A pair of 18th century candelabra for £21,500. A George II mahogany settee commissioned by an aristocratic patron at £58,000. A painting of the death of Nelson for £350,000.
This is a taste of what is on offer at The Chelsea Antiques & Fine Art Fair, which has risen rapidly up the ranks of the London fair calendar since its relaunch last autumn.
Running from March 23-27, it is in the hands of new owner 2Covet, which staged the first new ‘elevated’ version of the event last September.
It has the benefit of fair director Sophie Wood (former manager of the LAPADA fair) to add to its attractive central location at the Chelsea Old Town Hall.
First opened in 1951, the event bills itself as the longest-running antiques fair in the UK and it remains a familiar name among the trade and seasoned buyers. Add to all these advantages the fact that it is one of a shrinking pool of vetted events in London for antiques dealers, and Chelsea could hardly be better placed to draw in fair-hungry crowds.
British picture dealer John Robertson, who stood at the fair for more than a decade, was impressed by the September relaunch and returns to this edition after a gap of around 10 years.
“It’s situated in an extremely well-off part of London where there is a good mix of British buyers and an ever-changing group of international residents,” he says. “In terms of price to stand it’s not frightening and in my point of view it’s the perfect venue.”
Among his stock of pictures are an oil on canvas of a lithographer at his press, offered for £2700, a Stanley Anderson engraving of a violin maker for £1100 and a 1930 Jose Escofet still-life at £5500.
Robertson admits that options in London are fewer than before with dramatic changes to the fair schedule. “The BADA Fair drew me away [from Chelsea] initially, but it is no more,” he says. “There’s a bit of a question mark over good mid-range fairs.”
For years the Chelsea fair overlapped with the annual BADA event, which ran just down the road in Duke of York Square. The latter was sold and rebranded as The Open Art Fair for 2020, but after its dramatic closure at the start of the first lockdown, it was subject to a series of legal disputes over stand payments and will not be held in 2022. Last month news broke that the LAPADA fair, usually running in Berkeley Square in September, has been scrapped for this year in the face of rising costs. Its future is uncertain.
We’re still standing
Not that Chelsea is the only game in town. This staging coincides with Connect Art Fair, another vetted event over in Pall Mall (such overlaps can be an advantage to events, particularly when pulling in day-visitors to the capital).
Art & Antiques Olympia continues, and there is the perennial favourite The Decorative Antiques and Textiles Fair in Battersea, both of which feature antiques and art.
Still, fairs in London are not what they were pre-pandemic and there is still a need for them. “Lots of us dealers did very well if we had established websites during the pandemic,” says exhibitor Mark Goodger. “Now it’s gone a bit more quiet online. We still need to go out and stand in front of people. It’s all about generating new customers and leads.”
He is bringing a range of antique boxes and accessories including an 18th century tortoiseshell tea chest offered for £16,000 and a naïve Scottish cottage-shaped box, c.1800, priced at £5700.
Goodger adds: “2Covet have done an amazing job. You get the feeling that there is only one direction for them and that’s up. People walking into the fair last year were shocked and surprised. It’s been totally redesigned and is very high end now.”
For this edition the floorplan has been amended to make room for more stands and just over 30 exhibitors are standing. Among the newcomers are Haynes Fine Art, Howards Jewellers, JH Bourdon-Smith and Hickmet Fine Art.
It offers a virtual shopping service led by Gail McLeod and an in-person ‘shopping experience’ with Mark Hill. Extra events celebrating the International Year of Glass are to be led by exhibitors and glass specialists Brian Watson and M&D Moir.
Returning exhibitors include Freya Mitton, who committed to the fair quickly after the last staging.
“Covid changed an enormous amount,” she says. “Before the pandemic there were all these bigger events going ahead. Now the world is more suited to a smaller event. It didn’t feel crowded or overwhelming. It feels like a boutique-type fair, small and perfectly formed.”