Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

The 31 year-old fair, running from October 3-6, blends pictures and sculptures from a century or more of the Modern British canon. Much of it comes from the top-shelf of modern and Post-War artists, such as Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Augustus John, Lucie Rie and Mary Fedden, though other works have a different appeal.

Such is the case with dealer Andrew Sim’s set of four WAAC pictures by Mary Duncan (1854- 1932). The series surfaced in a UK auction where they were catalogued broadly as a series of agricultural scenes. The quality of compositions and medium caught the dealer’s eye first, and he was intrigued to see fields tended not by families but of women all around age 20.

A date of 1918 on one placed them in the Great War while through an inscription, Sim traced a connection back to the Scottish clergyman Adam Forman. In 1914 he had recommended to the War Office that the local sphagnum moss be harvested for its absorbent and antiseptic qualities.

By 1918, it was the key raw material in the production of millions of field dressings. The series, painted when Duncan was an established artist, has been in the Forman family since they were produced in 1918. The women are depicted on a ‘moss drive’, gathering the sodden sphagnum and moving it with wooden scooters. In another more light-hearted image, the WAACs are shown enjoying a concert during an evening off.

As well as depicting a littleknown moment of social history, the pictures offer a rare record of women’s activities in the conflict. There is no equivalent in the First World War of Evelyn Dunbar’s rendering of the Women’s Land Army. Duncan’s pictures are offered together for £45,000.

Sim uses the fair as a chance to stage the 10th anniversary edition of his war art show Holding the Line. Other works include George Biddle’s eyewitness drawings of the Nuremberg Trials and depictions of the Blitz.

BAF has a new spot in the calendar this year, coinciding with Frieze Week. The shift could mean a rise in attendance as museums and major collectors, descend on the capital for Frieze, Frieze Masters and surrounding events.

It is also the event’s second run at Saatchi Gallery since Robert Sandelson took over as director last year from long-time organisers Gay Hutson and the late Bunny Wynn. It follows his launch of a new event, Fair for Saatchi, which ran for the first time in June and the recent purchase of the Draw Art Fair (see this week’s News pages).

Showcasing 50 dealers

Around 50 dealers from across the UK stand at this staging such as Richard Green, Messum’s and Waterhouse & Dodd. Showcases within the fair include a series of works by Pop artist and Surrealist Patrick Hughes on the stand of Alon Zakaim, and works by Kate Nicholson (1929-2019), daughter of Ben and Winifred Nicholson from Belgrave St Ives.

Beyond the exhibitors’ stands, there are three specially curated shows arranged around the event. One features the YBAs in an exhibition curated by Gavin Turk, Saatchi and BAF and dedicated to Karsten Schubert, the gallerist who was instrumental to the group’s profile. Meanwhile, Alan Wheatley Art organises a retrospective on Scottish artist on Alan Davie and Redfern Gallery stages a show on David Inshaw with critic Andrew Lambirth.