With the turmoil in stock markets around the world, many investors prefer to place some money in art and antiques that they can enjoy and hopefully see a fair return over the years. This could be considered the true meaning of an ‘alternative’ investment.
Brussels is a major centre for art and period pieces. It is therefore apt that it hosts the first leading art event of the year: BRAFA is the Brussels Fine Arts Fair now in its 61st year. Opening next Saturday, January 23 to 31, it has expanded from 126 exhibitors last year to 137.
The industrial complex at Tour & Taxis in Brussels is transformed by an Antwerp fashion florist, attracting 12 dealers from the UK.
A quality art and antiques fair allows the curious and collector alike to see pieces and meet specialists under one roof that could otherwise take hundreds of miles in travel and time. Stock is vetted by independent experts, often museum curators.
Unlike auctions, there is no buyer’s premium (which also attracts VAT) and pieces can be properly examined by comparison with internet purchases. Invoices should be detailed, declaring any imperfections and restoration with texture and sizes. Saleroom catalogues are frequently poor on description. Auctioneers do not have the same standards of consumer protection as dealers.
Many dealers stress not only the ethical aspect of recycling by enjoying period pieces but hope some of the heritage displayed in Downton Abbey and even Wolf Hall will attract custom.
Harrogate is a major centre for antique fairs, notably in mid April and late September. Sometimes outstanding experts attend such as the UK’s leading antiques glass specialist Jeanette Hayhurst, who will exhibit at the Pavilions on January 22-24.
At BRAFA, dealer Luca Burzio is taking work by Vincent de Vos (1829-75) including Les Amis du Cirque which depicts dogs and monkeys dressed as human beings who are resting after a show. Offered in its original wood frame, it has increased from 50,000 euros a decade ago to 70,000 euros today.
There is also likely to be keen interest in a plaster bust of General Pierre Cambronne which Burzio is showing. It was created by Jean-Baptiste Joseph de Bay (1802-62) around 1830.
Whitford Fine Art estimate that a polished bronze of a toy train, completed in 2005 by Clive Barker from Liverpool, which is offered at 20,000 euros has jumped from 6,500 euros in 10 years. Barker does not make large editions..
The same dealer will exhibit Paul van Hoedonck whose abstract works were only recognised as an important contribution to Belgian abstraction five years ago. A 1956 oil on canvas like Carrefour Jaune at £26,000 has tripled in price in a decade.
Finch deals in the eclectic. A large early 17th century south German carved walnut panel depicting the image of Christ upon the Turin shroud is 48,000 euros, up from 30,000 euros 10 years ago. A British Celtic seated sandstone shrine figure of a divine chieftain or warrior god from first century BC to first century AD came from the private collection of a Yorkshire nun. The piece was found in a priory garden near Skipton and has increased from 20,000 euros to 41,500 euros a decade ago.
An anthropomorphic taxidermy tableaux by Walter Potter of two red squirrels engaged in a fencing match from the late 19th century is curious. Finch says it has increased from 7,500 euros in 2006 to 12,750 euros today.
Tribal art is difficult to source here but BRAFA has a tradition of showing some of the best. Serge Schoffel has a rare 19th century Grebo mask from Liberia which represents an elephant as well as a Maori sculpture of a Manaia from late 18th century.
Major artists are represented at three or four of the most important fairs, such as TEFAF in Maastricht. This March it celebrates its 29th year with 269 exhibitors of whom 70 are from the UK.
Not to be outdone, BRAFA dealers from the UK will show Chagall (Boulakia), Rembrandt (Douwes) and Peter Brueghel the Younger (De Jonckheere) as well as Gaugin, Picasso, Renoir and Sisley (Stern Pissarro). The latter offers a Claude Monet, The Seine near Vetheuil from 1878. The oil has been sold several times recently, making the equivalent of £600,000 at Christie’s in New York in 2005, £3m at a sale dedicated to Jeffrey Archer’s collection in 2011 and today costs £4.65m.
Walker Galleries of Harrogate are not exhibiting this year at BRAFA but have seen “great demand” for Laura Knight (1877-1970).
Ian Walker says that while the earlier Yorkshire period examples lack the colour of the later Newlyn work, all are “eminently collectable.” Examples typically make £20,000-3£0,000 but expect to pay £500,000 for the best.
One way to enjoy fine works at a fraction of their painted prices is to buy drawings. For Knight, a fair one is from £5,000.
Work by Herbert Royle (1870-1958), who lived at Bolton Abbey and later Nesfield near Ilkley, is tipped by Walker. Apart from Scottish loch and harbour views, Yorkshire scenes are well known. With an easel strapped to his bicycle, carrying in his pocket a hot potato to warm his hands, Royle’s snow scenes and harvest views are highly sought after with the best now costing over £15,000.
In Hong Kong, Bonhams have seen continued demand for Chinese works on paper whilst in London Indian antique arms realised 10 times pre-sale estimates.
In New York, it reports the popularity still of major 20th century artists such as Calder, Henry Moore and Warhol.
Always check on provenance. Sadly, the Art Loss Register reunites only around 15 per cent of stolen art with its owners. Dutch law has a quirk which permits a thief to claim property if it has not been seized within 30 years even if the personal responsible has been sentenced and served their punishment.