VIPs Offered ‘Reasonably Priced’ $14 Million Velazquez

A painting by Velazquez priced at a “reasonable” $14 million is among works on show at the world’s biggest art and antiques fair, which opens to VIPs today.

The head-and-shoulders portrait of a bearded man is being offered for sale by the New York-based dealer Otto Naumann, one of 265 exhibitors at the 26th edition of the European Fine Art Fair, Tefaf, in the Netherlands.

The 10-day annual event in a conference center on the outskirts of Maastricht presents 4 billion euros ($5.2 billion) of museum-quality artworks and jewelry ranging in date from antiquity to the 21st century. It will attract more than 60,000 visitors.

“Collectors, or more generally rich people, will continue to buy what the market considers are the best pieces,” Brussels-based art adviser Henry Bounameaux said in an interview. “At fairs like Tefaf, they feel secure.”

With increasing numbers of collectors migrating toward contemporary art and government austerity programs cooling demand in the middle range, buyers of more traditional works are concentrating on exceptional unique pieces, dealers said.

Naumann is one of several exhibitors at Tefaf who is re-offering works from recent auctions. He acquired the newly discovered Velazquez for 3 million pounds ($4.7 million) at Bonhams, London, in December 2011.

Dream Clean

Works by 17th-century Spain’s greatest artist rarely appear for sale. Though the canvas has “cleaned like a dream,” the identity of the middle-aged sitter has yet to be confirmed. The price has been reduced from a “fair” $17 million to its current “reasonable” level, Naumann said in an e-mail.

The London dealer Daniel Katz is showing an Egyptian stone sculpture of the goddess Isis that sold 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.

Dating from about 664-525 B.C., the sculpture, which was acquired by a French diplomat in Alexandria in the 1840s, is being re-offered with a price of about 7 million pounds.

“I’m excited by Tefaf,” said Morgan Long, director of art investment at the London-based Fine Art Fund. “My only worry is that there’s a seemingly limited supply of fresh works at the moment, especially now that the auction houses are offering collectors the two options of public and private sales.”

One of the exceptional works to emerge from a private collection is a Tibetan sculpture included in last year’s “Bronze” exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, London.

Tsar Shot

The 11-headed painted and gilded Avalokiteshvara, dating from about 1400, has been kept in a European private collection for more than 40 years. It will be priced at 6 million euros by the London-based dealer Rossi & Rossi.

Among the quirkier items on sale is an Imperial gold seal by Carl Faberge incorporating a piece of lead shot that almost killed the Tsar of Russia in 1905. (The shot was accidentally fired from a cannon in a ceremonial salute and missed Nicholas II by a few feet.) This is being offered by the London dealer Wartski for 500,000 pounds.

Tefaf, aware of competition from last October’s slickly presented inaugural Frieze Masters fair in London, has updated its design.

It has also bolstered the modern and contemporary section by welcoming back Gagosian, the world’s biggest commercial gallery network, which last exhibited in 2006. First-time participants include the Germany-based Galerie Ludorff and Galerie Bastian.

Updating Tefaf

“It wouldn’t be good for Tefaf to be seen just as an Old Master fair,” said James Roundell, director of the London-based dealers Dickinson and a member of the Tefaf organizing committee. “We want it to be part of the 21st century.”

Gagosian will be showing the 1946 Pablo Picasso oil-on-panel work “Femme avec un couteau a la main et une tete de taureau” and the 2010 Jeff Koons gilded-steel sculpture “Pluto and Proserpina.” The gallery’s prices aren’t given to reporters.

Dickinson will be offering the 1960 Alberto Giacometti bronze bust “Annette,” tagged at $4.5 million.

“With Frieze Masters, Tefaf has a serious challenger now,” Bounameaux said. “London has a lot to offer that Maastricht can’t and I think coming editions will be decisive for the fair.”

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