This was the brief exchange between two art dealers passing on the street a couple of weeks ago. It was Art Week in London. Of course, in the art world we have many art weeks, for Contemporary, Modern, Oriental and this one was for Old Masters. This week came right on the heals of the new fair in London, called “Masterpiece” which unfortunately I missed, being in St. Petersburg at the time. But I was there for Master Drawings London, Master Paintings Week as well as the auctions at Bonhams, Christies and Sotheby’s. So now you will understand the conversation up top.
One walks miles and miles between these destinations, up and down St. James’s, Bond Street and all the small streets on either side, One could not possibly be in all places at once with sales held simultaneously in several houses, and the dealers adding lectures to their schedules.
The auction houses had 17 sales between Tuesday and Friday which occurred morning, noon and night. In addition to the specialized sales of drawings, paintings, works of art, and decorative arts there was a sale of material from the country house of the Spencer family, or as the British newspaper The Telegraph put it, “Earl Spencer's £21.1 million auction of possessions from Diana's family ….Old Masters paintings, carriages and other treasures from the family home of Diana, Princess of Wales”. You can well imagine how the provenance gave an extra boost to the prices.
The dealers’ shows (46 in all) were organized in two groups, one that was called ‘Master Paintings Week” and the other “Master Drawings London” .
As you may remember from my earlier Missive of mid January this year we have “Master Drawings New York“ in the States. The concept originated in London with a drawings dealer, Crispian Riley-Smith, who exported it to New York. Each gallery does there own thing in their own space which allows the visitor to pick and choose according to their interests, and of course, it also gives one a chance to visit friends and colleagues to chat a bit.
The painting dealers, who do not have the same event in New York were inclined to do theme shows around a subject along the lines of their specialties, such as “Caravaggio’s Friends and Foe”. In another case two dealers who share a gallery, one presented Italian paintings and the other French, clearly delineating their space.
London is certainly an Old Master art center . Its museums have great permanent collections and exhibitions, several of which I did not want to miss. The British Museum had on “Fra Angelico to Leonardo: Italian Renaissance Drawings”. These were the greatest drawings from the two best collections in the world, the British Museum and the Uffizi in Florence.
The National Gallery was doing a didactic exhibition called “Close Examination: Fakes, Mistakes and Discoveries”. One could learn a lot here. With the paintings, it showed how new scientific techniques allow us to gain new insights into works of art that have been acquired with different attributions. Although some pictures were downgraded, others turned out to be great “discoveries”.
The Wallace Collection is a little gem worth a Missive of it own. I bring it up here because of the current exhibition of Renaissance bronzes collected by the renowned American architect, Peter Marino, a passionate collector in several fields.
I must admit that after one sees some of the works in the museum collections one realizes that those one is chasing in the auctions and at colleagues are not necessarily the greatest ever made. At the same time there are artists and works that were not appreciated before, but have today come into their own. Don’t forget that Vermeer was totally forgotten after his death and only 200 years later did art historians “resurrect” him. Also what is sought after today, may not be tomorrow. Tastes change and availability is a factor. Rarity has a value, but on the other hand when a category disappears from the market, it can become a case of ‘out of sight out of mind’.
All the collector or art dealer, for that matter, can do is buy what one likes and acquire the best piece available that one can afford.