At this year’s Masterpiece there are 127 stands in the vast marquee with its canvas printed in the style of the original 17th century Royal Hospital building. “Masterpiece is a world class fair bringing together exceptional works encompassing all periods and cultures,” summarises Clare Jameson, Director of Potterton Books, an exhibitor at the fair. Potterton Books are international specialists in books on art, culture, design and the decorative arts. She adds, “It is a convivial meeting place for collectors and connoisseurs. We have seen a growing interest in requests for assembling book collections and personal libraries.”
A standout among the standout paintings is a portrait by Nelson Shanks of Diana, Princess of Wales, for sale by Philip Mould. Artist and publisher Anne Davey Orr critiques the work, “Because the brushwork is not overworked and has a fleeting quality to it, I suspect that this may have originated as a sketch or study for a larger portrait. Shanks’ technique, unlike that of his more formal portraits, has an instancy about it that conveys Diana’s fleeting, somber mood and her innate shyness.”
Who better to share tips about photographs than Peter Fetterman of his eponymous gallery in Santa Monica? Prising ourselves away from Scott’s obligatory potted shrimps on Melba toast, we find Peter singing abridged Frank Sinatra into his mic, “And now… the time is come…” It’s the Saturday after the Private View and a sweltering 33 degrees in Chelsea. Speaking this time, revealing his English accent: “It’s a hot ticket! Thanks for braving the heat. This is my third year at Masterpiece. I come from a very humble background. I feel like the child who flew to the moon being at this very posh fair!”
He explains, “I was a filmmaker and moved by accident to California. I planned to stay there two weeks. I went along to a dinner party and the host was selling photographs – I was obsessed with them. I’d literally $2,000 to my name. I bought the lot for $400. I became a collector. You can reinvent yourself easier in America than Europe. I just love photographs! I started trading out of a rent control apartment. I bought more photographs and travelled round in a Honda selling them. Business escalated until now here I am!”
So what’s his take on collecting? “There are hundreds of years of painting. Photography is relatively new, only dating from 1839. I’ve seen its appreciation start from zero in the middle of the 1970s until now.” He points from the floor to the ceiling. “Collecting is all autobiographical. I grew up in an ugly gritty environment. But I knew there was another world, a beautiful one. Photographer and publisher Alfred Stieglitz was one of the first to promote photography as fine art. But it’s also a democratic medium, accessible to all. That’s what I love! There’s no one quite like Ansel Adams. His photography is in the Getty Museum but you can get a print for $1,200. Next door in Masterpiece you can only buy a Modigliani for £14 million.”
Peter notes great photographs are in demand so prices keep rising. Of course, there’s a price differential between a signed and an estate print. “There are two rules to collecting,” he argues. “Only buy what you love and from whom you trust. If you love it buy it.” Any regrets? “The only mistakes I’ve made is when I didn’t buy!”
“I love seeing other people’s houses,” she confided. On a visit to a particularly perfect country house in Sussex she chided “it desperately needs a faded throw over the back of a sofa”. She was impressed by The House of Lavender’s Blue. “It’s very World of Interiors. I love the T + G panelling in the bathroom!” Her own flat on the nursery floor of a Georgian townhouse was effortlessly stylish in a completely non designed way. She did, after all, coin the phrase “shabby chic”. When we interviewed Min about her wallpaper range she ordered, “Please don’t ask me what is my favourite house. That’s such a lame question!” We didn’t. Thankfully Min enjoyed the end result, the published feature: “I’m as happy as a clam!”
The tradition that began last year of unveiling a major new artwork continues with huge aplomb. “Performance is an immaterial form of art,” explains the Serbian painter turned performance artist Marina Abramović. She’s 72. “At this point of my life, facing mortality, I decided to capture my performance in a more permanent material than just film and photography. I chose alabaster based on its history and properties – luminosity, transparency… They have a hauntingly physical presence but, as you move around the pieces, they decompose into intricately carved ‘landscapes of alabaster’.” Presented by Factum Arte in collaboration with Lisson Gallery, Marina’s Five Stages of Maya Dance fuse performance, light and sculpture through a mist of condensation. The party continues into the night on Sloane Square. Such unleashed chutzpah!
Everyone is here, every age is represented, from now to antiquity. The Oxford Dictionary needs to update its current definition of masterpiece: “a work of outstanding artistry, skill or workmanship”. Add an upper case M and it becomes, “150 galleries exhibiting works of outstanding artistry, skill and workmanship”. Or more succinctly, “a microcosm of London, New York and Maastricht society”. Tonight the red carpet’s rolled out for an augmented vernissage.
Burberry is this year’s official preview partner with an exhibition The Cape Reimagined. Collector’s pieces on show are inspired by the work of Henry Moore. It’s a wrap. Cross category | low delineation | wearable sculptures | augmented visibility. Expect to see a feathery flurry of Chelsea ladies donning couture capes this autumn.
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.”
All that glitters is gold at Adrian Sassoon. “It’s all gold, even the lining is gold,” explains artist-goldsmith goldsmith-artist Giovanni Corvaja about his Golden Fleece. “Technology has allowed myth to become reality.” That plus 2,500 hours’ labour and oodles of talent. This hat is made from five million gold threads, each one a fifth the radius of a human hair. “The very ancient mythology of the Golden Fleece, the idea of making fabric from gold, fascinated me. It’s the stuff of kings. The gold looks like fur but touch it. It’s cold and quite heavy.” The Golden Fleece is priced £350,000. More golden ratio than gold is Palladio’s I Quattro Libri dell’Architettura for sale for £60,000 by Peter Harrington. As well as studies of Roman temples, it includes Palladio’s retrospective of his own designs. A one man Taschen show. “The four books date from 1570,” says Sammy Jay, “although their provenance is enigmatic. The binding is late 18th century.”
Luxed out, we leave for another year. We catch glimpses of primary colour and primal lack of colour in the verdant setting as our golf buggy (it’s the chauffeur’s day off) whizzes up the driveway. Ranelagh Gardens in the hospital grounds has been turned into a sculpture park to celebrate Philip King’s 80th. Here’s to #MPL2015.
A red carpet over green grass leads to a white pop up portico framing the entrance to a vast marquee, a primitive structure lifted to the sublime by a printed cloak resembling the hospital building: Henry James’ “principle of indefinite horizontal extensions” in canvas. Masterpiece attracts the famous and infamous. Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice walk on by. Anna Wintour’s sharp bob and Zandra Rhodes’ fuschia bob make them both recognisable from behind, surely the key definition of fame. We are joined by leading architect and avatar of heritage today John O’Connell, first director of the Irish Architectural Archive Nick Sheaff, and reductivist artist Suresh Dutt. What’s the collective noun for design luminaries? Coterie?
Now in its fourth year, Masterpiece is a variegated container of uses, architecture, history and technologies, challenging our thinking on design, strategies and the relevance of art – and on the urban importance of aesthetics. It questions artistic predilections and speculates on ideas of time and context. A temporary setting for the permanently magical. First – pit – stop the Ruinart stand, the oldest champagne house, purveyor to the likes of Browns Hotel. Next stop, The Mount Street Deli for beetroot and avocado salad.
The new Maserati Quattroporte on display provides a beautiful distraction. “The design of the Quattroporte is inspired by Maserati’s core stylistic principles: harmony of proportions, dynamic lines and Italian elegance,” explains Marco Tencone, head of the Maserati Design Centre. “It’s been kept simple and clear with a character line flowing alongthe side to define the strong volume of the rear wing, creating a very muscular look. The cabin is sleek with a three window treatment and frameless doors.” Even the engine is a work of art. Next, we call in on Philip Mould who has just sold The Cholmendeley Hilliard miniature, a rare portrait of an unknown lady of the Tudor court, for a not-so-miniature £200,000.
A pair of George III marquetry semi elliptical commodes with Irish provenance is the star attraction at Mallett, that stalwart of Dover Street antiques hub. “All this is very emphatic,” notes John, pointing to the lashings of evidently bespoke detail. Mallett attributes the commodes to the London cabinetmakers Ince & Mayhew. They were supplied to Robert and Catherine Birch in the 1770s for their home near Dublin, Turvey House. Duality resolved. John reminisces, “I picked up fragments of historic wallpaper from the derelict Turvey House, just before it was demolished in 1987.”
“The layered curtains filter the light through the open windows, imparting a soft indirect radiance to the room,” observes John. “The red banquette type seating, white chimney board and green painted frieze combine to form a most stylish Sicilian neoclassical interior. It forms the setting for a beautifully hung significant collection of paintings.” Guercino, Stomer, Titan: all the greats are represented. “My life is crowded with incident. I’m off to a bidet party in Dresden.” In between, he’s restoring Marino Casino, Ireland’s finest neoclassical building.