Total Eclipse of the Art
It was as if Elizabeth Bowen was in Masterpiece London and not The House in Paris: “Heaven – call it heaven; on the plane of potential not merely likely behaviour. Or call it art, with truth and imagination informing every word.” Now in its sixth year, Lavender’s Blue have covered the last four but as Liz B declared, “Any year of one’s life has got to be lived.” Red carpet Dysoned, #MPL2015 has arrived. The greatest show on earth is back in town. Millennia of masterpieces filling a groundscraper marquee (12,500 square metres), a pneumatic Royal Hospital Chelsea, full blown Wrenaissance, Quinlan Merry, painted canvas under printed canvas. Arts and antiques gone glamping. Something to tweet home about lolz. An upper case Seasonal fixture and celebration of unabashed luxury. Masterpiece is truly the cultural epicurean epicentre of civilisation, from now (Grayson Perry’s Map of Days at Offer Waterman) to antiquity (Head of a Young Libyan AD 200 at Valerio Turchi).
Everyone’s here at the preview party, the upper aristocracy and upper meritocracy of globalisation chic to chic. Royalty with their heirs and airs, gentry with their seats and furniture, oligarchs with their bodyguards’ bodyguards, Anglo Irish with their Lords and Lourdes, nouveau riche with their Youghal to Youghal carpet, celebrities with their baggage and baggage, Londoners with their Capital and capital. And a very bubbly Eamonn Holmes. Stop people watching. Stare at the felicitous ambiguity of Geer van Velde. Wonder at the dense opaque impasto of Freud. Gaze at the transparent golden glaze of Monet. Study the descriptive precision of Zoffany. Blog about the parallel lines of Bridget Riley. Instagram a selfie beside The Socialite, Andy Warhol’s portrait of New York realtor Olga Berde Mahl shyly making her first ever public showing courtesy of Long-Sharp Gallery. Better late than never.
“If you think about it the clue is in the name,” muses artist Anne Davey Orr. “Masterpiece – a creation that is considered the greatest work of a career, or any work of outstanding creativity and skill. And Masterpiece is certainly the best in its field. From the faux façades to the faux colonnades, and the exotic festoons by Nikki Tibbles of Wild at Heart, Masterpiece exudes a professionalism which avoids the tackiness that sometimes attaches to other art fairs. The accompanying directory of 300 high end galleries alone, contents apart, sets it in a league of its own.”
Newly introduced Cultural Partners such as the Wallace Collection lend added weight to #MPL2015. Every discipline in the design art market is represented. The reflection is so perfect in Edouard Lièvre’s rosewood mirror in Didier Aaron. Hot on the jewel encrusted heels of Wartski is a cool £22 million Bling Ring’s worth of rubies and diamonds at Van Cleef and Arpels. “It’s hard to find rubies over five carats,” notes PR Joan Walls. “The Vermillon earrings are 13.33 and 13.83 carats. Their pigeon blood red colour is so rare, so wonderful. They’ve pure consistency with very few inclusions. The Vermillon earrings are underscored by corollas of pear shaped marquise cut diamonds.”
Another Masterpiece first is a piano. Cue Steinway and Son’s 600,000th instrument The Fibonacci designed and handcrafted by Frank Pollaro. Random renditions of Für Elise aren’t recommended. Sipping Ruinart and devouring pea and mint canapés while chatting to Stephen Millikin is. “Fibonacci is a geometric representation of the golden ratio. It’s found in nature and art, brought together in this piano,” Stephen explains. He’s Senior Director of Global Public Relations at Steinway and Sons, based at 1155 Avenue of the Americas, New York. “The piano is made from six logs of Macassar Ebony. A Fibonacci spiral is inset in the veneer. This motif resonated with Frank Pollaro.” At £1.85 million it’s not going for a song but nor should it. The Fibonacci was four years in the making from concept to completion. Maths star piece.
Vaulted boulevards of dreams, deep white fissures, lead to panoplies of intense colour. Galerie Chenel’s Pompeiian red, empire yellow and lavender’s blue niches fade to black in the shadows of exquisite statuary. There is no vanilla at Masterpiece. Lacroix clad Lady Henrietta Rous and Suzanne Von Pflugl rock up to Scott’s (Mount Street has decamped from Mayfair to Chelsea for the week). The conversation is fashion houses and fashionable houses. “I’m wearing my Ascot hat!” proclaims Lady Henrietta. “I tried on all the hats on King’s Road! Ossie Clarke was a good friend. I edited his diaries.” Annabel P recognises mention of Suzanne’s childhood home now lived in by her brother, Milton Manor House. “It’s perfect for weddings. At the last one Henrietta was still going strong on the dancefloor at 2am!” jokes Suzanne. “It was the vintage music!” blames Lady Henrietta.
“Tamarisks flying past the rainy windows were some dream,” imagined Elizabeth Bowen, “not your own, a dream you have heard described.” Carriages; horses for courses. All aboard golf buggies to vacate the Royal Hospital estate. Not so bound the Honourable Mrs Gerald Legge, Countess of Dartmouth, Comtesse de Chambrun Viscountess Lewisham, Viscountess Spencer. A Rolls Royce pulls up and Raine slides into the back seat. Blacked out windows slide up, no time for a Snapchat. And so, the chimerical layering vision that is Masterpiece London, so emblematic of a progressive spirit, is over for another year. Here’s to #MPL2016.