Art fairs

London's British Art Fair, this year a smaller yet still sophisticated affair

The 20th edition drew wealthy local collectors, such as the Duchess of Westminster and Tim Rice, but it remains a niche event


The 20th edition of the British Art Fair (11-16 September), held at the Royal College of Art in Kensington, attracted a loyal roster of dealers and British collectors. But it remains a niche fair—constrained by its location and a selection mostly of British works, many by artists who came to prominence in the 1960s.

Several dealers said they were pleased with visitor numbers on the opening day—about 2,500 people, predominantly London-based private collectors. David Cleaton-Roberts, a director at Alan Cristea gallery, said he was “very pleased indeed”, adding that the fair’s organisers had listened to dealers’ requests for bigger stands. After complaints last year about lack of space, the number of dealers was reduced by nearly 10%. Mr Cleaton-Roberts said that this was paying off in terms of both the quality of work on display and the number of sales.

Collectors attending the fair included the Duchess of Westminster, whose husband is Britain’s third wealthiest person with a £7bn fortune, according to The Sunday Times, and lyricist Tim Rice. He bought an E is for Everly Brothers, 1991, screen print by Peter Blake from Catherine Hodgkinson, for £750 ($1,500). Dealers would not say whether the Duchess had bought any of their works, but she was seen admiring pieces by the English artist Sir Terry Frost.

Frost’s work was among the first pieces sold at the fair. His glass Millennium Disc, 1999, one of an edition of ten sold for £7,500 ($15,000) through Whitford Fine Art on the first day (left). The buyer was a private collector from New Zealand, according to director Adrian Mibus. Last year, a work from the same edition was on offer for £4,500. “We’ve noticed a general lift in prices, both here and at Olympia in June,” the gallery said.

Work by the late British artist Victor Passmore, whose centenary is being marked by Tate Britain next year, also did well on the opening day. Two of his abstract spray paint compositions, Idea for Linear Movement, 1992, and Untitled, 1993, sold at Beaux Arts and Caroline Wiseman for £20,000 and £22,000.

Prices at the fair ranged from around £500 to £1m ($1,000-$2m), with predominantly domestic-sized works in the £5,000 to £20,000 range. Works priced at the higher levels were taking longer to sell. At Richard Green’s impressive stand, more expensive works—including Bridget Riley’s Early Light, 1981 (£650,000; $1.3m), and L.S. Lowry’s The Steps, 1956 (£350,000; $700,000)—were attracting attention but had yet to sell as we went to press.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'A very British art fair'