Maastricht art fair attracts wealthy collectors

13th March 2009, Comments 0 comments

Frugal millionaires shop for art and antiques at Tefaf in Maastricht.

MAASTRICHT— Art dealers gather at the world's largest art fair in the Dutch town of Maastricht for the next 10 days, hopeful of finding new multi-millionaire owners for works by the likes of Goya, Faberge and Bernini.

"The most valuable things always find a buyer," New York dealer Adam Patrick confidently told AFP Thursday on the eve of the public opening of the Tefaf art fair near the Netherlands' border with Belgium.

Patrick was representing the gallery "A la vieille Russie", which has put up for sale a fan fashioned by Russian jeweller Carl Faberge in 1895 from Brussels Lace, Mother of Pearl, platinum and gold.

"The Queen of England has three of these, but smaller ones," said the American of the item with a price tag of two million euros (about 2.6 million dollars).

For 10 days, 234 art and antique dealers, mostly from Paris, London and New York, will gather at the 22nd European Fine Art Fair, exhibiting their finest to an expected 70,000 visitors including collectors and museum curators.

"We remain confident in the face of the (global economic) crisis," Tefaf president Willem van Dedem told AFP.

"What we offer has been shown to be an excellent investment opportunity even if our buyers may not be thinking along those lines — they are after all connoisseurs first."

Paintings, furniture, jewellery, sculptures, rare books, fine china — all will be on show in an area of 30,000 square metres, the size of six football fields.

"The merchants bring their best here: things they kept especially for Tefaf," said Van Dedem, who himself owns a collection of 60 17th century paintings.

He is transfixed by a bronze crucifix by 17th century Italian sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini, priced at 2.8 million euros.

"A Bernini, it is truly exceptional!" enthused Van Dedem.

The piece assured a place at the 2009 Tefaf table for its owner, a small Italian gallery.

"We gave them a chance, a small stand for nearly nothing," said Van Dedem.

"We hope to have a real stand here in a few years' time," smiled gallery employee Liz Caballero, 27.

At the stall of London art merchant Derek Johns, a small painting by Spanish artist Francisco Goya attracts much attention.

"On average, one Goya becomes available on the international art market every year," said William Flatmo, an employee of the gallery.

This year's offering, entitled "Children bird nesting among the ruins", is on sale for 4.5 million euros.

Flatmo said there was little risk of paying too much for an item at Tefaf as the fair attracted true connoisseurs who know the works' true value and were able to bargain intelligently.

For that reason, "the market for the old masters' paintings does not fluctuate as much as it does for contemporary art."

An American collector said that even millionaire shoppers were limited by a budget.

The woman, who declined to give her name, said she came to the Netherlands with her retired banker husband to spend four days at Tefaf, like every other year for the last six years.

"One is influenced by the (economic) crisis in the United States," said the 60-year-old collector of 19th century paintings and antique books.

"One is less inclined to get carried away and spend more than you're supposed to."

AFP/ Marie-Laure Michel/Expatica

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