More than 150 were registered to visit the fair, many coming in large teams that were armed to buy. Among them were The National Gallery of Washington, the National Gallery of London, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Early purchases included two by different German museums on the stand of Kunstkammer Georg Laue. One was a turned bone chandelier, c.1600, from Berchtesgaden, which came from the collection of an Italian noble family and sold for a low six-figure sum.
The other was a marquetry games board, which had an asking price of €100,000.
George Laue told ATG: “It feels like 10 years ago. Customers are back, meeting each other once again.”
He said that the museums he saw came “not just as one person but in big groups”.
A US museum snapped up a picture by Albrecht de Vriendt (1843-1900) from the stand of Elliott Fine Art – though the starring piece on that stand, Portrait of a woman in a red turban by Anton Grüss (1802-75) went to a private buyer. Both had asking prices in the low six figures.
Daniel Crouch spent the beginning of the fair courting interest in the Frank van den Bergh Collection of 146 playing card decks.
Though some of that interest was private, he estimated that there were “more museums here than ever before”.
The new normal
The robust institutional presence was good news for the fair, which is striving to return to normal this year.
Last year’s shortened edition was held in the summer, clashing with other events, and was marred by a daylight smash-and-grab in the jewellery section.
The fair before that, in 2020, dealt with both client and exhibitor no-shows before closing early amid reports of positive Covid cases.
The National Gallery of Art in the US was among those across the pond that withheld
its staff during that event over public health concerns, and few reportedly returned last year.
According to Robert Bowman of Bowman Sculpture: “This is the right time for the fair. It is great to see the museums back, especially the US ones we didn’t see in June.”
While the museum presence was a promising sign, private buyers also provided some of the commercial high points early on.
Stuart Lochhead Sculpture, for example, found a private buyer for a bronze by Barthélemy Prieur (1536-1611) which had an asking price in the region of £1.4m, as well as a Contemporary work by Shota Suzuki for £34,000.
Antiquities specialist Charles Ede sold an Anatolian fertility goddess, c.7th millennium BC, in serpentine.
The 1½in (3.6cm) tall figure went to a collector specialising in the female form, becoming the oldest piece in the collection.
Offered for €90,000, it was one of 12 sales the firm made on the opening day along with a Roman marble head of a barbarian pitched at €40,000.
Day & Faber, meanwhile, parted with a Dutch drawing, Sea Battle off Goa 1638 by Johannes Vingboons (1616-70), which was offered for a five-figure price. It went to an existing private collector.
Dr Jörn Günther Rare Books dubbed its “most exciting” sale a Dürer Sammelband, three different Dürer treatises, all first editions, 1525, 1527 and 1528, which went to a private collector.
It had an asking price of SwFr280,000.