched. The gallery was left in good order and there was no damage to the remaining artwork. The thieves went to significant effort to gain access to the gallery, entering through a side door hidden from the street and using heavy equipment to pry and destroy the magnetic, code-operated lock.”
If you have any information regarding the theft or have seen or heard mention of the works in question, please contact Kim Savage at firstname.lastname@example.org, Tel: 0207 253 3039.
LONDON – Winter is approaching and Londoners are already bracing themselves for the big freeze. Or perhaps that should be the big Frieze. The capital’s hippest art fair, and its more sedate cousin Frieze Masters, are set to hoover up all the media attention in the coming weeks as contemporary art moves to the top of London’s cultural agenda. (Fig. 1) The process started a week ago when Frieze’s co-founders Matthew Slotover and Amanda Sharpe announced their decision to step down as the fairs’ directors to pursue new projects.They have handed over the reins to Victoria Siddall, current director of Frieze Masters, who will direct both Frieze London and Frieze New York.
Frieze is not the only London art fair to undergo a recent change of leadership. The LAPADA Fair — the annual fair organized by the UK’s leading antiques trade association — has just closed its 2014 edition in Berkeley Square and by all accounts it was another successful event. The association is now under the wing of its new CEO, Rebecca Davies, who took over from Sarah Percy-Davis who stood down in May. Percy-Davis is widely credited with having transformed the organization during her 10-year tenure.She is now using those same skills to develop her own art market consultancy, offering business support and advice to a range of private and corporate clients, galleries, dealers, e-commerce companies and collectors. She continues to collaborate with LAPADA, however, and organized a hospitality event at this year’s fair for high-profile investors. “It was a huge success,” she told Auction Central News. “The group thoroughly enjoyed the fair and I’m delighted to report that around 20 significant purchases were made as a result of the initiative.”
The musical chairs has also extended to the British Antique Dealers’ Association, the other main trade body for UK dealers. Michael Cohen, director of Cohen & Cohen, the world’s leading dealers in export porcelain, was recently appointed the association’s new chairman.One of Cohen’s first initiatives was to introduce BADA buyer certificates, which will accompany works of art sold by BADA members. Innovations of this kind will be broadly welcomed by those in the industry who attach importance to issues of provenance and due diligence as a means of reassuring buyers.
Staying on questions of title and provenance, this month also saw the relaunch of Art Resolve, the cultural property dispute resolution service, has developed a new approach to settling title disputes over works of art and cultural and historic objects. Art Resolve’s directors, members and friends met recently at the ancient St. Olave’s Church in London to celebrate the relaunch of what is likely to become an important agency in an increasingly critical area of the market.The Art Resolve service is under the chairmanship of Norman Palmer QC, CBE, one of the world’s leading experts in art and cultural property law. The professor gave one of his characteristically witty and erudite speeches to the assembled guests at the relaunch evening.
Palmer has assembled an impressive roster of art market professionals, lawyers and experienced mediators to assist him in running the organization. Panel members include, among others, the specialist mediator Lord Strathcarron, barrister Malcolm Taylor, city solicitor Hetty Gleave, and Diana Cawdell, founder/director of Cawdell Douglas, one of the UK’s leading strategic communications organizations for the international art market.
Gleave and Cawdell told Auction Central News that Art Resolve aims to fulfill an important role by mediating in what are often thorny issues of authenticity, title, family disputes and restitution. “We’re able to bring a less stressful, more confidential and more cost-effective approach to dispute resolution, offering the parties greater control than the conventional court process,” said Gleave. The note of cultured calm was subtly reinforced at the relaunch by lyric soprano Charlotte Derry and pianist Horacio Redondo Lopez, who together filled the famous medieval church of St. Olave’s with glorious music.
There was a palpable sense of business coming back to life in the capital this month as summer began to fade and early autumn set in. The darker evenings do bring opportunities for a little romance, though. Twenty years ago it would have been unheard of to witness Mallett, one of London’s oldest and most venerable antique furniture dealers, collaborating with a team of funky Vancouver-based postmodern designers.But that is what happened in September when Mallett opened the doors of its suave Dover Street premises, Ely House, for an evening of drinks and discussion to show off their innovative partnership with Canadian architectural and interior design firm Bocci. The building looked spectacular from the street, as one of Bocci’s exterior light installations cascaded down from the windows of the upper floors over the building’s neoclassical facade.
Scheduled to coincide with the London Design Festival, the evening offered an opportunity for a leisurely stroll around the sumptuous Georgian interiors of Ely House. The move to the “Bishop’s Palace,” as it has been known since the 1720s, seems to have helped Mallett, who have seen their business begin to recover over the past 12 months.The company’s recent collaborations with contemporary artists and designers seem to be paying off. Certainly Bocci’s fantasy lighting creations provided a striking and somewhat futuristic counterpoint to the more traditional furnishings at Mallett’s Design Festival open evening.
London antiquities dealer Charles Ede Ltd. has also recently announced an imminent move to new premises. The firm will be holding their inaugural exhibition at Three King’s Yard, Mayfair from Oct. 15 to Nov. 14, which will feature a range of important antiquities from the Greek, Roman and Egyptian periods.
Antiquities have become a hugely controversial field in recent years as looted objects continue to make their way onto the international art market. However, Charles Ede’s managing director James Ede has been a key figure in pressing for best practice in the London antiquities trade through stringent approaches to provenance research on items offered for sale. We are told that the title of the company’s new exhibition, “A Flourishing Tradition,” seeks to reflect that ethos, referring to both the history of the gallery and the long tradition of antiquities collecting. However, given the current geopolitical turmoil that is bringing increasing quantities of illicit material onto the open market, one wonders whether dealing in antiquities will be able to “flourish” for much longer.
The state-of-the-art refurbishment of the new gallery aims to “reference the age of the Grand Tour whilst embracing a contemporary aesthetic.”