The London market enters its ‘masters’ phase in earnest this week with a series of dealer-led events that herald the main Old Master auctions next week. On Thursday, ‘Masterpiece’, a fair for 150 dealers in disciplines from Old Masters and antiquities to classic cars and modern art, opens in the grounds of the Royal Chelsea Hospital. On Friday, ‘Master Paintings Week’, an initiative by 23 central London dealers, specialising predominantly in Old Master paintings begins, as does ‘Master Drawings’, a forum for dealers in Old Master and modern drawings.
The competition at the auctions will be the Old Master sales at Sotheby’s (a £20 million Guardi), Christie’s (a £20 million Stubbs and a £5 million Michelangelo drawing) and Bonhams, as well as Christie’s ‘Exceptional’ sale of 50 of the most expensive antique works of art it could find, including a £5 million to £8 million sculpture by Adriaen de Vries.
‘Masterpiece’ was launched last year to fill the gap left by the Grosvenor House fair, and it seems to have caught on with the dealers. Its large temporary structure is well designed, peppered with the best catering facilities available and, as the title suggests, has snob appeal. The idea is that dealers bring the very best examples from the specialist fields in which they operate. How many ‘masterpieces’ will there be, though, is questionable.
“A masterpiece is the ultimate expression of the genius, talent and craftsmanship of an artist of artisan,” says modern art dealer Pierre Dumonteil, from Paris, who is an exhibitor. He concedes that ‘in the quest of a masterpiece’ would be a more appropriate title to describe the fair’s aspirations.
So here are a few samples of what to expect. Book dealer Bernard Shapero has the fourth Bible ever printed in 1462, priced at £1 million. Daniel Crouch has the first map ever printed, in 1475, prices at £750,000. Musical instrument dealer Peter Biddulph is lending a Stradivari violin, made in 1733 and known as the ‘Rode’, which will be played in a concert given by the Manning Camerata. Biddulph values the violin, which is for sale, at between $8 million and $10 million. “It is certainly a masterpiece, by the master violin maker,” he says. One of the more unusual exhibits is a two-seater Spitfire fighter plane, the only surviving one that was used by the RAF in the Second World War. Priced £8 million it will stand next to the Caprice restaurant inside the fair. Blending the old with the modern, Old Master dealer Konrad Bernheimer features his photography department with ‘The Art of Seduction’, a selection of female portraits and nudes that includes ‘La robe trop etroite’ by fashion photographer Jean-Loup Sieff, priced at Ä24,000.
“A real masterpiece has an aura, and gives you the shivers of excitement,” says Bernheimer, Couldn’t agree more.