TWENTY of London's top art dealers have joined forces with the auction houses to launch Master Paintings Week in London this summer.

Two of the three dealers behind the new venture, Johnny Van Haeften and Konrad Bernheimer of P&D Colnaghi & Co, have opted not to take stands at the Grosvenor House fair this year, but they say it will not affect the country’s pre-eminent art and antiques fair which takes place three weeks earlier – a view shared by the fair’s organisers.

Van Haeften and Bernheimer, who have been stalwarts of the fair since it was revived at Grosvenor House hotel in the early 1980s, are joined in organising Master Paintings Week by Jonathan Green of Richard Green – who will be standing at Grosvenor House – to stage the new series of events from July 4 to 10, which will coincide with the summer auctions of Old Master paintings.

Mr Van Haeften told ATG that the move to launch Master Paintings Week arose quite recently.

“The idea came up spontaneously at the end of last year,” he said. “We’d seen the success of London Sculpture Week and Master Drawings London and thought we could do the same for paintings.

“The response was staggering. We sent an email out and almost everyone attended the first meeting where we discussed the idea.”

He admitted that holding exhibitions at his St James’s gallery did not involve the same expense as standing at a fair, but stressed that he did not attending Grosvenor House this year because the exhausting effort of standing at the Maastricht fair in March would not leave enough time to replace his stock.

“Leaving Grosvenor was a personal thing as I love the fair,” he said. “I’d hate to think this would hurt Grosvenor, but I don’t think it will.”

The list of 20 dealers taking part in Master Paintings Week includes Moretti Fine Art, who have also chosen not to renew their stand at Grosvenor House this year.

However, as with Richard Green, both Agnew’s and Phillip Mould will be participating in both events.

Mr Mould said: “As a portraits dealer, I see these events as complementary rather than competitive. But even for those doing Old Master still lifes and religious pictures, I still don’t think it is oppositional.”

Those signed up so far are: Agnew’s, Verner Amell, Charles Beddington, Simon C. Dickinson, Ben Elwes Fine Art, Derek Johns, Matthiesen Gallery, John Mitchell Fine Paintings, Moretti Fine Art, Philip Mould, Rafael Valls, Robilant & Voena, Michael Tollemache Fine Art, Trafalgar Galleries, William Thuillier, The Weiss Gallery and Whitfield Fine Art.

All parties involved, including Sotheby’s and Christie’s, have made a financial contribution to a marketing campaign, and Johnny van Haeften said they were planning to send out 100,000 fliers using both the auctioneers’ and dealers’ client lists.

Master Paintings Week will also take place at the same time as Master Drawings London and it is hoped that the two events will benefit each other. Master Drawings London organiser Crispian Riley-Smith said: “We have been involved with this since the start and are supporting the event.

“We see it as a good complement to what we’ve been doing for the last nine years.”

He confirmed that dealers could participate in both events.

Grosvenor House fair director Alison Vaissiere, wished the initiative well, saying: “I am confident this will not have any great bearing on Grosvenor House. Of course, you’re always sad to lose dealers like van Haeften and Colnaghi, but we have a wide and eclectic range of dealers.”

Acknowledging that Old Masters had been “having more of a difficult time”, she said the fair had moved on by introducing more modern works.

“But there are still plenty of dealers offering Old Masters, like Richard Green, Agnew’s, and Galerie De Jonckheere from Paris, who are doing the fair for the first time in eight years.”

While some dealers will be offering works from a number of different periods, without Van Haeften, Colnaghi and Moretti, De Jonckheere will be the only gallery at Grosvenor this year who deal exclusively in Old Masters.

By Alex Capon