The 19th Paris Antique Dealers Biennial Fair, dubbed as the most beautiful gathering of works of art, opened on September 18th 1998 with over an air of déjà vu.
There were indeed some marvellous pieces presented by a few dealers, notably 18th Century works of art and furniture, some old masters and modern paintings, a few stunning medieval pieces and a nice choice of 15th Century Book of Hours as well as a dozen of Roman and Greek objects to wet the appetite of amateurs but overall the "Biennale" this year was not of the best vintage.
Some professionals like Bernard Steinitz, once called the Prince of Antique dealers, made just a formal appearance just to prove they were still in activity, Steinitz being in one of the smallest exhibition rooms though decorated in the style of an exquisite 17th Century cabinet-room with marbled and wood lacquered walls.
The Biennial, once rich with Medieval and Renaissance pieces, has seemed to be on diet with this category except for some
gorgeous Books of Hours exhibited by Les Enluminures from the Louvre des Antiquaires and Chicago and a set of 13th Century bronze aquamaniles with Guy Ladriere. Confined in the narrow compound of the Carrousel du Louvre, the Biennial
seems overloaded with works of art which in the end appear to lose their aura.
As a result, visitors have to turn round and round to train their eyes in order to spot treasures such as a Virgin and Child by Siennese painter Sano di Pietro (Giovanni Sarti), a 2nd Century rare cameo from the Royal Saint-Denis Abbey (Guy Ladriere), a marvellous Louis XV table (Maurice Segoura), a stunning painting by Balthus showing a young naked girl sleeping by a guitar (Hopkins-Thomas Gallery), a rare Nabi work by Pierre Bonnard, a portrait of his sister (Cazeau-La Béraudière Gallery), Four 18th Century gilt-wood armchairs which belonged to Prince Marcantonio Borghese (Ariane Dandois Gallery) and a score of good but not exceptional old master works apart from a so far unknown Canaletto (Colnaghi) Visitors might have felt somewhat
uneased seeing modern and avant-garde works of art being exhibited in the favourite haunt of Antique dealers.
This is probably the most disputable issue regarding the Biennial since some of the modern and contemporary pieces shown here had nothing to do with antiques. Still, the contrast is not so bad after all once visitors decide to stick to the word "Biennale" and forget the rest ("des Antiquaires").
Finally, the Biennial, with its 120 exhibitors, might seem
disappointing for those who visited the Maastricht Fair last spring.
The Dutch had more to offer in terms of quality and rarity perhaps because business appears to be their speciality while the French always tend to show off and to lament too much once they have sold great pieces as if they had lost something irreplaceable... Adrian Darmon