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Art fairs

A marked improvement at Grosvenor House and Olympia

Collectors from all over the world turned up with lots of money and confidence—and so did the British

Dealers say that this year the fairs were the best since the art market recovery began in late 1996. There were collectors from all over the world with a great deal of money to spend and the confidence to invest it in art and antiques. Many dealers reported that, at long last, British private clients were much in evidence.

Grosvenor House got off to a strong start, with the English furniture dealers in particular doing extremely well. Norman Adams, Witney Antiques, Hotspur and Apter-Fredericks all reported excellent sales. Apter-Fredericks sold their diminutive Queen Anne bureau bookcase within an hour of the fair opening for approximately £300,000 and Hotspur sold a pair of Gainsborough armchairs which had come from Chatsworth. The continental dealers were less successful in the first week and Ming furniture dealer Grace Wu Bruce reported a slow start to the fair.

Sculpture sold extremely well and William Agnew had his best ever fair, selling twelve sculptures at the opening. Seago sold their star object, a marvellous Coade-stone urn based on the Medici and Borghese vases, while Richard Philp sold two-thirds of his stand on the opening night, including a Nottingham alabaster triptych for £30,000.

At Olympia it was the English furniture dealers again who did extremely well and it seemed to be the best objects which were most in demand. Trade was slower at the lower end of the market. At 38,000 attendance was down on last year. While the fair opened strongly it was quiet in the middle before picking up for the last few days.

John Thompson sold a Queen Anne walnut bureau cabinet for over £100,000 and Freeman and Lloyd a William and Mary marquetry cabinet on chest for £30,000. Furniture dealer, David Dickinson, had only three pieces remaining in his entire stock and oak dealer Lucy Johnson sold to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in Virginia. Among the other top pieces to go were Richard Philp’s sixteenth-century Ligurian cabinet, Sweerts de Landas’s seventeenth-century Italian statues of the gods for well into six figures, Koopman & Rare Art’s de Lamerie silver basket for around £100,000 and Joanna Booth’s Mortlake tapestry for around £22,000.

Several dealers at the Ceramics Fair also reported their best year ever, including English porcelain dealer Roderick Jellicoe and Adrian Sassoon, who specialises in contemporary ceramics and glass as well as eighteenth-century French porcelain. The former did especially well with his stock of Isleworth porcelain from a recently identified factory, exactly the sort of object to excite the specialised audience which attends the fair.

Contemporary ceramics did well. Adrian Sassoon -believes that after seeing them exhibited for several years, the buying public are at last accepting the value and interest of this field.

Sales of Oriental ceramics were slower than expected. This was partly due to the lack of Japanese buying but there is also concern that, with so much attention now focused on the Asian Art Fair held in New York in April, despite the outstanding quality of its exhibits, the Ceramics Fair is losing its pull with collectors of Oriental art.

While museum curators from across America and Europe attended, several dealers remarked on the absence of curators from the Victoria and Albert Museum. The last day of the fair was badly affected by the London tube strike but otherwise attendance was similar to last year.

The Antiquarian Book Fair changed its dates to the beginning of June, moved venue to Olympia and increased its size by 53%. The result was an increase in total sales from £1.8 million last year to £3.5 million this year. There were far more private buyers and an increase in the gate from 1,500 to over 4,000. According to Adrian Harrington, chairman of the fair, average sales increased by 25%. He attributes this to the bullish market combined with the fair’s new format.

Launched this year, the Hali Antique Carpet and Textile Fair got off to a good start. No accurate sales or attendance figures are available. The general impression from dealers is that it was the middle and lower range things which sold best. Clive Loveless was disappointed not to find more big American collectors at the fair, but sold his best piece, an abstract African Mende kpokpo textile, for around £7,500. Brian MacDonald of Samarkand Galleries was delighted to have sold two important pieces to a major German collector. He added that next year he would be bringing more commercial stock and that vetting was not as strict as he had expected.

Although the quality of the fair was nonetheless high, only a few of the important and expensive carpets found buyers. The most expensive item sold was a nineteenth-century Ingrains carpet for around £30,000, while at the other end of the scale Linda Wrigglesworth sold Mandarin rank badges for £400.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'A marked improvement'