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MOVERS & SHAKERS

If you want to know what's happening where, this is the place to look.

This Month: The Europe and UK columns from the Autumn 2015 issue of Antiques and Collectables for Pleasure & Profit.

Australia's Most Informative & Entertaining Antiques Magazine
Judith Dunn

The Euro Column
An update of European news from Judith Dunn

Moves against art theft

The 2009 scandal at the Drouot umbrella auction house in Paris is about to reach a conclusion as 44 portering staff and half a dozen auctioneers are to be sent for trial. Readers may remember that art theft and trafficking on a massive scale took place from 2006, organised by the Cols Rouges, so-called because of the scarlet stripe around the collar of their uniforms. There were 110 men in what was not so much a closed as a hermetically sealed shop, monopolising warehousing and transport of artworks for all the auctioneers using Drouot's premises. All from Savoy in the Alps, a province which became part of France in 1860, their monopoly had been granted by a decree of Napoleon III. Many of them were members of core families and all were individually recruited. Each had an equal stake in the business, the Union des Commissionnaires de l'Hotel des Ventes, and could earn as much as €120,000 a year. Not bad for a porter, you might think, but some then allegedly supplemented their income by theft, notably targeting deceased estates whose beneficiaries were either non-existent or blissfully unaware of their true value. Stolen items later came to auction as their personal property. A significant quantity were stored in Drouot's warehouse, hence the alleged complicity of certain auctioneers.

The step too far was the consignment of a Gustave Courbet painting, missing since 2004 and valued at €900,000. Drouot organised a vast clean-up operation in the wake of the scandal, exposed in a series of dramatic police raids. The Cols Rouges were replaced by independent operators and a paid Director was appointed, and an elected board of auctioneers set up. Stringent access checks and improved video surveillance protect the premises and auctions are live online. Six thousand items have now been returned to their rightful owners and a website will help others to identify theirs.

Auction news

Josef Hoffmann founded the Wiener Werkstatte in 1903. A renowned architect, his Palais Stoclet in Brussels is considered his finest work. He also designed on a smaller scale and some of his jewellery reflects his geometric and architectural leanings. Two such pieces made auction history at Kinsky in Vienna in June. A 1909 brooch - one of only four examples by Pflaumer - in silver, gold, lapis and malachite, recalls the Stoclet facade. Mid-estimate €150,000, it ran away to take €280,000 on the hammer. This record was rapidly broken by another, similarly estimated. The only remaining one of two, it sold for €420,000 to a Berlin museum. It too was an architectural echo, of a 1908 Viennese exhibition hall.

Serrurier-Bovy is much less well-known than Hoffmann, but his work is in a similar idiom. This was the one chosen for a single designer sale at Piasa in Paris, in June. Featuring 81 lots of furniture collected by a Swiss couple for their château, the sale was part of Piasa's drive to attract new collectors and they succeeded amply, with half of the lots sold going to this sector.

Many French auctioneers hold seaside sales in the summer, the most prestigious in Monaco. Artcurial (Paris) was there for the tenth year, hoping to match its 2014 performance of €14 million, a 10% increase on the previous year. It reported 85% of sales were to new clients and this success has led to Artcurial establishing a subsidiary company in Monte Carlo. A new sale will be held in January 2016, again featuring luxury goods.

Elsewhere, modern and contemporary art led the field in the summer, with flourishing sales in Berlin, Vienna, Munich and Zurich. Another fraudster's collection took top honours in Cologne; Helge Achenbach was sentenced to six years in prison in March. Van Ham sold all the lots for €8.9 million - some consolation for some creditors.

Changes at Giverny

In 2009, the Chicago based Daniel J Terra Foundation changed tack, turning more towards sponsorship and bursaries than permanent collections. So it was that the museum in Monet's home village of Giverny, formerly devoted to American Impressionists, became the Musée des Impressionnismes under the auspices of the French local authorities. Its aim is to explore all the different Impressionist movements and their links with Monet via semi-permanent and temporary exhibitions. The current semi-permanent show explores his influence on other well-known artists and has significant works by all of them - a change from the previous era when no Monets were on show at all. Other media will also feature; the next exhibition (31 July to 1 November) will explore the work of five contemporary photographers, inspired by Monet and his gardens. The museum is very much at the developmental stage and depends on loans from, notably, the Musée d'Orsay in Paris. It still benefits from Terra Foundation support and its state-of-the-art premises and will no doubt go from strength to strength.

French fairs still on the up

The recovery at the middle level in the French market was confirmed in July. The trade event at Chartres was even busier, with the indoor exhibition hall now reopened and well-populated with the sort of higher end stock not to be trusted to the vagaries of the weather. Not that weather was a problem - it was slap in the middle of a serious heat wave. Le Mans too was buzzing and at both events there was plenty to buy at sensible prices, French dealers being very much open to negotiation. Next up is Chatou, the 700-dealer event that runs from 25 September to 4 October. The theme this time is Classic to Plastic, reflecting an ever-increasing eclecticism. This clearly is a public attraction near Paris, so trade prices are not to be expected, but it is to be hoped dealers will adopt a similarly realistic approach.

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Ivor Hughes

The UK Column
Ivor Hughes finds encouraging signs at the UK trade's pivotal events in February

UK and US buyers getting help from the Euro

In 2011 the British pound was worth as little as €1.11. In July, when I last visited the eurozone, it was worth as much as €1.44. The most competitive UK bureaux de changes were selling at around €1.38, as opposed to €1.03 four years ago. The euro has had a similar slide against the US dollar. With the majority of my purchases being made in France and the majority of sales to the UK and the US, the cost of goods and overheads had effectively dropped by twenty-five percent. And with there being less spare cash around the eurozone right now, French dealers were prepared to make greater concessions to clinch the deal.
Now is the time to buy in Europe, at least while the boot remains on the other foot...

Architectural and industrial reclamation fairs continue to gain pace

SALVO, the pan-European and US trade association for dealers in architectural reclamation, used to organise the only dedicated UK fair, and then only one a year. Meanwhile, sections at large trade fairs such as IACF Newark and ASF Lincoln were becoming associated with large decorative items and prestigious indoor fairs such as Battersea Decorative often featured sections of industrial reclamation furniture. Then, in 2011, ASF introduced their own dedicated events. At first it was two venues in the north and now there are four venues in 2015, including one in the south.

Of course, the same sellers and goods at the long-standing SALVO and new ASF dedicated architectural events still turn up at regular and much larger general trade fairs such as Lincoln and Newark. The key differences between the dedicated and general events are the mindsets of the buyers and the way in which the dedicated events cater for them. The buying public is attracted to the more focused and less frequent events. They leave home with their hearts set on finding a bird bath, a couple of old church pews, a few chimney pots for the garden or whatever. Purchases aren't influenced by resale values and they are more likely to pay retail prices than expect 'trade' on everything.

The added attraction of dedicated events to the buying public is that they are much smaller. Purchases can be found by browsing around 100 specialist stands rather than having to sift through twenty times that number. They aren't left wondering what sections they may have missed, or trying to remember just where it was they spotted that lovely stained glass door.

IACF's response

At IACF Newark in June, I came across SALVO co-director Thornton Kay in discussion with IACF's Will Thomas and Rachel Everett. IACF had recognised the benefits of dedicated architectural events and decided to cater for specialist dealers and the buying public by setting aside a designated area of their two-monthly Newark fair. At the time, they were consulting SALVO on questions of organisation and co-promotion - SALVO was already experienced in organising dedicated sections within mainstream home and garden exhibitions such as The Ideal Home Show.

The first dedicated architectural area was set for the Newark fair on 20/21 August. Repeating that exercise will depend on how well it was received. The added advantages in August were that it was still summertime, IACF had introduced promotional pitch fees and that there were no similar events planned in the UK before spring 2016. The disadvantages were that it was Thursday/Friday and not a weekend, and existing exhibitors were faced with the dilemma of whether to keep their existing pitches or move some distance into the new section. The jury is still out.

Antiques at Europe's largest countryside fair

The CLA Game Fair is our largest event of its type, with maybe 500 agriculturally-based exhibitors and 100 related sideshows over three days. With 300,000 visitors, it reminds me very much of the Royal Queensland Show (or "Ekka") I used to visit when I was at school near Brisbane - those were the days. Anyway, this year the UK version was staged at Harewood House, a an 18th century stately home and estate in the north.

Dotted among the combine harvesters, country outfitters, pony races, falconry, shooting displays and land accountants were around a dozen auctioneers and dealers in antiques, art, collectables and vintage items. Some offered goods of appeal to the hunting, shooting and fishing fraternity; some didn't. Some carried both. They were all of the same mind; let's not be one among hundreds at yet another antiques fair, let's stand out at a prestigious exhibition patronised by 100 times as many people - people who didn't bat an eyelid at paying $60 to get in.

Does it work for them?

Only they know. Some have become permanent fixtures. Bonhams and Sotheby's Auctioneers were there, Sotheby's represented nowadays by sponsored offshoot Gavin Gardiner (gun) Auctioneers. Fishing collectables collector and online dealer Victor Bonutto (Cardiff) was exhibiting at CLA for the 26th time and stands at no other event. None of them was there by accident.

The presence of those dealers at the CLA Game Fair, along with SALVO dealers at the Ideal Home Show and similar, suggests that the antiques trade in general should explore opportunities outside existing comfort zones.

Australia's Most Informative & Entertaining Antiques Magazine