The riches of Maastricht measure up once more

Even after 40 years, TEFAF never fails to delight, with enticing works of art of every material, creed and age of antiquity.

As even a pickled shark would testify, there can never be a permanent stasis. For 40 years, I have watched TEFAF, the annual Maastricht antique and fine art fair, grow from an optimistic experiment to the world’s greatest marketplace – from the 28 exhibitors at Pictura in Dec-ember 1975 to the 274 at this year’s TEFAF between March 13 and 22. Along the way, there have been many structural changes, some of which endured while others were abandoned, and change, without losing the essence, is essential to continuing success.

That first fair was heavily weighted towards Dutch Old Masters and 19th-century paintings, a notable exception being the display of French work from 1850 to the early 20th century shown by Arthur Tooth from London, and it was only in 1991 that a separate Modern and Contemporary section was launched. At times, it has app-eared to be the weakest area, because it is judged not only by the remarkable standard of older art here, but must also stand against established contemporary fairs elsewhere. As the whole of TEFAF has expanded, it has become much more difficult to get a general overview and it can seem as if two separate fairs, old and new, happen to be sharing the same halls.

One of this year’s innovations, a section entitled ‘Night Fishing’, taking sculpture as its theme, will attempt to narrow this divide. Until I have seen it, I can only quote the organisers: `Night Fishing is a curated show of work by post-modern and contemporary artists designed to complement the TEFAF Modern section. Artists have been chosen on the basis of a body of work that makes art historical references to the objects that are exhibited throughout the fair that between them represent over 7,000 years of art history.

`Ten galleries will each be invited to present a single artist exhibition in a specially designed area. Sydney Picasso will curate the way in which the works are exhibited in close collaboration with exhibitors.’

Mrs Picasso is an American-born art historian and author and the section’s title refers to the 1939 painting Night Fishing at Antibes by her husband Claude’s father, with its references to Raphael. She has her own piscatorial expertise as author with Anthony Meyer and Klaus Maaz of the splendid Fish Hooks of the Pacific Islands (Daniel Blau, 2011).

A serious treat this year will be the loan of drawings from the oldest museum in the Nether-lands, the Teylers Museum, Haarlem, including two Michelangelos and a Raphael.

Herewith a selection of likely highlights.

The German-born Caspar Netscher (about 1639-84) was a genre and small-portrait painter who worked mostly in The Hague. His enchanting 18⅛in by 14 ⅝in Woman feeding a Parrot, 1666, withRichard Green was owned by the Elector Palatine Johan Wilhelm II (1658-1716) and much later seized on behalf of Goring. It was restituted last year.

The London gallery Alon Zakaim makes an impressive showing with this early but assured 14⅞in by 22in gouache and watercolour by van Gogh (Fig 1), painted in 1882 when he had been studying with his cousin Anton Mauve. By chance, a van Gogh charcoal drawing of the same year will be at the Paris Salon du Dessin later in March. The windmill on the shores of Laakhaven was built in 1699.

The last time that the pair of carved giltwood chinoiserie torcheres (Fig 5) by Thomas Johnson to be offered by Mallett was on the market was at Mentmore, the country-house sale of the 20th century, held by Sotheby’s in 1977. At that time, their English origin was unsus-pected and, although their quality was recognised, they were catalogued as German and some poor restoration needed to he attended to. Johnson, one of the finest Rococo carvers and designers, was later retrieved from obscurity by Helena Hayward and these are a welcome addi-tion to hisoeuvre—a word he would have objected to, being against French influences. He called Chippendale ‘that damned plagiarist’ for imitating French styles.

An example of Occidentalism, perhaps, is the Chippendale-style wood-and-ivory Vizagatapam chair of about 1760, also with Mallett.

Giovanni Sarti has a rare subject by the Sienese Bernardino Mei (1612-76), who worked in Rome. His 81⅛in by 71⅞in Samson freeing himself after Delilah had tied him clown by his hair, about 1657 (Fig 2), shows Delilah’s abortive attempt to drain Samson’s strength, rather than the usual hair-cutting. Another interesting detail is the inclusion of a pagan Cupid flying away to show the betrayal of the hero’s love.

In 1953, Nicolas de Stael toured Italy with his family in a camper-van. He wrote: The culminating point was Agrigento and the museum at Syracuse.’ He drew Sicilian landscapes on the spot, but, on his return to France, he painted their essence rather than literal facts. As the Paris dealer Applicat-Prazan writes: `He adopted an explosive use of colour. He is never so abstract as when he depicts a subject, often classical (landscape, person, still life, seascape), and which is a mere pretext.’ The gallery has his 23⅝in by 31⅞in Agrigente (Fig 3), dating from 1954.

This year, Vanderven, the ‘s-Hertogenbosch Oriental specialists, have produced a catalogue of enamel-decor-ated biscuitwares, which were particularly in fashion during the Kangxi period, 1662-1722. One figure represents Guandi, one of the early Han ‘Five Tiger Generals’, who heroically opposed a rebellion, but was executed in 220ec. In a manner reminiscent of canon-isation, he was posthumously decreed a duke, prince and, ultimately, ‘Emperor of God’. Now named God of War, he also symbolises justice, honesty, integrity and money-making—bankers take note—and his temples still attract pilgrims.

Adrian Sassoon is known for contemporary and older ceramics and glass and, despite the unusual material, the work of Michael Eden fits his portfolio well. This example, Flaubert, 2014 (Fig 7), is a one-off made from a high- quality nylon material encased in patinated copper and it is 17¾in high.

The Weiss Gallery offers eight portraits by the younger Frans Pourbus (1569-1622)—the larg-est group outside the Medici collection in the Uffizi and Pitti Palace, Florence. They come from different sources and include a 47½in by 38in three-quarter length of an unnamed man aged 56, which was described in the 19th century as ‘a masterpiece of truth and expression’ (Fig 4) and a 21¼in by 18¼in half-length of Elisabeth of France (1602-44) aged about 10. She married Philip IV of Spain.

Among the antiquities with Charles Ede will be perhaps the oldest actual portrait at the fair. It is an early-2nd-century AD Roman-Egyptian funerary painting of a young woman (Fig 8). In tempera and encaustic, it measures 13⅛in by 5½in and came from er-Rubayat, Fayum.

A 25⅛in-long bronze figure of a water buffalo with Littleton & Hennessey has probably been in a private British collection since the 1860s. The buffalo is one of the 12 horary animals representing Chou, the second of the 12 branches of the Chinese calendar system, and is associated with prosperity, tranquillity and strength. No other bronze of this exceptional size and quality is known. How-ever, it may be compared in quality to the life-size bronze of an ox commissioned by the Qianlong Emperor overlooking Lake Kunming in the gardens of the Summer Palace, Beijing.

Charles Beddington of Savile Row, formerly head of Christie’s Old Master Paintings, is a well-respected scholar of the Venetian 18th century. He has a most pleasing 7in by 10in A Capriccio of a ruined Classical Portico and a Villa by the Venetian Lagoon by Francesco Guardi (1712-92). A perfect post-card for a Grand Tourist.

James Butterwick is both a collector and dealer in Russian art, working from a London gallery by appointment. Among his specialities is Alexander Bogomazov (1880-1930), a Russian-born Ukrainian who combined Italian Futurism and Cubism to produce Cubo-Futurism. His 9⅞in by 11⅞in watercolour Log rolling is a study for a panel of his 1928-29 triptych The Work of Sawyers. His career was short and he died of TB.

Crouch Rare Books specialises in atlases and maps and will have a number of suitable offerings for the Dutch market, among them Johannes Blaeu’s folio Le Grand Atlas (Fig 10) —12 volumes, Amsterdam, 1663 —and a large wall map by Cornelis Anthonisz (1499—about 1557), Bird’s-eye View of Amsterdan, a 42in by 43⅛in woodcut (Fig6).

The Tomasso Brothers are best known for sculpture and works of art, often on a large scale. This time, two of their stars are the smallest items on the stand, 3in by 2⅛in miniature portraits of the last Jacobite claimants: Prince Charles Edward (1720-88) and his brother, the furure Cardinal Duke of York, Prince Henry Benedict (1725 – 1807, in watercolour and gouache on vellum by Jean-Etienne Liotard. Version of the miniatures were not only sent to British supporters, but also to European rulers, perhaps to signal that the Princes were available for marriage. As it happened, neither brother turned out to be a good prospect.