The Connoisseur’s Antiques Fair is the only show in New York, or practically anywhere for that matter, where a dazzled shopper can pick among Egyptian sculpture, Renaissance reliquaries, Old Master paintings, Ming and Biedermeier furniture, and tapestries ranging from medieval to midcentury modern.
The unusual depth and range of the show, which wrapped up at the 69th Regiment Armory at 26th Street just before the start of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, owes much to the fair’s origins. Though only three years old, the event was conceived by the Art and Antique Dealers League of America, at 80 the nation’s oldest continuing association of antiques dealers.
Several of the fair’s 53 exhibitors – including Philip Suval, Inc, and Blumka Galleries – have been in business so long that they could have participated in a league show, had there been one, when the group was founded in 1926.
Nearly a dozen other exhibitors – Dillingham & Company, L’Antiquaire & The Connoisseur, Geoffrey Diner, E&J Frankel, Hyde Park, Kentshire Galleries and Clinton Howell among them – are or have been prominently associated with the Winter Antiques Show or the International Fine Art and Antique Dealers Show. With patience and fortitude, the Connoisseur’s Antiques Fair may one day join the ranks of these banner shows, which have 65 years of experience between them.
“We’ve proved the myth wrong that you can’t have an upscale antiques show downtown. Our major sales were to buyers from the Upper East Side, the Upper West Side and out-of-town,” show manager Bill Caskey said afterward.
“We’re still trying to get a date uptown, but it has to be the right date,” said the Topanga, Calif., organizer. Caskey and his wife, Liz Lees, have passed on Thanksgiving weekend, the last weekend of December and the first weekend of January as possible dates for an uptown event.
There were two changes to this year’s Connoisseur’s Antiques Fair. The Morgan Library replaced St Vincent’s Hospital as the beneficiary of the opening night preview party on Thursday, November 18. The show also started a day later, continuing through Monday, November 22. The Monday hours got mixed reviews from exhibitors.
“The Morgan Library is a good charity with the right people. There was a real buzz on the floor until people were whisked away for dinner at 7:30 pm. I’d like to see dinner be an hour later,” said Caskey.
Though slightly down from a year ago, attendance was up by nearly 20 percent from the fair’s 2002 debut, lifted by increased traffic through the weekend. A party for interior designers on Wednesday, November 17, was particularly successful. Celebrity decorators like Mario Buatta canvassed the floor with cell phones pressed to their ears, getting approval from clients before committing on purchases.
“The show is evolving. It’s more varied and interesting than ever,” said George Subkoff, the Westport, Conn., dealer who has been the show’s chairman since its inception.
“We’re family. League members are devoted to making this a great event,” said league president Tony Blumka. “It gets better every year.”
Blumka Galleries, which counts the European Fine Arts Fair in Maastricht, The Netherlands, among its most important annual engagements, accented its jewel-toned stand with a Fourteenth Century French carved sandstone Madonna and Child on a reticulated throne. The dealers also featured a rare collection of 13 polychromed wood figures representing Christ and the 12 Apostles. The Nuremberg sculptures dated to circa 1420-40.
“They were meant to be under an altar. When we bought them they were covered in white paint, which a conservator spent six months removing,” said Blumka.
A well-balanced show with depth in more formal English, Continental and Asian specialties, the display was one of visual contrasts and harmonies. Vallin Galleries, the Wilton, Conn., dealer in Chinese art, accented its ensemble with a Seventeenth Century Chinese root chair. Just across the aisle, George Subkoff offered an Austrian burl-walnut serpentine table, $28,000, with the same animated spirit. Subkoff paired the table with a fanciful Venetian grotto armchair, $12,000, and pair of whimsical Meiji candlesticks, $14,000, fashioned as climbing monkeys.
“The root chair is a wonderful expression of the Chinese unity with nature, an idea that grows out of Daoism, the first native Chinese religion,” said dealer Peter Rosenberg. The root chair was matched with a supremely understated Ming horseshoe chair, a pair of Japanese screens depicting scenes from The Tale of Genji and a pair of exceptional Kangxi period famille verte vases.
For decades Vallin Galleries has charmingly occupied a quaint farmhouse by a stream in Wilton. Despite a winter clearance sale last year, the gallery has no plans to move, Rosenberg said.
Caskey-Lees also tapped Arts of Pacific Asia Fair regular Jon Eric Riis for the show. The Atlanta dealer in Asian textiles and costumes made a splash with Chinese silk robes, including an embroidered yellow silk imperial example dating to the first half of the Nineteenth Century.
Japanese and Korean art expert Carole Davenport designed her striking stand around a Japanese screen assembled from Korean sutra sections, circa 1800. Her many sculptures included a charming Korean donor figure holding a cat. The carved and painted sculpture dated to the Nineteenth Century.
Orientations Gallery and Flying Cranes Antiques, both of New York, promised top drawer Meiji art. At Flying Cranes, a parcel-gilt bronze Suikoden, or heroic Samurai warrior, was a standout.
Chinese porcelains greeted visitors at Imperial Oriental Art, where dealer Mostafa G. Hassan showcased an important Kangxi blue and white five-piece garniture of Dutch provenance and a large pair of famille rose pink bowls on imperial stands. The bowls, with Daoguang seal marks, were purchased by a French-Canadian diplomat in the late Nineteenth Century.
Virginia dealers John and Barbara Suval and New York dealers Sanford and Ada Suchow provided plenty of Chinese Export porcelain. Suchow & Seigel also delighted customers with a case of objets d’vertu such as French snuff boxes, Chinese card cases and captivating German Stobwasser boxes.
English and Continental furniture was another strong suit. At Charlecote of Kansas City, a red lacquered English drop front bureau of circa 1725 stood in lively contrast to a pair of shapely Regency hall chairs, $45,000. The gleaming mahogany seats inset with the crest of the Watson Taylors probably came from one of the two family homes, Erlestore House in Wiltshire or Lyssone Hall in Jamaica. Charlecote reportedly had its best show ever, selling $95,000 worth of objects on preview night alone, plus another $185,000 to a Washington, D.C., client.
England’s rustic arts were represented by Winsor Antiques of Woodbury, Conn. “The Ballad Singers,” a charming Napoleonic period folk portrait by an anonymous British artist, circa 1820, took a place of pride on Winsor’s back wall.
Vermont dealers Lisa Freeman and John Fiske are the go-to source in this country for English oak. They are single-handedly encouraging the revival of this quaintly romantic furniture from the Seventeenth Century with their new book, Living with Early Oak.
“We had a very, very good show,” said Lisa Freeman, who, with her husband, sold seven pieces of furniture – including a late Elizabethan long table, $18,000, and a circa 1625 press cupboard, $20,000 – before moving on to the Peabody Essex Antiques Show in Salem, Mass., Thanksgiving Weekend. In New York, Fiske and Freeman wrote slips for sales to customers from Mexico and Colorado, proving that show advertising is reaching a geographically diverse audience.
A guide to Italian furniture is also hot off the press. Written by Helen Costantino Fioratti of L’Antiquaire & The Connoisseur, Il Mobile Italaniano was published in Florence earlier this year.
“I did all the illustrations myself,” said the talented dealer of the book that combines colors plates with line drawings. L’Antiquaire & The Connoisseur’s colorful display featured paint decorated French and Italian furniture, a Milanese intarsia-work games table and a Parma secretary of mellow fruitwood.
Iliad Antik of New York devoted its stand to a suite of Biedermeier furniture upholstered in a crisp black and tan stripe. Its walnut veneered sofa with extravagantly scrolled front legs was made in Vienna between 1825 and 1835.
A handful of Americanists provided an understated alternative to high-style European wares. Vermont dealer Judd Gregory anchored his booth with a flattop highboy from Essex, Mass.; a Connecticut chest-on-chest; a Salem, Mass., bonnet-top highboy; and two New England chest of drawers, both probably from Massachusetts.
Maine dealers William and Arlene Schwind mingled country and Classical rdf_Descriptions. Their piece de resistance was an early Nineteenth Century mahogany banquet table and eight Federal shield back chairs.
Across the aisle, The Federalist Antiques featured a sumptuous breakfront bookcase and an ingenious reclining chair.
“We brought mostly Eskimo and Northwest Coast artifacts along with some pre-Columbian material,” explained Jeffrey Myers of Myers & Duncan. Of note was a Tlingit ceremonial bowl of circa 1820-40. Deaccessioned from the Heye Foundation of the American Indian in the 1940s, the effigy vessel was carved with a beaver with inset Russian trade beads for eyes. On the vessel’s other side was a carving of a raven.
Joan Barist, the other primitive art expert on the floor, mounted a dramatic display of African masks, including a carved and painted Kifwebe mask, $18,000, from Congo, formerly in a Belgian collection.
Vojtech Blau has specialized in Sixteenth through Eighteenth Century European tapestries for the past four decades. The New York dealer mounted a Seventeenth Century Flemish pictorial weaving of a farmyard scene next to “La Nuit et Les Insectes,” a circa 1950 Aubusson designed by the modernist Jean Lurcat.
The Connoisseur’s Antiques Fair boasted a dealer in Old Master drawings and another in Old Master paintings. Both unveiled new discoveries.
“It’s a study by Tiepolo for his first religious commission,” Norfolk, Conn., dealer Mia Weiner said of “The Crucifixion,” $95,000, a sepia drawing that is preparatory for the circa 1723 painting in San Martino, Burano. Found in a salesroom in the United States, the drawing, previously in a German collection, relates to another sketch in the collection of the Fogg Museum at Harvard.
“It’s been cleaned and authenticated,” Tuxedo Park, N.Y., dealer Robert Simon said of the dramatic Mannerist canvas dominating his back wall. “Susanna Before Daniel,” a 571/2 by 773/8 -inch oil on canvas by Jacopo Palma, called Palma Giovane, was exhibited in 1920 before being lost for generations.
“We’re known for French painting,” said New York dealer Richard Schillay, who managed to tuck an American Stuart Davis abstract oil painting from the 1940s and an Allen Tucker Maine Coast view into a display that included works by Albert Marquet, the Swiss painter Emile Bressler, and Pablo Picasso.
Spanierman Gallery of New York featured “Kimono Girl,” a loosely brushed, Japanesque portrait of circa 1897 by Charles Webster Hawthorne (1872-1930). The 301/4- by 241/2-inch oil on canvas was formerly in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection.
“One of the most exciting periods in mapmaking was the turn of the Eighteenth Century,” said Danielle Ann Millican, a Floral Park, N.J., dealer who has been collecting maps and prints for the past 25 years. For the Connoisseur’s Fair, she brought 29 plates from the 1708 Dutch atlas, Harmonia Marcrocosmia.
“We’ve sold quite a few already,” said her husband, Rand, holding up four maps of the heavens, Ptolemaic to Copernican in their perspective.
“More than half of our exhibitors had good shows,” said Bill Caskey. Caskey-Lees returns to New York in January to host its annual Ceramics Fair at the New York Academy of Design.
“The Connoisseur’s Antiques Fair is a high-quality show consisting of American dealers only. We have a real commitment to sustaining it,” said Lisa Freeman, echoing the convictions of her colleagues.