Once again it is time for the greatest art and antiques event in Europe as 220 dealers from around the world gather in Maastricht, Holland, for the 20th edition of The European Fine Art Fair, or TEFAF as it is affectionately referred to. This 10 day orgy of antiques and fine art attracts over 80,000 visitors at the (now) rather steep admission price of 55 Euro apiece. No one leaves the fair disappointed, though. There is something from every era, every culture, every aesthetic, although not for every price range. But those who can, buy, and those who cannot buy, derive almost the same pleasure from the sheer joy of discovering and seeing the finest and most extraordinary objects one can imagine.
Let me give you a few examples from this year's "Greatest Hits" list!
The London paintings dealer Dickenson has as his booth's centerpiece a pair of paintings by Giovanni Paolo Panini entitled "A Concert" and "A Ball". They were commissioned in 1751 to commemorate the celebrations given by the Duc du Nivernais, in his Roman Palace, Farnese, to mark the birth of the Duc de Bourgogne, the eldest son of the Dauphin of France. These 2 enormous paintings are sumptuous indeed and depict in great detail, the gathering of crowned heads to honor the heir to the throne. They are offered at an appropriately regal price of £5,000,000 each, to be sold only as a pair.
Smaller in volume, but probably not in price, is the stunning 50.01 carat emerald cut flawless white diamond on display at Graff. Cut, but not set, this magnificent jewel is clearly in the "if you have to ask..." category.
More modest, but equally fascinating, is a mahogany and glass display case containing a diorama of over 60 exotic birds mounted by the taxidermist Charles Yeoman in 1895. This unique piece is on view at Mallett of New Bond Street London and can be yours for a mere 42,000 Euro. Or a marvelous collection of 150 botanical models of fruit, mainly apples but also pears, pomegranates and figs, at the stand of Piva & C, Milano. These beautifully detailed specimens were made from wax and chalk by Francesco Valletti in the 1850's and their exquisite coloration makes them so lifelike, one could almost take a bite! Or the display of antique iron locks and safe boxes at the booth of Allesandro Cesati, Milano. In this setting, what was once purely utilitarian becomes as decorative as the finest jewelry.
I could go on and on. The historical portraits at Weiss, the Dutch primitive paintings as De Jonckheere, the scientific instruments at Trevor Philip & Sons, the Art Deco furniture at Philippe Denys, the hand painted wallpapers at Carolle Thibuat-Pomerantz, the Delft porcelain at Aronson Antiquairs...
TEFAF began as a small art fair primarily for Old Master paintings and antiques dealers. It has expanded into THE art event of the year and now incorporates a very strong contingent of modern art as well. One hopes that they will remain true to their roots and maintain as their focus the treasures of centuries ago and not wander down the path of the Basel Art Fair with its go-go buying frenzy atmosphere. The European Fine Art Fair maintains its mystique, its elegance, its thrill, by virtually guaranteeing the visitor a jaw-dropping selection of fabulous things - all for sale...at a certain price! And, oh, those tulips!