Every summer since 2010, The Royal Hospital has played host to the only event in the city suitably opulent to hold its own here. Mixing an unparalleled selection of art, design and antiques that spans a period of three millennia, Masterpiece London is one of the world’s most prestigious commercial fairs. It’s also a joy to visit as a casual window-shopper. The last time I went, back in 2011, Masterpiece was only on it’s second edition. Even then, though, the fair’s trademark attention to detail and calm atmosphere were hard to ignore, as was the exceptional quality of the exhibitors. As one visitor told Master Piece chief executive Nazy Vassegh last year, it’s like the best shopping street in London.
Vassegh has been in the role since January 2013, and has supervised an even more precise refinement of the brand. ‘The main objective has been to define and develop Masterpiece,’ she tells me, ‘the point is to stick to art, design and antiques, using expert knowledge of each spectrum to make sure each exhibit is relevant. For example, if we’re going to allow someone to exhibit a car, it must be either bespoke or at the very least an extremely limited edition.’
This rigorous selection process extends as far as vetting every individual object that exhibitors plan to show in their concessions, from contemporary jewellery to artefacts that are several thousand years old. It may seem a little like micro-management, but in order to guarantee that exhibits match the fair’s unrivalled reputation for quality. The painstaking duties of inspection can begin as early as February, and continue right up to a final check the day before Masterpiece opens to the public. Make no mistake – the academics, auction house people and dealers in charge of the vetting certainly won’t – this is serious stuff.
What, you might ask, distinguishes Masterpiece from its competitors? It’s a good question, and the answer is surprisingly simple. Masterpiece London’s organisers were quick to appreciate the value of the ‘cross-collector’ – that is, an individual not focusing on one particular style or period, who instead opts to pair the classical with the cutting-edge and the Baroque with the Brut.
The idea of the cross-collector is nothing new – Georges Clemenceau, for example, mixed collections of exquisite Buddhist artefacts with an extraordinary inventory of Impressionist paintings. The only strange thing is that so few organisations have actively targeted clients with differing interests; people were mixing and matching items long before post modernism gave it an intellectual significance – so why shouldn’t an art fair?
‘We specifically don’t zone the fair,’ Vassegh says, ‘so the feeling of variety is absolutely intended. You can find a work by someone like Bill Viola just metres away from a Cycladic figure made in 2,000 BC.’ ‘Aren’t we all cross-collectors?’ asks Christian Hemmerle, of German jewellers Hemmerle exhibiting for the third time this year, ‘the beauty of Masterpiece is that you can wander round the fair and discover different disciplines – most people are normally too busy to do this.’ Mark Inglefield of London’s Blain/Southern gallery agrees: ‘I think it’s a great way of seeing things one wouldn’t normally be exposed to,’ he says.
With its most varied and exciting line- up yet, Masterpiece 2014 looks set to top its own record. And no wonder; this is its fifth anniversary, a bench- mark made all the more significant due to the fact that last year’s fair was the most successful edition to date.
There’s another obvious attraction. Taking place at the very end of June and beginning of July, just before the school holidays begin and collectors quit London for the beach, Masterpiece is specifically timed to coincide with the busiest period of the year’s art and social calendars. That it’s become a fixture for anyone who’s anyone on the social register is no coincidence – put it this way; Masterpiece is the unofficial opening to the party season. ‘It sits between the major auctions and the moment where people decide to get out of town,’ Vassegh tells me.
Masterpiece London’s development continues apace. In just five years, it has gone from being the trade fair circuit’s new kid on the block to established international art fair. Its 150 exhibitors come to Chelsea from across Europe and North America and consider it to be one of the year’s most crucial trade fixtures. Even within the confines of Christopher Wren’s West London masterpiece, this year’s fair looks set to live up to its name.
Fennell is one of the world’s most venerated jewellers, and his presence at Masterpiece 2014 – his third time as an exhibitor – is a ringing endorsement of the fair. This year, his stand’s highlight will undoubtedly be a collaboration with responsibly-sourced jewel supplier Gemstone. ‘We like the way they are doing the mining,’ Fennell says of the company, which sources its famous emeralds from ethical mines in Zambia, ‘it’s a selection of re- ally interesting work – from a deco-inspired piece of chinoiserie to the Emerald City ring.’ The result is an exciting range that adheres firmly to Fennell’s standards.
Ronald Phillips is one of the most trusted and revered names in the antiques business. This year’s stall at Masterpiece will include this magnificent and exceptionally rare marble-topped console table, crafted by William France and John Bradburn and designed by no lesser figure than Robert Adam. Originally commissioned for the Arlington Street home of Sir Lawrence Dundas, its original designs are immortalised in the Soane Museum.
THOMAS DANE GALLERY
The Thomas Dane Gallery is one of London’s most consistently exciting launch pads for contemporary art. Its forthcoming retrospective of sculptor Philip King’s work is a major coup for Masterpiece. Now aged 80, King is one of the most respected artists working in Britain today, and the works scheduled to appear in Ranelagh Gardens – just outside the fair itself – will span his career from the 1960s to the present day. ‘Masterpiece presents a fantastic opportunity to stage a large outdoor show, says gallery director Tom Dingle. The retrospective will remain in place at the Royal Hospital until August, along with a concurrent show at the gallery.
BLAIN SOUTHERN GALLERY
Based in London and Berlin, Blain/Southern is among the most exciting dealers in contemporary art today. At this year’s Masterpiece, continuing its successful run of displays at the fair, the gallery will be presenting two specially-commissioned works by Tim Noble and Sue Webster and Lynn Chadwick. The former, cast in silver and appropriately titled The Masterpiece, is the latest addition to their extraordinary Shadow Sculptures series.
New York-based antiquities dealer Ariadne’s stand at Masterpiece is likely to be a focus for connoisseurs. ‘We deal only in the highest-quality ancient artefacts, priced from £50,000 to £5 mil- lion,’ founder Torkom Demirjian tells me. Ariadne will be demonstrating some truly extraordinary objects at this year’s masterpiece. Among them is this 6th Century BC hydria, attributed to the mysterious Princeton Painter, the greatest of the Ancient Greek vase artists.
Founded in Munich in 1893, family-run jeweller Hemmerle is a true collector’s brand. The company, which creates impossibly beautiful pieces, more often not from rare and unusual materials, has a close-knit structure that means it is able to retain its independence and preserve the distinctive identity of its wares. This pair of earrings, which Hemmerle will be exhibiting, is a variation on their iconic tassles fashioned from grey diamonds, iron and white gold.
BERKO FINE PAINTINGS
A painter of genre scenes and military subjects: watercolourist and draughtsman, Forturino Matania was born in Naples on April 16, 1881 and also dies there on February 8, 1963. He was an excellent colourist. A pupil of his father, the painter Edouardo Matania, he created his first advertisement at the age of 9 and at the age of 11 he exhibited at Napels Academy. By the age of 14, he was helping his father produce illustrations for books and magazines. Between 1895 and 1902 he made illustrations for the Italian periodical “l’Illustrazione Italiania”. At the age of 20, Matania began working in Paris for “l’Illustration Française”. He exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy and the Royal Institute from 1908. He painted a number of views of Rome and Egypt
ROBILANT + VOENA
Robilant+Voena deal in fine art from the fifteenth century to the twenty first, encompassing Old Master and nineteenth century painting with a particular focus on the Italian and French schools; classic modern, Italian post-war and contemporary art. As well as participating in inter- national art fairs, they run an ambitious exhibition programme across their locations in London and Milan, with recent acclaimed shows including “Agostino Bonalumi: The Shape of Space”, and “WHITE: Marble and Paint from the Antiquity to Now”. A major exhibition of the work of Paolo Scheggi is planned for October 2014. Robilant+Voena’s stand at Masterpiece will reflect their multi- faceted interests, presenting a selection of Italian masterworks from the seventeenth to the twenty first centuries.
JGM FINE ART LTD
JGMArt is a London based gallery founded by private dealer, Jennifer Guerrini-Maraldi. She exhibits and sells contemporary aboriginal paintings and sculptures. Jennifer is a leading expert in Australian Con- temporary Art offering paintings and sculptures by artists from the world’s oldest cultural traditions to collectors worldwide. The Gallery represents the work of a wide selection of artists. Certainly a standout at this years Masterpiece Art Fair is a work by Sally Gabori, entitled Dibirdibi Country 2012.
VANDERVEN ORIENTAL ART
After a two year absence, this year Vanderven Oriental Art are participating once again at Masterpiece London. Showing objects only in Doubles Pairs and Couples, the collection comprises of Chinese porcelains and works of art, as well as Early Terracotta objects.
Stockinger Bespoke Safes is a German manufactory that is well-known for its exclusive safes. Located near Munich, Stockinger has been producing unique bespoke safes for more than 35 years. At Masterpiece fair in London the manufactory is showing a selection of its very own Masterpieces. The BRABUS SV12 safe and the IMPERIAL Royal Blue are created for the most demanding jewelry and watch collectors. Equipped with watch winders, these safes are for clients who appreciate and seek the extraordinary. As new addition to the IMPERIAL line, Stockinger will also be showing a very new safe with a cool and sophisticated design which has never been shown before.
WHITFORD FINE ART
Established in 1973, Whitford Fine Art is one of London’s leading international art galleries, specialising in French, Belgian and British 20th Century painting and sculpture, with an emphasis on Cubism, British and European Post-War Abstraction and Pop Art. Whitford Fine Art is showing at Masterpiece London a fine selection of works by British, Belgian and International artists, which are highlights from our current gallery stock. Their exhibit includes a major painting by Caziel together with works by Bram Bogart, Paul Delvaux, Albert Gleizes, James Ensor, Joseph Lacasse, Jesús Rafael Soto and Paul Van Hoeydonck. Whitford Fine Art will also showcase sculptures by British Pop artist Clive Barker alongside works by Zao Wou-Ki.
Founded by Charles Wallrock in 1981 and having supplied Harrods antiques department for over 22 years, Wick Antiques are specialists in fine 18th and 19th Century luxury antiques and works of art and have a diverse collection. A specialism is their globes and leather furniture, the ultimate accessories to any gentleman’s study.
This year, Stand A42 at Masterpiece, will showcase a superb collection of 13 ‘nécessaires de voyage’ also called travelling boxes. A particular- ly impressive example on show will be the case given by King Louis Philippe of France to his son Antoine d’ Orléans on the occasion of his marriage to Infanta Maria Luisa Fernanda of Spain, alongside ones from the aristocratic Spencer Churchill and Ogilvy families. If you are visiting Masterpiece these boxes are not to be missed.
Thomas Gibson’s inaugural stand at Masterpiece focuses on the rich and varied landscape of British modern art. The presentation opens with the work of Edwardian Realists William Nicholson and Philip Wilson Steer and features two museum-quality, unique wooden carvings by Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth; before moving onto the defining and highly individual figures of the Post-War period, including Frank Auerbach, Edward Burra, Lucian Freud, David Hockney, R. B. Kitaj and Bridget Riley. From painting and sculpture to collage and works on paper, from figuration to abstraction, Thomas Gibson’s booth underlines the vibrancy and diversity of 20th Century art in Britain.
A striking marble bust of the Russian industrialist and philanthropist Count Nikolai Demidov will be the highlight of the Tomasso Brothers stand at Masterpiece London
Dino and Raffaello Tomasso are recognized internationally for specializing in important European sculpture from the early Renaissance to the Neo-Classical periods with a particular knowledge of European Renaissance bronzes. They have promoted and supported, through loans and exhibitions, major international institutions and were one of the main sponsors of the landmark show Bronze at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2012.
Famed for creating pieces of extraordinary furniture that not only serve as a fascinating objects but as an exquisite piece of art, Linley are continuing the tradition this year at Masterpiece with the launch of the Grace Cabinet More than just a functional piece of furniture, this glorious cabinet is a work of art in its own right. Majestic, elegant, intriguing and opulent, you cannot help but be captured by its shimmering presence.