Masterpiece art fair opens for business

Event timed during Wimbledon targets “cultural tourists” as well as connoisseurs, and draws celebs from Rod Stewart to Charles Saatchi.

More than 7,000 visitors attended the VIP preview of the Masterpiece fair in London yesterday, 25 June, in the South Grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea. The timing of the art, antiques and antiquities fair, held during the Wimbledon tennis championships, is fundamental in enticing “cultural tourists” as well as connoisseurs. Crucially, several collectors also said they were in London for the Impressionist and Modern art auctions taking place this week.

“The fair is definitely targeting people who have disposable income,” said a London dealer who preferred to remain anonymous. High-profile visitors included the artist Marc Quinn, the rock star Rod Stewart, the UK collector-dealer Charles Saatchi and the fashion designer Tom Ford.

Masterpiece 2014, now in its fifth edition, includes 157 exhibitors in total, compared to 162 last year. “There are fewer exhibitors, but they have taken larger stands, and there is less stand-sharing this year,” says a fair spokeswoman. There are 15 US galleries (compared to 20 in 2013) while UK dealers are making their presence felt this year (99 compared to 97 last year).

As many fairs worldwide strive to make their mark, collectors explained why they think Masterpiece matters. The British interior designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard, who was seeking works for a client in the £50,000 to £60,000 range, said: “This is a good place for a brand to be seen. The fair draws in dealers from around the world.”

The Hong Kong-based collector Andy Hei, who is also the director of the Fine Art Asia fair, said that Masterpiece increasingly resembles the traditional Grosvenor House fair that closed in 2009. “Not many fairs cover ancient, Modern and contemporary so well,” he said.

“London needs a great fair. This meets 98% of the criteria,” said the rare books dealer Daniel Crouch who shares a stand with London’s Pangolin Gallery, and is selling works priced between £50 and £1.2m. “But the fair could definitely benefit from more Old Master paintings dealers,” he adds. The number of dealers categorised under “fine art/paintings” increased this year, rising from 17 to 22.

Steven Beale of Trinity House Gallery, which has branches in London and New York, had seen US and Canadian collectors at the preview. A 1913 painting by John Singer Sargent, Cypresses and Pines, available with the gallery is priced at $12m. London’s Philip Mould gallery sold, meanwhile, a 1610-15 portrait miniature by Peter Oliver for more than £30,000.

An ambitious selling exhibition of large-scale outdoor sculpture by the British artist Phillip King in nearby Ranelagh Gardens demonstrates that the organisers are also focusing more on curated special projects.