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

Australia's Most Informative & Entertaining Antiques Magazine
Ivor Hughes

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


The only mention of Brexit in the UK media is that the absence of any news is an example of the gravity of the current Covid-19 crisis. Meanwhile, the very fabric of the EU is under threat while the poorer and more virus-affected countries try to persuade others that the cost be shared among all. So the union we are due to leave may be in a different shape by the time we do.

The current timetable is that the UK should conclude Brexit negotiations by 31 December. A maximum extension of one year may be agreed by all parties, though it is unlikely that any UK application would be refused. A complete break from EU would make cross-Channel trading a little more expensive with a lot more paperwork. But it's a long time away and, right now, who cares?

The Virus

Antiques shops and centres remain closed, though they are prime candidates for earlier reopening alongside businesses such as hairdressers or small cafés. June 1 is currently the very earliest possibility in England.

Nobody with any sense can predict when salerooms, fairs or markets are going to be restored. They are national or international, inevitably include some indoor element and with hundreds if not thousands of people shoulder to shoulder handling the same items. They will have to wait a month or two after safer venues such as high schools, universities and churches have reopened, which may not be that soon, as our universities are already discussing remote teaching fees applicable from September. Air travel by anticipated visitors will be a factor, particularly if they are likely to pass through international hubs.

Almost united

Whereas Brexit is being handled in London, responsibility for health issues, including handling Covid-19, has been devolved to each of the four home nations. Scotland and Wales have decided not to fall in line with England. That means that popular events and venues reopening first and near borders are likely to be heavily oversubscribed, perhaps overwhelmed to the point of closure. This includes shopping centres, beaches, museums, theatres and exhibitions.

Social distancing of two metres is likely to be maintained. Examples - rail carriages with capacities of 200 are reduced to around 30. Small aircraft and cruise ships have room barely sufficient for the crew. Showground events have plenty of outdoor space, but their indoor elements will be too tight. Don't expect to be able to gain entry to anywhere on demand. If you contact the organiser or venue beforehand and explain that you're travelling on a tight schedule and are coming from Australia or New Zealand, then they may reserve a slot.

The good news

Oh yes. Yes indeed. The online market has already become one for buyers while sellers try to replace turnover lost through closure. The restoration of the terrestrial market, including salerooms bursting with consignments, will result in frantic cut-price trading during the first couple of months. Sellers will want to sell while some buyers find their budgets stretched by the sheer volume of goods on offer.

Dealers and collectors with money to spend will have more opportunities than usual. "Go for the best" is popular advice given by antiques pundits, though easier said than done. But you should be able to get a little closer when the flood gates open.

Going live

We still have around 100 live online auctions each week, some timed. Prices can be down, often due to poor images from inexperienced salerooms with bidders unable to handle the items. Or they may be up - more web-savvy punters with fewer items to chase. It always pays to look.

Special appeal for Aus/NZ WWII memories

The Second World War Experience is a charitable and educational trust based in Yorkshire. It compiles and cross-references details and anecdotes of the effects of WWII on civilians, especially those employed in the war effort or with family members in the forces. Jewish refugee children from Belgium, women working in armaments factories, families broken or bereaved by the war are among examples I've seen.

They are particularly short of memories relating to civilian internees in Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore. Memories and not mementos, so photocopies and scans are perfectly good for their purposes. A visit to war-experience.org/will give you a good idea of what they're about and show contact details.

Australia's Most Informative & Entertaining Antiques Magazine
Judith Dunn

The Euro Column
Judith Dunn looks at the current state of the European market, against a background of lockdown and uncertainty...

In the Autumn 2020 issue of ACPP, we reported emerging fears of the effect of Covid 19 on the European market. A trimester on, and those fears have been realised in spades, lockdown changing the trade at all levels, in some cases for ever. Pity the independent dealers at small fairs and markets losing two months' income, those with fixed premises still having to pay out for rent and services - and even the bigger organisers with staff and overheads. As we go to press, easing of lockdown is getting under way, so the next few weeks will begin to reveal the extent of the damage. In France, fairs organisers OHVL and Ouest-Arts are scheduling events from early June, but this may be more a pious hope than a reality.

TEFAF Maastricht got under way in March, in spite of some exhibitors withdrawing, and there were some very encouraging sales. One was an early Van Gogh painting of a woman outside a farmhouse - Paysanne devant une chaumiére - sold by Dickinson to a private client for in excess of €12 million. But a dealer returning to Italy and testing positive for the virus put paid to both the optimism and the show, which closed four days early. Drawings Month - le Mois du Dessin - in Paris also fell victim. The Salon du Dessin at Palais Brongniart was initially postponed from March to May and has now been rescheduled for March 2021. The Paris Drawing Now Art Fair will also run at the Carreau du Temple in late March 2021. Drouot, the French capital's umbrella auction house, closed its doors for the duration, disappointing many looking forward to the accompanying sales by specialists in works on paper. Yann le Mouel, for example, had scheduled the Bernard Amigon collection of Germaine Bouret's delicious artworks, now due for October 2020.

La Biennale Paris, that confusingly renamed annual top Paris show, will still run at the Grand Palais from 18 to 22 September, but with a day shaved off as September's calendar has been disrupted by some reorganising of events. Georges de Jonckheere, the event's president, has announced that exhibitors will be able to spread payment of their fees over the four months following it, rather than up front beforehand, which will no doubt encourage participation. This will be the last Grand Palais event for a while, as the venue is due for a refit and will reopen - with that year's Biennale - in 2024. The Biennale 2021 will be held at the delightfully named Grand Palais Ephémère, a temporary 10,000 m2 building, to be located on the Champ-de-Mars, under the Eiffel Tower, from early 2021 until the end of the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

This temporary Grand Palais is funded by the Olympic Paris 2024 outfit and the Réunion des Musées Nationaux, France's museum governing body. Another national institution stepping up to the mark is the Mobilier National, the custodian of some 130,000 items of furniture, clocks, ceramics, chandeliers, carpets, tapestries and so on belonging to the State and used to furnish official residences, notably the Elysée Palace. It was founded by Louis XIV's finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, and is proposing to auction a selection of stock in support of hospital services. The sale in September will not include any major national treasures, but will offer mostly items that are cluttering up storage space. Not selling off the family jewels, then, just some tidying. But the Fondation Hôpitaux de Paris-Hôpitaux de France, a charitable cause long under the patronage of Bernadette Chirac and now chaired by Brigitte Macron, will no doubt benefit substantially from such a patriotic initiative. Hervé Lemoine, director of the Mobilier National, told Le Figaro newspaper that its role at this time should be to help to rebuild France's 'social model'. To that end, his organisation is also promising €450,000 to support workers in the art and antiques sector - restorers, cabinet-makers, upholsterers, gilders and weavers. Many of these are by definition very small businesses or self-employed individuals and therefore hugely vulnerable. They are also the repository of an array of specialist skills likely to be lost if they go to the wall or cannot afford to train apprentices.

As ever, those at the top are the most likely to weather the crisis. Dealers and auction houses with already sophisticated technology are smoothly shifting business online. Germany's Nagel in Stuttgart was just one auctioneer in March to sell online via lot-tissimo.com, as well as taking commission bids in writing and dealing on the phone. All that paid off with very healthy prices. One sector benefitting to a certain extent is shipping. Since sold lots cannot be collected in person, delivery services are major players.

Australian and New Zealand readers may have felt frustrated in the past by our enthusiastic recommendation of museums, exhibitions and other artistic events in Europe. Well, now we're all equally unable to get to see them - or, as is increasingly the case, equally able to access the wealth of virtual visits. The Louvre and the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, the Vatican Museum in Rome, the Prado in Madrid, the Van Gogh and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam - there they are in all their glory at the click of a mouse or the touch of a screen. Plenty there to enjoy in lockdown, along with all the beautiful items in online auctions...

Australia's Most Informative & Entertaining Antiques Magazine