After 18 months of major disruption to the UK fairs calendar, events are finally getting back on track with a packed schedule planned for autumn. Kicking it all off in London is the revamped Chelsea Antiques Fair.
The intimate, long-running event – a regular in the calendar since 1951 – was acquired earlier this year from Caroline Penman by art dealers Charles Wallrock and Steve Sly, founders of online marketplace 2Covet and the fair’s new partner.
After a lengthy Covid-enforced break, the fair returns for its 70th anniversary in the recently refurbished Grade II-listed Chelsea Old Town Hall on the King’s Road from September 21-26, with an invitation-only preview and evening reception on September 20.
When the organisers took over the reins a key aim was to attract new exhibitors and they have succeeded with over half of the 30 dealers making their debut, including a number of well-established galleries. They bring with them a broad range of art and antiques, from silver, pictures and furniture to Asian art, glass and sculpture.
For many exhibitors it is their first high-end vetted fair in the capital since the premature closure of The Open Art Fair in March 2020 and they are relishing the opportunity.
There is also some peace of mind for participants if the fair is forced to close due to Covid-19, thanks to the offer of a stand refund or transfer to the next Chelsea fair, pencilled in for spring 2021.
Despite the increased anxiety that comes with organising a fair during the pandemic, Chelsea fair director Sophie Wood, a former manager of the LAPADA fair, is confident the timing is right.
“The appetite is there from all sides. The venue wants to be hosting events again, dealers want to exhibit, and the buyers out there are desperate to see high-calibre pieces in the flesh again”, she says. “This edition is taking place during a busy time in London with lots of exciting events happening around the fair like the Chelsea Flower Show.”
With the September edition of the LAPADA Art & Antiques Fair postponed, the event also has little competition. Indeed, in the absence of that event, LAPADA has thrown its support behind Chelsea and taken a stand inviting members to submit pieces to showcase.
Wood hopes for around 7000 visitors across the six days although admits footfall is hard to predict. She adds that there are no current plans to introduce a booking system or enforce mask wearing but the situation will be continually assessed with the venue.
For those unable to make it in person, the 2Covet website will list many of the exhibited items on its marketplace for the duration of the fair and beyond.
For new exhibitor Butchoff Antiques, the London specialist in English and continental furniture and decorative arts, the fair will be its first since last February.
Stand highlights include a pair of commodes in the Louis XVI manner, which were made in c.1880 France, about half a century after the death of original designer Jean-François Leleu (1729-1807), and a collection of clocks by Thomas Cole, the preeminent Victorian clockmaker.
“With the recent re-brand, the fair has gained an attractive new look that we are keen to support”, the gallery tells ATG. “We were likewise impressed by the variety of good dealers attending such an intimate fair.”
Fellow newcomer John Hansord of Hansord in Lincolnshire is similarly optimistic and hopes the event will become part of his twice-yearly exhibitions in London.
“We are really excited to be joining the fair; it is in such a lovely venue in the heart of Chelsea and makes a change for us to be in a smaller fair”, he says.
A highlight on Hansord’s stand is a complete cased set of Grand Tour intaglios moulded from white plaster and depicting ancient scenes and figures from ancient Greece and Italy.
Originally used as seals, these were collected as souvenirs during the first half of the 19th century.
Among its offering of English furniture and collector’s items, new exhibitor Wick Antiques from Lymington (established by 2Covet founder Wallrock in the 1980s) is bringing a silver hanger sword once owned by Lord Nelson.
Priced at £48,500, the 17th century single-edge steel blade, mounted into a later silver hilt and scabbard, was given to Nelson’s nephew Maurice William Suckling and remained in the family until 2003. Several theories exist about how the sword made it into Nelson’s possession, including that it came from an Irish priest in Rome.
A 10in (25cm) tall 18th century goblet ornately engraved with the mythological characters of Minerva and Bacchus surrounded by over a dozen musicians is one of the highlights on the stand of Fileman Antiques from West Sussex, another new exhibitor.
Possibly thought to refer to the famous Baroque composer Handel, who had a reputation for overindulging, the goblet is one of just three known examples and has an asking price of £28,000.
Other first-timers joining the line-up include Andrew Muir in partnership with James Miles, Bowman Sculpture, David Brooker Fine Art (see this week’s 5 Questions), Freya Mitton, Hatchwell Antiques, Kaye Michie Fine Art, Mark Goodger Antiques, Martyn Downer Works of Art, Richard Price & Associates, Santos London, Steve Sly and Timewise Vintage Watches.
They join returnees Brian Watson Antique Glass, Farnham Antique Carpets, Morgan Strickland Decorative Arts and The Hunt Gallery.
English silver specialist Mary Cooke Antiques is also back, with company director Neil Shepperson telling ATG he is confident the new organisers will build on the “success and longevity of Caroline Penman’s fair, with a fresh, new look”. Shepperson adds he is pleased to be exhibiting alongside new BADA and LAPADA exhibitors in “the first quality, vetted, antique fair held in London for over 18 months”.
The firm is showcasing a fine early 18th century silver gilt cup and cover engraved with the royal armorial of Queen Anne, offered with an asking price of £16,750.
“Our research has concluded that it was probably a gift from Queen Anne to the 1st Baron Somers, a favourite and also one of the foremost legal minds in England at this date”, says Shepperson. The rare piece was made in London in 1712 by the famous Huguenot silversmith Simon Pantin (1680-1728).
Underpinned by its status as one of the longest established events of its kind, together with its location in the heart of one of London’s most affluent areas, hopes are high for the fair’s future.
“We are not changing the fair – we are evolving it and bringing it up where it needs to be to fulfil the needs of the industry”, organiser Wood says. “At the same time, we want to hang on to its legacy and history. It has stood the test of time.”