BRAVO TO BRAFA: 60 YEARS OF QUALITY COLLECTING

Splendid selection and tasteful presentation at this year's Brussels Antiques and Fine Art Fair.

Brussels Art Fair (BRAFA), this year in its 60th edition, came to me as a rather pleasant surprise. Having seen the fair for the first time at the opening last week, I was startled at the success of this event on all levels.


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Elegant but not pompous, diverse but not overwhelming, traditional but not stale – remarkably, BRAFA is all of this. This year, BRAFA's 126 exhibitors including 51 Belgians and 75 from 15 different countries occupied an area of 16,000 m² of Tour and Taxis building where the fair moved 10 years ago. The space has been beautifully laid out and carefully thought through: from a carpet designed by the winner of a special students' competition, to the candlelit dinner for 1600 collectors and friends on a preview night.


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Last year's edition of the fair attracted 55,000 guests, this year BRAFA is celebrating its 60th anniversary and hoping to hit the 60k- mark also in visitors terms. The fair particularly excels in Medieval Art, Tribal artifacts, and Belgian modernism, and is often juxtaposed with TEFAF (Maastricht), compared to which it appears smaller but in no way less enjoyable.


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BRAFA 2015's highlights, though obviously dependent on one's own taste and preferences, included some indisputably remarkable objects… or even walls: Steinitz Gallery from Paris displays Louis XIV-style boiseries that once graced the Grand Salon of the Rothschild-Sassoon Residence in London's Park Lane. The exceptional oak woodwork that belonged to Sir Philip Sassoon, a famous British politician, art collector and socialite, was made in Paris between 1710 and 1720, and now adorns the gallery's stand at BRAFA. Wooden paneling, along with the parquet floor and some fine European and Oriental objets d'art and furniture arguably make Steinitz one of the most lavishly-decorated booths at the whole fair.


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Boisseries from the London residence of Sir Philip Sassoon at Galerie Steinitz stand.


Another item of historical and artistic significance dates much further back in time: the unique Roman table from 1st century A.D. has last been seen at Sotheby's New York, in 1991 and is now on view with Phoenix Ancient Art (Geneva/New York). The bronze table with silver inlays and four lion's paw legs is one of just three similar objects currently known, one in Naples museum, and another in the Met, I was told by the gallerist. The date and rarity explain the price tag of €1.8 million. “Are you expecting museums to get interested?” I asked the dealer. The answer was an unambiguous yes despite my concern over a lack of budget: “There are institutions that can pull it up, especially with donor's help,” was his confident reply. Yet another bronze object, this time closer to our times, is a splendid Art Deco cabinet by a prominent Swiss-born lacquer artist and metalsmith Jean Dunand (1877-1942) on view at Milanese Robertaebasta. Dating c.1935, the commode is offered for not-so-modest €400.000. “All the dealers want to be in London”, Robertaebasta's Mattia Martinelli confessed, revealing that he already found a perfect space for the gallery in the UK capital, though “for luck's sake” did not want to disclose any more details.


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Curiously, another factual concealment comes from an artist rather than a dealer: late impressionist landscape by Malevich painted by no-longer Suprematist artist in 1929 is signed as of 1905. Winter landscape, now on view at Kunstberatung Zürich, was the artist's present to his surgeon-urologist. The painting is priced at a staggering €7-million, making it one of the most expensive offers of the fair. The Zurich/Moscow gallery displays Malevich amongst other works by Russian and European artists, such as Tamara de Lempicka, Wassily Kandinsky, as well as less well-known American painter of Russian origin Grigory Gluckmann.


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Kazimir Malevich Kiev 1879 – 1935 Leningrad Winter Landscape Oil on canvas 36.8 by 34.5 cm


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Tamara de Lempicka (1898-1980) dominate the Kunstberatung stand at BRAFA 2015.


A pleasant addition to the fair this year is its unsellable part in the form of the “The Belgian Collector” exhibition, organised by BRAFA and the King Baudouin Foundation in order to honour the figure of a Belgian collector. Old and modern paintings, silverwork, ship models and tribal art form a careful selection from approximately 10 private collections, some of which have previously never been exhibited publicly. I was particularly entranced by Jean Baptiste Greuze's 1804 portrait of Florentius Josephus van Ertborn, a very finely executed piece sold at Sotheby's New York in 2011 for 938,500 USD. Remarkably, the subject of the painting, a future politician and mayor of Antwerp from 1817 to 1828, but here still young lorentius Josephus van Ertborn was himself a great patron of the arts, who is today best remembered for his generous gift of 114 paintings to the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten in Antwerp that to this day form the core of the museum's collection of Old Masters.


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Robertaebasta presents an extraordinary cabinet by Eugène Printz made in collaboration with Jean Dunand out of rosewood and bronze panels, France, circa 1940.


You still have a chance to see BRAFA which stays open till the end of this week. 




About the author: Aliya Sayakhova is a young Russian-born London-based art critic, photographer and food blogger. She is particularly passionate about Middle Eastern art and History of Collecting. Aliya did her MA in Art History and Art Business at IESA/University of Warwick, and is currently busy developing a new study programme on the Arts of the Islamic World at Leighton House Museum.