July 27, 2009 | London salerooms buzz through July with a frezy of activity. A more leisurely pace governs the rest of Europe at a string of exhibitions: Robert Adam landscapes in Edinburgh, medieval and Renaissance beauty in Paris, intercultural exchange in Vienna, and Böttger stoneware in Dresden.
When salerooms in the United States and on the Continent turn silent, London auction houses heat up for a seasonal finale of important sales of Western manuscripts and miniatures, old master paintings, nineteenth-century art, and European furniture. This July Sotheby’s features the sale of Barbara Piasecka Johnson’s extraordinary collection. Rich in Renaissance and baroque paintings and sculpture, including Jusepe de Ribera’s Prometheus, this staggering auction includes furniture and tapestries of the same periods.
Christie’s, at its sale of important European furniture, offers three pieces by the famed ébéniste André-Charles Boulle, whose tour-de-force marquetry—incorporating metal, tortoiseshell, and other exotic materials—and ormulu mounts defined taste in the latter part of Louis XIV’s reign. The Louis XIV cabinet-on-stand of about 1680 at right (estimate £700,000–1,000,000) and pair of Louis XIV coffres en tombeaux of about 1688 (estimate £2,500,000–4,000,000) have lived in Wrotham Park, Hertfordshire, since their purchase by the noted regency collector George Byng in the early nineteenth century. Sumptuous in both scale and design, these previously unpublished pieces enhance our understanding of Boulle’s oeuvre, particularly as he hit his mature stride in the 1680s.
June 2, 2009 | As the sun comes out of hiding, London's season gets into full swing. Amidst the social swirl of Royal Ascot, the Chelsea Flower Show, and Wimbledon, the venerable Grosvenor House Art and Antiques Fair remains a perennial highlight. Olympia, the daughter of that seminal show, has now matured into a formidable event of its own. As always, this year a number of other exhibitions will also vie for attention. The Queen's Gallery display of Sèvres from the Royal Collection will hold special appeal for porcelain aficionados even as, more broadly, it illustrates that English collecting has long extended to objects produced beyond the confines of the British Isles.
Thirty-six years ago, the Olympia International Art and Antiques Fair began as a means for younger, less established dealers, who were excluded from the select ranks of Grosvenor House, to showcase their wares in the week prior to and overlapping with the latter fair. Retired dealer of Chinese works of art Odile Kern (wife of Robin Kern, former director of Hotspur, the eminent English furniture gallery, which closed last summer) recalls the early years of Olympia as being "fun and energetic." Over time, its importance and quality have increased—although some, including Odile Kern, regret that in its efforts to compete with the Grosvenor House fair, Olympia has lost some of the light-heartedness of earlier years.
April 13, 2009 | Medieval splendor at Belgium's Groeningemuseum in Bruges and baroque magnificence at London's Victoria and Albert Museum ebulliently controvert the recession raging outside their doors. Each exhibition exudes the sumptuous confidence of the era that it explores. Nevertheless, beneath their luxurious veneers both offer significant insights into their respective subjects, making them must-see destinations for aficionados of European decorative arts.
After months of refurbishment, the Groeningemuseum reopens with an exhibition devoted to Charles the Bold, duke of Burgundy from 1467 to 1477, whose tomb lies just around the corner in the Church of Our Lady (Onthaalkerk Onze-Lieve-Vrouw). The soaring ambitions of the swashbuckling duke, who hoped to extend his territories from Bruges to Dijon, are reflected in the fineness of the art and objects with which he surrounded himself. The carved frame of an ivory chessboard, the fancifully foliate border of a manuscript, the enameled decoration of a gold and silver reliquary—such exquisitely rendered details speak to the attenuated elegance that made the Burgundian court the envy of Europe.
The exhibition showcases Flemish primitive masterpieces from the museum's permanent collection, such as Hans Memling's triptych of Willem Moreel, mayor of Bruges, and his family, but also includes important loans such as the Louvre's portrait of Charles's elegant third wife, the admirable Margaret of York, wearing a necklace with Cs and Ms interlaced with lovers knots in honor of her marriage.
March 12, 2009 | The European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht has become the show of all antiques shows, attracting art and antiques world luminaries from around the globe. For those wishing to counterbalance the excitement and the throngs with more tranquil pleasures, a host of venues of superlative historical and aesthetic interest lies just a short distance away.
The Bonnefantenmuseum Maastricht is showing Italian Renaissance masterworks acquired by Dutch collectors
The relatively small city of Maastricht (estimated population: 120,000) abounds with concerts, exhibitions, lectures, and special events timed for the massive influx of international collectors, curators, and art enthusiasts who come for the fair. In addition to these temporary attractions, this ancient city boasts numerous sites of historical interest, from the part Romanesque, part Gothic Basilica of Sint Servatius (the oldest church in the Netherlands) to its medieval city walls and thirteenth-century town gate-and even, the Museu…» More
February 20, 2009 | From the stalls of the bouquinistes along the Seine to the rarified galleries of Saint-Germain and the Madeleine and out to the puces (flea markets) at the Porte de Clignancourt in the north and the Porte de Vanves in the south, Paris brims with antiques. As with many things, from architecture to cooking, the French refined the trade into an art form and a ritual.
The sacrosanct relationship between dealer and client has special importance in a city in which buying an ordinary baguette is a complex act that is as social as it is commercial. The European sculpture dealer Patrice Bellanger defines it as "a profound cultural exchange" and "an intimate relationship born of shared interests, which is enriched over time." Despite the increase in Paris auction activity ensuing from the amended European Union regulations and François Pinault's purchase of Christie's in 1998, Bellanger conjectures, "Paris is the only city that has resisted public auctions." To fully depict Paris's antiques trade would require the pages of a book. The dealers described below, however, hint at its contours.
[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi» View All