406 TEFAF days

Braving danger and discomfort, Schwartz once more treated himself to a visit to the foremost fair for old master art, TEFAF. He shares thoughts and impressions.

Loekie and I have been regular visitors to The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) in Maastricht since its beginning in 1988. It is an event of unparalleled richness for anyone who enjoys looking at art, with tens of thousands of museum-quality objects on display. It has even more to offer to those of us who study art professionally and are personally acquainted with many of the exhibitors and other visitors. Normally it is held for ten days at the beginning of March, from weekend to weekend, preceded by a Preview or Private Visit day for guests of the exhibitors – private buyers, museum directors and curators, art historians, family and friends. In 2020 we were there on 6 and 7 March, which you will remember as falling in the week when the threat of covid-19 went literally and figuratively viral. Both of us were infected, though with mild cases. Upsettingly, Loekie has retained an on-again-off-again diminishment of taste and smell. The fair was closed on 11 March, as reports of infections mounted. Afterwards we heard stories about people who got sick and even some who died. Twice afterward TEFAF announced dates for a new fair that had to be canceled because of new outbreaks. Yesterday, 25 June, it opened, with a Preview day on Friday the 24th. I went, but Loekie, with a covid summer wave on its way, did not feel secure enough to join me.

At this fair there was a painting on which I had worked, for the gallery of Bob Haboldt.

It’s a fragment of a painting by Pieter Saenredam of a corner in the Nieuwe Kerk, Haarlem. The composition of the whole painting from which it was sawn out is known from a drawing in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. Bob asked Marten Jan Bok and me, authors of a monograph on the artist, to write the fragment up for him, which we did with pleasure. As Bob put it, “Whoever sawed out that fragment knew what he was doing.” The painting is one of the go-to attractions in the old master section of TEFAF.

Another is the head of an old man by Jan Lievens (Lullo-Pampoulides, London, previously with Bob Haboldt) I hate to say this, but no tronie by Rembrandt moves me as much as this old man.

I was also stopped in my tracks by this Crucifixion by Hendrick Terbrugghen (Adam Williams, London, and Åmells, Stockholm). There were more Crucifixions, in all media, than any other subject. After having burdened readers of the previous Schwartzlist column with more than they wanted to know about Christians drinking blood, there was no excuse for not taking a photo of this detail from a Crucifixion by Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen (Agnews, London).

An exceptional feature of TEFAF is the opportunity to talk to the dealer about his or her wares. This is particularly rewarding when the dealer is as erudite as Guy Stair Sainty, here between the early and late Goyas he is offering. Every conversation with him is edifying and enlightening.

The most fun to be had at TEFAF is coming across totally unexpected delights. That’s how I felt about these monumental portraits of kitchen utensils by an artist I didn’t know, Francisco Barranco, Seville (Caylus, Madrid).

And how can you walk past a stand like this without stopping to find out what’s what? Kent Antiques, London, tells that the horse is wearing ceremonial gilded silver saddlery made in the 1790s for the Ottoman Sultan Selim III, whose successor Abdulmecid presented it in 1856 to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. In 1886 Victoria seems to have regifted it to the Marquess of Lothian. And look at the more modest, domestic oriental desireable treasures Kent is showing.

There are always profound discoveries to be made, of art that is more than art. Such as this church model by the Austrian sculptor Fritz Wotruba, made for a more than extraordinary patron, Margaretha Ottillinger. I hope you can read this. (Presented with respect by Sascha Mehringer, Munich.)

People in the field come upon pieces of their past at TEFAF. When I founded CODART in 1998, I coupled its congresses to TEFAF, since so many of our members were coming to the Netherlands for the fair anyway. It worked, and the tie with CODART is still honored, on both sides. Saturday morning TEFAF offered facilities for a session for CODART patrons. I moderated a panel discussion on a comparison of the Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard to A Corpus of Rembrandt paintings. It was a lively, friendly meeting of the minds of Nils Büttner, author of monographs on both artists and recently appointed editor of the Rubens Corpus; Jaco Rutgers, leading expert on Rembrandt’s etchings as well as the prints after Rubens; and Koen Bulckens, who wrote a master’s thesis comparing the two Corpuses. Following this, we were given a talk by Michael Kwakkelstein on the discoveries he made publishing Rubens’s anatomical drawings in a new volume in the Corpus Rubenianum. His conclusions have far-reaching implications, especially for seeing through the exploitative way artists look at things. To my joy, the co-organizer of the event from the Rubens side, the invaluable benefactor of art and art history Thomas Leysen presented the first copy of Michael’s book to an invaluable American benefactor of art and museums, George Abrams.

TEFAF is personal. This year more than ever, seeing again friends for the first time in over two years. My own mood was captured by the phenomenal photographer and art historian Carla van de Puttelaar when I ran into her and her husband Fred Meijer in a corridor in the hotel where we were staying. I was spotted by a former colleague, who I did not recognize or remember, from a publishing house where I worked thirty-two years ago.

Our darling friend Nicole planning with Spanish comrades a post-prandial attack on the fair.

TEFAF is a news hub. Appointments, amounts, slips, scandals. A nerve center for people in Dutch art is the Salomon Lilian stand, with its star curator Jasper Hillegers, not to mention the legendary Lilian reception in the city the evening of the opening  Some of the things you hear you wish you hadn’t. Friends lost or deathly ill. As the years go by, it becomes something of a survival race. Back home Loekie and I were relieved when I tested negative for covid.

© Gary Schwartz 2022. Published on the Schwartzlist 26 June 2022.

Not wanting to kvetch in the middle of that paean to TEFAF, I’m putting my complaint about the temperature below the line. The halls of the MECC were uncomfortably and in view of the octogenarianness of many visitors, irresponsibly warm. Many stands had ventilators on the floor, and visitors went to stand in the locations where air was being pumped in from vents in the ceiling. Some exhibitors said that the timing was to blame – June rather than March. But why should such a large and prominent center ever be uncomfortable to visit? I found myself hoping that TEFAF will find another location for the years to come.

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7 thoughts on “406 TEFAF days”

  1. Dear Gary,
    Wotruba’s model is stunning and I thank you very much for posting the information on Margaretha Ottillinger (incidentally, with two L).
    Looking up the church in Wikipedia, I was disappointed to find that her name is not mentioned at all in the German, English nor any other entry in the few languages in which it appears – except for Nederlands!
    There is an entry in German on the lady herself with the church duly mentioned. The only other language, Welsh, is a stub. So thank you for spreading the name of this extraordinary woman.
    Best wishes,

    1. Many thanks, Gero, also for the correction of Margaretha’s last name, which I have carried out. I have never registered or done whatever you have to do to write in Wikipedia. This is indeed a case where I feel called upon to intervene.

      Of course I thought of you and Ute at TEFAF, at the lunch where we ran into each other in March 2020. The first two weeks of that month have captured a special place in memory, so that I know better what I was doing from day to day than perhaps any such period in my past.

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