Art Market

At TEFAF Maastricht 2024, Galleries Boldly Tackle 7,000 Years of Art History

Arun Kakar
Mar 7, 2024 11:07PM

Installation view of Galerie Kugel’s booth at TEFAF Maastricht 2024. Photo by Loraine Bodewes. Courtesy of TEFAF.

As the 37th edition of TEFAF Maastricht opened its doors at the MECC exhibition center on March 7th, the unavoidable gaze of a lady in a headdress appeared to follow viewers as they drifted by the venue’s Western Bar, where champagne was poured and oysters shucked. Her stare, both intense and sensitive, is rendered in thick brushstrokes and depicted with a powerful empathy that could only be achieved by Vincent van Gogh—who painted this work, Tête De Paysanne À La Coiffe Blanche, in 1884.

“During setup two days ago, when they were laying down the carpet, the carpet workers were all coming over to look at it,” said Bill Rau, the president of M.S. Rau, which is presenting this Van Gogh at TEFAF Maastricht this week. The work is priced at €4.5 million ($4.9 million) and is one of several illustrious works on view at the New Orleans–based gallery’s booth. Other works on offer include an Edgar Degas priced at a staggering €18.4 million ($20 million), in addition to gems by Sir Winston Churchill, Claude Monet, and René Magritte, among others.


The M.S. Rau booth reflects a customary aspect of visiting TEFAF (which held its first edition in the Dutch city in 1988): encountering museum-quality works that stop visitors in their tracks at regular intervals. But it is also a reminder of the singular role that TEFAF plays in the current ecosystem of major art fairs—and the art market as a whole—which tends to favor contemporary art.

Pre-20th-century work occupies something of an odd position in the market today, in which top supply is finite but prices are rarely of the show-stopping variety. To find the most expensive artwork from this category at auction last year, you would have to scroll down to the 25th slot—Monet’s Peupliers au bord de l’Epte, temps couvert (1891), which sold for $30.1 million at Sotheby’s.

At TEFAF, though, works in this category are not just aplenty, but of a consistently high quality, too. This year’s edition, which runs through March 14th, features some 270 exhibitors from 22 countries, with approximately half of the fair dedicated to Old Master paintings, antiques, and classical antiquities. As such, TEFAF boasts more than 7,000 years of art history and the kind of highlights under one roof that, really, only it is able to offer. Where else could a stroll through an art fair yield encounters with a €7.5 million ($8.2 million) Auguste Rodin sculpture, a 530 BCE Greek terra-cotta amphora, a 1890 Fabergé double marriage cup, a 1635 Frans Hals portrait, and a four-volume, $12.5 million edition of the seminal Birds of America (1827–38) by John James Audubon? TEFAF has become renowned for its high quality and broad range of delectable items, and this is once again what the fair is delivering at its 2024 edition.

Artemisia Gentileschi, Penitent Magdalene, ca. 1625/30. Courtesy of Robilant + Voena.

“It’s a unique fair that has such a wide choice from antiquities to contemporary art, so for us it’s always the main event of the year so we’re proud to be here,” said Allesandro Galli, a director at Robilant + Voena, which is featuring a recently discovered masterpiece by Artemisia Gentileschi, The Penitent Magdalene (ca. 1625/30). Priced at $7 million, the work was recently in the gallery’s “Ahead of her Time” exhibition in New York.

“Artemisia was by far one of the most important women artists, and we chose the main wall [of the booth] for her and [undertook] very curated research on the history of the painting and the possible dating,” Galli said of the work, which was surrounded by crowds from the moment the fair opened.

Robilant + Voena’s booth also represents one of the more intriguing themes of the fair—presentations where works from across centuries and movements commingle. Galleries with contemporary programs were keen to find a complementary balance between new and old, with TEFAF’s historical underpinnings providing fertile territory for cross-generational dialogue. At Robilant + Voena, 17th-century artists Giuseppe Vermiglio and Matthias Stomer sit comfortably alongside an aristocratic portrait by Anthony van Dyck, paintings by Joan Miró and Sam Francis, and dot pieces by Damien Hirst.

In a similar twist, Sean Kelly Gallery’s presentation—its second appearance at the fair—places contemporary artworks in dialogue with historical pieces that span ancient Egypt to early 20th-century painting. “We came up with the idea because we recognized that with a number of artists, we could find [historical] parallels,” Sean Kelly explained. Examples include a Kehinde Wiley painting depicting a man in a tracksuit holding an antique sword amid William Morris–esque fauna (priced at $650,000), which is paired with an early 18th-century sword; and a playful work by Awol Erizku (priced at $20,000), which places a zipper on the face of the Mona Lisa, alongside its source of inspiration, Marcel Duchamp’s readymade L.H.O.O.Q. (1919). “What we were excited about last year was this opportunity to show contemporary material in the context of all of these different artifacts from different cultures, so it was really about playing,” Kelly added.

TEFAF has weathered its fair share of challenges over recent years, from COVID-19 outbreaks to armed robberies. But at the VIP day of this year’s edition—replete with new security measures installed last year (Artsy spotted security dogs patrolling the center)—dealers and collectors were in an optimistic frame of mind.

“We’ve been here for more than two decades, and always had great success,” said Milo Dickinson of London gallery Dickinson, which specializes in Old Master, Impressionist, and modern art. “It’s a great meeting point for museums and top collectors. We’ve already had some of the leading directors from the top museums around the world in the gallery asking questions about pictures.” The gallery’s highlights were led by Anthony van Dyck’s mesmerizing Portrait of a Carmelite Monk (ca. 1618), believed to have been painted by the artist when he was in the studio of Peter Paul Rubens. Its asking price is “in the region of” £4.5 million ($5.7 million), and sits in good company with the likes of Canaletto and Edwin Landseer. “We feel very good; last year was a very strong year for us, and we think that the market’s pretty good at the minute for top quality stuff,” Dickinson added.

For some galleries, just a few hours into the Thursday opening, optimism was already beginning to translate into sales. “We are very happy,” reported Charlotte Ketabi-Lebard, co-founder of Ketabi Bourdet. The Parisian gallery is exhibiting a series of nine chairs by Paolo Pallucco in the fair’s Focus section, dedicated to solo presentations. Based on a simple black wooden chair, the artist’s sculptural flourishes lean and twist the forms into a range of playful contortions. When Artsy spoke to the gallerist, barely an hour into the VIP day on Thursday, six out of the nine pieces were sold, priced from €10,000–€15,000 ($10,900–$16,350). “The fact that we’re in TEFAF helps us to present these pieces that are really between design and sculpture,” Ketabi-Lebard added.

Installation view of Mennour’s booth at TEFAF Maastricht 2024. Courtesy of Mennour.

A similarly positive mood was present at the standout booth of Parisian stalwart Mennour, where a 1958 Joan Mitchell abstract work rubs shoulders (and finds some common ground) with a 2023 Camille Henrot watercolor, and an intense Alberto Giacometti self-portrait on paper. “The idea was really to be what we are [as] Mennour, but also to establish this dialogue,” said founder Kamel Mennour. He noted that the presentation is not just about displaying 20th-century works, but “it’s creating something that I would love to be with in my home…so it was really a selection of works that I do not want to sell.” Try as he might, the gallerist had already sold a clutch of works in the first few hours of the fair, including the Giacometti, which had an asking price of €320,000 ($350,000).

TEFAF also allows galleries to take risks with fair presentations that they might not try elsewhere. Making its debut at this year’s fair, David Gill Gallery brings together a selection of sculptural furniture and ornamental pieces, arranged in the booth like an opulent but cozy apartment.

“We’re often known for working with architects, acrylics, and things like that, and [TEFAF] gave us an outlet to show something different, which people maybe don’t know quite as much about,” said Elliot Sterling, a sales assistant at the gallery. The gallery’s classy ensemble features a number of pieces by Mattia Bonetti, including a sumptuous white-gold-gilded chest of drawers, Kawakubo (1994), and a sculptural dining table, Lola (2022), as well as works by artists including Sebastian Brajkovic, Barnaby Barford, and Michele Oka Doner. Oka Doner’s bronze Stool For Eve (2017) appears as though it has been torn from the natural world and frozen in motion.

Contemporary galleries also noted the unique collector base that the fair attracts. Maastricht, which sits between Germany and Belgium, draws in an eclectic array of cross-continental visitors. And though contemporary art galleries make up a relatively small part of the fair, that does not mean collectors are uninterested in them.

“It’s true that for the contemporary galleries, we’re kind of outsiders, but at the same time, we can feel that we really have a place here and it’s also an opportunity for us to meet collectors that we’re not used to meeting at contemporary fairs,” said Pauline Chiche, a senior director at Galerie Nathalie Obadia, which is showing works from across its program, including a vivid lyrical abstract work by Shirley Jaffe, Sans Titre (1961–62), and a dramatic painting by Guillame Bresson, Sans Titre (2023), which depicts a group of figures in freefall behind a crashing wave, in an Old Master–influenced style.

For galleries from farther afield geographically, this mix of collectors is also important. At Seoul gallery Gana Art’s booth, Lee Ufan’s imposing, minimal brushstroke painting Dialogue (date unknown), priced at $1.1 million, provides a recognizable entry point to a presentation that includes works by Oh Sufan, Sukwon Park, and Rim Dongsik, who are perhaps lesser known among TEFAF denizens. Dongsik’s figurative paintings in particular were among the booth’s highlights, drawing intrigued glances from fairgoers.

Installation view of TEFAF Maastricht 2024. Photo by Jitske Nap. Courtesy of TEFAF.

“TEFAF Maastricht is a cultural center in Europe where there aren’t many Korean or Asian galleries,” said Yookwoon Kim, an advisor at the gallery. “We try to represent our Korean modern and contemporary artists to the European audience, [and] it’s a new step to introduce them.”

And collectors are visiting in droves. By the end of opening day, the fair reported a 20% increase in attendance compared to last year. This was reflected throughout the day—from the morning when crowds were abuzz and beginning to queue an hour before the doors opened at 11 a.m., through to midday, when the aisles were almost unmaneuverable in places. As long as this hallowed fair continues to bring in works of such range and pedigree, this is unlikely to change any time soon.

Arun Kakar
Arun Kakar is Artsy’s Art Market Editor.