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Unequivocally it is not just the number one, but it sets the standard for the whole international antiques scene. If you want to see just why this event is so far ahead of the field, then visit the Maastricht Exhibition and Congress Centre, a functional complex away from the old city centre, from March 8 to 17 where 201 of the world’s very top dealers put on a show which is literally of museum standard.

Every year visitors wonder whether TEFAF Maastricht can maintain its standards, and every year it does. Organised by a team of dealers (which is an exercise not without its own petty rivalries and controversy) The European Art Foundation guards its reputation carefully and it is indeed an honour to be allowed to exhibit.

No dealer wishes to give up their Maastricht stand, even when (as does happen) they think they are in a rotten position in the large hall. It is an easy fair in which to get lost and you really need at least two full days to get to grips with this event.

Last year the fair was a victim of its own success and pulled in a staggering 76,000 – too many by any standard so this year the organisers have added an extra day in the hope of thinning out the crowds.

Last year’s attendance figure was 14 per cent up on 2000 but as the fair’s reputation grows internationally there is no reason to believe this year will not again see an increase. The size of the crowds, and managing them, is a unique problem for an antiques fair, but one which every year Maastricht finds it has to address.

And if exhibitors have a legitimate gripe then it is that so many visitors drive or fly to the fair and use it as a museum. There may be more seven-figure prices at this fair than any others, but the exhibitors have got to sell their wares.

At this year’s Maastricht exhibitors are drawn from 13 countries and the United Kingdom leads the pack with 46 dealers. The Dutch provide 41, the Germans 31 and both France and the United States each send 19.
Old Masters are historically the highlight of the fair, but they are just one of its many strengths. The modern art section with 32 exhibitors is growing in size and stature while the other sections are antiques and works of art, illuminated manuscripts and books, antiquities and jewellery.

Typical of the status of this fair are two exhibits on offer this year. New York’s Otto Naumann is taking Rembrandt’s Minerva priced at $40m while Cartier are taking the Art Deco necklace they made in 1928 for the Maharaja of Patiali, a confection which contains 2930 diamonds, almost 1000 carats and a price tag one can only guess at and then add a few noughts.

Other names among the pictures at the fair include Van Dyck, Van Gogh and Michelangelo – and Gilbert and George, and among the prizes in the ceramics is a Renaissance tondo by Andrea and Luca della Robbia.

The lucky few to make their debut at Maastricht this year are Paris modern art gallery Applicat-Prazan, Savile Row art dealership Beddington & Blackman, St. James’s Orientalists Priestley & Ferraro, fellow Orientalist Jorge Welsh of Lisbon and London, and New York dealer in modern pictures Michael Werner.

Standards look well up to par at this year’s Maastricht, let us see if the level of business matches the legendary quality.