Versatile and Innovative – TEFAF 2024

7. Wassily Kandinsky, View of Murnau with Church II, 1910

TEFAF, the 37th edition of this well-established antiques, Old and Modern Masters fair taking place in Maastricht and including 270 international art dealers, this year once again unfolded its full splendour from 7th–14th March. Jörg Zutter reports

The first impressions of the TEFAF event? A dense but extremely versatile concentration of high-quality art for sale, for almost every budget. Art pieces that a committed collector might have to painstakingly gather step by step and draw together from all corners of the globe (in the offers of many galleries or auction houses) are tastefully presented here, and easily accessible over a few thousand square metres. Another advantage of the fair are the different, although often similar, art forms (and price ranges) simultaneously offered by various dealers – a fact that makes the final selection not only easier but also more broad-based and therefore better.

TEFAF
1. Lavinia Fontana, Portrait of Antonietta Gonzalez, 1592

In its long history, the TEFAF Maastricht fair has become the most accessible and attractive rendezvous of high-quality art for sale and holds appeal for a large circle of collectors. In addition to the presentation of painting, sculpture, prints and drawings there are also ceramics, textiles, goldsmithery, metalwork, arms and armour, jewellery etc., starting from antiquity to the early Christian, Renaissance and Baroque period up to the 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, also embracing an array of non-European cultures and not least tribal art from Asia and Africa. Indeed, in a highly specialized world, such inclusiveness and diversity are highly welcomed, attracting many art lovers from Europe and overseas and filling them with enthusiasm. This is certainly one of the fair’s biggest assets, especially at a time when many art museums specialize exclusively in modern and contemporary art activities and often neglect their rich collections of older art; furthermore, most of the new museum foundations are often primarily dedicated to international avant-garde art and literally exclude many connoisseurs or aficionados from their activities with a more traditional or classical taste.

Demand

Were there any unforgettable eye-catchers at TEFAF? Indeed, the fair is famous for its many fine Old Master paintings and every year unveils a few iconic works. Although there was no Rembrandt, no significant Cézanne or Mondrian this year, there was a superb Kandinsky as well as a few less important works by Picasso, Derain, Miro etc., but what is more there are dozens of key works of less well-known but highly significant artists, many of them of museum quality, from European history and beyond.

TEFAF
2. Maso da San Friano, Portrait of Sinibaldo Gaddi, ca. 1565

Even so, it would not faithfully state the case to conceal the fact that (not least as a consequence of the present tense situation of the world economy) a certain stagnation is taking hold of the art market as well as the auction business. Understandably, this does not have a positive impact on demand. That certainly applies for the Old Masters (and the relevant auctions) and rather less for the market of the Impressionists and even less for modern and contemporary art, as recent auctions have made evident in January, February and March in New York and London especially at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips.

The other side of the coin is that the present situation has made some dealers more inventive and motivated them to adapt their sales strategy. To give an example: it is striking how works by female painters are in the spotlight at this year’s TEFAF fair. Rob Smeets, the son of the Dutch Old Master dealer who in the late 1980s opened a gallery in Milan, very much designed his booth as a private treasure box, exposing carefully staged woks, such as by the female early watercolourist Giovanna Garzoni who worked for the Medici court in the 17th century, or by Lavinia Fontana, the successful daughter of the Bolognese Mannerist painter Prospero Fontana.

TEFAF
3. Abraham Hondius, Rocky Landscape with a Forge, 1689

Lavinia was represented with a Portrait of Antonietta Gonzalez, the famous “bearded girl” (1), with a price tag of €4.5 million (the work was sold at auction in June 2023 at Ventes Rouillac in Vendôme, in the Loire region, for €1.5 million). Another stunning work painted by Lavinia together with her father Prospero at the booth was sold in the first days of the preview. At the same time, Smeets presented another stunning baroque painting, namely by the female painter active in Naples, Diana De Rosa, also called Annella di Massimo, a Samson and Delilah, which was offered at hefty price of €820,000 (it was sold for only €165,500 in November 2021 at Dorotheum Vienna). A general observation might be that it was perhaps also these recurring phenomena, these changes in the supply chain from primary to secondary market offers (and hence the subsequent price increase) that made some potential buyers act cautiously and show restraint.

Daring

The internationally active gallery Robilant + Voena, which regularly stands out with its daring program, created for TEFAF a dialogue across the ages, included post-war Italian art, as well as works by selected contemporary artists. Their most talked about showpiece was however a recently re-discovered Penitent Magdalene, beautifully dressed in precious gold brocade, dated 1625–30 and attributed to the star of the female painters, Artemisia Gentileschi, with a tidy price tag of €7 million.

A special discovery of this reviewer concerns an outstanding Renaissance painting, once the favourites of the large 2017–18 exhibition dedicated to Mannerist painting in Florence in the 16th century and held at Palazzo Strozzi there, namely Maso da San Friano’s charming Portrait of Sinibaldo Gaddi (2), an early deceased six-month-old baby being cared for touchingly by a black page, offered at last year’s TEFAF at Colnaghi for €1.3 million. It was all the more astonishing to find the same picture back this year at the fair, at gallery Benappi and, what is more, for a much cheaper price of €800,000.

TEFAF
4. Hendrick Goltzius, Jupiter and Juno, 1616

Another prime speciality of TEFAF is the large offer of and variety in Flemish and Dutch paintings. Kunsthandel P. de Boer proposed a unique monumental stormy seascape by the Flemish marine painter Jan Porcellis, which was immediately sold, and in addition a very rare Rocky Landscape with a Forge by Abraham Hondius of 1689 for €120,000 (3) which was immediately sold (the work had appeared a year earlier at Düsseldorfer Auktionshaus for only €2000). Carlo Orsi’s Trinity Fine Art displayed an eye-catching Jupiter and Juno from 1616 by the Dutch Mannerist painter, draughtsman and etcher Hendrick Goltzius (4), painted only a year before the artist’s untimely death at just 58 (available for £2 million).

Salomon Lilian displayed an engaging portrait of an unknown gentleman by Frans Hals (5) which would have deserved to be included in the monographic exhibition of the painter from Haarlem held simultaneously at the Rijksmuseum (with a princely price of €7.5 million, the painting had been offered at last year’s Frieze Masters in London for €10 million). Among Bob Haboldt’s many outstanding works was A Hunting Still Life with a Peregrine Falcon, earlier attributed to Nicolaes Cave, which is now considered to be a painting by the Flemish female painter Clara Peeters (€650,000). David H. Koetser offered a slightly less attractive portrait by Frans Hals than the one at Lilian’s (price tag €4.2 million).

Stunning

Among the various galleries specialised in French art at TEFAF was Eric Coatalem who offered a group of unique large-size paintings by Hubert Robert which served as wall decorations in the Château Méréville south of Paris. Didier Aaron presented a stunning but terrifying painting by Jean-François de Troy, Judith Holding the Head of Holofernes, of 1783 which had resurfaced at a Christie’s auction in Paris in November 2023. François Heim’s exhibits included a bunch of highly important 19th-century paintings, among them Buffalo in Front of the Temples at Paestum, 1851, painted by the academic painter Jean-Léon Gérôme in 1851 (€400,000, the painting was sold in October 2020 at Coutau-Bégarie & Associés in Paris for €170,000 (6)).

Numerous galleries stood out with a wide range of high-quality antiquities, objects of applied art and design, as well as tribal art. A large group with first-class Old Master and 19th- and 20th-century drawings, woodcuts and prints, including Stephan Ongpin, Emanuel von Baeyer, David Tunick Inc. and Nicholas Theeuwissen was particularly diverse and engaging also for graphic art fans who lack deep pockets.

TEFAF
5. Frans Hals, Portrait of a Man, 1635

The presence of a representative selection of galleries of international modern and contemporary art – about one third of the exhibitors – was extremely welcomed among many younger visitors and collectors (especially in the context of the heavy presence of traditional galleries) and experienced as very stimulating, refreshing and even relaxing. The section included a few high-calibre and globally active galleries of modern and contemporary art like White Cube, Karsten Greve, Landau, Continua, Skarstedt or Templon. Most of them offered an extremely versatile range of inspiring works, whereby Landau stood out with its top-class offer including works by Picasso, Léger, Dubuffet etc., especially with the Kandinsky landscape that reflected his new colourful abstract thinking, View of Murnau with Church II of 1910 (7, see top of page).

This work once adorned the dining room of the Jewish collectors Johanna Margarete and Siegbert Stern, the founders of a successful textile company in Berlin who had a tragic end (Siegbert died prematurely in 1935 and his wife was deported to Auschwitz and murdered there in 1944). The painting had hung for decades unchallenged in Eindhoven’s Van Abbemuseum but after a restitution claim it had to be sold at Sotheby’s in London last year where it achieved a record result of $45 million (the speculations for the painting’s asking price in Maastricht went up to €100 million).

6. Jean-Léon Gérôme, Buffalo in Front of the Temples at Paestum, 1851

The general mood among gallerists and collectors in Maastricht was still between cautiously positive and restrained. The market is certainly still very flexible, adaptable and dynamic, especially with regard to specific fields such as, for example, the medium of drawing. This can be deduced from the recent auctions of Old Master drawings held in Paris as well as the so-called Salon du Dessin (19th–25th March), a yearly fair, which includes almost forty international galleries specialized in works on paper from the Renaissance to the present day. Several of them had participated only a week earlier at TEFAF and reappeared in Paris; they were surrounded by a core of international dealers who have specialised exclusively in works on paper, a medium which has been collected in Paris for centuries and in this regard indeed turns this location into the capital of collectors in this field.

TEFAF
8. Hendrick de Clerck, Figure Study of a Dignitary

Previews

Represented among the highly specialized galleries were: Paul Prouté, Galerie de Bayser (8), Benjamin Peronnet, W.M. Brady & Co. Nathalie Motte Masselink, Galerie 1900-2000 etc. The previews of the sale rooms in parallel, showing their large selection of drawings to be auctioned, Christie’s, Artcurial, Ader, Millon etc. have made clear that the offer of works in this medium is still large, extremely versatile and often of high quality. Besides, the demand for it has remained consistent. Especially at the Parisian Salon du dessin numerous drawing collectors were satisfied with the rich variety and superb quality of the works for sale. The experience that drawing is an extremely popular and easily accessible medium also resulted from the visit of the Drawing Now Art Fair, which took place from 21st–24th March, and included more than fifty galleries of contemporary art, among them a few very innovative and daring ones.

Text and Images – Jörg Zutter

See also: JSP Prague Presents ‘Guns and Roses’

Unique in its broad international coverage of both arts and cultural events, Arts & Collections covers fine art from antiquity to modern times, auction records, a special sale preview by Sotheby’s, as well as market trends that inform collectors of the world’s finest items.

© 2024 Arts & Collections - All Rights Reserved