Insiders refer to the Brussels Antiques and Fine Art Fair, or BRAFA (24 January to 1 February), as a ‘mini Maastricht’, largely because it’s small, perfectly formed and draws European antique lovers and connoisseurs.
Despite celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, BRAFA has resisted becoming a behemoth, spawning only one satellite event, BRUNEAF, that brings together 28 exhibitors with a focus on tribal art.
This side show takes place in Sablon, a buzzing district of the city colonised by restaurants, bars, chocolatiers and a weekend flea market. No trip to BRAFA would be complete without paying it a visit.
A compulsory Sablon pit stop is Costermans. Eighteenth and 19th century candlesticks, chandeliers, fountains and fireplaces are displayed alongside Old Masters in an opulent 18th century mansion that has been owned by the Jaspar-Costermans family for more than 100 years.
Even if you’re not there to buy, it is worth sneaking a peek at its ‘salons’, one of which is a Martinique-themed apartment painted by the grandson of Belgian Art Nouveau architect Victor Horta. Costermans is therefore the perfect place to start our insider’s guide to Sablon.
Two highlights from Costermans at this year's BRAFA: Johannes Bosschaert (Middelburg 1606-1629 Dordrecht), Fruit basket with insects and a lizard. Oil on panel. 30 x 41 cm. Signed and dated 'I.Bosschaert 1626'; A pair of Louis XVI candelabras representing two young women each carrying a three-light torch adorned with flowers and foliage. Gilt and patinated bronze. Attributed to François Rémond (Paris, circa 1747-1812), Circa 1785. 100 x 42 x 35 cm.
Costermans director and sixth generation family member:
‘We are quite a community in Sablon, but I would have to recommend my great friends, Patrick and Ondine Mestdagh who are passionate collectors and dealers of non-European Art. I also suggest Harold t'Kint de Roodenbeke who has been the president of BRAFA since 1995, as well as running a great gallery specialising in Belgian drawings and paintings from 1880 to 1950 (see below for one of his highlights on show at this year's BRAFA).’
Fernand Léger (Argentan 1881-1955 Gif-sur-Yvette), Draft for a mosaic, 1924
Gouache and ink on paper 31.5 x 18.4 cm. Signed and dedicated lower right
Provenance: J. Hoffman, friend of the artist
a tribal art expert and founder of Didier Claes Gallery in Sablon:
‘To me, Sablon means Tuscan grape bread at the famous Wittamer, buratina at Italian restaurant Genco and Filet Américain at Au Vieux Saint Martin. Then it’s on for cocktails at Les Caves de la Nonciature (Rue Des Sablons 7). When it comes to art, I enjoy the monthly exhibitions at Marc Felix and Joëlle Fiess’ Congo Gallery (see below for a 2015 BRAFA highlight) and Raphaël Dierick Antiquités (17-19 Rue Van Moer) for its selection of italian design.”
Zande Harp. Wood, leather, vegetable fibres. Democratic Republic of the Congo. Late 19th to early 20th century
runs Antwerp-based carpet and textile dealers N Vrouyr Gallery:
‘If I get up early enough on Sundays, I like to browse Sablon’s Marché aux Puces. I prefer to be there at sunrise, when it’s not too crowded. It is not only about what you might find there, it is more about the atmosphere and the people. I'm not a systematic hunter. I walk and enjoy, and if by any chance something interesting appears, it's good news. I enjoy eating at Chez Lola and a bit further afield and worth the 10 minute walk is Stekerlapatte.’ (See below for a BRAFA highlight from N Vrouyr Gallery)
Tibetan carpet. Wool on wool. Early 20th century. 168 x 95cm.
is a Brussels-based Armenian artist, jeweller and art patron who is giving a talk about diamonds, precious stones and jewellery at this year’s BRAFA:
‘Many of the galleries around Sablon are in little Belgian houses, and you turn up and have to ring the bell. It’s not the place for contemporary art — that’s Avenue Louise — but it’s a charming spot. My favourite gallery is Patrick Derom.’
is director of BRAFA:
‘I like many of Sablon’s galleries: Marc Heiremans specialises in 20th century Murano glass (see below, on show at this year's event) and his space is always a rainbow of colour. At Futur Antérieur (19, Place du grand Sablon) the emphasis is on French and Italian design and post-war European sculpture. Jean-Pierre Alaerts sponsors many young artists and presents an eclectic choice of works with emphasis on non-figurative work and geometric abstraction. Francis Janssens van der Maelen specialises in silverware and 18th century works. In recent years, he has started to promote new talent and contemporary design.
After wandering and window-shopping through Sablon, I enjoy a break in the Petit Sablon gardens, a peaceful, bucolic place with benches, fountains and bronze statues representing 48 artisanal trades that surround it. Le IIIeme Acte is the place to go before or after a private view or late opening and Chez Richard (Rue des Minimes, 2) is a must, whether its for morning coffee, oysters at lunchtime or late evenings with the local antique dealers and gallery owners. During BRAFA, the whole world is there.’
A ‘Fascia Murrine’, circa 1965. Antonio Da Ros (Venice, 1936), Italian glass designer for Vetreria Cenedese, Murano (IT). Free-blown glass with applied 'Murrine'. Height: 31 cm.