“YOU have to wait until June at the earliest to assess just how Maastricht went,” said one veteran of the world’s top fair. Other exhibitors maintain you do not really know just how successful Maastricht was until a year after its close.
As I write, TEFAF Maastricht, held in the Dutch city from March 3 to 13, has only closed its doors three days ago and most of the dealers who have got back to their galleries are still understandably a bit shell-shocked. TEFAF is a long, serious fair where stand staff have to work very hard to garner sales.
But while most serious purchasers are still pondering, I would venture that this year's Maastricht was certainly as successful as last which, in turn, was a vast improvement on 2003, blighted by the SARS scare, war in Iraq and the depths of economic recession.
As always, the first weekend was the most buoyant.
In the opening days after the March 3 vernissage there was muted talk around the stands of a perceptible revival of business, of customers starting to spend again but while there was optimism aplenty after the fair, there was not, perhaps, the earlier feeling that a corner had been turned. In weeks, though, news may filter through that this was indeed a vintage Maastricht, and if so I will let you know.
Maastricht is universally known for its Old Masters, particularly Dutch and Flemish, and I think these were the best sellers again this year, despite a better than ever representation of Italian works.
St James's dealer in Dutch paintings Johnny van Haeften does much of his annual business at this fair and I cannot remember him having a bad one. This year was probably his best ever with more than 30 sales including the Jan Lievens portrait we illustrated in our news pages last week, which he sold to a Dutch collector for £2.85m.
Local dealer Robert Noortman sold 10 pictures on opening night alone, among them a Cezanne watercolour. Bernheimer-Colnaghi sold several works to European and American collectors, prompting Konrad Bernheimer to comment: "I could not have hoped for a better start in my position of chairman of Pictura [the collective name for the picture element of Maastricht]".
Representatives of the world's museums were there in force and many works have been reserved.
The National Gallery of Scotland clinched a deal for a Gerrit van Battem gouache from David Tunick of New York, who enjoyed his best ever fair, and a German museum bought a Joseph de Bray from Kunsthan-del P. de Boer of Amsterdam.
The Modern Art section does not match the Old Masters and is more difficult to read, but it has grown in strength. Annelly Juda had a particularly good outing and Waddington and Marlborough Galleries also enjoyed good business.
Across the board, antiques and works of art sold very well, a reminder that Maastricht is not just a picture fair.
Indeed, no other fair matches it for the range of museum-quality, rare objects to be found there.
Oriental works did extremely well with Ben Janssens of London and Vanderven & Vanderven from Holland notching up spectacular sales from beginning to end.
Zen Gallery of Brussels sold their major piece, a limestone Buddha from the Chandung province of China, to a Swiss
As on the international market, tribal works are gaining sales at Maastricht and antiquities proved strong again this year.
Charles Ede from London sold his major piece, a six-figure Roman mosaic, on the first day and sold steadily throughout to museums and collectors, and Cologne antiquities dealer Gordian Weber reported "unexpected" sales to Italian, French, Belgian and German collectors.
Warwickshire arms and armour specialist Peter Finer had his best ever Maastricht with stunning sales.
In the arcane section of illuminated manuscripts Dr Jörn Günther Antiquariat sold a number of manuscript pages from the New York collection of Robert Lehman to Swiss, German and Dutch collectors while an American museum has reserved a 15th century Flemish manuscript from Bernard J. Shapero of London who reported "an immensely successful 2005 Maastricht".
The new design of the fair was appreciated and, astonishing as it is, the standard of works in all areas was as high this year as ever before.
If anything, the antiques and works of art section is the one improving year on year and the buoyancy of antiquities, tribal, Deco and Oriental work on the international market is apparent at TEFAF.
Buying was truly international, including Americans and although there were not, perhaps, so many from the UK, the fact that there was plenty of business, achieved and to come, proves the top end of the market is very much alive and sales can be made.
Nevertheless, as one exhausted exhibitor put it "the market is still far from easy."