The U.S. businessman, musician and Qatari prince were in the Netherlands to see 4 billion euros ($5.2 billion) of museum-quality artworks and jewelry. Pablo Picasso’s 1964 oil-on-canvas “Homme au Chapeau” was bought by a European collector for $8 million from the New York-based dealer Christophe van de Weghe, one of 265 exhibitors at the European Fine Art Fair, Tefaf.
The 10-day annual event in a conference center on the outskirts of Maastricht displays items ranging from antiquity to the 21st century. The fair, facing competition from last year’s inaugural Frieze Masters in London, has updated its design. Visitors observed that participating dealers have made an extra effort to show exceptional pieces -- with prices to match.
“The quality is very strong this year,” the London-based art adviser Joe Friedman said in an interview. “The price levels are quite high, which reflects the confidence of the dealers who have bought things from auctions and of the private collectors who are selling works with them on consignment.”
Scott Schaefer, senior curator of paintings at the J. Paul Getty Museum, was spotted at the preview, along with curators from the Louvre, Frick and Huntington museums, and the Chateau de Versailles.
“I like the vibe,” said West, pointing to an 18th-century Tibetan painting of a multi-armed deity on the booth of London-based Rossi & Rossi.
The dealer is also showing an 11-headed painted and gilded Avalokiteshvara, dating from about 1400, that has been kept in a European private collection for more than 40 years. Priced at 6 million euros, it had yet to find a buyer during the early hours of the fair.
Montreal-based Landau Fine Art is quoting $25 million for the 1915 Modigliani painting “Bride and Groom.”
New York-dealer Otto Naumann is asking $14 million for a recently discovered Velasquez head-and-shoulders portrait of a bearded man. A 16th-century Jan Mostaert painting, “Landscape With an Episode From the Conquest of America,” is thought to be one of the earliest depictions of the New World and has the same price tag from London-based dealer Dickinson.
Naumann sold the 1681 Carlo Maratta altarpiece “The Birth of the Virgin,” tagged at $5 million, to a U.S. collector. He wouldn’t divulge the final purchase price. London-based John Mitchell Fine Paintings sold the late-16th-century “The Choice between Young and Old” by the Dutch Mannerist artist Cornelis van Haarlem for $500,000 to another U.S collector.
Daniel Katz, also from London, is asking 7 million pounds for an Egyptian stone sculpture of the goddess Isis that he bought for 3.7 million pounds at Christie’s International, London, in October. The price was a record for an ancient Egyptian work of art sold at auction.
Katz sold a 19th-century Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux marble sculpture of Daphnis and Chloe to an undisclosed U.S. museum for $3 million.
The Mauritshuis of the Hague was also among museum buyers, paying 750,000 pounds for the 1592 Paul Bril painting on copper, “Saint Jerome Praying in a Rocky Landscape,” priced at about 1 million pounds from London-based Johnny Van Haeften. The dealer acquired the painting for 505,250 pounds at Christie’s in December.
Van Haeften also sold the early 17-century Jacob Jordaens canvas “The Meeting of Odysseus and Nausicaa,” priced at $6.5 million. He paid 2.1 million pounds for it last year.
“The Old Master galleries will do deals,” said Philip Hoffman, director of the London-based Fine Art Fund. “Some of the starting prices are high this year and made me slightly gulp. It’s a matter of negotiation.”
While the core of Tefaf remains, as always, Old Masters, the fair bolstered its modern and contemporary section by welcoming back Gagosian, the world’s biggest commercial gallery network, which last exhibited in 2006.
The New York-based dealership never discusses sales or prices. Its small 2012 Howard Hodgkin painting, “Trompe l’oeil” was identified by dealers as attracting an early red dot.
Works of that size by the veteran British painter are currently valued at about $400,000, dealers said.
Belgium-based Axel Vervoordt was among the exhibitors reporting strong early sales. The dealer, who shows his eclectic stock in a castle near Antwerp, sold the black-and-red 1961 abstract “Chizosei Shomenko” by the Japanese painter Kazuo Shiraga to a Swiss collector for 1.2 million euros.
Shiraga is a member of the postwar Gutai group, the subject of a show at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Another Swiss collector paid 1.7 million euros for ancient Greek marble torso of Venus.
Other exhibitors said buyers were more cautious at the preview than in previous years and collectors were balking at price levels that had been raised by record auction results and the ambitious expectations of private sellers.
“Life is difficult at the moment for people,” said the Brussels-based Asian art specialist Gisele Croes, who is offering for sale museum-quality early Chinese bronzes.
“The market is still rebuilding,” Friedman said. “Before the downturn, it was a frenzy. If you stopped to think about a piece it was too late. Now buyers are taking their time.”
The international art market contracted by 7 percent in 2012, according to a report published at Tefaf today.
Combined auction and dealer sales declined to 43 billion euros from 46.4 billion euros in the previous year, according to the European Fine Art Foundation. The market is just below the level it was in 2006, it said.
Sales in the Chinese art market, the world’s biggest in 2011, declined 24 percent to 10.6 billion euros in 2012. The U.S. regained its premier position with sales of 14.2 billion euros, a five percent increase. Sales in the European Union fell 3 percent to 15.8 billion euros.
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