Striking out alone
Uncoupled from the Biennale, the Paris Tableau Old Master briefly moved to Brussels
LAST year, the Paris Tableau Old Master paintings fair showed as a section of the autumn Biennale rather than holding its own event, a marriage, or rather engagement, that proved unsatisfactory. Although the picture dealers have been able to extricate themselves, they had to agree not to stage their own show again in Paris for three years. Thus, to demonstrate their continued existence, the one-off Paris Tableau Brussels, was staged between June 8 and 11 to coincide with Cultures—the World Arts Fair, a now annual festival of dealers’ shows offering antiquities, tribal and Asian arts.
This Tableau in exile brought together 22 French and other dealers in the recently revamped La Patinoire Royale, a relic of the late-19th-century glory days of roller skating, which makes a fine exhibition space. Built in 1877, it is an almost exact contemporary of the rink in Norwich that has found a rather similar use as the home of the South Asian Decorative Arts & Crafts Collection, combining a shop with a museum.
A drawback, perhaps, for Tableau was that it is in the Ixelles district, off the Avenue Louise and some way from the traditional art and antiques area around the Sablon.
There was a surprising emphasis on Italian and Baroque painting and some dealers seemed to be relying too much on previously seen stock, which is not always wise given the cosmopolitan character of art buyers. That said, there is still a bias towards home-grown art at fairs and, here, galleries with Flemish and Dutch works tended to sell them. Colnaghi, for instance, sold a very pleasing 28½in by 61¾in collaboration between two Antwerp specialists, the figurative painter Frans Francken the Younger (1581–1642) and landscape painter Joos de Momper the Younger (1564–1635) (Fig 1).
In mythological times, it was often unwise to accept an invitation to refreshment in somebody’s cave, but the hero Theseus struck lucky when held up by a flooded river—the river god Achelous (who had once defeated Herakles) proved a generous host until Poseidon and ‘fairankled’ Amphitrite arrived to calm the waters.
Other sales included a version of The Rest on the Flight into
Egypt painted by Luc-olivier Merson (1846–1920), an academic and sometimes Symbolist painter who designed well-known French stamps and banknotes. A version of this composition, in which the Virgin and Child sleep between the paws of a sphinx, is in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, USA, but this one was priced at about €50,000 by Didier Aaron.
Jacques Leegenhoek of Paris took a €85,000 for a Diana and
Endymion painted on leather by Pasquale Ottino (1578–1630), a Veronese painter who worked there for most of his career and died of the plague.
Not yet sold, but a painting I like very much is a 26in by 217∕8in self-portrait by Seraphin de Vliegher (1806–48), with Michel Descours of Lyon. The delicacy of his exhaled cigar smoke is extraordinary.
The combined forces of Cultures—39 tribal-arts dealers, 13 Asian specialists and 10 antiquities galleries—seem to have sold well, if not often spectacularly. Some of them, especially the Asians, offered tempting things at lower prices and they reported a number of first-time and younger buyers as a result. Kitsune Japanese Art was particularly pleased with the sale of a lovely gold lacquer inro to a youthful collector (Fig 3).
One notable antiquities sale was a well-gilded late Ptolemaic mask from a mummy (Fig 2) with Alexander Ancient Art at €60,000. Almost all of these gal- leries were around the Sablon area, although dealers are being pushed from the square itself by
chocolatiers and frockistes. An exception was the leading African art specialist Didier Claes, who has recently moved away from the area to a handsome new gallery on the rue de l’abbaye in Ixelles. He realises that his stock sits well with the contemporary art galleries that have already moved to the streets off the avenue Louise. It will be interesting to see who follows him. He sold a number of works during the week, including a 10½in-high Jukun figure from Nigeria (Fig 5).
In the Sablon itself, the tribal dealers had combined to mount an impressive exhibition of sculptures from Africa and New Guinea, held in the former Vatican Embassy, and there was a stimulating series of lectures. I particularly enjoy visiting these dealers’ shows in Brussels because I always learn something. On this trip, I had an introduction to Aboriginal art, which I had not really looked at before. At Aboriginal Signature, Bertrand Estrangin proved to be a very good guide.
Anglo-australian art has been in the news, with AU$2,976,000 (£1.8 million) paid for 29½in
by 495 ∕8in Grandma’s Sunday Walk (Fig 4) by Sir Russell Drysdale (1912–81) at Mossgreen in Adelaide. It has been said that Drysdale ‘was the visual poet of that passive, all-encompassing despair that endless heat and drought induces’—‘australian Gothic’, perhaps. This was painted in 1972 for a London exhibition at the Leicester Galleries, where Drysdale had first come to international notice in 1950 under the aegis of Kenneth Clark.
In my June 14 column, I mistitled Zachary Eastwood-bloom’s debut exhibition at Pangolin, King’s Place, London N1. ‘Divine Principles’ will run from October 11 to November 11 (www. pangolinlondon. com; 020–7520 1480).
Fig 1: A landscape with Theseus and Achelous, with Neptune and Amphritite (1564–1635) by Francken and de Momper. With Colnaghi
Fig 2: Ptolemaic mummy mask. With Alexander Ancient Art
Fig 5: Jukun figure from Nigeria. Sold by Didier Claes at Cultures Biggles, gliding and a mild orgy Next week
Fig 4: Grandma’s Sunday Walk by Sir Russell Drysdale (1972). AU$2,976,000 (£1.8 million)
Fig 3: Gold lacquer inro sold by Kitsune Japanese Art