Author: Andrews, Isabel
Date published: March 1, 2010
Some events in the art calendar achieve such success that it's hard to overstate their importance. Paris's annual Salon du Dessin (24-29 March) is widely regarded as the major fixture for the drawings world. It boasts a unique blend of international dealers, collectors, museums and curators, yet retains an intimate and friendly tone. Add to this the allure of the French capital in spring, and you have the ingrethents that attracted nearly 12,000 visitors to last year's fair.
Begun in 1991 by nine French dealers, the fair has slowly evolved to include 39 leading galleries (19 French and 20 foreign), each invited by the fair's committee, made up of the nine founding members. The specialised nature of the fair attracts the best collectors. In recent years its remit has broadened from 17th-19thcentury Old Masters to include modern and contemporary works among roughly 1,000 drawings on offer. Hervé Aaron, Chairman of Salon du Dessin, explains, 'Salon is no longer ancienne, it is global.'
Since 2004 the fair has been housed in the handsome, neoclassical Palais de la Bourse, previously the home of the Paris Stock Exchange, ideally situated near the Louvre and the Bibliothèque Nationale. Mark Brady of WM. Brady & Co. explains, 'The stands are quite small by international standards so that forces you to select what you are taking very closely. It naturally means that the works on show are of the highest quality. I think that's an underlying reason for its success.'
Just as importantly, the organisers have achieved an admirable alliance with French museums, around 20 of which stage special exhibitions during Semaine du Dessin (drawings week; 22-29 March). This year, highlights include a show of Flemish baroque works from the collection of Jean Bonna (see apollo, June 2009) at L'Ecole National des Beaux-Arts. In 'Small Marks, Great Collectors', Le Musée Condé, Chantilly, will exhibit 50 sheets from the renaissance to contemporary that carry the marks of famous collectors. The latter show ties neady to this year's international symposium (24-25 March), organised by the Salon since 2006, for which the theme is collectors' marks. Included are talks on the marks of the collector Frits Lugt, and collectors' marks in the British Museum holdings. This academic programme further entices collectors and curators to the fair (which can be visited easily in an afternoon), creating a dialogue between all sections of the drawings world. Bertrand Talabardon, one of Salon's founders, says, Tor the dealers it's not just about making money. It's like a successful dinner party, it's not just about good food but good conversation and good company too.'
Salon is increasingly essential for collectors, as supply of the best works has diminished, particularly at auction, over the past two years. Mark Brady explains, 'The perception is that the sales rooms are less robust and a lot more is coming to dealers privately.' One of three American galleries exhibiting this year, Mr Brady says, 'Last year was the most difficult in 20 years for dealers, especially in the us. We sold more in Europe.' The gallery's star turn is a red chalk Study of a Child by Jean-Baptiste Greuze, dated to the mid-1760s. It was given by Greuze's daughter to a friend, in whose family it has remained (Fig. 2).
The introduction of modern works not only increases the supply of top works at the fair, but also the range of collectors. This year's fair is particularly strong in 20th-century British works. Brame & Lorenceau, for example, offer Eight Ideas for Sculpture by Henry Moore (Fig. 3) and Agnew's show a group of 20th-drawings that includes Elisabeth Frink's Horse Study, appealing for its rhythmic hatchings and loose sculptural style (Fig. 1). Julian Agnew says, 'There's a robust overlap from collectors interested in old works. They also go for quality 20th century when they see it.'
Katrin Bellinger of Colnaghi (the gallery celebrates its 250th anniversary this year) brings 30 French or Italian drawings, mosdy from private collections. Among them is St Anthony Holding the Christ Child by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, dated 1730-35, one of the artist's most moving renderings of the subject. No painting of the composition is known. Commenting on the excitement generated by the fair, Ms Bellinger says, There are people queuing around the block to get in beforehand, people sense they'll make discoveries.'
Not to be missed on Agnew's stand is St Ildefonso receimng the Chasuble from the Virgin, a preparatory drawing by Rubens for his Triptych of St Ildefonso (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna). Dr Moeller & Cie have a fine 1883 interior view of the Great Mosque at Córdoba by the German architectural painter Wilhelm Gail (Fig. 4), and Didier Aaron gallery show a previously unpublished drawing by the 18th-century French sculptor Edmé Bouchardon, Femme vêtue à l'antique avec un infant. Summing up, Bertrand Talabardon says, 'The drawings field is more confidential and discreet than other fields of the art market. You can still collect drawings more easily than other areas, and you'll find more of an atmosphere of compicité at Salon than at any other fair.