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This Month: The UK and Euro columns from the Spring 2020 issue of Antiques and Collectables for Pleasure & Profit.

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Ivor Hughes

The UK Column
Ivor Hughes reports significant news in the UK trade


Despite negotiations being Covid-19 impeded, the UK decided not to apply for an extension to the final negotiations deadline of 31 December. That option closed on 30 June. Then in July there were conflicting reports of the EU and the UK having been unable to agree to a common approach to developing a Covid-19 vaccine. If we can't agree on something so urgent and fundamental, then agreement on any finer points looks unlikely.

The government's online guidance of 27 February, updated in May, runs to over 750 pages. Ouch. Worst-case scenario for cross-Channel trading? As predicted in the last issue, a little more expensive with a lot more paperwork.

The virus in England

Outdoor markets, salerooms, antiques shops and centres have reopened. Indoor social distancing has been reduced from two metres to one and with facial covering, although the overarching guidance for all indoor shows, antiques or not, means that events cannot resume before 1 October and then only if they are Covid aware.

That said, all dates and easements remain subject to change. Casinos, bowling alleys and leisure centres had been among locations due to reopen on 1 August. But increased rates of infection forced the government to push that date to 15 August - on 31 July, the very day before reopening was due. And they re-imposed domestic restrictions on some four million people in the north.

Why am I telling you this?

None of this has any direct bearing on trips planned two or three months away, but some events and their publicists have been too slow to throw in the towel. Local lockdowns and international travel restrictions and quarantines change week by week. Don't commit to anything until there is clear confirmation on whichever events are going ahead and that you can get to them. Always contact the venue or organiser to confirm and reserve your tickets or slot.

The wheels are turning

Outdoor events resumed on 1 June and have gained support, whether boot sales or established antiques and collectables markets. IACF Newark reinstated their outdoors Runway Monday on 29 June and reported exhibitor numbers of 500 rather that the anticipated 400 and visitor levels up 40% on the norm. There wasn't an accompanying buying frenzy, perhaps because some sellers had struggled to restock in time and had already sold what they could online. But the numbers of buyers and sellers on the day are a clear indication that the English trade is anxious to resume business.

One of the best flea markets in England, believe it or not, is the Saturday York Racecourse Car Boot Sale in the north, where maybe one third of the 500 sellers are trade and wouldn't look out of place at more commercial events. Usually starting around Easter, this years' first was delayed until 8 August. Stallholders had spent two months restocking at auctions, other boot sales and house clearances, and it showed, with hundreds of buyers leaving with arms or trolleys full of art, antiques, metalware, decorative and architectural pieces and whatever else. A lot of those finds would have been destined for the large trade events at ASF Lincoln (12 August) and IACF Newark (13/14) and beyond

Australia's Most Informative & Entertaining Antiques Magazine
Judith Dunn

The Euro Column
Judith Dunn reports on the European market

As we go to press, the news from Europe on the pandemic front is less and less optimistic. Belgium, Andorra and Spain are badly affected, and the smallest country, Luxembourg, is by far the hardest hit. All these share a border with France, where the infection rate is rising rapidly, notably among younger people. Italy, also with a frontier with France and originally the sickest man in Europe, is bucking the trend with a dramatic decrease. All this, just as lockdown was easing and the art and antiques market opening up. Gallery owners are among the sufferers, so it is encouraging that the Strasbourg Art Fair, ST-ART 2020, due to run in late November, is offering them a 15% reduction in stand fees. Galéristes will also receive support in stand design and publicity - as well as favourable rates at the city's Hilton hotel. Launched in 1995, the fair is a pioneer in the themed exhibition field; this year, invited artists will champion the issue of climate change and sustainability. Major dealers in Paris are receiving a helping hand from the Biennale directors and the Syndicat National des Antiquaires. Now that the 2020 Biennale has been cancelled, an online auction at Christie's will showcase items that 50 dealers would have been offering. They will be on show in the participants' galleries during the sale, running 10-21 September.

The Musée des Confluences in Lyon is highlighting environmental danger with an exhibition due to open in October and run until August 2021. The Makay Massif in Madagascar is a labyrinthine mountain range whose intricate network of isolated canyons has been a haven of biodiversity for millions of years. Human activity and the dizzying speed of propagation of forest and bush fires threaten the survival of this paradise it is seeking protected status. The same Lyon museum is concurrently hosting an exhibition L'Afrique en Couleurs, celebrating the glorious tones of African artefacts and textiles - items often in everyday use and which inspire artists, designers and fashion houses the world over.

Echoing Ali Baba's command to the treasure cave's entrance, Réserve, Ouvre-toi! is the title of the show at the Pont-Aven Museum in Brittany from October until January 2021. A 'participatory' event, it will feature items chosen from the museum's reserves by the public. A vote online was organised in May and June and the voters' selection will determine what will be included. Trending in museum exhibitions is the juxtaposition of the work of a renowned artist or period with that of contemporary practitioners. Tout va bien, Monsieur Matisse, postponed from February, opened in July at the eponymous museum in Le Cateau-Cambrésis, the northern town where Matisse spent his early life. It showcases takes on the master's work by eight artists, including Ben and Marco del Re, and runs until January 2021. A similar approach is being taken to antiquities at the Cimiez site of the ancient city of Cemelenum and the Archaeological Museum in Nice, this time via the eyes of a single artist, Sosno. Known for the massive 30 metre high square head housing the offices of Nice's main municipal library, a landmark near the old town, Sosno's approach is to copy and then reproduce an ancient artefact, obliterating part of it, thus inviting the viewer to concentrate fully and really see that part. Illustrated here is a plaster cast of an athlete's head by Benevent, found in the ruins of Herculaneum (50BC), together with a bronze square head by Sosno, 1981. A word of warning about visiting museums in these uncertain times: opening times may change and many are restricting access, insisting on advance booking, so always check their websites.

The move to online auctions has become the new normal and they will doubtless continue alongside saleroom events, especially as these may be cancelled at short notice. There is no sign that buyers are holding back - rather the reverse, given the relative uncertainty of the value of money these days. Even so, one major player, Nagel in Stuttgart, is undertaking a restructuring process by its own management - with outside help from advisers - in order to avoid insolvency. Elsewhere in Germany, Austria and Switzerland things were buoyant in early summer. A sale at Neumeister in Munich saw a painting forcibly sold by Leo Bendel in 1937 entered by his descendants. Bendel died in Buchenwald in 1940, but Karl Spitzweg's Justitia, the Eye of the Law, was only returned in 2019. It made a handsome €550,000. In June, Greece won an action against Sotheby's, claiming ownership of a Geometric Period bronze sculpture of a horse, another in the saga of looted antiquities. At the same time, however, a report by the Rand Corporation revealed that the trade in such items is far less valuable than the hype had suggested - running into millions of dollars, not billions. Still too high, of course, and one notable prosecution in France in July involved a former Louvre curator, three dealers and a Mediterranean archaeology expert.

Two sectors doing especially well in European auctions recently have been ceramics and books and prints. The Amsterdam Rijksmuseum paid €11,000 at Drouot in a Pescheteau-Badin sale on 18 June for a bowl from the Ansbach factory which had been a gift from William of Orange-Nassau to his doctor. The same sale saw a plate from Marie-Antoinette's Perles et Barbeaux Sèvres service fetch €30,000 and a late 19th century Meissen Triumph of Flora figural group go 5 times over estimate at €35,000. Two of Meissen's exuberantly decorated Kändler 'crinoline' wares easily doubled top estimate at Koller in Zurich on 16 June and a ewer representing Luft (Air) from Kändler's 'elements' set tripled estimate at €11,000. Books of hours did very well in Paris in the summer, but top honours went to a lifetime print by Dürer of The Fall of Man. It took €430,000 against a top estimate of €100,000 at Grisebach, Berlin, in July, the second highest price ever for a print by the artist.

Australia's Most Informative & Entertaining Antiques Magazine