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Fair report of Cultura, Basel: Good results for classical antiquities

Paintings and decorative arts prove harder to sell

Although attendances rose at Cultura (12,000 this year as compared with 10,000 last) and good business was conducted in a few key sectors such as Classical and Egyptian antiquities, results for paintings, drawings and French and European furniture, were downbeat. These are the lessons to be learned from the second edition of the fair held in Basel, 14-22 October.

Jean-David Cahn, the Basel dealer, said that this was one of the best fairs he had attended in his entire career as a dealer; “I sold every day, from the private view to the last day”. He emphasised the quality of the archaeological pieces on sale. He sold a Roman piece, a marble torso of an athlete taken from a sculpture by Polyclitus; the carving, which is 20cm high, had been in the same collection since the 19th century and sold for SFR320,000. He also sold a limestone head of King Ptolemy II (Alexandria, 250 BC) for SFR55,000 and a bust of Queen Arsinöe in basalt for SFR340,000. The Royal-Athena Gallery from New York also had a very successful fair, clinching some major transactions with new clients, for example an English client who bought about 15 pieces for a total of $220,000.

Royal-Athena sold a roaring lynx, about to spring, for about FFr1 million; he bought the piece at the Ricqlès sale in early October for FFr750,000. The English dealer Rupert Wace sold items mainly costing between SFR10 and 30,000. Jean-Pierre Montesino (Galerie Cybèle, Paris) sold a fragment from an Egyptian funeral barge, dating from the pre-dynastic period, to a museum in Munich. “I sold items between FFr100,000 and 200,000. I am still waiting for some final decisions”, he told The Art Newspaper.

The results for the Asian Art section were also satisfactory. Eberhard Herrmann of Tiafit AG sold four carpets. Ben Janssens sold a bronze Tibetan sculpture for SFR100,000.

Although things went well for 20th-century decorative art, French and European furniture and modern paintings proved sluggish. These two specialities have been less fully developed and have not really found their level yet. Several dealers expressed their desire for Cultura to become a comprehensive fair, not limited to a few strong sectors such as Classical and Egyptian Antiquities as it is today. The bookseller A. Flühmann would like to see the painting and drawing sectors enlarged: at the moment it has five booksellers including French dealer Pierre Berès, who failed to sell any very valuable items.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Good results for classical antiquities'