A stunning dollshouse circa-1700 on display at John Endlich Antiquairs.
Photo: Courtesy John Endlich Antiquairs.

First-Day Dispatch from the 2017 TEFAF Maastricht Fair

The prestigious ten-day event is one of the world's most important art and antiques fairs

A tiny doll’s house for the price of a New York City apartment? Welcome to the TEFAF Maastricht fair, where a circa-1700 nine-room cabinet furnished with tiny porcelain dishes, silver tankards, and bird cages priced at a cool $1.8 million was reportedly one of the earliest and swiftest sales on the show’s first day. 

The prestigious ten-day event, organized by the European Fine Art Foundation (TEFAF) and now in its 30th year, offers an eclectic mix of wares from an international slate of distinguished dealers. Each year, it draws around 75,000 visitors to the small Dutch town of Maastricht, with Americans comprising a key contingent of the shoppers. As the fair opened, a van pulled up to the convention center entrance with a sign reading “MFA Boston” and unloaded a group of art patrons and enthusiasts. Not coincidentally, the seller of the million-dollar-plus dollhouse, Haarlem dealer John Endlich, later disclosed that it had been purchased by a private American collector and will be loaned to the Boston museum.  

The dollhouse that sold for $1.8 million on the first day. Photo: Courtesy John Endlich Antiquairs.

The fair, which runs through March 19, held a VIP preview that drew around 10,000 visitors. In select but solid business, millions of dollars in sales were registered for objects ranging from a Baroque Bartolomeo Cavarozzi still life from the London gallery Colnaghi, carrying a $5.3 million price tag, to an important collection of Chinese export porcelain at Cohen & Cohen.

There were also no fewer than three Vincent van Goghs, including one from 1883 titled The New Church and Old Houses in the Hague on offer from the Dutch dealership Kunstgalerij Albricht for a reported $2 million. And this is the right crowd for them: The opening week of the fair is said to be the busiest of the year for private jet and helicopter travel at the nearby Maastricht-Aachen airport, with over a hundred incoming flights. 

Day 1 of TEFAF Maastricht. Photo: Courtesy TEFAF Maastricht.
Vincent van Gogh’s The New Church and Old Houses in the Hague is rumored to be on sale for $2 million. Photo: Courtesy Kunstgalerij Albricht.

 Almost immediately after opening, the New York antiquities specialists Merrin Gallery sold a 28-inch-high bronze fragment of an arm for $280,000. Asked if he could discern any buying trends, director Samuel Merrin noted one: “We’re not selling small objects. As my clients get younger and younger, they have bigger homes. It’s funny, but there’s no such thing as cabinet art anymore.” 

 Dutch collector Philip Roep, on his third visit to the fair in the last dozen years, came with his partner to shop for objects from the 16th to 18th centuries for their two homes. At Maastricht, “it’s the variety” that makes it a draw, says the engineer, who scoped out Old Master drawings and rare books in the show’s first hour but was allowing himself “only one—or maybe two” purchases.

 Among the exhibitors in the fair’s enormous tribal art sector is first-timer New York private dealer Donald Ellis, a 41-year veteran known for top-notch Native American art. One highlight on his stand is a late 19th-century Eskimo mask priced at $450,000. Ellis says his general sales are aided by museums filling holes in their collections, noting that a curator from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam was among his very first visitors.

Polychrome mask from a sarcophagus from Merrin Gallery located in the burgeoning tribal art sector. Photo: Courtesy Merrin Gallery.

 While midcentury jewelry has always been a hit at Maastricht, this year, jewelry from the 1970s and 1980s definitely seems to be a trend. A coral-and-diamond ring, for example, is on offer from Amsterdam’s Marjan Sterk Antique Jewelry for around $28,000. 

 Ultimately, if crowds are any indication of current tastes, some of the most popular booths are those featuring works on paper, postwar art, and rare books. Every book dealer booth was noticeably packed, including Shapero Rare Books with an Henri Matisse Jazz portfolio priced at $427,000. Photography, meanwhile, has a very small presence this year.  

 Americans unable to make it to Maastricht can look forward to the debut, later this spring, of TEFAF’s second New York fair. Focusing on modern and contemporary art, it will take place May 4–9 at the Park Avenue Armory.

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