Few fairs emerged unscathed from the pandemic, but The Petworth Park Antiques & Fine Art Fair is one – and it is taking full advantage.
The annual event returns for its ninth edition from May 19-21 in a specially designed marquee in the grounds of the National Trust’s Petworth House in Petworth, West Sussex.
It has become one of the more important art and antiques fairs in the country with an exhibitor waiting list and a growing database of visitors.
An unsettled fair calendar, exacerbated by the cancellation of events such as Masterpiece and Olympia this summer, has further boosted its standing.
Petworth’s 2020 and 2021 editions were able to go ahead during the pandemic as they were classed as outdoor events. With precious few places to buy art in person, they attracted an influx of visitors from further afield, including from London.
According to fair organiser Ingrid Nilson of The Antiques Dealers Fair Limited, many have kept returning.
“London visitors who had very few events to attend came to Petworth and found it a really nice fair with a great mix and of high quality and we have retained those visitors,” she says. “The mailing list of people who want tickets just keeps growing and I’m pleasantly surprised to see how many requests for tickets I get via email everyday now.”
Nilson adds: “With the sad demise of several fairs since the pandemic, we now have an even greater choice of dealers wishing to exhibit, so can offer visitors a really varied variety of specialisms from the ancient to the contemporary.”
Three and easy
The fair’s location has also been critical to its success, says Nilson. “It is a kind of triangle with the fair, National Trust’s Petworth House and the town, which sees an immense rise in footfall when the fair is on. There isn’t anywhere else in the country that you can replicate that.
“Unlike so many antiques towns which used to be centres with lots of shops, Petworth is the only one holding its own now.”
Knightsbridge-based Gladwell & Patterson is among several new galleries appearing at this year’s event and follows sister gallery Gladwells Rutland’s inaugural showing at Nilson’s annual Northern Antiques Fair in Yorkshire last autumn.
Ella Wells, the gallery’s creative director, told ATG: “Over the past few years we have been searching for more art fairs to enable us to bring our paintings to our clients in the local area.”
The stand will major on post- Impressionist and Modern pieces including Wildflower Wood (1957), a semi-abstract landscape by Ivon Hitchens (1893-1979) that depicts the area around Petworth and the artist’s studio door.
After his London studio was bombed in 1940, Hitchens settled near Petworth first in a red travellers’ caravan, and later building a studio and then a house on the site known as Greenleaves. The work carries a £175,000 price tag.
London-based Dr Shanshan Wang of St James’s gallery W Shanshan, which focuses on early Asian art, in particular ceramics and sculpture, also makes a fair debut.
For her, the event’s setting within the grounds of an English country house greatly appealed: “I am passionate about the English country house and gardens and have been to more than 100 in this country.
“I love the idea of Petworth Park fair to combine both art and landscape.”
Working with the concept of ancient Chinese art in a European house, the gallery will bring a group of selected Chinese ceramics mainly from Han Dynasty to Tang and Song dynasties (3rd century BC-13th century AD), as well as a few early Korean pieces and 20th century European paintings and prints.
Among the highlights is a 11½in (29cm) long Chinese Sui dynasty (581-618AD) white glazed earthenware horse with multicolour decoration, which comes from an English collection and is priced at £8750.
“Sui dynasty is one of the shortest in the Chinese history, but has left us with high quality art,” said Wang. “The white glazed earthenware is the most classic and famous from that period of time and started to achieve tremendous attention from collectors.”
Robbie Timms of S&S Timms Antiques also makes his debut at Petworth.
“It is a fair which we have wanted to be a part of for some time now, but our schedules simply wouldn’t allow it. However, lots has changed on the UK fairs scene and we are now really happy to be able to take a stand,” he says.
Timms will bring his usual mix of town and country furniture, with some select pieces originally destined for the now cancelled summer edition of Olympia.
Other new names at the fair include Andrew Muir and James Miles; Brian Watson Antique Glass; Lesley Blackford Antiques; Jacksons Antique; and Mark Goodger Antiques.
Goodger is bringing a rare Longchamp A car mascot by René Lalique priced at £9750.
Among those returning to the fair are Chinese porcelain specialist Santos London; campaign furniture dealer Christopher Clarke Antiques; Petworth-based exhibitor Augustus Brandt; jewellery specialist Shapiro & Co; glass specialist Fileman Antiques and Garret & Hurst Sculpture.
In coronation month, Petworth and St James’s art dealer Rountree Tryon Galleries will bring a portrait of King George VI by Herbert James Gunn (1893-1964), depicting the monarch in his favourite uniform as Admiral of the Fleet (as also previewed in the royal collectables feature, ATG No 2591).
The 2ft 6in x 2ft 1in (76 x 64cm) oil on canvas was a preparatory portrait for a final version commissioned by the British Council as a gift for the Belgian Club in London and is priced at £18,000.
Face to face
With an increasingly digitised art world and the effects of the pandemic still being felt, fair organisers face significant challenges, but Nilson is confident such events remain a much-needed part of the industry.
“I can’t deny these are strange times, but people are selling, and having the opportunity to be under one roof with other specialists and seeing the public come in and talk to them face to face like that, it is still a business model that works.”