While most major British fairs have decided not to hold physical events this summer, one is forging ahead.
The seventh edition of The Petworth Park Antiques & Fine Art Fair, postponed from May because of pandemic restrictions, plans to run from June 18-20 in a purpose-built marquee on the sprawling Capability Brown landscape behind Petworth House in West Sussex.
For the UK trade it will be the first physical, higher-end vetted event to take place since the last edition of the same fair in September 2020.
“The fair is fully subscribed and people are absolutely gagging to take part,” says fair organiser Ingrid Nilson. “There is no doubt that the internet is a fantastic means of selling but it is different. I know dealers have massively missed the interaction [at fairs] and so have the public because I am inundated with requests for complimentary tickets.”
Nilson says she has a blueprint already in place for June having successfully navigated Covid-19 protocols with the authorities for the equivalent fair held in September (it was given the green light by The National Trust on the basis that it was classed as an outdoor event). Wide one-way gangways, test and trace, hand sanitiser, social distancing and signage will feature heavily again.
Despite the risks of hiring a stand – dealers are liable for the cost should there be a pandemic-related cancellation – the nine-month stretch without a major physical fair and the prospect of a thin summer calendar has meant many are unwilling to wait any longer to reconnect with clients.
Helped along by the speed of the vaccine roll-out, Nilson says demand to participate in this year’s event has been so high that only a few regular exhibitors have decided not to take part. The fair is at full capacity – 60 stands – with a lengthy waiting list.
“This is a mixed fair with a range of disciplines and new specialities to keep it interesting and caters to an audience with varying degrees of spending power,” she adds.
Among six first-timers is Alberto Santos of Santos London who would usually be exhibiting on the international fair circuit. With most overseas events still on ice, he is looking to domestic fairs such as Petworth to make up the shortfall.
“After 16 months of inactivity due to the pandemic and because the other markets are still closed to Europeans, I was itching to have contact with the public,” says Santos. After visiting the last Petworth fair in
September, he was keen to return.
Santos London brings a selection of 15th-19th century Chinese porcelain pieces including a 19th century Qing dynasty export Dehua blanc-de-Chine figure with provenance to Princess Margaret (it is priced in the ‘very low five figures’).
A trip to the September event also convinced fellow newcomer Sean Clarke of Christopher Clarke Antiques to sign up. It will be the company’s first fair in several years.
“I visited Petworth last September and saw it was a good-looking show with a great mix of dealers,” says Clarke. “The size and shorter time span appealed to me as well as the fact that it is organised by Ingrid.”
Well-known for campaign furniture, Christopher Clarke Antiques takes a mix of items from portable furniture to military and East India Company School mica pictures. Smaller items include those made for travel such as ‘Brighton Bun’ candlesticks, brass bound boxes and leather luggage. Prices range from £95 to around £6000.
“The first thing that made us want to do Petworth was that the organisers were clearly gunning for it and were not being hesitant like other fairs,” said Jacob Markies of Art Deco specialist Jeroen Markies, another new name on the exhibitor list. He is optimistic that the fair will go ahead as planned: “If you can have 20,000 fans in a football stadium, I’m sure you can hold an antiques fair.”
His last fair appearance was at Chelsea’s Open Art Fair in March last year, which closed after just two days of its planned run of more than a week.
Since then, Markies has felt the limitations of dealing remotely during the pandemic: “While online has kept us going, lots of people don’t really want to spend big money on furniture they haven’t been able to see in person.”
Art Deco furniture by Harry and Lou Epstein and Mid-century accessories will be among the items he is exhibiting. The brothers’ designs were recognised as among the finest and innovative in the British Art Deco style, with most of their furniture via special order and custom made using fine quality materials such as burr maple, sycamore and walnut veneer. A 1930s burr walnut and bird’s eye maple veneer cocktail cabinet is priced at £8500.
As for pictures dealers, returning exhibitor Jenna Burlingham Fine Art brings an array of art including Banksias and other Australian Plants by Elizabeth Blackadder (b.1931), a vibrant watercolour from 1999 priced at £22,000. Offerings from local Petworth galleries Ottocento and Rountree Tryon Galleries include a mixed-media collage by Terry Frost (1915-2003) for £5100 and a watercolour of a cock and hen pheasant by Archibald Thorburn (1860-1935) for £14,000.
Among the other exhibitors are Thomas Spencer Fine Art, Hickmet Fine Arts, Julian Eade Antiques, Jupiter Antiques and Morgan Strickland Decorative Arts.
Nilson remains optimistic the fair will go ahead as planned, due to its classification as an outdoor event.
“We have this setting in the glorious Capability Brown parkland. We have space, we have air and I have ordered wall-to-wall sunshine, which will be fulfilled!”