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“London is the city of Europe, even the city of the world. It is still the second most important global art market and it needs a great interdisciplinary art fair.” Harry Van der Hoorn should know. He and Thomas Woodham-Smith co founded Masterpiece, the world renowned fair that ran for 13 years starting in 2010. Masterpiece almost immediately became a firm fixture of The Season. But at the beginning of this year Swiss owners MCH Group, who had secured a controlling stake in 2017, determined the fair wasn’t commercially viable. That created the unimaginable scenario that The Season – while still hosting gardening, cricket, racing, rowing, tennis and opera – would be missing art.
Deep sighs of relief could be heard echoing through the gilded postcodes when the duo launched Treasure House. Like Masterpiece, it’s in a temporary pavilion in the parkland setting of the Royal Hospital Chelsea. Unlike Masterpiece, its orientation and circulation correctly face the 17th century brick building rather than the Embankment. Thomas explains, “Our choice of title reflects the wide range of disciplines and masterpieces of the fair, each piece a treasure in its own right. From my perspective as a Dutchman, ‘Treasure’ is a word that is understood throughout the world and ‘House’ is a mark of respect to the Grosvenor House Fair, a fair that inspired so many of us over the years.”
Out of the 55 exhibitors occupying 2,500 square metres of floorspace, 43 previously appeared at Masterpiece. There are 10 overseas dealers plus four that are only partly based in London. Comfortingly familiar sights include the Ventura Riva yacht this year fitted out by Gucci. The Ballyfin style transport of golf buggies through the hospital grounds has gone but the more direct pedestrian route is easy on the Louboutins. Timing has been pulled forward to the penultimate week in June which does mean the preview clashes with Glyndebourne and Ascot Ladies’ Day. Petertide is a busy time for everyone. Next year, Treasure House is programmed to go back to the last week of June.
In place of Le Caprice restaurant and two Scott’s bars is Table and Candle restaurant, Robuchon Deli and Oysters and Champagne Bar. Different operators, equally good offer, same buzzy guests. Everyone is fabulously sociable, nobody is sartorially challenged. To quote the 20th century photographer Slim Aarons, it’s all about “attractive people doing attractive things in attractive places”. Life is rosé at the Whispering Angel Bar. The restaurant overlooks the courtyard. The bar (Irish Ostra Regal, Jersey and Madlon oysters; Laurent-Perrier Champagne) is half indoors half in the courtyard to accommodate both the alabaster and sallow skinned.Oil on canvas is represented from Post Impressionism (Sir Stanley Cursiter at Richard Green) to Expressionistic figurative art (Frank Auerbach at Osborne Samuel). A masterpiece from the Emerald Isle is the silver gilt sideboard dish for sale by Koopman. Made by James Fray of Dublin in 1828, it was presented to Thomas 1st Baron Manners, Lord Chancellor of Ireland, by the Officers of the Court of Chancery. At 69 centimetres diameter, the sideboard dish has plenty of space for canapés.
Fine art dealer Charles Plante has been involved in the fair world for over three decades, from stalls at Chelsea Town Hall to full room displays at Grosvenor House and Olympia Fairs. He has mounted exhibitions at Stair and Co in London and Mallett’s in London and New York. Last year he held a major sale at Dreweatts featuring many items from his townhouse and country house. Star pieces included architectural drawings by Henry Holland and Thomas Sandby. Charles’ bestselling publications are Inside Out: Interiors and Exteriors 1770 to 1870 (2000), Gilt Bronze Objects 1814 to 1830 (2002) and Tools of the Trade (2006). He has since relocated his business to the US concentrating on San Francisco, selling to “upper class Americans” who buy half a dozen of his drawings or paintings at a time to create French style salons.
“I am astonished how my friend Thomas along with Harry put this fair together in four months,” comments Charles. “They have really pulled if off! I like how the pavilion faces the most famous Wren building after St Paul’s Cathedral. There’s such attention to detail: the walls suspended to a few centimetres off the floor to give the illusion of skirting boards, space age canted ceilings and uplighting set in columns. The decorative approach is avant garde and progressive. There are dealers I love here like Wartski the royal jewellers.”