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Netherlands art fair showcases the best in 7,000 years of art

By Laura Allsop, CNN
updated 7:14 AM EDT, Fri March 16, 2012
The European Fine Art Fair in Mastricht is one of the highlights of the art world calendar, where collectors can browse an array of fine art objects spanning 7,000 years. This terraccotta lion by Florentine artist Giovan Battista Foggini dates from 1715 and is thought to have been the model for a commemorative monument to Queen Anne of England. The European Fine Art Fair in Mastricht is one of the highlights of the art world calendar, where collectors can browse an array of fine art objects spanning 7,000 years. This terraccotta lion by Florentine artist Giovan Battista Foggini dates from 1715 and is thought to have been the model for a commemorative monument to Queen Anne of England.
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Masterpieces in Maastricht
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • TEFAF celebrates 25 years showcasing the best in fine art and antiquities
  • Classical sculpture, jewelry, Old Master paintings, antique furniture on display
  • Highlights include necklace owned by Viennese Empress, works by Bruegel and Picasso
  • Fair's organizers are confident, despite gloomy financial outlook

London (CNN) -- There are few places in the world where you can see ancient statues, imperial European jewellery, masterpieces by Pieter Bruegel, paintings by Picasso and sculpture by Henry Moore all under one roof.

But for a week starting Friday, you can see the finest examples of art from antiquity to the present day displayed at TEFAF, The European Fine Art Fair, in Maastricht, the Netherlands.

The highlights of this year's fair include a necklace once owned by Emperor Maximilian II's wife, an antique cabinet and mechanical organ playing Beethoven's "Battle Symphony," a painting of the Madonna and Child once owned by Napoleon III and a representation of Marilyn Monroe's mouth in rubies and pearls by Salvador Dali.

Now celebrating its 25th year, the fair remains one of the most important events on the annual art calendar.

"It doesn't compare to any of the other fairs" said dealer Dino Tomasso, who is exhibiting at the fair for the first time this year with a showcase of Renaissance and Neo-Classical sculpture.

"It's talked about all year long, the quality is exceptional [and though] it's not the easiest place to have a fair, people travel from all over the world to come to it," he continued.

Fabrizio Moretti, a dealer and expert in Italian Old Master paintings who is also on the board of trustees for the fair, said: "The thing that [the fair organizers] really strive for is the quality, and a new buyer can buy with confidence."

His gallery, Moretti Fine Art, is exhibiting a 1715 terracotta figure of a lion, thought to be the model for a commemorative monument to Queen Anne of England, and a painting by Pascualino Veneto of the Madonna and Child that was once owned by France's Napoleon III.

People are still buying art and they see it as an alternative asset but they really want high quality and that's what they can find at TEFAF
Titia Vellenga, spokesperson for TEFAF Maastricht

It is this high quality of objects that makes TEFAF such an important event for art lovers, said Titia Vellenga, a spokesperson for the fair.

"What has created the fair's reputation is primarily that from the beginning we had a very strict vetting procedure, which leads to dealers bringing pieces that are really exceptional and this in turn attracts the really serious collectors," she said.

"So when you have a spiral like this, it continues to attract really exceptional works of art," said Vellenga.

Richard Knight, Christie's International Co-Chairman of Old Masters and 19th Century Art, was joint chairman of the fair for two years before moving on to Christie's and was responsible for helping to set up the vetting system.

"One of the things I was responsible for was deciding that we would have no exhibiting dealers on the vetting committee, which now comprises all museum professionals," he said.

"This is all designed to give confidence to the clients, who know that what they're going to buy will have been vetted by the most professional people in the market today," he continued.

This comprehensive vetting system also helps insulate the fair from rumblings in the financial markets.

"One of the lovely things about the standard of the fair is that dealers vet themselves before they even go because they know that a fair that isn't of the highest standard is not frankly in this present market going to suit their best interests," said Knight.

And exhibiting a broad range of fine arts and antiquities from across the world guarantees an international roster of clients.

In 2011 alone, TEFAF drew over 70,000 visitors from 55 countries and the fair organizers are expecting to see more and more Chinese and Brazilian visitors to the fair in future.

"There is quite a positive mood in the art market," said Vellenga.

"People are still buying art and they see it as an alternative asset but they really want high quality and that's what they can find at TEFAF," she said.

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