A view of last year’s fair. Photo by Harry Heuts.
MAASTRICHT - TEFAF, the yearly ritual that this spring runs 15–24 March, is the Downton Abbey of art fairs—old-school all the way. Usually just referred to as Maastricht, for its Dutch host city, the fair is known for adhering to tradition in a changing world, both in the type of art that is on display as well as the strict vetting process. But like Downton’s starchy patriarch Lord Grantham, TEFAF has also faced the music and updated where necessary, and now includes a modern art section and a 20th-century design section.
Some 260 galleries are on hand this year, and the heart of the fair is always its offerings of Old Master paintings and exquisite pre-1900 decorative arts. This is the place to see and buy objects that just don’t make it to market very often, if ever. This year Moretti Fine Art (of London, Florence and New York) is offering a rare 14th-century panel by a follower of Giotto, probably painted in Naples, Saint Dominic. The gold leaf around the figure is likely to inspire devotion even among the non-religious.
London’s Rossi & Rossi is bringing a 14th-century Tibetan bronze that was recently featured in the “Bronze” show at the Royal Academy of Arts. It’s the earliest large-scale rendering of the 11-headed god Avalokitèshvara, and it emanates a palpable sense of balance and poise.
A Flemish sculptor’s bust of a great French philosopher is a highlight of the Tomasso Brothers Fine Art booth (another London dealer). The 16th-century thinker Michel de Montaigne was rendered in warm terracotta by Gilles-Lambert Godecharle in 1817 — the piece is actually the model for the stone bust of Montaigne now in the Musée Royal des Beaux Arts in Brussels.
TEFAF has a whopping 29 vetting committees, so you can be sure that these pieces (and the rest of what’s on view) have been pored over and examined. The fair is known to be home to some of the greatest sticklers around. My favorite line from the website is this: “Works of art that don't meet the high standards of TEFAF are removed from the stands and locked away until after the Fair.”
Visitors to Maastricht in March probably won’t see anything so dramatic happen in real time, but it’s nice to know that the hardline policy is at the ready. As with the denizens of Downton Abbey, rigorous standards are among the underpinnings that make the beautiful surface possible.