For first-time exhibitor Callum Jackson of Jacksons Antique, last month’s Decorative Antiques and Textiles Fair in Battersea was something of a whirlwind.
Among his stand-out sales was a pair of wall plaques that went from his stand before he had time to photograph them.
The high speed of sales was a common theme at the event. It ran from January 24-29 in Battersea Evolution, its first of three stagings for the year. Exhibitors reported record-breaking sales and overwhelming attendance, particularly on day one.
Perhaps the rush was prompted by a post-Covid return to form for buyers. Possibly tastes are turning ever more towards this event’s eclectic offering. Or recent news: in the two weeks before doors opened at Battersea, two other major London events, Masterpiece London and Art & Antiques Fair Olympia, cancelled their summer editions for 2023.
In some cases the effect of the closures were evident. For example, the two plaques on Jackson’s stand headed to buyers who were habitués of Masterpiece but had never been to Battersea Decorative before.
In its 38th year, the fair has suddenly become one of the capital’s biggest dealer events.
Though long supported by a core band of loyal dealers, the recent shuttering of events such as The Chelsea Antiques Fair and Art & Antiques for Everyone at Birmingham’s NEC are likely to boost both visitor and dealer interest in future editions.
Last year Jackson had applied for Battersea, while planning to stand at the NEC, Chelsea and Olympia.
“Could I have picked a better three fairs?” he joked.
His first Battersea was a reassuring success.
“I came out on top which is the thing when you do your first fair”, he told ATG. “But the key to Battersea is longevity. It’s a totally different audience.”
Though there are collectors, the fair draws in decorators, trade buyers, and private clients who fall into what Jackson calls the “I-like-it-I’ll-buy-it market”.
He puts himself there too.
At 28, Jackson is comparatively new to the trade but already judges that Battersea and the crowd it draws is good for his future.
He added: “I won’t be sourcing things for collectors in the next 30, 40, 50 years of my career. These aren’t the buyers who will sustain me, it’s the people looking for a statement piece or talking point and they come to Battersea.”
‘Only game in town’
January’s fair hosted around 110 exhibitors, a slightly lighter number than usual, while more dealers attending LARTA, The London Antique Rug & Textile Art Fair, stood on the mezzanine.
However, many predicted that stands will be in short supply at future events.
“The other big fairs have all been cancelled so we’re the only game in town now”, said Streett Marburg, who exhibited with his partner Charlotte Casadéjus.
Battersea cultivates a relaxed and convivial atmosphere among its dealers. Its stand prices are not at the astronomical level of other London events. But dealers like Marburg do not take it for granted.
“You’re always on the fair. We’re already buying ahead for the next one”, adding that though the atmosphere is good there is always “pressure”.
Stars are out
Notable names among the visitors included Rose Uniacke, Edward Hurst and Rita Konig from the trade, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Martin McDonagh, Andrew Scott, Eddie Redmayne and Paul Smith from the wider world.
Doors opened a few minutes early at the opening due to the size of the queue. What followed was a widely acknowledged banner day.
For Gallery BR “the opening felt like we are back to pre-Covid days”. It found a new home for a set of Pierre Jeanneret chairs priced at more than £30,000 and a huge Arts & Crafts table offered for £6000.
Christopher Butterworth parted with a Charles X Empire chandelier priced at £16,000, and dubbed the opening “probably the best day I have had at a fair ever”.
Foster & Gane, which kicked off with the sale of a £25,000 Louis XV commode decorated c.1975 by J Anthony Redmile, later sold a large 1940s amboyna wood screen, ticketed at £12,000. Other five-figure sales came early in the event from Gallery KIY, Timothy Langston and Nick Jones (see News, ATG No 2578).
Two more five-figure sales came from Vagabond Antiques: a marble urn ticketed at £24,000 and a life-sized carved marble statue of a Classical maiden after Antonio Canova, offered for £22,000.
WSJ Gallery reported selling an abstract triptych by British Contemporary artist Peter Seal ticketed at £16,200. It went to a new client who came with a decorator familiar to the firm.
There were significant smaller-ticket sales to note too. Rhona Valentine, who reported her best fair to date, parted with a large crewel work panel, ticketed at £7000, which went to the trade.
She also sold a tapestry, c.1800 (£9500), two 16th century Franco-Scottish needlework cushions (£2500), a 19th century Indian velvet hanging (£850) and, on the fair’s final day, sold out of her selection of antique quilts.
Dorian Caffot de Fawes found a buyer for an early 20th century neo-gothic stool offered for £1850.
M Charpentier sold a 20th century marble bust pitched at £8500.
Inglis Hall Antiques parted with a mid 19th century French elm farmhouse table offered for £5900.
Despite a drop in the total number of London fairs, several dealers counted Battersea as just one of their January events, including William Cook Antiques, Panter and Hall, S&S Timms and Timewise Vintage Watches.
Jenna Burlingham, a specialist in Modern and Contemporary art, was among those doing double duty, standing at the Decorative fair back-to-back with London Art Fair.
“It seemed to be a buzzy fair, particularly for the furniture exhibitors, but it was great to see the exhibitor numbers so strong and that there were a number of European and US buyers”, she said, one of many to remark on the number of overseas visitors. “We always find that January is the busiest of the three fairs and it is a chance for us, a non London-based gallery, to have a regular London slot.”
The next edition is scheduled to run from May 9-14.