Maastricht Netherlands

A beginner’s guide to the key sections at Maastricht

The Art Newspaper spoke to scholars, dealers and auction experts to produce a brief guide to some of the key objects and fields at the fair

In this field, good condition is vital. This depiction of the Pentecost by the Bruges Master of the Baroncelli Portraits, on offer from Jean-Luc Baroni, is perfectly preserved

The European Fine Art Fair (Tefaf) brings together a huge array of works, from classical antiquities to contemporary art, with everything from jewellery to armour and antique wallpaper in between. The Art Newspaper spoke to scholars, dealers and auction experts—as well as members of each vetting committee—to produce a brief, introductory guide to some of the key objects and fields you will find under Tefaf’s roof.

OLD MASTER PAINTINGS

Key objects

Pentecost, a perfectly preserved late 15th-century panel by the Bruges Master of the Baroncelli Portraits (with the dealer Jean-Luc Baroni). A Vase of Flowers in a Window, With a Distant Landscape Beyond, Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder (1573-1621). A rare oil-on-copper work by one of the leading painters of Dutch floral still-lifes (with the dealer Johnny Van Haeften)

What you need to know

Dutch and Flemish Old Master paintings have been a feature of Tefaf Maastricht since the fair’s inception 25 years ago. The most fecund of these artists, notably the landscapist Jan van Goyen and the genre painters Adriaen van Ostade and David Teniers the Younger, can often be found in multiple examples sprinkled through the booths, as can the bumptious peasants of Pieter Brueghel the Younger, himself a Tefaf institution. Art historians may sniff, but Pieter the Younger’s cheerful copies of his father’s inventions are perhaps the most popular and expensive 17th-century northern Old Master paintings after Rembrandt, particularly with Belgian and German collectors who are loyal visitors to the fair.

The artist’s enduring popularity can be attested by the sale of The Battle between Carnival and Lent, a copy of his father’s painting in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, which set a record for the artist, going for £6.9m at Christie’s, London, last July. There is a good chance it may resurface at Tefaf.

Renewed interest in “neglected artists”

Other northern artists increasingly sought by collectors are the long-overlooked Dutch mannerists Hendrick Goltzius, Cornelisz van Haarlem and Joachim Wtewael, whose previously unknown Adam and Eve (around 1600-15), sold at Sotheby’s, New York, in January 2011 for a record $6.2m.

The jewel-like cabinet productions of the Leiden “fijnschilders” of the late 17th century have similarly experienced a startling revival of interest among collectors after more than a century of neglect and disparagement. A Young Woman in a Red Jacket Feeding a Parrot, 1663, by Frans van Mieris the Elder sold to an American collector at Sotheby’s, London, in 2008 for $5.4m. An early work by Gerrit Dou, An Elderly Woman, Seated by a Window at her Spinning Wheel, Eating Porridge, sold at Sotheby’s, New York, in January 2011 for a record $5.3m.

In January, Johnny Van Haeften, one of Tefaf’s most popular exhibitors, bought a rediscovered Dou, A Young Lady Playing A Clavichord, slathered with discoloured, brown varnish, for $3.3m. Cleaned and restored, it is expected to be a star attraction in his booth (price not yet set).

Surprises in store

Relatively few collectors seek out earlier northern paintings by Netherlandish or German masters, because the majority of works by the most important artists from these schools (Dürer, Van Eyck, Van der Weyden etc) are no longer available, and high quality examples by less celebrated painters are rarely encountered. But every so often, something special pops up. An early 16th-century, double-sided altarpiece panel of The Death of the Virgin backed with Christ Carrying the Cross by Durer’s pupil Hans Schäufelein sold to the New York dealer Otto Naumann for £2.7m at Sotheby’s in July 2011 and was instantly snapped up by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A remarkable, late 15th-century panel, Pentecost, by the anonymous Bruges artist known as the “Master of the Baroncelli Portraits” (named after two portraits in the Uffizi, Florence) was bought by the London dealer Jean-Luc Baroni at Christie’s, London, in December 2010 for £4.2m. It will be the centrepiece of Baroni’s booth at this year’s fair. Additionally, a number of rare 15th-century German and Swiss panels will be shown by the London medieval art dealer Sam Fogg. Even the most determined “first-nighter” private collector doesn’t get first pick, however. Museum directors and curators from America and Europe are particularly valued customers, especially on vetting day, when participating curators can reserve pictures before they “hit the floor”.

Last year, Naumann created a splash with the fair’s star attraction: Rembrandt’s Portrait of A Man with Arms Akimbo, 1658, priced at $47m. Despite the publicity and the crowds that jammed his booth, the picture remained unsold and can be admired in his serene gallery in New York. He will not be showing it this year, preferring to concentrate on beautiful (if more modestly priced) pictures such as the $475,000 Portrait of a Lady and Gentleman as Venus and Adonis by the little-known Jacob Frans van der Merck (around 1610-64) and pendant portraits of a husband and wife by Rembrandt’s rival, Bartholomeus van der Helst. Naumann paid $1.3m for them at Christie’s, London, in December 2010, and is asking $1.85m—a surprisingly modest mark-up, as “they were filthy and needed lining and framing”.

A place to be seen

Naumann is realistic about this year’s potential sales. “Maastricht has always been the fair for Old Master dealers, but nobody can deny that we are going through a rough time. The unsettled economic situation in Europe is a big factor, because many buyers of Old Masters have traditionally been European, particularly from Italy, Germany and the Netherlands,” he says. “Before 2008, there were Old Master dealers who practically cleaned out their booths at Tefaf. Each year, a colleague of mine would sell 20 to 25 pictures. Last year, I think he sold five. I certainly sold fewer pictures than I had previously. But if you’re a serious dealer, you can’t not do Maastricht. Your clients need to see you, and even if they just visit your booth to look around and nothing more, eventually they’ll be back to buy.”

Coming up

“Rembrandt in America”, Cleveland Museum of Art (19 February-28 May), then Minneapolis Institute of Arts (24 June-16 September)

For the complete guide to what is on show in Tefaf Maastricht, see our supplement in the March print edition, or go to the special Maastricht section of our website and sign up for our newsletter.

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