The host of fairs that take place in early October all produced significant sales and some delighted dealers, despite a sense of general market unease.
Those covered by ATG were the Decorative Antiques & Textiles Fair (Battersea Decorative), British Art Fair (BAF), PAD London and Frieze Masters – just a selection of events taking place during London’s busy Frieze Week.
Spending tended to be stronger below the highest-ticket items, a recent trend throughout the market. High-end buyers tend to be cautious in troubled times, and continued political uncertainty was possibly part of the reason behind a less exuberant atmosphere.
On the other hand, fears that all sales would grind to a halt, buyers would not make the trip from overseas to the capital, or the staging of multiple events at the same time would leave some empty, all proved encouragingly unfounded.
The scarcity of upper-echelon sales was more of an issue at Frieze Masters, where prices often reach the millions, although it had a handful of publicised high-six and seven-figure transactions. Meanwhile, PAD reported “robust” sales across its various disciplines. BAF hosted happy sellers despite new dates and Battersea delighted decorative sellers with a crowd of eager buyers.
For other key early sales see News ATG No 2412.
Some of the best reports from the week came from Battersea where “there was no resistance to the pricier items,” according to Joe Chaffer of Vagabond Antiques. Works ranging up to the low and sometimes mid-five figures regularly find buyers here – though its wide offering of lower-cost works is also an attraction. This staging was no exception.
From Vagabond’s selection of formal furniture and garden pieces, a grand tour statue of goddess Hebe after Antonio Canova was among the highlight sales, along with a pair of monumental mid-20th century composition stone urns ticketed at £15,000.
For many of the 160 or so participants, the Decorative fair is a reliable, thrice yearly event, and this edition, running from October 1-6, met with praise. It began with a bang.
The long queue that snaked in front of the venue on the first day delivered crowds of enthusiastic buyers, who snapped up so many items that dealers had to restock during the opening hours.
“The first day of the fair was the best first day ever for us, and we have done this fair for 15 years,” Stuart Atkinson and Kiel Shaw of Fontaine told ATG.
Among their sales was a late Victorian dresser, offered for £6500, which had been restored to keep as much of the original colour as possible. It sold to a buyer who planned to put it in their home in Italy.
The fair looked impressive too, with many exhibitors taking care to create distinctive, room-set displays – notably Fontaine, Brownrigg and Patricia Harvey Antiques, which formed a triangle of brightly coloured stands near the entrance to the main floor.
“There are so many very beautiful furniture and interior set-ups they are all careful to individualise themselves and make themselves stand out,” said art dealer Jenna Burlingham. She stood at the event, where she exhibits three times a year as part of her London presence, despite also appearing at BAF (although the two are “completely and utterly different”).
Organiser Jane Juran said: “Our exhibitors really excelled themselves this autumn, putting on a superlative show. We were so pleased attendance was buoyant, and it is clear visitors are keen not just to buy the well-priced decorative pieces the fair is so well known for, but are also opting to choose the highest-calibre stock.”
Among the top objects that sold were a pair of 19th century French cherry wood pharmacy cabinets ticketed at £15,000 from Martin D Johnson, and a Indian temple hanging priced around £10,000, which Joost van den Bergh sold to a new client. Meanwhile, a marble-topped cabinet by French ébéniste Leon Dromar offered for £17,000 at 3details went to a new home, as did a Regency amboyna wood centre table ticketed at £18,000 at S&S Timms.
There was some inevitable slowing in sales towards the end of the event, but many emerged cheerful.
The next edition takes place from January 21-26.
Usually when traders buy from one another, they will wait to display their new stock, but Nic McElhatton wasted no time exhibiting a petrified rat (shown above) after he snapped it up from a fellow dealer at Battersea Decorative.
The desiccated carcass fell out of the stuffing of a Louis XVI chair during the event and McElhatton acquired it for £15. He exhibited it on a George I cheese coaster (below). Dubbed Rattersea Rat in honour the fair, it remains in his collection, though he adds that everything is available at a price.
McElhatton is a specialist in decorative arts offering a range of items such as folk art, treen, lighting, sculpture and vernacular furniture.
British Art Fair
The event aligned its dates with Frieze Week for this edition. This was a brave decision given that major collectors could have opted only for the Regent’s Park events in a week saturated with art fairs, but results from BAF suggested that – whether or not it continues with the dates – the fair is known and loved enough to keep attracting top clients.
Indeed, for Robert Sandelson, who took over the event and moved it to Chelsea’s Saatchi Gallery last year, there was more awareness of the new location this time round.
He told ATG: “This year visitors knew where it was and there was big demand. We had a 30% increase on ticket sales. When people are willing to put their hand in their pockets to buy a ticket, that’s the real McCoy.”
More than 2000 visitors attended the preview evening alone, among them Helen Whately, minister for arts, heritage and tourism.
The three-floor venue was left mostly white-walled last year, but this time several dealers splashed vivid colours on their stands – notably golden and purple at Messum’s London and bright yellow for Alon Zakaim – giving it an invigorated look.
Regarding sales, Sandelson said: “There was reluctance on the high end, but plenty of buying at the mid-level. We were pleased with the middle market and are happy to bring in buyers at that level.”
One of the highest-value sales took place at Tanya Baxter Contemporary, which sold Banksy’s Rat with 3D Glasses for £600,000, in the same week the street artist’s major work, Devolved Parliament, made £9.9m, including buyer’s premium, nearby at Sotheby’s.
Many dealers were selling earlier works, too. For Jenna Burlingham, differentiation was a key to success.
“There was more distinction between the galleries this year, and it was good to bring in more print dealers. When you’re up against all your competition, you need to make a conscious decision to bring a range of artists who wouldn’t necessarily be brought by other dealers,” she said. Among her key sales was a work by the relatively early artist Thomas Cooper Gotch (1854-1931).
Many enjoyed good action at the opening. They included Goodman Fine Art, which sold a David Hockney for a price in the region of £85,000 and Waterhouse and Dodd which parted with a Peter Lanyon offered for £34,000.
Christopher Kingzett was also among those who started strong, selling two Graham Sutherlands, including one from the 1950s when he was most closely aligned with Francis Bacon, featuring Abstract forms and Expressionist figures: La Petite Afrique, named for the village in the Cote D’Azur near his studio. The mixed-media study sold for £24,000 on opening night as did the ink, chalk and gouache study The Tap Hole for £12,000.
PAD London is a reliable fair for many of its 68 international galleries. Long on glamour and short on surprises in terms of stock, it specialises in 20th century design and surrounding areas, such as paintings, jewellery, tribal art and antiquities.
Staged in Berkeley Square, the 13th edition ran from September 30-October 6 with around 28,900 visitors coming through the doors.
It is arguably the most international of the fairs covered here, with its origins in PAD Paris. It also boasted a cosmopolitan crowd.
New York dealer Todd Merrill said: “The beauty of this week is that we saw crossroads of Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the USA under one roof.”
Some shoppers came ready to spend. Galerie von Vertes sold its star piece, L’Atlantide by René Magritte, for around £350,000, while tribal art dealer Lucas Ratton found a new home for an early 20th century Baule maternity figure, which was offered for €50,000.
Swedish gallery Modernity is among a host of international dealers that make an annual trip to the event, telling ATG that the fair “always does very well for us”. As well as selling a unique Paavo Tynell lamp for around £45,000, it offered a pair of Tynell lamps it could have sold five times over at the opening.
Despite sales of works by Charles Robert Ashbee and Christopher Dresser, Martin Levy of H Blairman and Sons was more cautious: “While good business has been done by us and across the fair, there is a sense of uncertainty as a result of many external factors.”
The atmosphere at Frieze Masters was slightly muted compared to former years. It brings in a comparatively trendy, young crowd, but while the opening days buzzed with visitors, anecdotal evidence suggested there were fewer of the multi-million-pound sales that have marked past openings.
However, plenty of top-quality fare emerged: Max Ernst at Sims Reed, for example, Albrecht Dürer at Dr Jörn Günther and Rachel Whiteread at Luhring Augustine. Among the £1m-plus sales reported was a picture of the Tower of Babel by Abel Grimmer, offered by Johnny Van Haeften for £1.35m; a Cy Twombly priced at $6.5m at Hauser & Wirth and other works by the artist on the stand of Gagosian.
High-volume sales were reported early on by Agnews, which sold four pictures on the first day, while Galerie Kevorkian sold 13 works.
There was also evidence of cross-collecting as Colnaghi, sharing a stand with Contemporary dealer Ben Brown, sold a Roman 1st-2nd century AD vase for a six-figure sum to a modern art collector. Newcomer ArtAncient, meanwhile, sold two Lower Paleolithic axes totalling £50,000 to European Contemporary art collectors.
Probably the most expensive item ever to appear at the event also featured: a portrait of Michele Marullo by Sandro Botticelli, offered at roughly £30m. It was the sole work on the stand of Trinity Fine Art.
However, there was little chance of it becoming a major sale story at the event as the government of Spain is unlikely to grant any overseas buyer the necessary export licence.
The Botticelli is currently back with its owners, who are reviewing their offers and options.