Art Market: Britons out to break mould

Click to follow
The Independent Online
The first art fair devoted to paintings, drawings and sculptures pre-1900 opened in New York last Thursday with a preview party priced at dollars 500 ( pounds 340) a ticket.

The four-day International Fine Art Fair, organised by the British antique dealers Brian and Anna Haughton, had pulled out every stop to show how much better - and cheaper - old art is than the modern pictures New Yorkers traditionally buy.

The New York dealers John and Paul Herring, whose business is so private that none but the mega-rich had heard of them, produced the biggest show-stoppers.

They are showing the preparatory oil sketch that Giambattista Tiepolo made around 1745 for a fresco at the Villa Contarini, near Mira, Italy, valued at dollars 5m. This masterpiece of 18th-century Italian painting at the price of a middleweight Monet depicts the arrival of Henri III, King of France, at the Villa Contarini in 1574.

The Herrings are also showing the best portrait by Jacques-Louis David, the leading French neo-classical painter, that can ever come on the market. It moved up from number two when the National Gallery bought David's Viscomtesse Vilain and her daughter in January. The Herrings' David is a half- length portrait of the Prince de Gavre at dollars 3.6m.

London dealers have gone to the New York fair in droves. Alex Wengraf and his wife Pat have taken the controversial marble sculpture of Morgan le Fay, attributed to Giovanni da Bologna (1529-1608), which they bought at a Christie's garden sculpture sale in 1989 for pounds 715,000. Described as 18th century, it was estimated at pounds 3,000-4,000. The Wengrafs' price is dollars 8.5m ( pounds 5.8m).

Richard Green, the Bond Street dealer, is showing a Canaletto view of the Piazza San Marco at dollars 3m, while Christopher Wood, also from Bond Street, has an elegant, fin de siecle portrait of Mme Jourdan by Giovanni Boldini at dollars 1.2m.

Seven-figure prices are the exception rather than the rule. Stoppenbach and Delestre from Cork Street, W1, have a brilliant, realist depiction of an ocean wave by Gustave Courbet at dollars 400,000, and Agnew's has a stunning Samuel Palmer watercolour of an Italian peasant ploughing at sunrise, priced at dollars 120,000.

A lot of Old Master drawing dealers have turned out. Thomas le Claire, from Hamburg, has the preparatory drawing, in ink and wash, for a Classical Landscape commissioned from Claude Lorrain by the Duke of Devonshire; it costs dollars 170,000. David Jones of Paris has a ravishing family album by the French artist Louis Lafitte (1770- 1828) at dollars 45,000.

(Photograph omitted)