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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Tefaf Maastricht

Fig. 1: Frans Francken the Younger, Mankind’s Eternal Dilemma--The Choice between Vice and Virtue, 1635.
Oli on panel, 142 x 210.8 cm. Image courtesy of Johnny van Haeften.

by John Smiroldo

TEFAF Maastricht

MECC (Maastricht Exhibition & Congress Centre)
Forum 100, 6229 GV Maastricht, The Netherlands

For information call +31 411 64 50 90
or visit

TEFAF Maastricht 2012: March 16–25

Maastricht, a picturesque medieval city steeped in history, filled with romantic streets and historic buildings, and arguably the oldest city in the Netherlands, is home once a year to the finest art and antiques show in the world, TEFAF Maastricht. When private jets fill the local airport everyone knows it’s show time. With 260 dealers from sixteen countries in nine sections, it was nearly impossible to view the entire show in the three days I was there. The art and objects in the show range from ancient to contemporary works, totaling an estimated $1.4 billion worth of museum-quality art. The Vernissage was packed with patrons, and it seemed as though there were more Americans willing to spend this year than last, acquiring some of the most important paintings in the show through dealers such as Noortman, Johnny van Haeften, and Koetser Gallery.

Fig. 3: Pierre-Auguste Renoir, La leçon – Bielle, l’institutrice et Claude Renoir lisant, circa 1906.
Oil on canvas, 65.3 x 58.1 cm. Image courtesy of Hammer Galleries.

The political unrest in the Middle East and disaster in Japan did not seem to slow buying, as Noortman sold three paintings and a drawing for a total of $15 million in the opening day alone. With the dwindling supply of Old Master paintings available, it was remarkable to see so many masterpieces offered for sale at the fair. New York’s Otto Naumann offered one of the headliners, a late Rembrandt portrait dating to 1658; asking price: $47 million. London's Johnny Van Haeften came ready for business with a breathtaking 1635 work by Frans Francken, Mankind's Eternal Dilemma--The Choice between Vice and Virtue (Fig. 1) for $14 million.

Stand of Bernheimer-Colnaghi

Fig. 2: Henry Moore, Mother and child block seat, 9/9, 1983 at Landau Fine Art.

A pair of magnificent polychrome and gilded Chinoiserie vases, Delft, circa 1680–85, at Aronson Antiquairs.

Although the modern section felt the loss of Hauser & Wirth of Zurich, London, and New York, as well as New York's L&M Arts, still the section did not disappoint. As in Art Basel Miami and the Armory Show, NY, Landau Fine Art from Montreal set up a blockbuster booth with masterpieces from Modigliani, Picasso, Chagall, and Marini. My favorite was a monumental Henry Moore sculpture, Mother and child block seat (Fig. 2). Landau devoted an entire room to the work of Miró and sold Oiseau lunaire, an olive wood sculpture dating from 1945 for $5 million on opening day. In the paintings section, Hammer Galleries, in only their second year at the fair, garnered strong attention with a stand filled exclusively with museum-quality Renoirs, a fine example depicting the painter's son, Claude, reading at a table with his school teacher and a young girl (Fig. 3).

A pair of massive porcelain leopards, Kangxi, circa 1720, at Cohen & Cohen. The only known pair in existence.

Portrait miniature articleist Elle Shushan (left) was one of six dealers selected for the TEFAF Showcase.

A composite South German Stechzeug Armour, circa 1490–5, at Peter Finer. The only authentic example of its kind know to remain in private hands.

During the course of the ten day fair, over 73,000 visitors from fifty-five countries attended. It wasn't clear whether the recent decision by the Dutch government to raise the tax on artwork from 6% to 19% (basically a VAT) affected sales this year, but it will be interesting to see how this plays out next year. As Konrad Bernheimer remarked, "It could be a disaster for this fair." I'm confident it will be resolved before TEFAF celebrates its 25th anniversary, with 2012 show dates from March 16-25. Make your travel plans early, as record crowds are expected.

John Smiroldo is the founder and publisher of Antiques & Fine Art Magazine.