For fifty weeks of the year, the city of Maastricht is quiet and quaint. Situated very near the Belgian border, on the banks of the Maas River, its 118,000 inhabitants live among medieval streets and squares filled with historic buildings, chic boutiques and lots of restaurants and cafés.
But for the past 30 years, for ten action-packed days in March, the city becomes the undisputed center of the art and antiques world when it hosts The European Fine Art Fair, or TEFAF. This year 263 purveyors of the finest in antiquities, clocks, furniture, jewelry, silver, porcelain, maps, rugs, paintings, sculptures, and items that one hasn't even dreamed of, gathered in the MECC Convention Center miraculously transformed into a paradise of beauty and wonder that literally made my jaw drop. It had been three years since I last had the opportunity to visit TEFAF and I was expecting to be amazed, but the sight of the entryway with floor to ceiling panels studded with thousands of the biggest pink roses I have ever seen, each panel separated by columns of black and silver, was truly over the top.
And it just got better! Some of my favorite pieces in the "absolutely fabulous" category would have to include an 1805 gilded bed with a blue silk satin canopy and bedclothes that came from a chateau in the Loire Valley on the stand of Pelham, London/Paris. Beautiful and bizarre was the pair of Qing Dynasty porcelain tureens with covers in the shape of carp fish on the stand of Jorge Welsh, Lisbon/London. I also enjoyed examining the 19th Century travel case for a gem engraver complete with drawers filled with samples of cameos, miniature intaglios and semi precious stones at Alessandra di Castro Antichita, Rome. Galerie Meyer - Oceanic Art, Paris, featured an excedingly rare Korwar Ancestor Figure from West Papua, Melanesia, that had been in the collection of the Surrealist giant André Breton. Jaime Eguiguren, Buenos Aires, had a collection of 18th Century Neopolitan Nativity figures just like the ones on the Christmas Tree at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Several booths were so completely fabulous that I couldn't choose a favorite piece, like the "curiosity cabinet" of Georg Laue, Munich, or the exquisite adornements at Van Gelder Indian Jewellery, Holland.
The fine art section was also wonderful. Kunsthandel P. de Boer, Amsterdam, was showing a suite of oils by Old Master painter Sebastian Vranckx depicting the four seasons in Flemish landscapes. The four seasons were also depicted in larger than life size white marble figures on the stand of Robert Bowman, London, and to finish up "suites" I have to mention the five panel "Arcadian Landscapes" by Jurriaan Andriesson (1742-1819) that could transform your living room into the "Fragonard Room" at the Frick Mansion for a mere 1.5 million Euro, hanging at Agnew's, London.
Prominently featured on the stand of Hammer Galleries, New York, was a Gilbert Stuart "Portrait of George Washington", 1822, formerly in the Armand Hammer Foundation. Another New York dealer, Otto Naumann Ltd., showed a very large oil painting by Michele Giovanni Marieschi (1710-1743) depicting "The Courtyard of the Doge's Palace, Venice, with the Scala dei Giganti, Saint Mark's Basilica beyond". Daniel Katz, Ltd., London, devoted an entire wall to thirty marvelous plaster statuette caricatures of musicians and personalities done by Jean Pierre Danton, aka Danton le Jeune, circa 1840.
This year the organizers of TEFAF offered a new section devoted to Works on Paper that featured 19 first time exhibitors specializing in prints, drawings, photographs and rare books. It was a little out of the way, but the merchandise was of the highest quality and worth the trek.
I spent a fantastic two days discovering treasures in Maastricht both at the fair and exploring the historic old city. Cambodian Buddhas, French "papiers peintes", Delft porcelains, Russian icons, gold pocket watches, jade snuff boxes, Art Nouveau tables and Medieval stained glass windows - it was a plethora of riches to feed the soul, all fully vetted and all for sale. I can hardly wait to come back next year!