TEFAF Basel proves a strong venue for antiquities dealers

Second fair surpasses first in sales for certain subjects


The second edition of TEFAF Basel, from 26 October to 3 November, organised by the same foundation as TEFAF Maastricht, had twelve percent more visitors and sold more than at its hesitant beginnings last year. Over 135 dealers from eleven countries took part.

“This fair reminds me of Maastricht at its outset”, commented Peter Lewis of the picture gallery Verner Amell. Although the fair had a lack of museum-quality pieces and some sectors such as Old Masters and ancient Oriental art were not up to the level of the big sister fair, TEFAF Basel is well on the way to becoming the biggest art and antiques fair in this region of Europe, not only for the Swiss, German and French (who made up eighty percent of the numbers) but also for visitors from Northern Italy, Spain and the US.

This year has seen over 14,000 visitors, including antiquities collector George Ortiz and the Dutchman Joost Ritman; far fewer than Maastricht, with 55,000, but almost as many as Grosvenor House, which after sixty-two years in existence had only 18,000.

Santo Micaeli from the Parisian galerie Mermoz was exhibiting ancient terracotta sculptures, mainly from Mexico, along with three other dealers in the same field, making TEFAF Basel the fair with the biggest concentration of pre-Colombian art in the world. He claimed to have sold much more at Basel than at the Paris Biennale: “In Paris you waste a lot of time in small-talk. Here the visitors are very motivated connoisseurs”. Emile Deletaille from Brussels, whose star piece was a sumptuous gold and silver statuette from Ecuador, confirmed that he had sold well to new Swiss and German clients.

Over fifteen big antiquities dealers including Kunst der Antike of Basel, galerie Heidi Vollmoeller and galerie Rhéa of Zurich were there, the last with Boeotian objects and others, including a Roman statue of the young Dionysius. All the exhibitors said that they did good business with Swiss and German collectors.

A bust of Tuthmosis III (1504-1450 BC) was sold by the New York gallery Royal Athena for $325,000 on the opening night of the fair to a collector buying over the telephone. At the close one quarter of the 120 objects on the stand had been sold. “This is the ultimate fair for antiquities”, enthused the director Jerome Reisenberg.

In the catalogue the organisers launched a violent attack against the Unidroit convention which was signed by the Swiss in June but is not yet ratified by the Swiss parliament, in the form of an interview with Swiss dealer Walter Feilchenfeldt, president of the Art Dealers Association of Switzerland and Vice-president of the International Confederation of Dealers in works of art (Confédération internationale des negociants en oeuvres d’art CINOA). Mr Feilchenfeldt considers that the new legislation on the restitution of works of art to their country of origin is “useless and harmful....inspired by a primitive and demagogic ideology according to which Western collectors, dealers and museums have sought to steal the heritage of poor defenceless countries”.

TEFAF Basel was light on grand furniture, although it did welcome Adrian Ribolzi from Monte Carlo, who sold a superb Louis XIV console of carved and gilded wood of about 1720. Facing him Bernard Steinitz’s stand was furnished with two sumptuous Louis XV boiseries, one from a music room and the other with its original green paintwork comprising a mezzanine and corner elements in which were exhibited Meissen figurines and a service of 120 pieces of Sèvres porcelain.

Oliver Hoare, from London, attending his first fair, was the only dealer to specialise exclusively in Islamic art and he claimed to be delighted with Basel. His most notable exhibit was a magnificent collection of sixty pieces of ceramic from Bamiyan, Afghanistan, from the beginning of the thirteenth century for $200,000.

European art, although richly represented by dealers as diverse as Julius Böhler from Munich, Alessandro Cesati from Milan and the Swiss gallery Rosat les Moulins, a specialist in popular, religious and artisanal objects, had more difficulty in interesting collectors. Marie-Luise Hopp-Gantner from Starnberg in Bavaria, who exhibited very beautiful wood sculptures from the Gothic to the Baroque, had few sales. Jan Dirven, on the other hand, sold two important pieces, a French ivory plaque of 1330-40 depicting hunting scenes with falcons, and a Limoges reliquary from the middle of the thirteenth century. The Spanish dealer Luis Elvir philosophically suggested that the fair would bear fruit after about five years.

The paintings section was composed mainly of decorative Flemish paintings, although Konrad Bernheimer from Munich sold “Dancing amorini” by Francesco Morini for DM950,000. The Parisian gallery Monique Martel was the only drawings dealer present and they sold about ten works, including a Guido Reni and a Bernardo Strozzi, whereas the galerie Saint Martin from Strasbourg, which was exhibiting French nineteenth-century bronzes, paintings and drawings (including the plaster by Frémiet “Chauchard”, the pendant to “Racachol” acquired by the Musée d’Orsay in 1993) considered that the connoisseurs were more sensitive to Northern European art. Happy to have sold five paintings, the Parisians Patrick Weiller and Philippe Heim declared: “It is the fair of the future”.