Tefaf (The European Fine Art Fair) in Maastricht is known as the preeminent fair for old masters and European works of art – and for its baroque fresh flowers blooming from walls and the lavish banquets strategically placed in the aisles. For the 35th edition, which opened on Friday instead of the usual March closing, delicate flowers were displayed in slender glass vials hung from the ceiling, presumably to save space. They weren’t the only ones who had slimmed down. The fair is contracted from 29,500 m² to 22,500 m² and from 285 to 242 exhibitors over seven days instead of the usual 13, including previews.
The contraction was not due to a lack of demand from the galleries. Many of the older art exhibitors have waited more than two years to exhibit at a fair, as Tefaf’s March 2020 edition was forced to close after seven days (the Covid outbreak at the fair heralded the start of the European lockdown).
Paul Smeets, director of Rob Smeets Old Master Paintings and member of the executive board of Tefaf, explained the decision to move from March to June for this edition. “We [Tefaf] had to plan months in advance, and last fall we felt March was too risky [because of Covid],” he said. “But we thought a funfair in 2022 was a necessity.” However, the Maastricht Exhibition and Conference Center (MECC), where the fair is located, was fully booked and this week’s slot was only found when Maastricht University agreed to move the location of its exams, which were to take place in the MECC. .
Some exhibitors said the long wait had led to a higher level of objects at the fair. “There’s such a wide variety of things here. The two-year gap has helped galleries bring work of a quality here that’s pretty special,” said Andreas Pampoulides, co-founder of Lullo Pampoulides. “Just a short radius from here are paintings worth over $10 million — people certainly put a lot of effort into bringing out the big guns.” The centerpiece of its stand is a marble sculpture of Saint Sebastian (circa 1514-15) attributed to Spanish artist Diego de Siloe, who calls Pampoulides “the first Spanish Renaissance sculptor.” It costs £5 million.
There were, as usual, some other very expensive works at the fair. Colnaghi presents an unusually large, fine “pen painting” – a pen and ink panel painting with a gesso ground – by Willem Van de Velde the Elder, The Departure of the Dutch Fleet from the Roadstead of Vlie, June 9, 1645, priced at €12 million. Other highlights on the stand are Luca Giordano’s Triumph of Galateawhich sold for an unspecified seven-figure sum, as did the intricately decorated Portrait of a noblewomanwho found a home on six figures.
Nicholas Hall has brought along a Vittore Carpaccio not seen in public since 1987, which will feature a major Carpaccio exhibit at the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC in November. Madonna and Child with Saints Cecilia and Barbara, painted in the 1490s and with the influence of Giovanni Bellini, is “an eight-figure figure,” Hall says (believed to be between $10 million and $15 million). It was reserved on the preview day by a private collector. Dickinson, meanwhile, brought what is arguably one of the most expensive modern works at the fair, an unusual double-sided painting by Giorgio de Chirico. Mercury and the Metaphysician1920, on the one hand and The Return of the Prodigal Son1924, on the other hand, the price was undisclosed but was estimated at around €12 million.
However, the challenge for many galleries is that May and June are packed with fairs that attract top quality modern and old masters, including Tefaf’s New York edition in May, the modern section of Art Basel (June 16-19), Brafa in Brussels ( June 19 to 26) and Masterpiece in London (June 30 to July 6.). This has presented problems for many galleries in areas where the supply of top quality items is severely limited (as opposed to primary market art galleries), and the workforce is small compared to today’s mega-galleries.
Dickinson chose three of the five fairs: Tefaf New York, Tefaf Maastricht and Masterpiece. “We had three trade shows in seven weeks, including a trip across the Atlantic. It was not easy to create different inventory sets. Maastricht and Masterpiece overlap, so they must be completely different,” says Emma Ward, director of Dickinson. “The pandemic has also made it harder for us to resupply because we were so limited in travel,” she added.
The Tefaf/Masterpiece clash in particular forced galleries to make decisions. Some, such as Agnews and Axel Vervoordt, chose to do only Maastricht. Some, like Osborne Samuel and Charles Ede, decided to do both. A few, like Offer Waterman and Adrian Sassoon, chose Masterpiece. Most dealers agreed that the biggest casualty was probably Brafa, which is normally at the beginning of the year.
The concertinaed dates raised concerns about how many collectors and museums would be in attendance, especially Americans who face a three-week European sojourn if they decide to check out Art Basel, Tefaf and Masterpiece. Asian buyers were expected to be largely absent due to the latest wave of Covid, which some say also impacted the number of older European collectors present.
Although there were sales on preview day, several dealers said they were slower than usual (the exchange declined to release visitor numbers). For anyone more accustomed to contemporary art fairs like Art Basel and Frieze, it was unusual to see White Cube for the first time — known for its champions of the YBAs in the 1990s — without a nourishing frenzy around it. (However, a senior gallery director, Mathieu Paris, did report the first day sale, which included a sculpture by Antony Gormley, HOVE priced at £500,000).
However, the lack of crowds created a calm atmosphere for serious buyers. Meanwhile, museum directors, specialized curators and groups of patrons – an essential characteristic of Tefaf – rallied. Representatives of nearly 100 attended the fair, including deeply rooted American museums such as the Metropolitan Museum, the Getty, the Morgan Library Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago.
At a fair spanning eight different fields (paintings, antiques, fine jewelry, tribal, modern and ancient art, design and works on paper), trends are difficult to discern. Nevertheless, several galleries had sought out work by female Old Master painters and this, according to observers, was exactly what the market, especially museums, wanted.
Jean-François Heim has brought a touching Artemisia Gentileschi, Self-portrait of the artist as Cleopatra on her deathbed, clutching a viper, circa 1620. Cleopatra was thought to be around 40 when she committed suicide, but in this image she is a radiant but troubled woman in her late teens or early twenties. The prize is €7.5 million.
Bijl-Van Urk had brought two paintings by the Dutch Baroque artist Michaelina Wautier. A, head of a boy (around 1660), had sold between €1 million and €2 million on opening day. Another-Portrait History of a man like Jacob, husband of Rachel (1655-1660), priced at €1.75 million, was still available. Richard Green brought a still life by Rachel Ruysch, dated 1753, for £2 million. Senior researcher Susan Morris said there was “quite some interest” on opening day, boosted in part by a planned Ruysch exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and Toledo Museum of Art.
Rob Smeets Old Master Paintings brought a miniature painting by Giovanna Garzoni, The Virgin of the Chair (1649), which was purchased on opening day by an American private buyer for an undisclosed sum. A rare drawing by Lavinia Fontana (1552-1614) was on hold in front of an American museum. “Everyone now wants something from female old masters,” says Paul Smeets. “The danger is buying something” [of] subordinate [quality]so you’re in the right place if you can bring something of good quality.”
Several dealers pointed to the increasing competition from the major auction houses for older art, notably Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Bonhams. This only intensified during the pandemic, with their big brand names, huge marketing budgets and rapid adoption of online sales platforms. Earlier this month, Christie’s Paris raised €114 million, more than double its presale low estimate, for the late fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy’s collection, which was dominated by 18th-century artwork, sculpture and furniture.
“There is always a lot of competition from the auctions,” said Jorge Coll, Colnaghi’s chief executive. “But in narrow fields like ours we need each other. The auctions are necessary because they establish a market in a public way: we need those auction records. But they need us, because we are a big part of their customer base. And they can’t spend the time and effort on individual works that we do.”
Most galleries made it clear that they hoped the fair would move back to its regular slot in 2023, not least because the MECC proved uncomfortably hot in June. Still, they were happy to be back at trade shows. Tom Davies, director of Daniel Katz Gallery, which has brought art from antiquities to 19th-century paintings, says: “It’s great to see the fair again. For two years, we’ve been looking at how contemporary art is becoming more and more expensive and how auction houses are becoming more and more prominent. When you look at the quality of the material here, it’s like putting a flagpole on the art market and saying: look what we, the gallerists, have.”