The vetting of TEFAF 2013. Photographer: Loraine Bodewes.
MAASTRICHT - Our summer sale-gathering momentum is always interrupted (in a good way) around this time of year by the razzmatazz of TEFAF, a massive week for the Fine and Decorative trade. In some cases, dealers will aim to do half their annual business in these ten days. This experience, of such a huge amount of pressure focused on such a short space of time is something with which I can relate: consider that, twice a year, in just two evenings, one in early July the other in early December, we make over three-quarters of our total annual sales.
There are several aspects of TEFAF that always fascinate. From an Old Master perspective, recent years have been a little thin on major discoveries. For the most part, galleries have shown familiar stock alongside recent auction purchases. It is however these recent purchases that always attract my attention. This is the first chance to see, in a cleaned and restored state, some of the paintings that one catalogued and sold the prior year. As we rarely clean paintings before selling them, much of the talk amongst the trade at our pre-sale exhibitions is as to how such and such a painting will clean; have the pigments survived as well as they appear to, or does the centuries-old varnish mask a murkier state of preservation? Dealers will often hedge their bets on this and make an informed decision based on their own experience and that of their trusted restorer. But it must be a nerve-jangling time, once their bid is successful, when the restorer carefully removes varnish, dirt, overpaint and whatever else. Amongst those pictures that have passed through our hands that I am most looking forward to seeing this week are Willem van de Velde's Shipping a Calm that was bought by Johnny van Haeften in December 2012. It is a magical piece of painting and one that Johnny tells me is just as pleasing post-cleaning as we had all hoped.
Stand of Johnny van Haeften at TEFAF 2013. 'The meeting of Odysseus and Nausicaa' by Jacob Jordaens dominates the stand of Johnny Van Haeften at TEFAF 2013. Photo: Loraine Bodewes.
Of course it is not just an Old Master fair, and once the ‘work’ of trawling the Old Master dealers is done, there is much to see and do. It would be impossible to see everything properly in the 36 hours I am there and so one has to prioritise: I tend to wander over to Sculpture and Antiquities but there really is something for every taste conceivable.
Although I have to admit I often find the blue sky of the car park a welcome relief after a day spent entirely on my feet in the cavernous exhibition space, it is always a magnificent and humbling experience walking from gallery to gallery, and one I look forward to year upon year.