The season started with a bang. The LAPADA Berkeley Square Fair ran from September 27-October 1 while the British Art Fair (BAF) took place at the Saatchi Gallery from September 28-October 1.
They were closely followed by the Decorative Antiques and Textiles Fair (DATF) and Tribal Art London running together at Battersea Evolution from October 3-8.
For some exhibitors, the concentration of fairs meant a demanding schedule. Twentieth century British art dealer Freya Mitton was among a large group of dealers standing at more than one of the events, in her case LAPADA and BAF.
She set up her stand at Berkeley Square and stayed at LAPADA for the first two days before departing for the Saatchi Gallery. The model worked for her. Mitton had seasoned representatives to man the stand at LAPADA and she has deep affection for both fairs.
The “very glamorous, very high-end crowd” at Berkeley Square gave rise to her higher value sales, while she noticed a more “academic” group of visitors and “niche collectors” at BAF where she parted with more by volume. There was even a handful of buyers she recounted visiting from out of town and luxuriating in the choice of two London fairs at once.
“It was good to see things picking up after the summer,” she said, but added that it was a “very busy, very intense week”.
Mitton was among many who hoped this collection of fairs would have space between them in the future. The London events also overlapped with the Northern Antiques Fair (September 28-October 1) in Leyburn (more in a future issue).
On the other hand, results from the various events suggest that there is space in the market to sustain them all. Visitor numbers were robust with 3000 coming through LAPADA on opening night alone and nearly 12,000 at BAF during its total run (more on final count than initially reported in ATG No 2612).
Both events recorded strong sales, too. Macconnal-Mason kicked off LAPADA with the sale of more than £500,000 worth of works on preview night including a Lowry picture. Other stand-out sales during the fair included a suit of Samurai armour that went from David Thatcher for £90,000, a Patek Philippe 1951 watch which Timewise Vintage Watches offered for £17,500 and a work of Contemporary Chinese art by Wei Ligang, which Michael Goedhuis had on his stand for £85,000.
At BAF, highlight sales included a £200,000 Eric Ravilious painting which went from the stand of the Fine Art Society, Glyn Philpot’s Square in Ostend, 1936, which had an asking price of £50,000 from Oliver Brooke-Walder and at least two Winifred Nicholson pictures, one each from the stands of Jonathan Clarke and Patrick Bourne & Co.
Jenna Burlingham, specialist in Modern British Art, was among those standing at two fairs, and after departing from BAF headed across town and set up at Battersea. An extra 12 dealers joined fresh from LAPADA. They included Precious Flora and Timewise Vintage Watches, Jeroen Markies Art Deco, Hickmet Fine Arts and M&D Moir.
Burlingham said: “I also go straight from Islington (London Art Fair) to Battersea in January. I prefer back-to-back than simultaneously or a week in between. I’m quite used to it now. We don’t completely split our stock up for the two fairs but we do put a different emphasis on the second week. Battersea is more decorative and contemporary, it’s a different sort of marketplace.”
Though she said that both fairs were a success for the gallery, “neither of them were fliers. The market is there but you have to work hard. The people you meet can be as important as the actual sales. For us, the trick is that we also have our gallery open at the same time. We have to have it all working when we go away.”
Taking place three times per year, Battersea is now the longest continuously running of the vetted London antiques fairs. This was its first sold-out edition since the start of the pandemic, and the atmosphere was buoyant. Dealers noted international buyers and young crowds, particularly on the weekend.
Notable sales included the star piece at Martin D Johnson, a Holland & Sons table made for Windsor Castle which went for a five-figure sum to a US decorator for their personal collection.
Foster & Gane, meanwhile, parted with a Roman mosaic set as a low table offered for £16,500, Chalet White parted with a long set of 12 Georgian dining chairs after Robert Manwaring ticketed at five-figures, and Dorian Caffot de Fawes reported his best opening day to date finding a new home for a pair of Arts & Crafts chair ticketed at £3300.
For seasoned Battersea exhibitor Joe Chaffer of Vagabond Antiques, who came to this edition after his first appearance at LAPADA “the switch to Battersea was seamless. It was like coming home.”
Heat is on
As is always the case, each event had its share of challenges. BAF organisers were left looking into climate control at the Saatchi after a warm weekend left some of the galleries very hot.
Not all at Battersea were completely content with the volume of buyers. Some even speculated that the opening day of the Robert Kime auction at Dreweatts on October 4 may have had an impact on visitor numbers that day.
Flurry of autumn fair activity
Organiser Darren Hudson said: “With the flattening of the housing market, and a tailing off of the post-Covid boom in the interiors industry, it has become evident that some clients are being more cautious than in the past couple of years, and it was perhaps not so surprising that some large and more serious furniture items were trickier to sell this time around.”
Some dealers raised questions about the logistics at the LAPADA fair, which returned to its Berkeley Square venue for the first time since 2019.
It had returned as a fair that was consciously expensive but promised participants a luxe event. It had on board both a new partner, Stable Events, and new stand fitters.
As is the case with any fair making significant changes, there were logistical challenges. Among the issues flagged to ATG by exhibitors were limits on parking and storage, the time allowed for set-up and breakdown and the choice of stand builders.
In response, Freya Simms, chief executive officer at LAPADA Berkeley Square Fair, told ATG: “Returning after four years with an entirely new floor plan and contractors, there were always going to be areas that would need to be reviewed and refined for 2024. Berkeley Square is the best venue for a fair in the UK and its unique location in the heart of Mayfair surrounded by London’s art scene can’t be beaten.
“Still, these wonderful attributes can create logistical challenges unique to such a prestigious setting with minimal space. We are bound by the local authority’s instruction which determines set-up and breakdown time and will be sharing and discussing with the team at Westminster City Council as we begin preparations for 2024.
“Contractor selection is also a big topic for our post-fair review as well as on a macro scale the organising industry going forward where balancing the critical quality needed alongside financial viability will require innovation.
“Any challenges are far outweighed by the benefits of the location - something the vast majority of our stakeholders are agreed on. After each fair, we carry out a thorough performance review of every supplier. This leads to initiatives to improve the quality of the event.”
Simms added that the fair made “significant headway” this year with a 30% visitor increase on the opening day and LAPADA is “committed to establishing a sustainable model for the future. More plans will be shared with our community shortly.”