MAASTRICHT, The Netherlands — A crowd of well-heeled art consultants and collectors quickly poured into the lush, tulip-filled aisles of TEFAF, the European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht, on its second of 11 days. Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands had already made a preview visit to mark the Silver Jubilee of the exclusive fair during its considerable vetting period, while royalty of another kind — American fashion designer Calvin Klein — had made the rounds and a pricey purchase of a colorful painting of a drag queen from Andy Warhol’s shocking, mid-’70s Ladies and Gentlemen series for $2.5 million at New York’s Van de Weghe Fine Art, on opening day.
TEFAF’s strict vetting process, which is overseen by committees of exhibiting and non-exhibiting experts in the various categories on view — ranging from Tribal art, historical manuscripts, classical antiquities, and Old Master works to vintage design furniture, photography from all periods, and Modern and Contemporary art. “People can buy here with great confidence,” said London’s Johnny van Haeften, a founding member of the fair, “because they know that every single item — whether it be a humble spoon, a chair, a piece of jewelry, or painting — whatever it is, it has been vetted by a team of experts, which is important.”
“A lot of business is done at TEFAF,” added Van Haeften, having already sold a gorgeous, million-dollar Jacob van Walscapelle flower painting from the 17th-century, as well as numerous other masterworks. “Curators and collectors can see 70-to-80 percent of the available supply of Old Masters in one building. They don’t have to travel to Paris and then onto Quebec and Munich. All of the major galleries are here; and they’re all next door to each other. It’s a microcosm of the art world.”
The neighboring Richard Green of London had another magical, floral still life by Rachel Ruysch, a rare woman Dutch master. The 44-by-36 inch oil on canvas is arguably one of the largest paintings of its type. Painted in 1700, it’s priced at £2.75 million. Nearby, Munich’s Bernheimer-Colnaghi featured a magnificent Peter Paul Rubens crucifixion painting from the 17th century of a dying Christ on the cross that is believed to have been painted by the artist’s own hand. Coming on the market with a strong provenance, the €3.5 million canvas has been in a private Spanish collection since 1976.
Highlighting Old Master and Modern paintings and sculptures, Dickinson of London and New York is offering Vincent van Gogh’s the Potato Diggers for $3.75 million. The haunting 1883 oil on paper that’s mounted on canvas shows peasant workers depicted with powerful, abstract brushstrokes. Another modernist masterpiece, Henry Moore’s Reclining Figure: Curved is reportedly the most expensive item for sale at the fair at around $35 million. Prominently featured at the entrance to the booth of Landau Fine Art from Montreal, the unique and sensuous black marble sculpture from 1977 was acquired by an American collector directly from Moore’s studio.
An exceptional piece that could undoubtedly rival the cost of the Moore work is Pablo Picasso’s 1917 painting Portrait of Olga Khokhlova. According to Martin Summers of Geneva’s Galerie Krugier & Cie, the artist’s classical period and somewhat moody portrayal of his first wife was brought to the fair for other reasons. “Many people bring paintings here to show what they have in stock,” Summers said. “This time we wanted to create a thematic exhibition of arms, hands, and elbows. The affinity between the Ingres painting, the Jawlensky canvas, and portrait of Olga was irresistible. When people walk into our booth they think they’re walking into a small museum. Not many people are going to want to buy that painting [which is owned by Pablo and Olga’s granddaughter Marina] because it would have to be expensive.”
Krugier, however, has plenty of other Picasso works to sell, as did many other exhibitors. Van de Weghe has a charming, small canvas of a Musketeer’s head from 1967 for $2.85 million and Dickinson has a larger painting of a musketeer, also from 1967, for €5.5 million. Meanwhile, drawing another affinity with the priceless portrait of Olga, Landau had an enchanting, 1964 depiction of the artist’s last wife, Jacqueline, in monochromatic, brown tones.
Another artist with high visibility at the fair was Andy Warhol, with portraits popping up at multiple booths; but the biggest Warhol display making a buzz was the cache of early-drawings on view at Daniel Blau. Blau sold 20 of the 25 intriguing line drawings, priced between €20,000 and €60,000, on the first day and had to transport another batch of the simply framed works from his Munich gallery overnight to have available inventory for the rest of the week.
Fresh off strong 2011 auction sales of works by Gerhard Richter, a number of galleries in the TEFAF’s Modern section brought paintings by what’s shaping up to be Contemporary art’s leading artist. Seoul’s Kukje Gallery had two of Richter’s abstract paintings: one from 2004 at 50-by-34 inches for $4 million and a smaller one from 1999 for $700,000. Van de Weghe had a prize, large-scale abstraction for $5.5 million and Anthony Meier Fine Art from San Francisco had a great group of Richter’s painted photos from 2000 of the Arno River in Venice from €50,000 each and a pair of painted phonograph records from the 1990s for €115,000 a piece. It was Meier, however, who struck Richter gold first, with the sale of one of his coveted realistic landscape paintings for €4.3 million.
Antwerp’s eclectic gallerist Axel Vervoodt reported 15 sales in the first two days, including an impressive, action painting by Japanese artist Kazuo Shiraga of the influential Gutai group for €950,000. TEFAF chairman and Asian art dealer Ben Jannsens reported 40 sales between €3,000 and $500,000. “Last year I made 20 new clients that I didn’t have before,” said Janssens. “That’s significant.”
Finally, on the contemporary end — which oddly has to exist under the Modern section of TEFAF — New York and London’s Haunch of Venison quickly placed a new painting on paper by Iraqi artist Ahmed Alsoudani with a collector, who has promised to donate it to a museum, for $65,000, while Leo Villareal, an American artist who has been sparkling in galleries and museums around the world for the past 20 years, made a big impact on everyone coming and going.
Commissioned to create a special light sculpture for the entrance (and exit) of the fair, Villareal programmed 20,000 white LEDs on a mirror-finished stainless steel structure to construct a pulsating piece that had deep-pocketed visitors in awe. Much more than just decoration, Villareal’s Cylinder II can be taken home via his New York gallery, Gering and Lopez, for a mere $950,000. Luxury doesn’t get any better than this dynamic bit of contemporary bling.
Click on the slide show to see images from TEFAF.