Fewer Offerings but More Variety as London’s Summer Fairs Scene Evolves

London's Summer Fairs - PhillipsRonald
Source: Masterpiece London. A pair of Chinese Export Qianlong period Cantonese enamel wall sconces c.1750 from London dealer Ronald Phillips at Masterpiece London.

The Shrinking of London’s Summer Fair Season

London's Summer Fairs - Peploe
Source:The Art & Antiques Fair, Olympia. Tulips by Samuel John Peploe (1871-1935) is priced at £250,000 from Simon Shore at The Art & Antiques Fair, Olympia.

And then there were two. London’s summer fairs scene, that once stretched to half a dozen events beginning at the very start of June, is this year somewhat pared back. After five years, Art Antiques London has folded and instead the seven-day The Art & Antiques Fair, Olympia kicks off the season from June 26-July 2 (preview June 26), running almost concurrently with Masterpiece London in the south grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea (June 29-July 5 (preview June 28).

London's Summer Fairs - SKULL POMANDER
Source:Oliver Hoare. The Oliver Hoare exhibition, Every Object Tells a Story, held until July 5 in the former South Kensington studio of painter Sir John Lavery, includes this English silver skull pomander with the initials JR and dated 1628. Believed to have once been owned by James II, it is priced in the region of £175,000.

There’s no doubt the limited numbers reflect a traditional antiques trade under pressure. However, there are no shortage of events to sate the appetites of the dealers, collectors, curators and furnishers who have made London’s summer fairs their antiques-buying destination of choice for over half a century. This year, to paraphrase the song, the dealers are doing it for themselves.

London's Summer Fairs - Utere Felix
Source: Masterpiece.
This 3rd century Roman ring bearing the inscription Utere Felix priced in the region of $95,000 by Chicago and New York dealers Les Enluminures at Masterpiece London. The inscription means ‘use it with luck’.

While around 160 dealers exhibit in the National Hall at Olympia in its 45th year and 149 international galleries at the eighth Masterpiece fair, others will be hoping to draw London’s summer fairs crowd without the eye-watering expenses and the obvious restraints of a 10 by 10ft trade stand.

Ceramics enthusiasts, who for 30 years flocked to the International Ceramics Fair and later to Art Antiques London, will now find their quarry at a series of independent events. Rebranded and moved to a later date in the calendar, the collegiate selling exhibitions put on by Kensington-based ceramics dealers this year takes place from June 27-July 1. Formerly known as Eight Days in June, it is henceforth to be known as Kensington – The Heart of Ceramics.

London's Summer Fairs - Tomasso
Source: Tomasso Brothers.
This marble of Cupid with his Bow by Bertel Thorvaldsen c.1826-28 is priced in the region of £750,000 by Tomasso Brothers as part of the Canova and His Legacy exhibition during London Art Week. The 1.02m statute is accompanied by an original purchase receipt for 100 luigi d’oro dated 17 April 1828 from Thorvaldsen to Sir Michael Shaw Stewart, 6th Baronet Lord Lieutenant of Renfrewshire.

Three other dealers that would previously have been found at Art Antiques London – Brian Haughton, Christophe Perlés and Robyn Robb – will now join forces for a group exhibition titled A Collectors’ Paradise which runs from June 30-July 7 at Brian Haughton’s gallery. It follows the dates of the London Art Week initiative, the eight-day celebration of largely traditional or ‘pre-contemporary’ art in and around Mayfair and St James’s, which has put down substantial roots across its five years.

The organisation, which became a limited company late last year, is now planning a second event for the winter and pitching to a wider audience. Several shops and galleries, that might typically have patronised one of the top fairs are this year, prepared to fully commit. Around 50 will participate – some with bespoke exhibitions, all preaching the merits of buying or just window shopping in the gallery setting.

The Mayfair Art Weekend (the rebranded Brown’s Art Weekend of past years) operates with a similar raison d’être. In addition to its new name, this year’s event (June 30-July 2) sees a partnership with the Royal Academy of Arts, marking its 250th anniversary in 2018. It’s a coup to have an academic institution and 60 or more commercial shops and auction houses singing from the same hymn sheet; together they will ensure the art market’s focus remains firmly on London in the summer months.

Related Blogs:
London’s Summer Auctions and a Farewell to Christie’s South Kensington
Flagship London Art Sales Move with the Times
London Summer Capital of Art Preview – Fairs

About the Author:

Roland Arkell is the Contributing Editor at ATG Media. For almost two decades, Roland has been writing about the British and international art and antiques market for Antiques Trade Gazette, the leading publication for serious buyers and sellers of art and antiques.