Forget Ascot and strawberries, June is the traditional time for great art

Geraldine Norman
Saturday 31 May 1997 23:02

June Is Britain's magic month of strawberries, champagne, Ascot, summer balls at Oxford and Cambridge and parties everywhere. By tradition, the art and antiques trade has always joined in the festivities, making June London's mega-art month, with sumptuous antiques fairs in West End hotels and magnificent works of art for sale in the auction rooms. This year is no exception. Museum curators and the super-rich will be pouring into London over the next few weeks to do their shopping. Ordinary mortals can visit the multitude of temporary exhibitions laid on for the big buyers' benefit - if they know where to go and when.

It would be impossible to list all the June art auctions in London, so this round-up focuses on Sotheby's and Christie's where most works of art of world significance are sold. But anyone with a few quid to spend should be aware that the lesser auction rooms, Phillips and Bonhams, will be pulling out the stops as well and that their prices are much more accessible. The quickest route to a comprehensive picture of the month's attractions is to buy the weekly Antiques Trade Gazette.

The fun starts this week with Victorian pictures at Sotheby's - and you can view them today if you want to. Sotheby's Sunday exhibition opens at 12 noon and Christie's at 2pm; on weekdays both houses are open from 9am to 4.30pm, with sales on view four or five days ahead of time - and there's no entrance fee. Just wander in, look around, and if you want to see something in a showcase more closely, ask the auction assistant to get it out for you to hold in your hands and look at from every angle. You can't do that in a museum.

It is also worth noting that during the three days when the major antiques fairs overlap, at Grosvenor House, Olympia and the Park Lane Hotel - 13, 14 and 15 June - there will be a free shuttle bus running between them.


Hope by G F Watts with other Victorian paintings

Hope is one of the most famous of all Victorian images. A poor, blindfolded girl sits atop the globe playing a lyre with only one unbroken string. Watts, whose fame fully equalled that of the Pre-Raphaelites in his day, painted three versions. The full-size, exhibition picture was sold at Sotheby's in 1986 for pounds 869,000 but was not bought by Lord Lloyd-Webber, a leading collector of Victorian pictures. He gets another chance this week. This small one (26x19in), with the girl framed by a rainbow connecting heaven and earth, was painted in 1891 for Watts' close friend Richard Budgett whose wife had just died. It is expected to fetch "in the excess of pounds 400,000".


Opening of the summer Fine Arts and Antiques Fair at Olympia. The Fair runs to 15 June (but is closed on 9 June), is open from 11am to 7pm (and later some days) and charges a pounds 10 entrance fee

This is the biggest of the summer fairs - the vast exhibition space at Olympia can accommodate 405 dealers' stands. They are aiming to sell to the rich middle class and prices aren't in the stratosphere. This year they have chosen a "golden" theme for the fair to commemorate the Queen's Golden Wedding. You'll find a giltwood chair made for Queen Victoria (c1845) and a Regency giltwood sofa that matches one in the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, among many, many other things.


Love and the Maiden by Spencer Stanhope with other Victorian paintings

Love and the Maiden is the masterpiece of the week. An allegorical figure of Love is waking the heart of an Italian maiden in a blossoming Italian landscape that echoes Florentine Renaissance paintings. Stanhope (1829-1908) uses Renaissance-style tempera paint and gold leaf. The highest price on record for his work is currently pounds 221,500 but Christie's have had the nerve to estimate Love and the Maiden at pounds 800,000 to pounds 1.2m.


10 Clifford Street, W1. Exhibition of Buddhist Sculpture running to 12 July

Giuseppe Eskenazi is the world's leading dealer in Chinese art. He never participates in fairs but has scheduled his major summer exhibition to coincide with them. It is hard to see good Chinese sculpture, even in museums, and this exhibition provides an unusual opportunity. The exhibition spans nine centuries, from the sixth to the 15th AD, and includes both small gilt bronzes and six-foot marbles.


Portrait of Suzanne le Peletier by Jacques-Louis David and superb French drawings - Ingres, Delacroix, Chasseriau - with other 19th century European paintings, drawings and watercolours

Any portrait by David is a rarity on the market. He was the greatest master of European Neoclassicism and a keen participant in the French Revolution - which led to his subsequent exile. The subject of this painting, a pretty girl with brown curls and a high-waisted dress, was the daughter of the revolutionary, Michel le Peletier, who was assassinated by a royalist in January 1793 and feted as the "first martyr of the Revolution". She's estimated at pounds 1m. The sale also includes rare drawings by the greatest (pre-Impressionist) masters of the French 19th century.


Park Lane, W1. Opening of the Grosvenor House Art and Antiques Fair to the public. The Fair runs to 21 June, is open from 11am to 8pm (6pm at weekends) and costs pounds 12 a ticket, including a lavishly illustrated handbook which weighs a ton. You can get in for pounds 7 during the last two hours of the day (without getting a handbook)

The Grosvenor House Fair is the mummy and daddy of all fairs. The grandest event in the art dealers' calendar, it was founded in 1934 in a move to beat the Depression. The charity Gala Evening on 12 June will be attended by Princess Alexandra (tickets pounds 75 each, including handbook). Only 86 international dealers are allowed in and they bring their best - Chippendale furniture, Savon-nerie carpets, silver, jewels, porcelain. Highlights include one of the richest English illuminated manuscripts of the early 16th century, known as the Bute Hours. Containing 53 large miniature paintings, it is valued at around pounds 350,000. There is also the silver ewer and basin, made in Augsburg in 1720, in which Queen Mary and Edward VII were both christened.


Opening of the International Ceramics Fair and Seminar. The Fair runs to 12 June, is open from 11am to 8pm (7pm on Monday) and tickets cost pounds 10 including a handbook

This unusual event, launched 16 years ago and still very popular with collectors and aficionados, includes a fair, an exhibition and a lecture series. This year there will be 41 dealers from all over the world, showing everything made of clay from ancient Chinese ceramics, through products of the great 18th and 19th century European factories, right up to contemporary studio pottery. The exhibition is devoted to China in Hogarth's England, a fascinating and totally unexplored subject. Hogarth's great satirical prints illustrated the use of "china" in early 18th century England and themselves became extraordinarily popular subjects for ceramic decoration. His engraving of drunk gentlemen gathered round a punchbowl, A Midnight Modern Conversation of 1732, was used to decorate London stoneware, English Delft, Dutch Delft, Meissen and Berlin porcelain and was even sent out to Canton to be copied on Chinese exportware. Examples will be on view at the fair.


The Beck Collection of medieval manuscripts

Billed as the finest collection of illuminated manuscripts to be sold at auction in living memory, these 34 manuscripts were amassed by a German collector. The sale provides an unparalleled opportunity to immerse yourself in the art of medieval Europe in its most colourful form. Since ancient manuscripts are rarely opened to the light, the brightly coloured paintings, heightened with gold, have not faded. The St Blasien Psalter, with 52 miniatures painted in Germany in the 13th century, is the star turn, estimated at pounds 2m to pounds 3m.


Japanese inro, netsuke and lacquer boxes from the collection of Raymond Bushell

Bushell, an American lawyer, settled in Japan after the war and formed a pioneering collection of inro (lacquer pouches that hung from a samurai's belt) and netsuke (carved toggles that secured the inro to the belt). He has given his 600 best netsuke to the Los Angeles County Museum but this sale contains the best of his inro and lacquer boxes, most illustrated in his Inro Handbook published in 1979 - he has written extensively on Japanese art. Japanese lacquer at its best is magical and this is a rare opportunity to see it.


Dunaberg by Kandinsky, with a supporting cast of Impressionist and modern pictures

This Christie's evening sale launches "Impressionist week", traditionally the high point of the auction season. Nowadays, seriously expensive pictures tend to be sold in New York but London gets connoisseur pictures from European collectors. Dunaberg, the Kandinsky is a transitional picture in which the artist is feeling his way from landscape to abstraction. It is estimated at pounds 500,000 to pounds 700,000.


Harvest in Provence by Van Gogh at Sotheby's with Fauve and German Expressionist paintings from the Tabachnick Collection and other Impressionist and Modern art

Sotheby's evening sale is more distinguished than Christie's and includes a Van Gogh pen drawing of a harvest landscape washed with watercolour and executed when the artist was living in Arles. It is estimated at pounds 8m. Two separate European art movements were heavily influenced by Van Gogh's vivid colours and frenzied impasto: the Fauves (literally "wild beasts") in France and the German Expressionists. The sale will include 21 important Fauve and Expressionist paintings from the collection of Charles Tabachnick of Toronto - which, until recently, were on loan to the Art Gallery of Ontario.


A Rembrandt etched plate rediscovered, with Old Master, modern and contemporary prints

The copper-plate etched by Rembrandt with his well known print Abraham Entertaining the Angels is the most romantic rediscovery of the year. He made it in 1656, which was the year he went bankrupt, and it seems to have been among the items forcibly sold to cover his debts. It was acquired by his fellow artist Pieter Gysels (1620-1690) but not out of admiration for its artistry. Gysels painted a highly detailed little landscape on the back and the plate has been exhibited Gysels side out ever since. That is, until a Christie's expert took it out of its frame to examine the back and then discovered the Rembrandt. Rembrandt's prints were so popular that the plates became very worn and were often etched and patched up by other hands. This plate is in pristine condition and has an estimated price of pounds 35,000 to pounds 40,000. !

`Dunaberg` by Wassily Kandinsky, part of `Impressionist week'

The 16th-century `Bute Hours'

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