As many of my readers know, I have had the good fortune to visit The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) several times. Held every March since 1988, this fair has evolved from a nice little European show to become arguably the most important art and antiques event in the world. Now featuring over 260 exhibitors from 16 countries TEFAF offers the finest of works spanning centuries of cultures all vetted and all for sale. Last year over 73,000 visitors made the trek to Maastricht, Holland - no easy task but better than it used to be - and paid the rather steep 55 Euro (approximately $77) entry fee for the opportunity to see museum quality pieces in a very elegant setting.
This year, for the first time, I was able to attend the opening day of the fair, a gala event that surpassed my wildest expectations. The anticipation was palpable as a crush of fair goers waited for the doors to open and were greeted first with a breathtaking floral display and then an army of waiters and waitresses bearing trays of complimentary sandwiches, soups and beverages of every description. The food and drink service never stopped, it just adjusted to the time of day as we snacked though lunch, tea, cocktails and finally dinner. The champagne flowed and men were shucking oysters (see right) at an incredible pace as visitors reveled in this art fueled jubilee!
But let me get back to the real point of the fair - the art and antiques! Once again the variety and quality of the offerings were astounding and I literally caught myself with my mouth gaping in awe at the beauty of both the objects and the presentations. Some stands were highly specialized, like the snuff bottles at Robert Hall, London, or the icons at Jan Morsink Ikonen, Amsterdam, or the gilt leather wall hangings at Kunsthandel Glass, Jülich. Others were more generalized and created complete interiors elegantly appointed with boisserie, fine furniture and decorations such as Mallett, London, Axel Vervoordt, Belgium, and J. Kugel Antiquaires, Paris.
For me the highlights ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous and I would be hard pressed to choose one favorite object. Memorable pieces include a set of painted clay figures from the Qing Dynasty (circa 1800) whose heads nodded up and down and were decorated with real human hair, a pair of double magnum size cut crystal decanters from 1840 that weighed a ton before they were even filled, a 16th Century ceremonial gilt bronze hammer for the opening of the Holy Door of the Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, and a 19th Century silver model of a dwarf cavalier believed to be a depiction of Sir Jeffry Hudson who was, get this, presented as a gift to Charles I and Henrietta Maria by emerging from a cold baked pie at a dinner given in their honor!
Exquisitely beautiful was a set of three devotional plaques made of coral, gilt copper and enamel in Trapani, Sicily, in the 17th Century. Monumental were the Da Porto Cabinets, a pair of enormous repositories made of tortoiseshell, ebony and ivory in Naples around 1660. Stunning in its simplicity was a Cartier Paris Art Deco pocket watch made of rock crystal and platinum. Slightly creepy was a Flemish anamorphose painting of "A Blind Hurly Gurdy Player" from the early 17th Century. Lost and found was a pair of Baroque marble statues of Jupiter and Juno by Giuseppe Piamontini. Expensive was the Rembrandt painting "Portrait of a Man with Arms Akimbo", 1658, with an asking price of $47 million.
I am not exaggerating when I tell you that after seven hours at the fair I still had not see everything! Fortunately I had the next day to come back and take a quieter look through the booths and explore a few aisles that I had missed entirely. At 4:30 it was time to catch the train back to Paris but I can hardly wait until next year - the twenty-fifth anniversary - to revel in the wondrous world of TEFAF!