The demise of the Grosvenor House Art and Antiques fair last summer after 75 hugely successful years has given rise to a new and sparkling addition to the London fair season: Masterpiece London (www.masterpiecefair.com).
Billed as ‘The best of the best from around the world’, it encompasses a vast and eclectic range of collectible pieces, from Rodin sculptures to Somlo watches and runs until Tuesday, June 29. As Oscar Humphries explains in the catalogue, there is no formula to creating a masterpiece, it ‘engages both the head and the heart, both reason and emotion’.
Attention to detail is apparent from the moment you enter the former Chelsea Barracks site, the fair’s home for at least this year. The Chelsea Royal Hospital is evoked in the long façade and red-carpeted steps lead under a pediment and into the cool, airy interior. It is astonishingly easy to forget that all this is temporary-the high ceilings and spacious aisles are a far cry from the subterranean feel of the Grosvenor ballroom. In the central atrium, Harry’s Bar stretches away to Le Caprice at the far side, and, lest you should feel in need of mid-tour sustenance, outposts of Mount Street Deli, Scott’s, The Ivy and Bam-Bou occupy the fair’s four corners.
My friend and I felt the prudent way to begin the task of at least glancing at all 120-odd exhibitors was with a peach bellini at Harry’s Bar. Suitably fortified, we embarked, and our attention was immediately caught by the magnificent Carlton House Library Table at Apter-Fredericks, a complete Shaker-style room with rough floorboards at Robert Young, a charming alabaster pug’s head at Galerie Pierre M. Dumonteil, sublimely elegant black-and-white photographs by Norman Parkinson at Eric Franck Fine Art, a lovely bronze greyhound at Ronald Phillips (although, as a whippet owner, I would have said its finely chiselled head belonged more to the smaller breed), a charming peacock tricycle at Antoine Chenevière Fine Arts, the beautifully realised Wife at the Piano by Carl Vilhem Holsoe at MacConnal-Mason, a complete 18th-century French library at Carlton Hobbs and a magnificent George I walnut bureau at Mallett.
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The magnificent Carlton House Library Table at Apter-Fredericks
A complete 18th-century French library at Carlton Hobbs
Rather too much for Pall Mall, but exquisite nonetheless, was a silver carriage made for the Maharaja of Bhavnagar in 1915, embellished with enamelled birds and silver swans, greyhounds and lions. Shown by Sinai and Sons before touring America with the V&A, it was easy to imagine it in an Indian state procession surrounded by vividly coloured saris.
A carriage clad in silver made for the Maharaja of Bhavnagar in 1915
But there were drawbacks. A huge, hideous clock topped by a mechanical fly with John C. Taylor made me cringe, and a Wild West saloon scattered with Cartier jewellery and staffed by girls in full-length chaps seemed thoroughly out of place. The vintage Ferraris and Aston Martins may have been suitably elegant, but a turquoise-and-cream Bugatti Veyron seemed rather vulgar, sadly reflecting some of the more polished attendees whose attitudes seemed to pose the question: ‘Recession? What recession?’
However, spirits were high among exhibitors, who were sporting several red dots already, even on preview day, and a healthy number of visitors, including Mick Jagger and Peter Bowles, provided a buoyant atmosphere. It may not have the heritage of Grosvenor, but Masterpiece has shown its quality. It should endure.
Images by Marcus Dawes