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Treasure Hunt

By: Sheila Gibson Stoodley

The European Fine Art Fair, held every March in Maastricht, is justly famous for its selection of Old Masters. It’s easy to spend days lingering in that realm alone, but that would risk missing the fair’s other delights. TEFAF is uniquely able to attract a staggeringly large selection of rare treasures of all styles, shapes and varieties from across the millennia and the world. The 22nd edition of the fair, which takes place March 13–22 at the Maastricht Exhibition and Congress Centre, will feature as many as 240 dealers from 15 countries. The following pages provide a glimpse of what will be on show.

A Feast of Love

Hendrik de Clerck’s Ceres, Bacchus, Venus and Cupid portrays an old Roman saying that became a popular artistic subject in the late 16th century: “Sine Cerere et Baccho friget Venus,” that is, without food and drink, love cannot flourish. Bacchus, the god of wine, stands to Venus’ right while Ceres, goddess of agriculture, is on her left. Seeing that both goddesses are distracted, Cupid seizes the opportunity to take a pear from Ceres’ cornucopia.

De Clerck, a Flemish artist, painted during the late Mannerist period, when the style’s bright colors were still fashionable but figures with elongated limbs—another characteristic of Mannerism—were not. “The yellows are very yellow, and the reds are very red. It’s very typical of Mannerist painting,” says Goedele Wuyts of the Paris gallery Haboldt & Co., which intends to offer the painting at TEFAF for ?375,000 ($505,000). “What’s unusual is for him to do a mythological subject on this scale,” she adds.

The De Clerck oil-on-panel work measures 48.4 by 33.8 inches, a size that might bolster the theory that it was commissioned for Archduke Ernest, an important Netherlandish official of the time. Wuyts says that despite having been stolen from its French owner by the Nazis during World War II (it was returned in 1945), the painting is “really well preserved.”

Month by Month

The pair of Paul Bril drawings that the London gallery Agnew’s will display at TEFAF presents two odd facts, and it’s hard to tell which is odder. Bril, a 16th-century Flemish artist, rendered the northern-looking landscapes while he was in Rome, and the images apparently never were made into engravings, though they were part of a series of 12 that depicted the months of the year, a topic suited for a series of prints. Agnew’s will bring this drawing, a winter scene of woodcutters at work that scholars have named January, and October, which depicts a stag hunt, to Maastricht, offering each for a price in the low six figures.

Six drawings, representing the months of March through August, are in the Louvre.March features Bril’s signature, the place where he drew them (“Roma”) and the date for the series, 1598. “They have a very strong provenance,” Agnew’s drawings specialist Gabriel Naughton says of the series, which once belonged to Everhard Jabach, a prominent collector in the 17th century. “He had a very great collection, and he was a financier,” says Naughton. “But like the times we’re in today, he was bankrupted, and he had to sell the drawings to Louis XIV.” Jabach’s prizes formed the backbone of what would become the Louvre’s drawings collection.

Silver Savor

This 18th-century Dutch silver potpourri pot made people happy before they laid eyes on it. Potpourri pots served the same purpose in Holland in 1780 as they do now, but the need for them was more urgent. “They didn’t bathe as much as they do now, so everything was a little bit smelly at the time,” says John Endlich, a dealer in Haarlem, Netherlands. “Today we have potpourri out of a can, but then potpourri was dried leaves, mostly flower leaves, which smelled nice. That’s why the pot’s top is open, so you could smell it through the whole room.”

The pot, which is about 4 inches by 4 inches and which Endlich has priced in the vicinity of ?50,000 (approximately $70,000), was fashioned by the silversmith Willem Carel van Meurs. He created one other, which is now in a museum in Holland. Dutch-made silver potpourri pots are unusually rare; only 20 are known, and few are in private collections. “They were more expensive because they were silver, which means they were made of money,” Endlich says, referring to the practice of regarding pieces of decorative household silver as literal liquid assets that could be melted for their cash value. “If potpourri pots were made of silver, the owners had to be really wealthy.”

Quality Time

Like most of the clocks Cartier produced in the early 20th century, this 1930 Egyptian Art Deco 8 Day minute repeater is unique. Duncan Semmens, sales director of Hancocks, the London gallery that will bring the timepiece to TEFAF, says the Cartier representative to whom he showed it “hasn’t seen another like it.” The £250,000 ($370,000) clock features a mother-of-pearl dial, a nephrite base and a generous amount of lapis lazuli and gold. The lapis lazuli button on the top of the clock activates the minute repeater function, which strikes the time. If it were possible to reach into the photo to press the button, the timepiece would mark the hour with 10 chimes, followed by seven swift chimes for the minutes.

A row of gold-mounted cabochon sapphires decorates the area where the clock connects to its base, and small pieces of jade augment the gold and lapis decorations on the base that suggest the arms of the Sphinx. “With the tomb of Tutankhamun opening in the 1920s, Egyptian themes were very popular then,” Semmens says.

Dot, Dot, Dot

In 1914, in the latter half of his career, Henri Le Sidaner moved to the town of Versailles and never left. Naturally enough, he painted what he saw. During the 25 years he lived there, the artist would occasionally unfold his easel on the grounds of the famous palace. He painted Bassin de Trianon à l’automne at Versailles in 1937, the same year he became president of the Académie des Beaux-Arts. Though Le Sidaner’s enchanting treatment of the scene renders any connection to real-world geography irrelevant, the windows of the building in the background identify it as an exterior of the Chateau du Grand Trianon, a former haunt of Napoleon.

“The brush strokes are very tapestry-like, very complex. They’re more consistently rounded, as opposed to tiny dashes. That’s what makes it so rich,” says Daphne Alazraki, the Manhattan dealer who will offer the Le Sidaner for $345,000 at her TEFAF booth. “It’s a very pointillist piece. Also, the lush colors give it a magical quality. The painting really draws you in.”

Intelligent Design

Belgian dealer Philippe Denys and several colleagues who handle 20th-century furniture and design will see a long-standing wish fulfilled when TEFAF opens this month. For the first time, the fair will include a section just for their material. A total of eight dealers will participate, and TEFAF officials have rearranged the fair’s layout to provide the dealers with their own dedicated area. Denys, who says he has been pushing for the special section for “three or four years,” believes “it will be the most extraordinary thing at Maastricht this year.”

His contributions will include two rare lounge chairs made by Poul Kjaerholm and Jorgen Hoj in 1952. The ash wood-framed furnishings, with seats and backs of halyard line (a type of rope), are among the fewer than 10 surviving wooden prototypes for Kjaerholm pieces. The two shown here evolved into the PK25, a metal-and-halyard-line chair that was sold at high-end boutiques. “Kjaerholm and Hoj were both young designers at the time,” says Denys. “This is the only project they made together. They came out of school, worked together and went their separate ways.” Denys has priced the pair at ?30,000 euros ($40,000).

Author: admin | Publish Date: March 2009

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