ATG: How do you feel as you prepare for TEFAF Maastricht?
Mark Weiss: Despite the turmoil and uncertainty in the world, I’m cautiously optimistic we will make some decent sales.
In general, how confident can exhibitors be going into TEFAF?
You just never know – it’s a roulette wheel where some years you do well, and others you don’t. It also depends on what you bring: is it what the market is looking for at that moment, and will the clients you hope to see make the trip to Maastricht?
You can come to the fair bringing what you think is a sure-fire winner but for whatever reason, when a client is standing in front of it, they decide against buying it. There are no certain sales until the money is in the bank.
What’s your sure-fire winner this year?
We have a picture that given the publicity it’s getting, I would be disappointed if it didn’t sell. It’s a portrait of a young nobleman – the Duc de Bouillon (1605-52), who later became Governor of Maastricht – painted in The Hague in 1626 by the leading Dutch painter of the time, Michiel Jansz van Mierevelt (see box, right).
We bought the portrait in the knowledge that it would be a fantastic piece to exhibit at TEFAF, given the Maastricht connection, but in itself, the painting is a superb example of Mierevelt’s work.
What publicity has it had?
We’re very proud that TEFAF’s organisers are using the portrait on the front cover of the fair’s catalogue and on many of their posters and banners. Not only that, but the city of Maastricht itself has chosen to put it on banners around the city too.
You couldn’t pay for that kind of advertising…
I know! It’s the perfect painting for TEFAF Maastricht, so I’d be surprised if we didn’t find a buyer for it.
What else carries high hopes?
We have two other new paintings this year that we’re very excited about, though they couldn’t be more different in many respects. One is a large-scale, full-length portrait and the other a minute miniature.
Are they discoveries too?
The full-length portrait is a discovery and will be one of our stand’s centre-pieces. My very talented gallery manager Charlie Mackay did marvellous research identifying both the artist and sitter, who turns out to be of great historical significance for Holland.
It’s by a relatively unknown Flemish artist, Frans Badens (1571-1618), and depicts the wealthy merchant Gerard Reynst when he was appointed as the second governor general for the Dutch East India Company.
We’re hoping to get some Dutch institutional interest in it. We bought it privately in Italy and managed to identify a prestigious aristocratic provenance, prior to which it likely descended through the sitter’s family.
And the miniature?
The miniature is by one of my favourite painters, Cornelius Johnson (1593- 1661), and is just two inches tall, painted on copper. It’s a veritable jewel for which we are building a special alcove in our TEFAF stand and will be priced between £45,000-£55,000.
Is there too much attention paid to discoveries in the art market?
For me, discovery is secondary to the real merits and quality of the art itself. I would rather acquire a portrait in great condition by an artist that is widely known and admired than discover a second-rate work by the same painter. Sometimes people do seem to get too caught up in a name.
It’s better to be transparent and disclose any recent auction and private history Mark Weiss
How transparent should dealers be about an object’s purchase history?
It’s better to be transparent and disclose any recent auction and private history. If anything, it can justify our pricing. We have to assume that educated buyers will use the internet to trace where a picture has been bought at auction, given that most auction prices are traceable.
For instance, the Gaspar de Crayer portrait of the Duc de Olivares which we displayed at TEFAF 2018 was sold for a seven-figure sum. The buyer was not unhappy that we made a substantial profit, since it was justified by the research we did that turned an anonymous painting into a significant masterpiece.
Did you sell it at TEFAF?
It sold, but after TEFAF 2018. Fairs aren’t the be-all and end-all for a gallery such as ours. Not everyone who goes to TEFAF will come to the gallery, and vice versa.
Our space in Jermyn Street is still a very important selling platform. We are one of the last remaining grand Old Master gallery spaces in Mayfair and St James’s. It attracts people who wouldn’t necessarily know us otherwise, so there is always potential to find new clients.
My star object:
A 17th century portrait of a young nobleman, the Duc de Bouillon (1605-1652), by Dutch artist Michiel Jansz van Mierevelt (1566 -1641), turns out to have particular resonance for an art fair held in Maastricht.
The sitter is 21-year-old Frédéric-Maurice de la Tour d’Auvergne, Duc de Bouillon, Prince de Condé Sedan et de Rancourt (1605-1652) who later became Governor of Maastricht.
Painted in The Hague in 1626 when Mierevelt was at the apogee of his artistic powers as official court portraitist in the Stadtholder court of Prince Maurice of Orange-Nassau, the oil on panel is 25 x 20in (65 x 52.8cm). It is signed and dated centre left: ‘Ao. i626./M Miereveld’.
“We bought the portrait in the knowledge that it would be a fantastic piece to exhibit at TEFAF, given the Maastricht connection, but in itself, the painting is a superb example of Mierevelt’s work,” says Mark Weiss.
The portrait has a prestigious royal provenance. It once formed part of the collection belonging to the ‘Winter Queen’, Elizabeth of Bohemia (1596-1662), sister of Charles I of England, and which descended with the Earls of Craven at Coombe Abbey until the 1960s.
Did you find new clients at last year’s TEFAF?
Yes, we did and it’s a big reason to exhibit there. A new British client bought a valuable picture from us and we also picked up new Belgian and Dutch clients too.
As for dealers selling to each other at TEFAF, that has sadly died away. This is partly because with reduced supply, paintings are costly to acquire and dealers need to maximise the return on their investment.
Old Masters feature strongly on TEFAF’s exhibitor list. What’s it like having competitors under one roof?
Given my niche market I don’t believe we have direct competitors at TEFAF. Every dealer needs to have confidence in their own business model.
Invariably some dealers at TEFAF will put on a better display than others, with fresher stock. I would say 60% of our stock is new at TEFAF. This year our stand has been redesigned with a new layout, with a bit of added theatre, though our signature red colour stays the same.
I do particularly enjoy the social side of TEFAF, as it gives me the opportunity to meet with colleagues.
Last year’s opening day was shortened. Was that the right move?
It was, as you knew everyone walking around that day was potentially a client.
Is vetting an anxious period?
I have a spa day while vetting is being done, so from my perspective usually it is very relaxing! That said, when you return to your stand, the feeling can be quite tense as you wait for the results of the vetting committee. If one wishes to contest any of their decisions there is a satisfactory appeals process which takes place face-to-face after vetting.
TEFAF Maastricht and London Art Week are your key fairs. What different roles do they play?
They’re very distinct. TEFAF Maastricht is about creating a display of your finest art works in a setting that you hope sets you apart from others, and at TEFAF we are playing away from home.
London Art Week, on the other hand, is a showcase for the physical gallery itself and helps support London as the centre of the art market.
How do you feel about Brexit?
We’re as confused as everybody else. I’m struggling to see any upside in the increased paperwork and greater expense leaving the EU will involve for UK dealers. After Brexit, all sales to the EU – in theory – become exports and we will not have to pay UK VAT. On the other hand the EU will certainly apply their own VAT and possibly impose further tariffs which could prove to be an impediment to sales.
There’s constant talk about ‘reinvigorating’ Old Masters. Have you felt the need to do so?
Last year we sponsored and mounted an exhibition of contemporary photographic portraits by Dutch photographer Carla van de Puttelaar, inspired by Old Master portraits. We came up with the title – ‘Artfully Dressed: Women in the Art World’. It was very successful demonstrating a synergy with early portraiture.
There’s no doubt the market has shrunk and changed considerably since the time I joined my parents’ business in 1972. One day I plan to write about what the art market was like back then.
Despite these changes the market is still thriving, and TEFAF Maastricht 2019 will be the proof of that.
Key facts: The Weiss Gallery
Founded in 1985 by Mark Weiss, The Weiss Gallery focuses on buying and selling Tudor, Stuart and northern European Old Master portraiture.
Located in the heart of the St James’s, London district, the gallery has made many notable sales to distinguished private and public collections around the world.
Mark started his art career straight from school, joining his parents’ business in Essex before launching his own gallery.
The Weiss Gallery has exhibited at TEFAF Maastricht since 1988 and, after a brief hiatus, has taken a stand there for the past 16 years.