Art Market, Money, Old Masters and the TEFAF Tango
The European Fine Art Fair, aka TEFAF Maastricht, aka TEFAF, aka the self-proclaimed-but-actually-true leading fine and decorative arts fair in the world, is where the casual aesthete or connoisseur might view or purchase a painting “from Bruegel to Bacon.” The current 23rd edition, which runs through March 21, opened last Thursday with a wham-bam let-the-good-times roll, rouler und rollen record number of approximately 10,000 visitors. Sales were strong as well, and there were noticeably more American collectors present than last year.
TEFAF’s origins lie in The Pictura Fine Art Fair, a successful though sleepy biennial gathering of 28 dealers specializing in Old Masters and medieval sculptures that started in 1975. By 1988, it had gone annual, merged with another fair (what began as “Antiqua”), changed its name, moved to its current venue, and attracted 97 dealers—a number that would almost double by the end of the 1990s and which set a record this year at 263 (and from 17 countries, with two new additions: Hello China and Uruguay).
Besides its usual encyclopedic range of art encompassing 6,000 years of human creativity and totaling over $1 billion in value, this year saw the presentation of a TEFAF-commissioned art market report from Dr. Clare McAndrew, an independent economist specializing in the art market who studies quantifiable results from auction houses (public domain) as well as from dealers (a far murkier affair, but well worth the effort and estimation as this figure accounts for over half the market). Her report, entitled a catchy “The International Art Market 2007-2009, Trends in the Art Trade during Global Recession,” stated and underscored well-evident truths, such as:
“Although the contraction in prices over 2008-2009 represented the sharpest fall in the market since 1991, the level of sales is still markedly above any years preceding 2006. Sales totals for fine and decorative art are estimated to total €21.3 billion in 2009, or down from an all-time high of €48 billion in 2007, but still well above 2003’s €18.6 billion.”
Basing her figures solely on directly verifiable auction results, McAndrew proceeded to parse the market and explore the relativity of its various sectors. For example:
“Contemporary art auction sales grew from €92 million in 2002 to €915 million in 2008, or just under a tenfold increase.” McAndrew estimates this market dropped by nearly 60% to €378 million by the end of 2009 “in terms of aggregate sales values (at auction).” As bad as this might sound, McAndrew then reassures by pointing out that contemporary art prices have as an aggregate retreated only to 2005 levels.
“Modern paintings is one of the largest auction sectors, reaching €3.1 billion in 2008, over three times the size of the Contemporary market.” She estimates this market fell by 19% in 2008 (down from a €3.8 high in 2007), and another 37% in 2005, although the Modern market remains above 2005 levels.
“Auction sales in the Impressionist sector grew in value by 80% from 2002, where total sales amounted to €364 million, to its peak in 2007 with sales of €655 million. From there, the market fell by 21% in 2008 to €519 million and a further 39% in 2009 to €319 million.
“The Old Masters sector grew by 40% 2002 to 2008, with a peak in 2007 of €1.9 billion in auction sales.” McAndrew notes a 12% contraction in 2009 to €1.6 billion, adding: “The Old Master sector of the market has been regarded as a more conservative category of art with more long-term collectors, and while it has been to some extent out of fashion in recent years, it is now receiving renewed interest as a potentially less volatile sector in which to collect and invest.”
Bearing these sector observations in mind, it’s unsurprising that the dozens of dealers showing Old Masters were busy with red dots and inquiries. Among the highlights were Madonna and Child with the Infant Saint John by Sandro Botticelli at London-based Dickinson (priced at approximately $15 million and for half of the 20th century part of the collections of various Rockefellers); a trio of oil sketches by Sir Peter Paul Rubens: Two Captive Soldiers at New York’s Richard L. Feigen & Co., and Alexander and Roxana and The Annunciation at Zurich’s Koetser Gallery Ltd.; The indoors wedding Dance by Pieter Brueghel the Younger at Paris’ De Jonckheere gallery, and David and Bathsheba by Lucas Cranach the Elder and St. Mark by Frans Hals at Bernheimer-Colnaghi (London-based Colnaghi, founded in 1760, is the world’s oldest commercial art gallery, and celebrates its 250th birthday this year.
Paintings from top:
- Madonna and Child with the Infant Saint John, Alessandro Felipepi di Mariano di Vanni, called Sandro Botticelli (Florence, 1444/5 – 1510)
- David and Bathsheba, Lucas Cranach d. Ä. ( Kronach 1472 – Weimar 1553)
- Samuel Crew (? – 1660), Sir Peter Lely (1618 – 1680)
- Alexander and Roxana, Sir Peter Paul Rubens(Siegen 1577 – Antwerp 1640)
- The Card Players, Gerard ter Borch (Zwolle 1617 – Deventer 1681)
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