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From Italian Old Masters to Belgian Symbolists, Salon du Dessin is broad in range but intimate in atmosphere

The new location is drawing collectors into the Paris stock exchange

For its 12th anniversary, the Salon du Dessin, the world’s most important fair for collectors of drawings, is moving to a new venue, the Palais Brogniart, once the home of the Paris Stock Exchange.

Stock brokers have long disappeared from the grand colonnaded trading hall of the building, which dates from 1827. It is now used for events such as fashion shows, but for the organisers of the Salon it is a brilliant choice. While the fair’s previous home, the Salon Hoche near the Arc de Triomphe, was convenient, the rooms were poky and visitors could miss the first floor entirely. Now everyone is on the same level, and in suitably imposing surroundings.

The organisers deliberately keep the Salon small. The nine founder members always get a stand, and the remaining exhibitors are chosen by a slightly arcane method. Lists of dealers are established and discussed, and invitations are issued after a secret vote. Places are limited, but with the new larger space the number of dealers has grown by five, to a total of 30.

The selection process, even if it has provoked some tooth-gnashing in the past, does seem to ensure that the fair is representative and brings in the best dealers in each speciality.

Even more importantly, the organisers have achieved admirable cooperation with French museums–not always the easiest institutions to deal with. During the “Semaine du Dessin” held at the same time as the Salon, special exhibitions are organised and works that are not normally on show are displayed. The result is that the annual event attracts pretty well everyone who is anyone in the drawings field, from curators and collectors to dealers.

This year’s theme is architecture, and some of the 15 participating museums and institutions are showing works in this area. The Musée d’Orsay has selected utopian buildings by the rather mysterious and little-known François Garas; the Musée Condé in Chantilly is focusing on architectural projects for the Duc d’Aumale; the Musée Carnavalet has drawings by Alexandre-Théodore Brog-niart, architect of the Bourse, and drawings of Parisian monuments will be on view at the Bibliothèque Historique de la Ville de Paris. Other shows will be at Cognacq-Jay, the Bibliothèque Nationale and the Institut Néerlandais. A full list is available on the website, www.salondudessin.com.

Old Master drawings remain at the heart of the event, with specialists such as Artemis Fine Arts, Flavia Ormond, Arturo Cuellar, Katrin Bellinger and Jean-François Baroni. A first-time participant from America in this field is Pandora, which will be showing mainly Italian Old Master drawings including Tiepolo’s superb study of the bust of Giulio Contarini by Alesssandro Vittoria. “We’ve never been invited before and it’s a wonderful opportunity,” says Lester Carissimi of the gallery.

Founder member Didier Aaron’s star turn is a portrait by Jean Baptiste Isabey of his wife. Emmanuel Moatti will be showing Italian Old Masters, including a torso of the Apollo Belvedere by the little known 16th-century artist Stefano d’alle Arzere, whose work has also recently been identified in the Uffizi. The German dealer Thomas Le Claire is bringing a gorgeous Vanitas by Georg Hoefnagel, with a delicately-drawn skull nestling among butterflies, bugs and fruits. London’s Thomas Williams Fine Art has Lawrence’s evanescent “Portrait of Miss Denham”, resplendent in a gauzy white dress.

Increasingly, however, dealers in drawings are taking an interest more modern fields, and this is where the market has been strongest. Philippe Heim has long been exploring 19th and 20th-century artists who were also travellers. His stand is an invitation au voyage, with works by Raoul du Gardier, Paul Jouve, Jean Bouchaud, André Maire and other artists who worked between the two world wars.

Symbolism and intimisme are on the stand of the Belgian specialist Patrick Derom. This year he is showing a portrait by Leon Spillaert and a number of atmospheric pieces by the Belgian symbolist Xavier Mellery, as well “Le repos” by Fritz Van den Berghe. Other incontournable specialists are Talabardon et Gautier for the 19th century, Bérès for avant-garde works and Jean-Luc Baroni, showing a fine head of a Tahitian woman by Gauguin, .

“The wonderful thing about the salon is that it is not too big, you really have the time to study each piece,” says Emma Page of Dickinson. “There is a good range of art and styles, as well as prices.” Dickinson will be showing drawings by big name masters–Vuillard, Modigliani, Picasso, Matisse and Toulouse-Lautrec, with prices ranging from 3,000Euros to 750,000Euros.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as ‘Drawing collectors into the Paris stock exchange'

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 145 March 2004