The hectic preview day of ‘TEFAF Maastricht’ on March 14 in the Southern Netherlands was, as always, a melting pot of the world’s curators, collectors and dealers.
By the end of the opening day, although four-, five- and six-figure sales abounded across the board, there was little in the way of confirmed million-plus deals - whereas Art Basel sees buyers literally running onto stands to snap up pieces in the opening minutes, at TEFAF the big sales are made in a more drawn-out period over the first few days.
Sales of important Old Master works to institutions are at Maastricht's heart and, of course, what many dealers are hoping for, and this year it was the London-based specialist in Dutch and Flemish Old Masters, Johnny Van Haeften, who made an early sale to the Mauritshuis, the Royal Picture Gallery in The Hague.
The sold work was a small oil-on-copper cabinet painting by the Antwerp-born artist Paul Bril (1554-1626) showing Saint Jerome praying in a rocky Landscape from 1592.
The 10¼ x 13in (26 x 33cm) work, which was signed PB and inscribed PB / 1592 to the reverse, is thought to be Bril's earliest known cabinet painting, completed after his arrival in Rome in c.1576 and had a provenance going back to the Earl Winterton's collection at Shillinglee Park, Chiddingfold. It sold for £399 at Christie's, London, in 1947 when it was catalogued as by Jan Brueghel. After changing hands several times, it was sold again at Sotheby's, London in 1969 for £6600 to the father of the previous owners.
"It bridges the gap between Dutch and Flemish landscape painting," said Mr Van Haeften after the sale. "But it also has the curious addition of camels, incongruous in this mountainous landscape, which were included to draw a link to Palestine where Jerome spent most of his life."
The gallery purchased the work at Christie's London on December 4 last year, when it was entered as part of a European private collection, for £505,250 including premium, against an estimate of £150,000-250,000.
At TEFAF it had an asking price of £950,000 but after negotiations sold for £750,000, a figure that Mr Van Haeften said was below what he had been prepared to pay for it at auction.
Emilie Gordenker, director of the Mauritshuis, said: "The Mauritshuis has long been in search of a characteristic painting by Paul Bril, but this was our first opportunity to acquire one of his greatest works. With its refined painting technique, attractive composition, intimate character and outstanding condition, this late 16th-century landscape is an excellent fit for our collection."
The purchase was made using funds from BankGiro Loterij and a private donor.
The Mauritshuis building is currently undergoing renovation but the painting will soon be on display in the exhibition Masters from the Mauritshuis - at the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague and from mid 2014 onwards, will be in the permanent collection at the renovated Mauritshuis.
TEFAF Maastricht continues until March 24. A full report of the will follow in a future issue of the ATG printed newspaper. To subscribe click here.