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What the experts loved at TEFAF 2017

Wendy Moonan toured the Maastricht art, antiques and design fair in the company of a broker, an academic and a corporate director of art to discover their favourite pieces on show

After some 20 visits, I can report that The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF), which continues until 19 March in Maastricht, the Netherlands, is as splendid as ever, with 282 dealers from 21 countries. The antiques are as varied, the jewels as dazzling, the Old Masters (almost) as spellbinding and the vintage modern pieces as rare as ever. Around 75,000 people are expected to have attended by the fair’s end.

Touring the fair with three experts is a delightful and informative way to identify some the best pieces on offer, especially Old Masters, antiquities, Continental antiques and 20th-century decorative arts. These are their picks.

Vivian Ebersman

The Director of Art Expertise at AXA Art Americas Corporation has a particular passion for Old Master paintings and sculptures. On the way around the fair she explained that not only do the dealers bring their best works to TEFAF, but that buyers can be assured of authenticity and provenance of objects due to the strict vetting by qualified experts prior to the opening.

Frans Hals, A Portrait of a Man Holding a Pair of Gloves and A Portrait of a Woman Holding a Pair of Gloves, both inscribed 1637. Oil on canvas. Courtesy Johnny van Haeften 

Frans Hals, A Portrait of a Man Holding a Pair of Gloves and A Portrait of a Woman Holding a Pair of Gloves, both inscribed 1637. Oil on canvas. Courtesy Johnny van Haeften 


At the Johnny van Haeften stand, Ebersman was taken by a rare pair of portraits by Frans Hals from the 1630s, which Van Haeften said were ‘probably the last pair in private hands’. The man points to his heart; the woman is looking a bit smug. Each holds a pair of gloves belonging to the other. ‘They exchanged gloves when they married,’ explained Van Haeften. ‘They are such clear examples of Hals’ mastery,’ Ebersman said, ‘and tell us about the artist’s patrons as well as their social customs.’

At Tomasso Brothers Fine Art, she admired a small limewood statuette of Julius Caesar, circa 1551, by the Renaissance master Giambologna (1529-1608). ‘This exquisite work is significant in so many ways: for the skilful carving, its early date, the fact it is signed and dedicated — we even know the name of the recipient, Bernardo Vecchietti, a financier, jewel expert and patron of the arts in Florence,’ explained Dino Tomasso.

Giambologna, Julius Caesar statuette, c. 1551. Limewood. Courtesy Tomasso Brothers Fine Art

Giambologna, Julius Caesar statuette, c. 1551. Limewood. Courtesy Tomasso Brothers Fine Art

According to Tomasso, it is the only extant example of a wooden sculpture by the artist, who was born in Douai in French Flanders and spent his working life in Italy. The inscription on the base proves it is dedicated to Bernardo Vecchietti, Giambologna’s first patron in Florence, who in turn introduced him to Francesco de’ Medici, whose patronage Giambologna enjoyed for his lifetime.

‘It demonstrates the typically northern European woodcarving techniques of Giambologna’s early training,’ observed Ebersman. It sold to a private European collector.

Mary Cassatt, La Tasse de Thé, 1897. Pasted on tan wove paper, mounted on canvas, stretched on a strainer, 540 x 730 mm. Offered on behalf of the Terra Foundation, Chicago. Courtesy David Tunick, Inc

Mary Cassatt, La Tasse de Thé, 1897. Pasted on tan wove paper, mounted on canvas, stretched on a strainer, 540 x 730 mm. Offered on behalf of the Terra Foundation, Chicago. Courtesy David Tunick, Inc

At David Tunick, Ebersman was drawn to a vivid 1897 pastel by Mary Cassatt of a woman drinking tea. An American, Cassatt was an important figure in the development of French Impressionism — and a star pupil of Edgar Degas. She liked to depict women dressed for social functions — the theatre perhaps, or afternoon tea — in an intimate way. ‘Mary Cassatt also tells us about family life with great tenderness,’ Ebersman said. ‘Her insistence on a career was startling in its day.’

Joachim Anthonisz Wtewael, The Flight into Egypt, 1601. Oil on copper. Courtesy Patrick Williams

Joachim Anthonisz Wtewael, The Flight into Egypt, 1601. Oil on copper. Courtesy Patrick Williams

At the Adam Williams gallery Ebersman discovered a small painting, The Flight into Egypt (1601), by Joachim Anthonisz Wtewael. ‘It is from his best period,’ said Patrick Williams. ‘There is a drawing of it in the National Museum in Stockholm.’ Ebersman remarked on the beauty of the brushstrokes of the small painting, which measures just over six by nine inches. ‘The delicacy of the materials as well as the mannered composition make it compelling.’

Ulrich Leben

Associate Curator of Furniture at Waddesdon Manor, Ulrich Leben is a professor of European decorative arts, and has just published Empire Style: The Hotel de Beauharnais in Paris — a book that was 10 years in the making.

Rock-crystal tankard, Prague court workshop, c. 1585. Rock crystal, fire-gilt silver, garnet. Height 21 cm. Courtesy Kunstkammer Georg Laue

Rock-crystal tankard, Prague court workshop, c. 1585. Rock crystal, fire-gilt silver, garnet. Height: 21 cm. Courtesy Kunstkammer Georg Laue

At Kunstkammer Georg Laue of Munich, Ulrich Leben found a magnificent Renaissance rock crystal tankard with gilded silver mounts that had been made in a court workshop in Prague around 1585. The rock crystal is studded with garnets; the lid boasts a gold bird finial, perhaps a pelican, which is a symbol of vigilance. 

Gallery director Virginie Spenlé revealed that there are only three in the world like it, and an American museum purchased it in the first hour of the fair. ‘This is an absolutely rare object, so it’s wonderful that it will go to a public museum,’ Leben commented.

A Commode. Gilt-bronze mounted kingwood and parquetry. Germany, second quarter of the 18th century. Height 84 cm (33 in); width 132 cm (52 in); depth 63.5 cm (25 in). Courtesy Aveline & Quénetain

A Commode. Gilt-bronze mounted kingwood and parquetry. Germany, second quarter of the 18th century. Height: 84 cm (33 in); width: 132 cm (52 in); depth: 63.5 cm (25 in). Courtesy Aveline & Quénetain

At the Paris gallery Aveline & Quénetain, Leben spotted a fantastic gilt-mounted kingwood and parquetry 18th-century commode. It once belonged to Winston and C.Z. Guest, stylish denizens of high society in New York and Palm Beach in the 1960s and 1970s.

Its bombé shape is accentuated by lavish gilt-bronze mounts so fine they resemble lace, and Galerie Aveline owner Marella Rossi Mosseri said it is ‘possibly the work of the Parisian ébéniste Etienne Doirat, but we aren’t sure.’ Dominic Augarde, a Doirat specialist, didn’t think so — and was convinced it is not French, Italian or English. Leben said it may be German — ‘possibly from Dresden, a city whose culture of highly refined furniture we are just starting to rediscover following the destruction of the Second World War, as objects slowly reappear on the scene.’

Bouke de Vries, Memory Vessel XLVI, 2016. Contemporary glass following the original form of its contents; the collected remains of a 16th-century French majolica earthenware jar. Height 22 cm; width 21cm; diameter 16 cm. Courtesy Adrian Sassoon

Bouke de Vries, Memory Vessel XLVI, 2016. Contemporary glass following the original form of its contents; the collected remains of a 16th-century French majolica earthenware jar. Height: 22 cm; width: 21cm; diameter: 16 cm. Courtesy Adrian Sassoon

London dealer Adrian Sassoon, who specialises in contemporary glass and ceramic art, always introduces new work at TEFAF. Leben picked out Memory Vessel XLVI, a new work by Bouke de Vries, a London-based Dutch ceramics conservator turned artist. A glass vessel holding colourful remnants of a French majolica apothecary jar, it is part of a series which sees de Vries buying cracked or broken antique vases and then encasing them in new blown-glass vessels, whose shape is inspired by the broken vessel it contains.

‘It was just one of those flash inspirations,’ de Vries said. ‘I take the broken pieces and glue them back together to recreate the vase, and a scientific glass blower makes a vessel around them. I then deconstruct the original and arrange the shards inside.’ One sold immediately, and Leben commented, ‘This is a way of making history intelligible in a most educated way, while still creating a new object.’

An Empire 32-branch chandelier in Bohemian crystal and ormolu, France, c. 1805. Attributed to André-Antoine Ravrio (1759-1814). Height 200 cm (78¾ in); diameter 130 cm (51¼ in). Courtesy Galerie Kugel

An Empire 32-branch chandelier in Bohemian crystal and ormolu, France, c. 1805. Attributed to André-Antoine Ravrio (1759-1814). Height: 200 cm (78¾ in); diameter: 130 cm (51¼ in). Courtesy Galerie Kugel

The Empire 32-branch chandelier seen from below. Courtesy Galerie Kugel

The Empire 32-branch chandelier seen from below. Courtesy Galerie Kugel

Galerie J. Kugel of Paris always has showstoppers at TEFAF. This year one of them is a 32-branch Empire chandelier from France that once belonged to Baron Elie de Rothschild. The sumptuous piece is divided into two tiers of branches issuing from a baluster shaft adorned with gilded bronze foliage, crystal flowers and a circle of trumpeting, winged baby Eros figures that are barely discernible in the forest of Bohemian crystal drops and tassels.

‘They don’t get better than this,’ said Alexis Kugel, who attributes it to André-Antoine Ravrio, because he supplied a similar model in 1805 to Fontainebleau, where it remains today. 

‘It is very rare to find a chandelier of this calibre preserved in its original configuration and not remounted or “enhanced” by adding more elements, as was often done in the later 19th century,’ Leben pointed out.

Rob Driessen

Based in Amsterdam, Rob Driessen is an appraiser/broker in 20th-century decorative arts. He was drawn to Galerie Ulrich Fiedler of Berlin, because Fiedler curated a booth to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the De Stijl movement. 

One standout was a Constructivist desk by Georges Vantongerloo, a Belgian sculptor who was one of the founders of the movement. Although it looked deceptively plain, this desk hid a lot of secrets, with pullouts at either end, a frieze drawer that secured the door of the pedestals, and a projecting block base.

Georges Vantongerloo, Constructivist desk, 1920. Courtesy Galerie Ulrich Fiedler

Georges Vantongerloo, Constructivist desk, 1920. Courtesy Galerie Ulrich Fiedler

Next, Driessen gravitated towards a pair of spectacular chairs at London dealer Yves Macaux. Koloman Moser, co-founder of the Vienna Secession, designed them in 1902 for the apartment of his wealthiest patrons, Dr. Hans and Gerta Eisler von Terramare, as part of an elaborate dining room scheme. Each is sheathed in luminous veneers of snakewood, birds-eye maple and burr elm, and the backrests are adorned with panels depicting, somewhat abstractly, a dove with mother-of-pearl wings and an olive branch in its beak.

Koloman Moser, one of a pair of chairs, 1902-3. Burr elm veneer, snakewood veneer, birdseye maple veneer, mother-of-pearl and various other types of wood, commissioned for the dining room of the apartment of Dr. Hans and Gerta Eisler von Terramare. Courtesy Yves Macaux
Koloman Moser, one of a pair of chairs, 1902-3. Burr elm veneer, snakewood veneer, birdseye maple veneer, mother-of-pearl and various other types of wood, commissioned for the dining room of the apartment of Dr. Hans and Gerta Eisler von Terramare. Courtesy Yves Macaux

Reacting against the natural lines of Art Nouveau, Moser was creating a new language of forms that was geometrical, abstract and minimal — and oh so luxurious.

At Eric Philippe, Driessen discovered a monumental cabinet called The Garden of Eden, designed in 1925 by the Swedish architect Uno Ahrén. In intricate marquetry of Brazilian walnut, eucalyptus and olive, its surface depicts Adam and Eve frolicking through Eden. The interior is lined with coral leather and ebony; the handles and hinges are silvered metal. Philippe said it had been made for the 1925 Art Deco exhibition in Paris, which probably explains why it is much more elaborate than most of his furniture designs.

Uno Ahrén (1897-1977), The Garden of Eden Cabinet, 1925. Marquetry of Brazilian walnut, eucalyptus and tropical olive wood. Sweden. Courtesy Eric Philippe

Uno Ahrén (1897-1977), The Garden of Eden Cabinet, 1925. Marquetry of Brazilian walnut, eucalyptus and tropical olive wood. Sweden. Courtesy Eric Philippe

At L’Arc en Seine, amid the masterpieces of Art Deco furniture for which the gallery is known, we both spotted a bronze statuette of a famous racehorse named Mill Reef. As gallery owner Christian Boutonnet explained, Hubert de Givenchy commissioned Diego Giacometti to create the equine statuette as a gift for his friend Bunny Mellon, whose husband, the philanthropist Paul Mellon, had bred the thoroughbred at his Rokeby Stables in Virginia. 

Diego Giacometti, Mill Reef, 1971. Bronze statuette commissioned by Hubert de Givenchy for Bunny Mellon. Courtesy LArc en Seine 

Diego Giacometti, Mill Reef, 1971. Bronze statuette commissioned by Hubert de Givenchy for Bunny Mellon. Courtesy L'Arc en Seine 

A smaller model was sold at the recent Hubert de Givenchy sale of Diego Giacometti pieces at Christie’s in Paris.