Armory's International Fine Art Fair report: International dealers chase diverse US spending power

Sixteen French dealers join the Anglo-Saxons with Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Modern art


The International Fine Art Fair takes place at the Armory on Park Avenue in New York, 9-14 May. Only in its fourth year, 17,000 people attended last year. This figure is nowhere near as high as venues like Maastricht nor the Paris Biennale, but this is a single subject fair with very expensive works of art, which naturally appeals to a much narrower section of the public.

While one or two dealers complained about the lack of sales last year, the majority were extremely pleased. “The reason we keep coming back,” said Jeremy Maas of the Maas Gallery, “is because we keep on selling,” while Lowel Libson of Spink Leger pointed out, “people do not spend half a million dollars on a painting without reflecting on it. You don’t see paintings disappearing off the walls like nine pins, but that does not necessarily reflect the level of business being done.”

This year the dateline has been extended to include works up to the 1940s and the fair is smaller with only sixty-three dealers instead of seventy-seven. The downsizing reflects the decision of the organisers to include a restaurant on the exhibition floor. “We found this formula so successful with the Asian Art Fair, we decided to adopt it even though it meant restricting the number of dealers. It means people can spend all day at the fair, and provides them with somewhere to discuss paintings and reflect on what they have seen,” explained Anna Haughton, fair organiser.

Among the top dealers not returning are Piero Corsini, Newhouse Galleries, Stopenbach and Delestre and Lefevre. The last had a highly successful fair last year, selling a Vuillard for $2 million but have decided to try a new, international Art fair in Tokyo scheduled for October. There are two new exhibitors, Patrick Derom from Brussels who will be the only specialist in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Belgian art, especially the symbolists and surrealists and Beacon Hill Gallery from New York who deal in nineteenth- and twentieth-century American painting.

According to Jason Mason of MacConall Mason, “American taste is the most diverse in the world. It is extremely difficult to categorise.” This is reflected by the range of exhibitors spread right across the board from Dutch and Italian Old Masters through French eighteenth- and nineteenth-century painting to modern masters.

Even in today’s markets where dealers lament the ever decreasing supply of works of art, there are some very important works on offer, with serious prices attached. Seven figure price tags are not uncommon.

Top quality American painting is one of its strengths which distinguishes this from other major international art fairs. Hirshl & Adler have a Winslow Homer watercolour, “The fog horn,” Adelson Galleries also of New York, a work by William Merritt Chase, “Shinecock Hills: figure in a landscape” as well as a ravishing John Singer Sargent portrait of Sylvia Harrison, swathed in a cashmere shawl.

Americans have always been major collectors of Impressionists and Post Impressionists and with sixteen French dealers this is an important section of the fair. They include Phillipe Cazeau and Jacques de la Béraudière who will exhibit works by Renoir, Caillebotte, Degas, Dufy and Leger and a group of early Picassos. Galerie Hopkins Thomas who are selling two Cézanne pencil studies from the collection of Sir Kenneth Clarke and a Caillebotte landscape “Champ au bord de la mer, Trouville” available for $1 million. Galerie Berès will show a work by Vuillard, “Le suget” and Eva Gonzales’s, “Sur la plage” as well as drawings by Matisse, Picasso and Modigliani.

A stunning pair of portraits by Frans Hals for $7.5 million heads the Dutch Old Masters on offer, offered by Noortman of London and Maastricht and recently on loan to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The unidentified sitters, obviously a husband and wife are prosperous Dutch burgers. They are dressed in plain black costumes offset by white ruffs. Placing them against a grey background Hals has produced a superb tonal study. John Mitchell have the ultimate flower painting, an extremely rare oil by the Belgian born Pierre-Joseph Redouté. Far better known for his work in watercolour this painting created a sensation when Redouté made his debut with it at the Paris salon in 1796. It shows that he was equally accomplished in the technique of oil painting The flowers which cascade over a pedestal in a glorious riot of colours are observed with the exacting crispness and accuracy of his work in watercolour.

Rosenberg & Stiebel are better known as dealers in eighteenth-century French art but this time are exhibiting some important Italian works. A Giandomenico Tiepolo, “The martyrdom of San Lorenzo” which coincides with an exhibition of the artists’ work at the Metropolitan Museum as well as a large baroque painting by Luca Giordano of “The rape of the Sabines” for about $1 million.

British paintings are represented by Spink Leger including a very serious full length portrait group by Gainsborough of the Dehany family. It is one of the very few full length Gainsboroughs still in private hands, with an asking price of £1.5 million. More affordable at £350,000 is a head and shoulders of Mrs Elizabeth Hoadly, wife of the poet and physician Dr Benjamin Hoadley. She is no great beauty, but strongly executed, Hogarth delighting in the ravishing silk texture of her dress.

According to Rupert Maas, “there is currently an explosion of interest in Victorian painting.” No less than fourteen major international exhibitions of Victorian art have been organised within eighteenth months of either side of the fair, the most important being “The Victorians” in Washington which closes this month. Recent prices in the salerooms have far exceeded those being asked by galleries. At last the Americans are waking up to the fact that there is more to nineteenth-century painting than the effect of light on a haystack and the market is extremely strong.”

His key work is a superb Pre-Raphaelite painting by Arthur Hughes, “The pained heart,” for $950,000. He also has an extremely unusual Thomas Sydney Cooper at $200,000 which depicts a clearing a way through the wood for the London to Chatham railway line.

To broaden the appeal of the fair, the organisers have roped in Lord and Lady Lloyd Webber as chairpeople with Blaine and Robert Trump at the opening gala Benefit night on 8 May. Even more of a coup Lord Lloyd Webber’s Blue Period Picasso, “Angel Fernandez de Soto,” has been lent to the fair. The haunting portrait of Picasso’s friend and fellow artist was purchased by Lord Lloyd Webber in New York for $29,152,500 in May 1995.