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After such a difficult time last year everyone in the trade was hoping 2021 would prove to be an easier affair.

It might not have opened with the easiest of beginnings – new lockdowns and the UK having left the European Union after Brexit – but a brighter picture emerged as the year progressed.

Fairs in particular bounced back strongly with showground events and mid-tier art and antiques events taking advantage of the ease in restrictions from April onwards. Dealers signed up and buyers rushed in: “pent-up demand” became a buzzword.

Will Thomas, CEO of IACF, said: “It’s been great to see attendance stay very strong at our big fairs over the last year. We are starting to see more international buyers return to the fairs which is welcome news. I saw a team of buyers at Newark in early December with a head camera and a live link-up to buyers based in China and I wonder if this could become more common in our ever changing industry.”

Organisers of vetted fairs also reported brisk business at dealers’ stalls. Events that went ahead successfully included The Petworth Park Antiques & Fine Art Fair, Chelsea Antiques Fair, The Northern Antiques Fair, The Cotswold Art & Antiques Dealers’ Association Fair, Art & Antiques for Everyone, Firsts London, The Decorative Antiques & Textiles Fair in Battersea, The Bath Decorative Antiques Fair and Winter Olympia.

High-end fairs, however, suffered. Masterpiece, TEFAF Maastricht and the LAPADA Fair all cancelled their 2021 events and last week TEFAF announced it could not even go ahead with its 2022 edition in March.

At least galleries were allowed to be open for most of the year with plenty of exhibitions taking place and festivals such as Asian Art in London able to proceed in-person.

Dealers have found ways to cope with the extra red tape caused by Brexit but the increased costs and time spent dealing with the paperwork have proved frustrating for some.

Auction houses adapted their businesses to the rise in online bidding and the inevitable decline in buyers attending on sale day. Sales of digital artwork boomed at the top firms with NFT (non-fungible token) even becoming the Collins Dictionary Word of the Year. It was little surprise that Sotheby’s announced last week that its annual sales were almost 50% higher than last year.

The year ends with momentum and optimism tinged with growing concern about the spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus and the effect it could have on trade in 2022. For now everyone has their fingers crossed – and a face mask at the ready.

ATG's month-by-month review of 2021