It would be wrong to say that London Art Week (LAW) is ‘back’ since it never went away.
Even in the summer of 2020, galleries opened in a limited way, alongside a robust online programme. But there is real heft to it this year. Participant numbers are back up to pre-lockdown levels with 51 dealers taking part.
Also – of particular interest to readers of these pages, perhaps – its embrace is widening to include a larger selection of decorative as well as fine art.
The event runs from June 30- July 7 at galleries around London with hotspots in Mayfair, St James’s and Cromwell Place of South Kensington. Many more can be found in Chelsea, Pimlico and beyond.
On Kensington Church Street ceramics specialist E&H Manners is among those who has signed up for the first time.
Dealer Errol Manners told ATG that the gallery joined when the event widened its remit. He added that it “speaks to a changing perception and renewed appreciation of the role of the decorative arts and acknowledges that they have something serious to say culturally and artistically”.
Earlier in the year there were major losses to the summer calendar with the cancellation of Masterpiece London and Summer Olympia.
But Luce Garrigues, director of LAW, said at the time that “late June and early July remains an ideal time to visit the capital for buyers of classic and Old Master art”.
Betting on that fact, several stalwarts of the scrapped fairs have now migrated across to this in-gallery festival. Manners, who was a Masterpiece regular, is among them.
It stages A Survey of European Ceramics, 1500-1800, which includes among its highlights a pottery Hafnerware jug from Nuremberg, c.1550, which depicts the Judgment of Paris (see top image).
There is also a French Niderviller biscuit porcelain group of ‘The education of Emile’, 1780-93, which shows Rousseau leaning on a broken shield to represent outmoded education practices.
LAW follows hot on the heels of the inaugural The Treasure House Fair in Chelsea, which E&H Manners will also attend.
Two new events might seem like a lot for one summer season, but for dealers such as Manners they are a promising sign.
Together, he says the two will “provide a critical mass of events that make London a serious attraction, worth hopping on a plane for”. The short break between the two gives the gallery time to set up a shop display, which in the old calendar where Masterpiece and LAW overlapped it would not have been possible.
Manners adds: “These are just the sort of things that London needs if we are going to maintain a serious presence in the art market.”
Other object-centred exhibitions include Afridi Gallery, which offers Persian and Scandinavian carpets and textiles as well as works of Italian mid-century design, Racanello Leprince featuring 17th-19th century ceramics featuring vedutismo, capricci and genre scenes. There is also Paul Mitchell Antique & Handmade Replica Frames, joining the event for the first time this year on the gallery’s 45th anniversary.
Last but not least is H Blairman & Sons, another previous regular at Masterpiece. Dealer Martin Levy quickly signed up to LAW after the fair was cancelled and is using the platform as a chance to exhibit 35 pieces from the collection of furniture historian Clive Wainwright (1949-99) and his wife Jane.
The collector got his start at the Victoria and Albert Museum where he developed a deep affinity for Gothic Revival furniture. He was a committed antiquary, habitually sporting a Victorian tweed cape, and he oversaw restoration efforts on historic homes such as Charlecote and Arundel.
Arguably his greatest project was the Palace of Westminster, which he helped transform from generic offices to a stage for Victorian applied art and wallpaper during the 1970s.
One of the works in the show alludes to this connection: a stained-glass panel designed by Augustus Pugin and produced by John Hardman & Son, which is offered for £2650. It is believed by repute to be from the Palace of Westminster (an idea supported by the repeating VR motifs), removed before or during the Second World War.
Wainwright took much the same care of his own home, filling it with furniture and works of art by artists and designers such as Francis Danby, George Bullock and Alfred Waterhouse.
Following his death, Jane continued to collect, but she has now donated their home to the Landmark Trust. In the process of downsizing, some of the key pieces are going through Blairman’s.
The Queen Anne’s Gate gallery offers 35 key pieces from the collection alongside a selection of ceramics and other decorative works of art. Highlights include a table designed by Sir John Soane for the Gothic Library at Stowe (featured in the summer supplement), a majolica garden seat from Carlton Towers and Pugin’s own drawing table.
Partnered with institutions such as The National Gallery, The Courtauld Gallery and the Ashmolean, LAW still has art at its core. When it first launched in 2013, it was inspired by the Classic and Old Master week auctions and the focus was on traditional paintings. This year it spans ancient to Contemporary art.
Among the shows are Renoir & Pissarro: Different Views at Connaught Brown, Forged, Carved and Cast – from the earth to the artist’s eye at Sladmore and History of the New at The Fine Art Society.
Themes still emerge. One of the strongest this year is women artists: Patrick Bourne & Co offers a small collection of works by Winifred Nicholson from a private collection, which includes some of her most well-known works, while Stephen Ongpin Fine Art stages a show featuring drawings and watercolours by 20th and 21st century women artists.
In South Kensington, at the arts hub Cromwell Place, first-time participant Finch & Co stages a major exhibition on the 18th and 19th century artist Sarah Stone (1760-1844).
She earned fame and commercial success in her day for her watercolours of scientific specimens. Her projects included recording specimens collected by Captain Cook and a commission by Sir Ashton Lever to record the highlights of his Leverian Museum.
Few remain on the market, but in Sarah Stone’s Unseen World, a collection of 23 ornithological watercolours is available as a group for a seven-figure sum. They come fresh to the market from the collection of one of her descendants. n