March 16 (Bloomberg) -- Fashion designer Calvin Klein was among the VIPs browsing at the world’s biggest art and antiques fair as portraits of King Henry VIII and a New York drag queen were among sales each worth more than $2 million.
The full-length portrait of the Tudor monarch was offered at 2.5 million pounds ($3.9 million) by the London-based dealer Mark Weiss, one of 261 exhibitors at the 25th European Fine Art Fair, Tefaf, in the Dutch town of Maastricht. The recently discovered canvas, by an unknown English artist and dating from about 1600, was sold to an agent representing a European collector, said Weiss.
Tefaf is Europe’s biggest commercial event devoted to art ranging from antiquity to the 21st century, with $1.3 billion of works on offer. Though dealers in Old Masters are its core exhibitors, a shortage of museum-quality historic paintings and collectors’ shifting tastes have resulted in an increasing emphasis on more recent material. The 10-day fair, organized by dealers, attracts about 70,000 visitors.
“This is a special fair that attracts top-notch European collectors,” said Matt Carey-Williams, director of the London-based gallery Haunch of Venison. “Where else can you buy something that’s 1,000 years old and a painting that’s still wet?”
Haunch sold a 2012 drawing of writhing figures by the Iraq-born Ahmed Alsoudani to a U.S. collector for $65,000.
Adam Weinberg, director of the Whitney Museum of American Art, was also spotted at the preview, as was Sheikh Saud al Thani of Qatar, a Tefaf regular, and European collectors such as Mick Flick from Germany and Mimi Dussolier from Belgium.
As has been increasingly the case in recent years, most of the early momentum was from modern contemporary works.
New York-based dealer Christophe van de Weghe sold Andy Warhol’s 1975 silkscreen drag-queen study “Ladies and Gentleman,” priced at 1.7 million euros ($2.2 million), to a German collector. A 1965 Alexander Calder hanging mobile, “Untitled,” tagged at 1.2 million euros, was also among Van de Weghe’s sales.
The most expensive work in the fair is the unique 1977 Henry Moore black-marble sculpture, “Reclining Figure: Curved,” offered by the Montreal-based dealer Laundau Fine Art for $35 million. The price had risen after a record 19.1 million pounds was paid for a 1951 Moore bronze of a reclining figure at Christie’s International in February, said dealers. The stone sculpture wasn’t among the confirmed purchases during the early hours of the fair.
This year, Tefaf had made a concerted effort to attract collectors from China, which in 2011 overtook the U.S. as the world’s biggest market for art and antiques, according to a report commissioned by the European Fine Art Foundation and published today. China had a 30 percent share of the world’s auction and dealer sales in 2011, amounting to 46.1 billion euros, the report said.
More than 100 Chinese collectors accepted invitations to Tefaf 2012. At least two large groups were seen browsing the booths, particularly those specializing in Asian art. They made purchases from the Brussels-based dealer Gisele Croes, who sold eight Chinese pieces within the first three hours of the preview, ranging in price from 180,000 euros to 650,000 euros.
“Business is quicker this year,” said Croes, who remembers how news of the Japanese tsunami darkened the mood at Tefaf 2011.
The London, New York and Hong Kong dealer Littleton & Hennessy is offering a 14th or 15th century Longquan celadon-glazed meiping vase and cover. One of the few remaining examples to retain its original lid, it quickly attracted a reserve from a North American collector, priced at 3.2 million euros.
Old Master exhibitors were reluctant to test the market with major-name paintings priced at more than $10 million -- exactly the sort of works on which the fair’s reputation has been built over the last quarter of a century.
Last year, New York-based dealer Otto Naumann brought and wasn’t able to sell a Rembrandt priced at $47 million. This year the dealer is showing 35 paintings ranging from $65,000 to $2.5 million.
“I haven’t seen any masterpieces,” Morgan Long, director of investment at the London-based Fine Art Fund, said in an interview. “If the Old Master dealers don’t bring really great things, then it risks bringing down the reputation of the fair. Maybe they just aren’t available anymore.”
“A Young Lady Playing the Virginal” by the 17th-century Dutch artist Gerrit Dou is one of the few stand-out Old Masters. Bought at Christie’s, New York, in January, and now cleaned, this panel painting is priced about 4 million pounds on the booth of London-based dealer Johnny van Haeften. It also hadn’t attracted a formal reserve during the first six hours of the preview.
As the fair entered its second day, dealers said the mood at Tefaf was more positive than 2011.
“There are more bodies, more buyers,” said San Francisco-based dealer Anthony Meier. “The atmosphere is altogether more festive than a year ago.”
Meier sold the 1987 Gerhard Richter landscape “Kleine Strasse (629-3)” to a European collector. The photo-based canvas, showing a deserted country road flanked by trees, was priced at about $5 million.
Meier was one of several dealers who watched collectors jostling with each other for free food and Champagne at Tefaf's crowded evening preview. Attendance at the opening event was 10,314, an increase of 4 percent on 2011, said the organizers.
A display of newly-discovered early works on paper by Warhol attracted droves of buyers to the booth of the Munich dealer Daniel Blau. Dating from the 1950s and influenced by contemporary advertising, these line drawings had been found in the Andy Warhol Foundation. Blau sold 20 of the cache of 50 on the opening night for prices ranging from 20,000 euros to 60,000 euros to buyers that included a Hong Kong Chinese. The booth was re-hung with a new selection the following day.
Leading sales in the Old Master section of the fair included a still life by the early 18th-century Dutch still-life painter Jan Van Huysum.
The artist's signed and dated 1730 mahogany panel painting “Flowers in a Terracotta Vase” was sold by Sotheby's-owned subsidiary Noortman Master Paintings of Amsterdam to another European collector, priced at 4.8 million euros.
The painting had sold at auction for $7.3 million at Sotheby's New York in January 2006, underlining perceptions that high-quality Old Masters are maintaining, if not enhancing their value in the current market.
Tefaf Maastricht runs through March 25. Information: http://www.Tefaf.com.
(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
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