Small works come out tops at new-style Tefaf Maastricht

Recently-discovered Rembrandt, a revamped first floor, the New York editions—and an unfolding authenticity scandal outside the fair—contributed to a buzzy opening

by Melanie Gerlis  |  14 March 2016
Small works come out tops at new-style Tefaf Maastricht
Some of the buzz at Tefaf's opening surrounded works that had already sold but were being seen for the first time, including Rembrandt's The Unconscious Patient (Sense of Smell), (around 1624-25), at Talabardon & Gautier. Photo: © Harry Heuts photography
Sales were patchy, but at least happening, at the lively VIP opening of Tefaf Maastricht on 10 March, with much of the early buzz surrounding Old Masters that had been sold before the fair opened its 29th edition.

These were nonetheless impressive. The Unconscious Patient (Sense of Smell), (around 1624-25), a recently-discovered Rembrandt and one of a series representing the five senses, sold to the Leiden collection (owned by Tom Kaplan who runs a hedge fund in New York) for a reported €3m to €4m at Talabardon & Gautier.

Also, seemingly signed and sealed for the opening of Tefaf, Colnaghi gallery sold a well-preserved, 1615 still life by Roelant Savery to the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague for €6.5m (with support from BankGiro lottery, the Rembrandt Association and an unnamed private individual).

That sales of works were made at all is to the credit of the fair, as many of its older art dealers had started the year feeling the chill of a cooler market. “There’s pressure riding on this fair,” said the Old Master drawings dealer Stephen Ongpin.

Here are some of the other talking points from Tefaf so far (it is open until 20 March).

Small hitters

Supply is notoriously tricky in the older art fields, but while the fresh-to-market, important, large-scale works seem few and far between at this year’s fair, quality came in smaller sizes. “For me, the highlights at the fair this year came in small sizes,” said Nazy Vassegh, the director of London’s Masterpiece fair.

As well as Talabardon & Gautier’s Rembrandt, other bijoux Old Master highlights included a recently discovered El Greco oil on copper, Christ on the Cross (around 1573-76, €4.2m at Sanct Lucas). The work was painted during the Cretan artist’s ten-year residency in Italy and recently accepted as by El Greco by experts at the Prado museum in Madrid. Another addition to an artist’s canon is at Simon Dickinson’s booth: Nicholas Hilliard’s portrait of King Henry III (1551-89), priced at €280,000, which sold during the fair’s second day. Colnaghi’s roaring trade included a set of three, 15cm high, box wood sculptures, Christ and the two thieves by Georg Petel (1601-1635), which were priced at €800,000 and went to an American collector.

Contemporary aluminium jewellery in Hemmerle’s dramatically redesigned booth was also popular with visitors (prices start at €24,800, with sales reported in the first few hours of the fair).

Works on paper

This year’s edition of Tefaf boasted a necessary facelift, which included a white mesh ceiling and behind-pillar lighting that gave the whole fair an airier, fresher feel. By far the most welcome change was to the Works on Paper section, whose 20 dealers show on the fair’s first floor. Tefaf had more than opened the section up to the ground floor’s activities by making it highly visible from the Antiques area (and extensive seafood bar), and added lifts to take visitors up. “It’s a vast improvement,” Stephen Ongpin said. “We’re no longer like the kids’ table.” He made several sales early on, including Dutch pieces by Jacob Adriaensz. Backer (1608-51) and Govert Flinck (1605-60), ranging from “a few thousand euros to the high five figures”, he said.

“You can’t imagine how happy we are,” said the fellow works on paper exhibitor Alois Wienerroither of the redesign. His gallery’s early sales included a 1912 chalk and watercolour work by Oskar Kokoschka that went to New York’s Neue Galerie (priced around €100,000).

New York

Tefaf’s recently announced plans to launch two smaller editions in New York were also much discussed at the fair as many dealers had begun the application process for the first event, dedicated to older work, which will run at the Park Avenue Armory between 22 and 27 October. Given the packed art fair calendar, much of the debate was about how to fit this new fair in with other demands (Frieze Masters in London in early October is rather close), as well as how the fair will whittle down its 270 dealers in Maastricht to a refined 80 to 90 at its New York editions. Adding to the mix is the new fair organisers’ desire to cater the fair as much as possible to an American audience—which also has a Latin American taste. “Many of the dealers who will show in New York are not here [in Maastricht],” said Michael Plummer, who is co-organising the US editions with his fellow Artvest partner Jeff Rabin. “We will be as fair and reasonable as we can be,” he added.

Old Masters under suspicion

Just before Tefaf opened, we revealed that a painting attributed to Lucas Cranach the Elder, that was sold in good faith by Colnaghi to the Prince of Liechtenstein in 2013, had been seized by the French police who are investigating doubts surrounding its authenticity. As the fair opened, rumours and reports followed of other works under suspicion including, according to the daily newsletter, Le Quotidien de L’Art, Orazio Gentileschi’s Head of Goliath that had been on temporary loan (from a private collector) to London’s National Gallery until the end of last week. The Old Masters dealers at Tefaf maintained that the unfolding, unresolved situation was not undermining confidence in their market. One dealer was more open (though only on condition of anonymity): “There have always been crooks around, but now that buyers are spending so much money on art, they are being more careful about making sure there are no doubts about what they are buying.”

With additional reporting by Emily Sharpe

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