Masterpiece London - Deluxe edition
The stage is set at London’s Royal Hospital Chelsea for another summer bonanza of the best art, design and objets de luxe to be found.
Susan Moore, Friday, 1st June 2012
Masterpiece, the London fair that rose out of the ashes of Grosvenor House, and aimed
to redefine the traditional art, antiques and design fair for the 21st century, unveils its third edition this summer (South Grounds, Royal Hospital Chelsea; 28 June–4 July). This is the kind of event that offers you not just one Bugatti but three – an exotic ‘Egyptian’ chair designed by the art nouveau jewellery and furniture designer, Carlo Bugatti; a bronze by one of his sons, Rembrandt; and the latest fast car inspired by the other, Ettore. In its brief history Masterpiece has flourished everything from a silver carriage made for a maharajah to a Spitfire – this year temptation comes in the form of bespoke Harley-Davidsons, offered by Shaw Speed & Custom.
This may sound like a fair full of boys’ toys – and it is, with fine wine and watches also part of the mix – but it is one that understands the power of showmanship (it is in a very superior tent, after all). The fair responds to the need of the art and antiques trade to reach new and younger audiences, and its organisers realise only too well that this affluent audience has plenty of other things to do with its time. Masterpiece, it could even be argued, is one of the very few major international art fairs that is an unreserved pleasure to visit; unlike Maastricht, for instance, its scale is not overwhelming, it is in the heart of one of the world’s great cities, and its airy, elegant spaces also offer appealing places for the weary to relax over lunch, tea or a drink, courtesy of Le Caprice, Scott’s, Harry’s Bar and the Mount Street Deli.
In its inaugural year, the appearance of the fair astounded everyone. The event’s one – and rather large – shortcoming was that the fine and applied arts on offer – its theoretical raison d’être – were not sufficiently varied or of uniformly high quality. Moreover, hardly any exhibitors had come from overseas. None of this was at all surprising in a business where most like to check out the lie of the land before committing to exhibit at a new fair. Two years in, however, and the cream of the international and national art and antiques trade appears to have voted with its feet.
An undoubted coup this year is the debut of global contemporary art giant Gagosian, which unveils an unspecified ‘special project’. ‘It is very big,’ laughs the fair’s creative director, Thomas Woodham-Smith, ‘that is all we know about it.’ Happily, other exhibitors have been more forthcoming about the highlights of their displays, which offer an impressive historical sweep of some 4,000 years.
Antiquities are especially well represented. Joining the home teams of Charles Ede and Rupert Wace are such heavyweights as the Swiss firm Cahn International, Paris-based Galerie Chenel, Sycomore Ancient Art from Geneva and The Merrin Gallery, New York. The latter brings a real rarity: a striking and well-exhibited terracotta Sumerian head (Fig. 2), dating to the third dynasty of Ur (c. 2100–2000 BC). Mesopotamian temples were dedicated to specific deities, but no such figures have ever been found. What have been discovered, however, are non-divine figures representing donors or priests. This soulful young man is thought to be a priest or votary of the goddess of healing, Gula. Some of the original polychromy survives – red paint to indicate skin tone, and black to define the eyebrows and pupils. Described as one of the most beautiful early Mesopotamian heads in private hands, it presents a compelling combination of realism and stylisation.
The medieval and Renaissance worlds take a bow, too, with exhibitors such as Belgian dealer De Bakker Medieval Art, Paris gallery Les Enluminures (which last month opened its new space in New York), and the London arms and armour specialist Peter Finer. This time it is a bella donna who emerges out of the clay, in a well-preserved maiolica albarello or drug jar dating to around 1510–20 (Fig. 6). Finely painted in profile – which emphasises her fashionably high forehead – and bearing a magnificent classical headdress, her elegant features are positioned across from the words Dia Sena (‘made of senna’ – a purgative), painted vertically across the jar. Offered by Sam Fogg, London, this is a fine example of Italian tin-glazed earthenware – there is a comparable piece in the Louvre.Of particular art historical significance is the recently discovered and unpublished study offered by the Mayfair dealer, Agnew’s (Fig. 4). A preparatory work for Van Dyck’s celebrated portrait of Charles I and Henrietta Maria with their children, this 1632 oil was the painter’s first commission following his appointment as Court Painter to Charles I (described in the accounts as ‘one greate peece of Our royal self, consort and children, £100’). This fluidly executed, near mono-chrome sketch on oak board presents a much more relaxed and intimate portrait than that presented in the finished work, with the future Charles II to the right of his father, next to his future crown.
London gallery Lefevre Fine Art flourishes a sketch for another famed work of art, Fernand Léger’s final study (the work is signed état définitif) for Les Belles Cyclists, now in the Musée Leger in Biot. This gouache on paper is dated 1943. Léger had long been influenced by Futurism, increasingly abstracting his forms and, after 1940, liberating colour from its traditional confines after observing the effect of neon signs on Broadway in New York. English furniture has always been a strength of this fair. Among the highlights this year is an extremely rare – possibly even unique – set of four George I japanned girandoles attributed to the Clerkenwell cabinetmaker, Giles Grendey (1693–1780; Fig. 5). Grendey’s orientalising lacquerwork found the firm the grandest of clients in Britain and overseas. This group of wall lights survives with its original japanned surfaces, mirror plates and brass candle arms that still retain traces of their gilt lacquer (Ronald Phillips Ltd).
Expect to find a strong showing of modern British art, too. Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert present Henry Moore’s strong and highly textured drawing, Two Seated Figures, dated 1944 (Fig. 1). This is a brilliant example of a technique that the artist had been developing since 1938, and which combines pencil, wax crayon, chalk, charcoal, watercolour and pen and ink. The body language of the figures suggests an intimacy and tenderness which is accentuated by the heart shape in the male figure’s chest.
Diamonds dazzle visitors this year, both around the fair on the stands and in an exhibition entitled ‘Brilliant’, curated by Carol Woolton, jewellery editor of British Vogue. New York dealer A La Vieille Russie presents a pair of Fabergé diamond-set enamel brooches (Fig. 9). The Nobel Brothers were owners of the largest oil company in Europe, and these jewels commemorate the company’s two great inventions: its first oil tanker Zoroaster, built in 1878, and its first railway oil carriage of 1883. The gold oil rig in the centre of the brooches is surmounted by the Russian Imperial eagle, the firm’s imperial warrant, while on the reverse of each is a miniature portrait, one of Robert and one of Ludwig (it was their brother Alfred who founded the eponymous prizes). The Nobels were Fabergé’s most important private clients and these items were made by its chief master, Mikhail Perchin, in the 1890s. Elsewhere, the jewels are more subtle. Munich-based Hemmerle, for instance, launches a new range of Egyptian-inspired jewellery at the fair, including the delectable Harmony Bangle (Fig. 8), crafted in exotic pockwood and set with tsavorite garnets and turquoises.
Quirky art and design is always welcomed at the fair, and this year the Sladmore Gallery presents the ingenious creepy-crawlies confected by Edouard Martinet (b. 1963) out of found materials – my favourite, perhaps, the dragonfly with wings made of umbrella ribs and whose saucer eyes are provided by old bicycle headlights (Fig. 3). Ornamenting the fair’s terrace, meanwhile, are Philip Haas’ (b. 1954) exuberant fibreglass sculptures. These large heads, cast from arrangements of bark, branches, twigs, moss, fungi and vines, are inspired by Arcimboldo’s fantastical portraits composed of fruit, vegetables and flora and fauna (Robilant + Voena).
Another highlight comes courtesy of British sculptor, Anish Kapoor (b. 1954). Mountain, commissioned by the Swedish city of Malmö in 2001, is constructed out of 120 layers of aluminium that have been cut by water jet (Fig. 7). The layering of the metal sheets is reminiscent of a contour map, recalling cartographers’ representations of real mountains. This cast was acquired directly from the artist and is offered by Piano Nobile.
And for those who yearn for boys’ toys, silver dealer Ken Bull offers an unrivalled collection of whimsical mechanical pencils. Any buyers for the Tiffany & Co. sterling silver pencils styled as the Metropolitan Life Tower in New York? o
Masterpiece takes place on the South Grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, London, from 28 June–4 July
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