The European Fine Art Fair, or TEFAF, as it’s rather uneuphoniously known, is the world’s best and grandest arts and antiques fair, held every spring in the Maastricht Exhibition & Congress Centre in the Netherlands. It’s been going since 1975, and now is attended by major dealers from over 16 countries – and, I must say, there were some stunning exhibits this year.

One of the highlights was a late Rembrandt(left), Portrait of a man with arms akimbo (1658, Otto Naumann Ltd., New York), priced at $47 million. This has an extraordinarily impressive, brooding presence, as though – under the Venetian cast of the costume and the swagger of the pose – the artist had distilled his own soul into the shadowed eyes. It’s been out of the public eye for a long time, and broke on us like a trumpet blast in the golden light of the fair.

I’d gone out by Eurostar less than five hours through nice if unspectacular scenery. The exhibition hall’s five minutes drive from the station, and – immediately you enter – plunges you into a dazzling array of stands specializing in every artefact you can imagine.  The first one I walked into is Simon Dickinson of London, who deals in Old and Modern Masters from Botticelli to Picasso. This year they had a pair of ravishing circular paintings by Angelica Kauffmann in decorative NeoClassical picture frames, and a Matisse collage in stained glass window colours.

A few yards further on was the stand of John Mitchell Fine Paintings, run by my cousins James and William who have been exhibiting at the fair since 1990. I’m biased, of course, but I’d go to Maastricht to visit them alone – they’ve a got a collection of terrific Old Master and 19th century paintings, including work by my favourite 19th century Belgian, Alfred Stevens, one of their specialities. On the stand this time was also a beautiful little St George by Johann König(above), with the saint going hell-for-leather at an amazingly curly dragon and his princess having kittens in the background. It was painted on copper, with that peculiarly brilliant and resonant finish that copper gives.

Another London dealer, Richard Green, had a Thomas Lawrence – Mary, Countess of Wilton – which he sold, and no wonder: this was Lawrence at his bravura best – pearly skin, yards of red velvet and golden silk, posed against a stormy English sky. After the Lawrence exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery last year, no-one can be in doubt of his power and brilliance.

I was taken by some of the sculpture in the fair this year – Daniel Katz, London, sold a pair of small Baroque sculptures of Jupiter and Juno, made by Giuseppe Piamontini of Florence when he was still only in his mid-twenties – extraordinarily powerful and elegant figures. Sam Fogg, also of London, was showing a really beautiful polychrome statue of St Catherine of Alexandria. This dominated his stand on the left as you went in, the saint almost full-length and clad in a great swirl of gilded and painted drapery – lovely. This was apparently once part of a large altarpiece, carved in the 1490s for some vast German cathedral, by its scale and opulent finish.

I’m surprised that more British collectors don’t rush into this fair in their thousands, as the quality of the exhibits is unsurpassed. More advertising over here, TEFAF? Would be good to see some television spots at least. After all, Maastricht’s an interesting place in its own right, built across the river Meuse – impressive basilica – near both Aachen and Liège. What more can you ask?

See you at TEFAF 2012 (16-25 March)!

About Mark Mitchell

Dealers in 19th-20th Century British and Continental Works of Art
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