From an English Delft dish to a Gainsborough landscape to a drawing of Alice in Wonderland, robust sales in British art and antiques catapulted Masterpiece London back onto the scene as an in-person event this summer.
The fair ran from June 30-July 6 in the South Grounds of The Royal Hospital Chelsea. It was its first outing since 2019, not counting two digital editions in the intervening summers.
Dealers arrived prepared, laying out magnificent spreads with careful attention to their audiences’ tastes – and buyers came hungry.
Stand-out sales included Walking Woman by Modern British master Lynn Chadwick (1914-2003) that went from Osborne Samuel for just under £2m and a pair of George III carved and gilded girandoles from Rolleston for a six-figure sum.
“I would say it looks like it was one of the best Masterpiece fairs we have ever had, which is very comforting,” said Lewis Smith of Koopman Rare Art on the fair’s opening day. “Buyers are very happy to be back at fairs.”
His early sales included a pair of parcel-gilt candlesticks by John Bridge, goldsmith, jeweller and royal retailer to the Prince Regent, priced at £110,000 (pictured in ATG No 2550).
Tania Sutton of Osborne Samuel compared it to Frieze Masters, which returned as one of the first major physical events in London last autumn.
“Because it happened at the time of year when it’s normally scheduled to be, it was in everyone’s psyche. People were excited for it, clients were ready for it and it was really buzzy. We made some great sales and had a good fair.”
London is the traditional summer destination for serious buyers of art and antiques. Though these shoppers come from all over the world, plenty have a taste for British work.
What is more, Errol Manners of E&H Manners said: “There’s actually a very good British-based market and people forget that.”
He dubbed it “a very good fair” and speculated it might have been better still had he not had to make an early exit (personally – the stand remained manned) after a positive Covid test.
“We had a good start selling some of our most important bits early on and those really were at the fair, not set up in advance,” Manners added. These included one to a new client and one to an established collector he had not worked with before.
Among the early transactions were his two highlights: a 1701 English delft dish from Brislington offered for six figures and a copy of Holbein’s portrait of Anne of Cleves in enamel on porcelain by Marie-Victoire Jaquotot that had an asking price of £225,000.
While he hailed a “good showing” from museums, especially from the US, he noted there was still a certain reluctance to travel. But did that matter for this Masterpiece? Apparently not.
Among the other British pieces that got away was a watercolour portrait by Nicholas Hilliard (c.1547-1619), priced £95,000 from Philip Mould.
At the same asking price James Graham Stewart sold a life-size plaster cast of the Shakespeare monument from Westminster Abbey, originally by Peter Scheemakers and William Kent, probably made in the 18th century.
Piano Nobile parted with an oil of The Warwick Family by Winifred Nicholson (1893-1981) offered for £200,000 while Waterhouse and Dodd sold a drawing by Gwen John (1876-1939) of a Wide-awake cat for £4800 as well as two oils by Edna Mann (1926-85) at four figures, one to a British and one to a US collector.
The standout piece from Godson & Coles, a recently rediscovered Chippendale giltwood and marble-topped pier table, c.1785, offered for a six-figure sum, got away, as did a large still-life by Scottish Colourist Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell (1883-1937) on the stand of Patrick Bourne.
Carter Marsh brought the third instalment of its sale of the John Taylor collection, parting with the Ilay Glynne Ring-dial clock, c.1715.
The fair format was altered from its last physical run.
Exhibitor numbers were lower and the large dining area that once cut through the middle of the fair had been moved to the periphery, making for a more compact and focused experience.
A loan exhibition section had been added, Masterpiece [Re]discovery, which focused on the historic fascination with ancient Egyptian culture, and joined the usual array of contemporary installations.
If there was any pall over the event, it was the recent death of much-loved organiser Philip Hewat-Jaboor, memorialised at the fair as well as by participants who remembered him fondly.
Among the new dealers to the in-person fair this year was Karen Taylor Fine Art, which enjoyed interest in its display of female artists but also managed to squeeze in the sale of a Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88) drawing for around £20,000 and a John White Abbott (1763-1851) on the opening day.
Another work on paper that starred was a 1907 drawing by English illustrator Arthur Rackham (1867-1939) for Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, ticketed at £45,000, which went from the stand of Peter Harrington Rare Books.
Plenty of non-British sales could also be found. A notable trend was a surge in natural history items, which was met with enthusiasm.
ArtAncient brought nearly 20 gogottes, naturally occurring concretions of quartz crystals, eight of which sold at prices from £4500- 150,000. Fellow ancient art specialist David Aaron brought a triceratops skull priced in the six figures which was snapped up by a private collector.
Newcomer Fine Minerals International racked up at least three six-figure results including a fluorite sample from Russia ticketed at $600,000.
Japanese art specialist Steve Sly sold 50% of his exhibition catalogue and dubbed the fair “fantastic”. Pieces from his stand went to Kuwait and Dubai as well as Japan, while a sought-after bronze wild boar from the Maruki company went to a famous residence in Wiltshire for a price in excess of £20,000.
A London collector snapped up a metal table screen and iron panel both by Hagiya Katsuhira for prices in excess of £34,000, while a bronze Meiji period hawk also by Maruki went to a UK collector for more than £50,000.
Elsewhere in the event, John Mitchell Fine Paintings parted with a Giuseppe Recco (1634-95) still-life ticketed at £85,000 as well as an Italian landscape by Dutch painter Joris van der Haagen (1615-69) priced at £32,500, while Whitford Fine Art had a good response to oils by French artist Mildred Bendall (1891-1977), selling four at prices from £8000- 28,000.
Finally, while 3812 Gallery, specialising in Asian works of art, experienced 1960s pieces by Hsiao Chin selling particularly well for prices from £80,000-150,000, it also recorded a £9000 result – for a picture by St Ives artist Wilhelmina Barnes Graham.
Sales after the event
“Though it was a slow burn during the fair, it has been a forest fire since,” says Charles Wallrock of Wick Antiques – in a purely metaphorical sense unrelated to the scorching temperatures recently.
Fair reports can be difficult to compile since not only does every dealer have a different experience, many continue to enjoy the effects of the event after doors have closed.
This has been the case for Wallrock who sold three pieces during Masterpiece but “met some of the best people ever” while there. To this clutch of private collectors he went on to sell an extra seven pieces with three more transactions under way at the time of writing.
Highlights include a chair made from the timbers of Admiral Nelson’s flagship Temeraire, which went to a British buyer, an oil painting of Greenwich at the top of the tide by Frederick Winkfield, and a huge world time clock by LUND and Blockley, which went to an overseas client. All were in the five figures and featured in Wallrock’s Jubilee catalogue, devoted to works with royal connections.