This fair was one of the few that incorporated rigorous vetting requirements for every exhibitor. Almost 100 of the world’s leading dealers participated, representing all the disciplines of art and antiques, from classical antiquity to the present. The areas of art covered included Greek, Roman and Egyptian, Asian, Old Masters, Arms and Armor, American and European 19th and 20th century furniture, estate and couture jewelry, objects d’art, Pre-Columbian, tribal art and classic and modern works by more contemporary masters.
The conservative tastes of the more conventional collectors are well known by the dealers who, accordingly, brought the works that would appeal, and appeal these selections did. There were many, many red dots in the booths, each one indicating yet another sale. In addition, the dealers also attributed some sales to the building boom in this area, as new residents were eager to purchase furnishings and art and accessories.
The fair ran this past February, and was held at the Palm Beach Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Florida. There I met many art dealers, collectors, interior designers, museum professionals and art experts, plus many philanthropists who donate art and objects to museums. Rumors of the high caliber of the offerings, plus the lure of the warm Florida weather, proved a winning combination for the serious buyers. Princess Michael of Kent was present alongside her crowd of Florida-based and international friends, which included the likes of Ivana Trump. These groups stand as examples of the blue-blooded attendance at this fair. The princess even gave a fundraising lecture on the topic of Marie Antoinette and was very successful in raising some serious cash.
The lecture series featured, “In-Booth Seminars,” had large groups gathered many times a day at the various dealers’ booths. In this series, each dealer spoke on his field of expertise and the participants had the opportunity to learn from them on a one-on-one level.
The dealers were very international, with a surprisingly large group from France and England, followed by Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, Spain and Turkey. Dealers from across the United States were very well represented in every area.
In his second year as Palm Beach director, Michael Mezzatesta, the director emeritus of the Duke University Museum of Art, has not only been the one to raise the vetting requirements, but has also instituted a policy for the fair’s sponsorship of museum publication grants to insure scholarship for the future. Mezzatesta further developed the special exhibition section at the fair, which happened to receive a good deal of media coverage. This exhibition centered around a huge painting of Marie Antoinette by Elizabeth Vigee-Lebrun painted in 1788 from the New Orleans Museum of Art’s collection. This painting’s inclusion and place of prominence was meant to highlight the need to aid the New Orleans Museum of Art in its fundraising efforts to recover from Hurricane Katrina. Many other events took place in conjunction with the fair to raise these much-needed funds. One such event was a wonderful lecture given by the director general of the Museum of the Chateau de Versailles on the topic of the museum, and accompanied by a display of the Chateau’s restoration.
The fair also had a national component in terms of attendance since the regional co-chairmen of the fair filtered in from their respective cities across the United States.
The many excellent Old Master paintings offered for sale by the dealers at the fair are the true hallmarks of the event and, since you don’t see Old Masters in abundance in Florida very often, the buyers flock to see them here. Galleries like Moretti Gallery from Florence, Italy, London’s Whitfield Gallery and Colnaghi Bernheimer from Munich were just a few of the expert dealers featuring them. Later works by 19th century European and American artists, including Bierstadt, Rodin and Boucher, were prime examples of that period.
Galerie Cazeau-Beraudiere from Paris, France, is an annual booth favorite. While there I saw two of the finest Soutine oil paintings that I had ever viewed, and right alongside an exceptional, Sam Francis oil painting from 1957.