“You wouldn’t think that this would be the year Masterpiece took off,” Peter Osborne of Osborne Samuel tells ATG, “but it was a very good fair this year.”
During the nine-day event (including two preview days), 150 dealers stood at the marquee in the south grounds of The Royal Chelsea Hospital. And crucially, of the 44,000 visitors that came through the doors there were certainly those who came to buy.
Before – and even during – the fair, events arose which might have suggested it could falter. Last December, Nazy Vassegh stepped down from her position as chief executive of the fair.
In May, the Stanley Gibbons Group sold its 25% stake in Masterpiece London Ltd. Despite both events, the fair continued, now with the organising run by a small team which includes chairman Philip Hewat-Jaboor.
There was also the continuing climate of political uncertainty, usually a sure-fire way to dissuade buyers from investing in luxury items.
It would not have been surprising to find dealers coming away disheartened – especially given the estimated £3m theft at the stand of Swiss jeweller Boghossian on the fair’s Tuesday night.
However, many emerged with positive reports regarding both sales and meeting clients.
The work with the biggest asking price which sold at the fair was reportedly Gustave Caillebotte’s Voilier sur la Seine a Argenteuil (1886) which was ticketed at $10m at the stand of Dickinson. It sold to an overseas buyer who was a new client.
“Definitely there were more visitors but it wasn’t so much about the quantity as the quality,” Osborne says. “Masterpiece is attracting more serious collectors than it used to and seems set to develop into something very important.”
The gallery, which brought a mix of modern and contemporary paintings, sculpture and works on paper, made 21 sales during the event to old and new clients including works by some lesser known Mod Brit names.
The challenge now, Osborne reflects, is that “some of our collectors would now prefer to see us there rather than at the gallery, which is a challenge since we can never show everything we would want to on the stand”.
Sales on the preview day included pieces by David Hockney. Among those snapped up was a 1971 etching, Rue de Seine, which went from the stand of Sims Reed Gallery to an overseas dealer and had an asking price of £34,000.
His 1980 lithograph Celia in an Armchair, with a ticket price of £40,000, sold from the stand of Lyndsey Ingram to a private collector.
Other reported sales were Paul Klee’s Bildnis is der Laube (1930), which was ticketed for a price in the region of £400,000 from Galerie von Vertes Zurich; Gerhard Richter’s Untitled (1985), which was offered for a price around £220,000 at Galerie Ludorff; and Andy Warhol’s Column (1982), which was ticketed at a price around £50,000 on the stand of Long-Sharp Gallery.
For those who can afford it, Masterpiece is not just a place to make sales but is also a sort of high-class marketing exercise, a chance to begin and continue relationships with clients. But this year it proved its value as a selling event too.
“It’s beautifully run and it’s getting to be a better and better fair,” says regular exhibitor Guy Stair Sainty of Stair Sainty Gallery.
The next step, he says, is making it an “unmissable event” for collectors by bringing in more top art dealers and working to dispel the “lingering perception” that the fair is “something of a lifestyle event”.
The Riva Aquarama motorboat is still displayed on the stand of sponsor Ventura while the fair hosted Burberry’s The Cape Reimagined as a loan exhibition this year.
However, the mix of attractions may have helped bring in a variety of buyers. Stair Sainty adds that most of his sales were to new clients.
Gabriel Toso of Whitford Fine Art was pleased to meet a good supply of fresh clients, reporting a split in sales between new and existing buyers.
He lists the “central location, professional organisation and quality of exhibitors” as elements that make it an “unmissable” fair for his gallery – adding that he was heartened to see visitors from China and the US this year as well as from Europe.
It was not only fine art where stand-out sales were made. Lewis Smith of Koopman Rare Art said that the response to silver was “extremely positive and it is clear that the market has not been upset by recent world events and uncertainties”.
Among that gallery’s stand-out sales was a George II soup tureen which was ticketed at £165,000.
Elsewhere, Modernity, specialist in 20th century Scandinavian design, sold a Joseph Frank 1950s Flora Cabinet and Geoffrey Diner a George Nakashima free-form conoid bench.
“The fair has constantly grown both in terms of public attendance and quality of exhibitors,” adds Toso.
Now, in the gallery’s seventh year of attendance, he judges the fair to be “the leading event of the busy summer art calendar in London”.