Tulips flourish at TEFAF 2013. Photo: Harry Heuts.
MAASTRICHT - There are fewer tulips this year and, though I'm sure it's not the tulips' fault, less people. At least this was the case by Monday night when there was barely a collector in sight. Monday is always quiet though, so the dealers were saying, and thankfully so, in the wake of the whirlwind opening night and weekend. Traditionally a majority of the big deals happen in those opening 3 1/2 days, before the Monday lull-a chance to catch one's breath and reflect on the balance sheet. There have been a few major old master sales thus far, some published immediately after opening and which, I suspect, in many cases were actually completed prior to TEFAF. Though many dealers were admitting to having a 'sticky' time, I did see a smattering of red dots, noticeably on and around one genre or type in particular - very small, highly detailed Dutch and Flemish cabinet pictures. I mean REALLY small. Pieter de Boer, the charming patriarchal Amsterdam dealer, sold 5 pictures yesterday none bigger than my hand.
I do like it when dealers think outside the box, some literally so. Koetser returned to his Frieze Masters method of display, exhibiting his mesmerising Van Der Ast and his Rubens in a packing crate without sides, suspended from the ceiling. Both were sold—the former, like those he displayed in this way at Frieze, to a new, first time client. Coll y Cortes brought just two pictures and displayed their wares against an imaginative black and white photographic backdrop depicting the interior of a church in Jaen in southern Spain.
The compelling packing crate displays at Koetser.
A few of my favourite and most unexpected highlights include a simply divine gold ground of two standing male saints in the Decorative Arts section. This tiny panel, of an extraordinarily high quality, was painted in Prague in 1340—something I would never have guessed. For both its rarity and brilliance of execution it is one of the best things at the fair. There is an exquisite head study of a girl, in pastel, by Francois Boucher with Galerie Perrin, though one’s pleasure when admiring it is a little diluted by the Ambipur plugin directly beneath, and a fascinating is it Agostino/ is it Annibale Carracci portrait of a boy with Rob Smeets of Milan. Other than these individual items, Otto Naumann's stand as a whole is probably the most impactful, with a series of very large pictures, all of them fabulous, by Maratta, Baburen, Baglione and Lely, not forgetting his Velazquez of course.
So as you can see, there is much to admire, especially if you delve a little deeper and don't limit yourself to the 'household names' that greet you at the entrance, magnificent though those stands are. For me it is always the unexpected that I remember, and that makes this fair so special, and after a day here everyone will come away with a favourite that a few hours earlier they had no conception of whatsoever.