The increasingly spectacular Masterpiece Fair, now in its 6th year, gave the 8,000 keen collectors who flooded in on preview day a roller-coaster ride through time and taste —from tribal art to contemporary explorations. These were my picks:
Charles Ede’s superb antiquities were literally timeless, and included a tiny Egyptian head, serenely gazing at passers-by from a vantage point of a couple of millennia ago.
Right next door was a very charming stand from Robert Young. A long-time dealer in folk art and early domestic pieces, his stand was full of good things — not least its centrepiece, comprising a huge mandolin and other, beautifully chosen pieces of folk art which, in their rigorous simplicity, looked contemporary and relevant.
For sheer in-your-face bravura, the Ronald Phillips stand showed what would certainly have been a star display at the old Grosvenor House Antique Fair — in other words, superbly grand English and Irish taste, from across the reigns of all three of Britain’s King Georges. Pieces ranged from two spectacular George II chairs in their original tapestries, to an ormolu-mounted Blue Vein Blue John candle vase by Matthew Bolton which was, for me, one of the fair’s highlights
Adrian Sassoon’s stand at Masterpiece
Speaking of hardstones such as the magnificent Blue John, Adrian Sassoon — normally the destination for seekers of contemporary ceramics and silver — was this year offering the magical hard stone carvings, or pietra dura, of Stephen Cox RA. His Roman Bowl, made in hand-carved Egyptian diorite, and the Trio of Bowls, in hand-carved Egyptian pegmatite, are both incredibly beautiful.
Left: Shouchiki Tanbe. Courtesy Adrian Sassoon. Right: Takeshi Igawa. Photo: Sylvain Deleu, Courtesy Adrian Sassoon
Other fantastic works on the stand included the red lacquer pieces from Takeshi Igawa, made by the artist himself in Japan and generally snapped up, Adrian told me, by collectors in their seventies. Why? He couldn’t tell me. From Shouchiku Tanabe came woven basket pieces in bamboo, the inner and outer stalks of this versatile plant twisted and turned to form patterns.
Sunqua (circa 1830-1870), The Hongs of Canton (Guangzhou). Courtesy Martyn Gregory
At Martyn Gregory there was a truly fantastic Chinese scroll painting — a very large one of the Hongs of Canton or Guangzhou featuring any number of delightful sampans and foreign trading vessels. The painting can be reliably dated, I was told, to around 1772, as one of the flags depicted in the busy scene was the French pre-revolutionary flag.
Moving rapidly forward in time again, I came upon David Gill’s stand, which was evidence of just why the dealer has been so successful in virtually inventing, and promoting, art furniture in limited editions — or furniture as art, if you must.
Designer Mattia Bonetti was one of Gill’s first great discoveries. I well remember his raffia furniture — and his work for Christian Lacroix’s Maison de Haute Couture in Paris’s Faubourg Saint Honoré. At Masterpiece, Gill was showing Mattia’s ‘Venetian’ console, a work in scagliola and bronze, produced in an edition of three. A rather cosy looking sofa with carved wood circular ends sold as soon as the fair opened and if you want to know more about Mattia Bonetti and his early partnership with Elizabeth Garoustethere’s a very good book out, titled Garouste and Bonetti.
I could mention so many more: The Tomasso Brothers’ wonderful little bronzes, and their absolutely huge bronze urn — a real star piece; Edward Hurst’s spectacular English 18th century architectural furniture and Robilant & Voena’s insouciant mix of Warhol, Hirst, Fontana and… Canaletto, all set against a seductively dusky pink ground. A new trend in stand decorating? I must say I liked it.
Winner of the most beautiful stand competition was the Proustian interior dressed overall by noted French antiquaries Steinitz (see main image at top) — one could just imagine M. Swann dreaming of things past in a room like this.
In fact I liked so much at Masterpiece — the really airy layout, the mixture of pre-historic, historic, new and contemporary. All in all, the fair is now well up to Maastricht standards, both in dealers and in the calibre of visitor it attracts.
Main image at top: Steinitz Stand at Masterpiece London 2015. Photo: Andy Barnham
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