Then and now: Old Masters style at TEFAF New York
Old Masters specialist Jonquil O’Reilly looks at the sartorial flair on show — in the art and those selling it — at the opening night of The European Fine Art Fair in New York. Additional reporting by Meghan Dailey. All photographs by Tim Shutsky
One of the biggest events on the Old Masters calendar, TEFAF New York, which coincides with Christie’s Classic Week at Rockefeller Center, attracts curators, dealers and collectors from all over the world.
The opening night at the Park Avenue Armory was the place to be seen, with patrons wandering around the booths sipping champagne and enjoying oysters while viewing the paintings, jewels and works of art on offer.
And while many of the fair-goers were dressed to impress, they weren’t the only ones flaunting a good deal of sartorial flair. On the walls, everything from racy riding gear to powdered hair pieces could be admired — and the dealers weren’t too badly dressed either. These are my top picks for TEFAF’s best dressed artworks — with accompanying style notes from those representing them.
The artwork — Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, Portrait of Countess Palfy, 1796: Countess Palfy opted for a chic neoclassical look, in a high-waisted red Grecian-style gown, with a fine outer layer of gold-trimmed organza and matching sleeves. Her hair, wound with a red ribbon and oak leaves, is styled in natural-looking curls — it’s 1796, darling, huge powdered coifs are so pre-French Revolution.
The dealer — Frédérique Mattei, Galerie Eric Coatalem, Paris: ‘The linen coat and shantung cigarette pants are both by contemporary Indian designers, and my shoes are 1960s, from Paris. I am a jewellery designer so the ring is one of my own creations, put together from two antique earrings from India. I love to mix pieces from all over the world and from every period.’
The artwork — Alexander Roslin, Portrait of Madame Henriette Agathe Rose Foäche, 1780: The portrait was commissioned to celebrate Henriette’s marriage, so naturally she’s wearing her best threads — a powder-blue and mint-green silk-satin gown, with organza and ribbon trim and elaborate silver embellishments. Her hair, helped along by more than a few false hair pieces, is powdered and piled high with ostrich feathers and forget-me-nots — a coiffure popularised by Marie Antoinette.
The dealer — Patrick Williams, Adam Williams Fine Art Ltd, New York: ‘I absolutely have an art-fair uniform — suit, tie, and shirt. My girlfriend only likes white shirts; this one is from Thomas Pink. It’s not just for TEFAF, I wear the same outfit in the office. My father is English, so we are never casual. If it were up to me, there’d be a little less tie!’
The artwork — Jacopino del Conte, Portrait of Filippo Strozzi: Here, Filippo means business in a black doublet, hose and overcoat with matching cap. The black is intensely dark so you know that the dye is good quality and very costly. His coat is lined with a spectacular exotic fur and he makes a point of pulling it back over his hip to show you it’s not just trimming the collar and cuffs: he can afford to have it lining the coat throughout.
The dealer — Laura Kugel, Galerie Kugel, Paris: ‘We have a kind of sobriety and self-restriction in our clothes at art fairs. Probably the coolest thing I’m wearing is an antique gold Roman pendant, and my ring is also Roman, an intaglio with two cupids. The rest of my outfit is mostly by Kitsune — casual French — with flats, which I wear at every point in my life.’
The artwork — Henry Bone R.A., Portrait of Jane, Duchess of Gordon, 1825 (a miniature after Sir Joshua Reynolds): It had become fashionable in the mid-to-late 1700s to sit for your portrait wearing styles from a century earlier, so the duchess is on trend in vintage here, wearing a so-called ‘Van Dyck dress’. Despite the name, the style has nothing to do with Sir Anthony van Dyck, but is a costume based on fashions from the late 16th century. Hanging on her bosom is a pendant miniature portrait — within a miniature portrait (I know, this picture is so meta). The likeness does not depict her husband, however, nor one of her many lovers for that matter, but Robert Burns, to whom she was a great (and purely platonic) patron.
The dealer — Elle Shushan, Elle Shushan Fine Portrait Miniatures, Philadelphia: ‘I’m wearing Morgane Le Fay, which I have worn exclusively for 25 years. This coat, which I also have in cream, is one of the first pieces I bought. The pendant is an American miniature, it’s probably 19th century. And my shoes are Stuart Weitzman — they’re the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever had. The style was discontinued, so I bought four pair from Zappos. I’m still on pair number one.’
The artwork — Roman statue of the god Mars, 1st-2nd century AD: Mars wears… well frankly, not all that much. He has a chlamys — a short traveller’s cloak — around his shoulders and there’s a cuirass (a sort of armoured breastplate) propped against the tree trunk there, but I’m not sure that would have covered much anyway. Judging by that nonchalant contrapposto pose, he’s pretty comfortable with himself. Then again, if you’re the god Mars, why wouldn’t you be?
The dealers — Ollivier and Adrien Chenel, Galerie Chenel, Paris: Ollivier: ‘My suit is by the French label Officine Générale — it’s the only brand I wear.’ Adrien: ‘This jacket is handmade in Paris. It’s my year-round uniform, not just at TEFAF.’
The artwork — Giuseppe Maria Mazza, Portrait of a Young Man of the Fava Household, commissioned by Alessandro Fava, 1678: With a five o’clock shadow and a faraway stare, this dashing young man wears a doublet, embroidered with wild flowers, and a starched ruff. The doublet is pinked and slashed and the fabric revealed beneath is cross-hatched, perhaps to indicate a contrasting colour or texture. The artist has diligently replicated the stitching along the edge of those paned shoulder puffs, as well as the embroidery along the seams and the fringe of the fabulous, voluminous sash. The outfit he’s wearing actually dates to about a century earlier: it’s thought this bust is a posthumous portrait of one of Fava’s ancestors, killed at the Battle of Lepanto, so he’s dressed in the fashion of the period.
The dealer — Valentina Rossi, Galleria Carlo Orsi – Trinity Fine Art, London: ‘I always go shopping for a couple of new dresses before every fair. This dress is Victoria Beckham, I bought it about two weeks ago, specifically for TEFAF. I was going for a theme here, with the ruffle to go with the Mazza. I don’t stick to black though — tomorrow I’ll be wearing colours.’
The artwork — Herman van der Myn, Portrait of a Lady in Riding Dress, 1733: Who says practical can’t be pretty? This racy young lady wears a sensible yet stylish riding get-up in a rich brown, perfect for disguising mud splatter kicked up by her steed. The fabric falls in heavy folds and absorbs the light so is most likely a thick wool. It’s embellished with shimmering trim and embroidery in genuine silver thread. The white on her shoulders looks like powder from her hair, shaken out —presumably in slow motion — as she dismounted and took off her riding hat. While flexing her riding crop, she has caught the peplum of her jacket, and that resulting flash of scarlet lining is more than a little suggestive.
The dealer — Emanuela Tarizzo, Tomasso Brothers Fine Art, London: ‘I bought these silk trousers in Kyoto, while I was travelling. They’re by Muller of Yoshiokubo. I absolutely love Japanese fashion. The trousers are comfortable but at the same time quite smart — perfect for the fair.’
The artwork — Antonio María Esquivel y Suárez de Urbina, Portrait of a Boy with a Bilboquet, 1843: While the identity of this debonair little chap remains a mystery, one thing we know is that he can slay at cup-and-ball while keeping every ringlet intact. As ‘athleisure’ goes, this look is more formal than most, combining practical beige pantaloons with an elegant burgundy velvet jacket, finished with decorative gold buttons and fastened at the back. Beneath it he wears a delicate white shirt with cuffs folded back to protect the velvet and a dainty lace collar.
The dealer — Cristina Uribe, Galeria Caylus, Madrid: ‘My dress is Cavalli, I bought it a few years ago. It’s preview day at TEFAF, and so of course I like to wear something special.’