Back in March 2020, The European Fine Art Foundation’s annual fair was one of the earliest casualties of Covid-19. While, at the time, only one exhibitor was known to have contracted the illness, it would be over two years before the esteemed art fair—which brings together pre-eminent dealers of everything from Old Master paintings to 20th-century furniture—returned to its home base in the quaint Dutch town of Maastricht. Last week, TEFAF made its comeback and collectors swarmed, eager to make up for lost time.
What sets TEFAF apart from other outings on the international art circuit is the variety of its exhibitors (from blue-chip contemporary galleries like White Cube to jewelers like Hemmerle and specialists in everything from illuminated manuscripts to Japanese armor) and its stringent vetting process. It is a fair for true collectors, those who aren’t simply interested in what’s buzzy but are astute about, say, 16th-century Flemish tapestries or French Art Deco design. We were on the ground for the fair’s preview day and the enthusiasm was palpable—there were several noted collectors along with representatives from the Metropolitan Museum, the Louvre and some 90 other heavy-hitting institutions all eagerly zipping from booth to booth.
Certainly, there was an abundance of finds to be had. A handful of exceptional pieces garnered the most attention, such as a recently rediscovered Jan Lievens drawing that had been missing since 1888, an early painting by Gustave Courbet and a work from Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Net series. But, then again, everything on display was exceptional—and some of the best discoveries were those that weren’t headliners. Here are eight of the more idiosyncratic treasures that caught our eye.
Paul Heermann Chess Set at Galerie Kugel
Exquisitely rendered in ebony and ivory, this circa 1705 chess set by celebrated Baroque sculptor Paul Heermann makes every move a power play. As Laura Kugel, a sixth-generation gallerist of the Parisian antiquaire, explains: “This is an exciting discovery, as it is the only known example where the pieces are carved by a famed artist.” Each piece is incredibly detailed—one of the bishops even carries a letter signed with Heermann’s signature. As Kugel says, “Each piece is like a miniature masterpiece of sculpture.”
Albert Cheuret Mantel Clock at Galerie Marcilhac
The booth of Parisian Galerie Marcilhac was brimming with plum 20th century decorative arts, from a Jean Dunand bar cart to Jean Royère lamps. But even among all those many highly collectible works, this circa 1925 mantel clock stood out. It was produced by the sculptor Albert Cheuret, best known for his light fixtures, and combines pleated, patinated bronze with onyx and an alabaster dial. The movement was made in Paris and restored in LA in 1979, where the clock’s previous owner, Barbara Streisand, was living.
“La Luce” by Giulio Aristide Sartorio at Rudigier Fine Art
This painting is actually a study for a monumental series of murals that were commissioned to adorn the central hall of the 1907 Venice Biennale. Sartorio is generally known for his theatrical depictions of classical tropes, but this pared back, oil on canvas (measuring roughly 15-feet by 6-feet sketch) is strikingly modern in its sparseness.
“Vase of Tulips—Autumn” by Lilla Tabasso at Piva & C
Contemporary Milanese artist Lilla Tabasso began her career as a biologist, which might explain her ability to render nature in glass with incredibly realistic detail. Yes—this vase and its wilting flowers are all made of glass, using a technique known as lamp work, where each individual element is molded by hand using a torch. It’s like a Dutch Old Master still-life brought to life.
Hemmerle Emerald Bangle
Munich-based jeweler Hemmerle debuted a poetic collection of flora-inspired jewels, but we were particularly smitten with this bracelet tucked away from the main display. It features a dazzling Colombian emerald of over 15 carats, simply nestled into bands of bronze wrapping around the wrist with all the ease of twine. The mechanics required to make the stone look as if it’s floating are a technical feat, yet the overall effect is effortless chic.
Important Statue of Anubis at David Aaron
London-based gallery David Aaron offered an array of museum-worthy antiquities and one standout was this impressive statue of the Egyptian funerary god Anubis, clocking in at 90-centimeters or roughly 34.5-inches long. Carbon dated to be from sometime between 751-414 B.C., this painted wood sculpture has an incredibly modern, elegant form—like Giacometti by way of Luxor.
“The Offering to the God Pan from the Grotesque Hanging” at De Wit Fine Tapestries
This wool and silk tapestry from the late 17th century is remarkably vivid for its age. The weaving by French royal manufacturer Beauvais is extremely refined—each figure’s expression looks almost as if it could have been painted. The design, by Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer, is an irreverent mash-up of motifs from antiquity and theatrical performances of its time.
“Envy, 2008-2019” by Barry X Ball at Mignoni Fine Art
If this bust looks familiar, that’s because you may have seen it before: It takes its form from Giusto Le Court’s 17th century sculpture of Medusa. Contemporary artist Barry X Ball has recreated the famed work, which resides in Venice’s Ca’Rezzonico museum, using high-tech CNC milling to render Medusa’s raging visage in sodalite, a natural gemstone from Bolivia.