The contrast was striking at the Carrousel du Louvre in Paris on Saturday, 4 April: hundreds of visitors crowded to enter the main area of the museum, while at the same time the fair Paris Beaux-Arts desperately awaited customers.
Launching a new fair is never easy, and Paris Beaux-Arts (1-5 April), organised by the French antique dealers association Syndicat National des Antiquaires (SNA), began with some serious handicaps:a somewhat vague concept (a salon for collectors that would serve as an alternative to the SNA’s prestigious Biennale des Antiquaires in September), a small number of exhibitors (52 of the 80 initially planned); and questionable timing (just before Easter weekend, and a week after four other fairs took place in Paris).
Indeed, the new event gave the impression of missing out on the action. “It was empty the whole week,” sighed the Old Master paintings dealer Philippe Mendes. Quality and eclecticism, however, were present in the works on offer, the event’s layout was airy and the décor meticulous.
In solidarity, several Parisian galleries including de Bayser, Bailly and Berès, which participated the previous week in other fairs, also took part in Paris Beaux-Arts. “At the Salon du dessin [25-30 March], we sold almost every day. Here, we only sold three drawings the first day,” Louis de Bayser said. “But it’s the first edition, you cannot expect the same attendance as at a 25-year-old fair.”
A few exhibitors, mainly those based in Paris, reported that they were able to earn back their expenses. The day of the vernissage, Philippe Mendes sold a drawing by Pierre Borel-Rogat, Alexandre offrant Campaspe à Apelle (Alexander offering Campaspe to Apelles), 1787, for €24,000. Olivier Delvaille sold L’escale de la flotte russe dans le port de Toulon (The stopover of the Russian fleet in the port of Toulon)by Jean-Baptiste Olive, 1893, to a French buyer. While Eric Pouillot sold four Chinese archaeological pieces in the range of €15,000-€20,000. “In any case, it’s better to do the fair than to stay at home where nothing is going on,” said Pouillot, who added that he had not sold anything at his gallery since the beginning of the year. “Here, I managed to recoup my costs, and I was even able to bring in some cash.”