Fairs Market United Kingdom

Revolutionary Sèvres discovery presented at Art Antiques London. Who cares?

We do, chorus that rare breed, the collectors

Chacun à son goût: both sold for £15,000

As Art Basel was hosting the talk “Art Practices beyond the Contextual Narrative”, in Hyde Park, a packed tent at Art Antiques London was listening to “The taste of the royal family for decorative piecs [of porcelain] in the Chinese style from Sèvres”. Chacun à son goût.

But the truth is that anything but contemporary art is being squeezed more and more because of the greed-inspiring sums of money fetched by the contemporary. When Christie's and Sotheby's gave up holding specialist sales of ceramics, silver and so on because the profit margin on them was so much smaller than for Contemporary and Imps & Mods, they took away visibility and their own marketing power from those fields, and experts, dealers and collectors in the decorative arts are all aging.

So well done, Art Antiques London, run by ceramics dealers Anna and Brian Haughton, for keeping the essence of their Ceramics fair going with an event that is genuinely to do with collecting rather than interior decorating or investing. Vetting in all fields is rigorous at this fair, so it is a good place for the neophyte collector to start with confidence, and because the exhibitors trust their public to be civilised, many of the pieces, however fragile, are on open display, which, right from the outset gives the visitor the feeling of being welcome.

Errol Manner of the eponymous gallery told me, “We revel in our neglect; it binds us enthusiasts into a brother- and sisterhood of true believers” . Among the pieces he sold was a lovely, sheer white, porcelain table sculpture from a Judgement of Paris group, modelled in Meissen, March 1745, as a leafy bower by Johann Friedrich Eberlein (in this scholarly field, a great deal of information comes with most exhibits). This has gone to an Australian collector, who paid £15,000 for it, which isa starter price at Basel, but here gets you an absolute classic.

The same amount was paid for a large pottery vase, all elephant heads and dancing girls, that would have been considered quite hideous until recently, on the stand of Bazaart, which also had some good 16th-century Italian maiolica. The reason for the success of the vase is that it was one of the products made by the Wonderland Pottery of the Bombay School of Art about 1880 for sale to Liberty and Morris & Co. and so counts as a bit of early modern Indian design.

Adrian Sassoon was there with his usual combination of very fine 18th-century French porcelain—this year much Sèvres from the Galliers-Pratt Collection at Mawley Hall, formed between the wars—and craft ceramics. He sold at prices ranging from £2000 to £50,000.

Marchant, a fourth generation dealership in Chinese art, took part for the first time because of the fair's alliance with Asian Art in London, which added 23 dealers to the mix. They said they had sold an early 15th-century celadon dish and various pieces of export ware, all to Westerners, and if at least one of three major deals they had pending came off, they would be back again next year. They had already tried the much flashier Masterpiece fair, they said, but had not had a good experience there.

Some Modern British also did well. Goodman Fine Art sold three abstracts by the Scottish musician and artist Alan Davie for £85,000 to £300,000, but a few dealers, such as James Cohen Antique Carpets did not find the breadth of buyers they had hoped for. Others said they had sold, but business was slower than in 2013.

The fair's links with the museum world are strong and the French Porcelain Society has its annual lecture meeting in the tent, this year's star event being a meticulous paper by the patent lawyer David Peters in which he has redated all early Vincennes and Sèvres by three months through reading their date letters correctly, which has electrified that small but passionate community, whose doyennes are Ros Savill, former director of the Wallace Collection, and Tamara Préaud, former archivist at the Sèvres factory, both present. The Duke of Devonshire and Dame Ros conducted a public discussion that was completely sold out.

With three fairs of older art in London during June—Olympia, Art Antiques (both closed now) and Masterpiece (26 June to 2 July)—this is the one to go to if you want to have the same feeling of belonging to a select club that the Salon du Dessin in Paris also gives people. This is Art Antiques' unique selling point, and to flourish, it should perhaps become even more of a specialist fair, linking in with the equivalents of the French Porcelain Sociey in other fields, and garnering the latent desire so many of us have to understand the mysteries of objects.

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