The start of the 2016 European art season took place on Friday evening (9th September) at the vernissage of the Biennale des Antiquaires in the Grand Palais, Paris.  This is the last year of the Biennale taking place every two years and as such 2017 will see the same gamut of galleries, dealers and jewellers take their stands on a yearly basis. The fair takes place in the sweltering glasshouse of the Grand Palais and houses 124 stands of dealers in Art, Antiques and Jewelry. The target market is similar to TEFAF, albeit without quite such a smattering of US-based galleries. There is also a noticeable absence of contemporary galleries with the exception of Daniel Templon, Frank Prazan and one or two others.


The opening was very well attended, very hot (temperature-wise) and with very little sold by all accounts. It is hard to judge a fair’s success from the opening night but I do fear that prices were too high, quality was too thin and there were too few visitors from the USA and Asia to instigate any top end sales. Although the level of the works being offered is not in the same league as an Art-Basel or a TEFAF it is still a magnificent event. I was astonished at some of the asking prices but dealers will have had to cover staggering fair costs and their margins needed to be thick enough to break even. I was baulking at the asking price of an Emile Claus: being offered at 280,000 Euros which could have been bought at auction for no more that 50,000 Euros.


However, I did see a few really good stands with consistent quality:


Jacque de la Beraudiere’s stand showed a stunning Masson from 1939 at 3.5m USD as well as a 1929/30 Max Ernst collage/mixed media masterpiece. Ernst commands prices of 15m USD but still has far to go in my view – one day he will be in the same price league as Joan Miro.


Jordi Mayoral and family had a well curated booth showing Miro, Picasso and Calder to reflect upon the 1937 Spanish Pavilion in Paris that was to be such a seminal moment in Art History. Two fantastic but expensive Miro paintings were their stars.


Robert Stoppenbach was offering the most stunning 1905 Derain. An absolute jewel depicting the bay of Collioure. There could not be a painting of a better subject, by a better painter, from a better moment in time.


Robert Landau’s stand exhibited the usual high end superstars: a Modigliani oil, a vast Marble reclining figure from 1977 by Henry Moore, a stunning pastel of a Scottish girl by Louis Anquetin (that we sold at Sotheby’s a few years ago) and several early, wonderful, Joan Miros.


Daniel Templon has been in Art business for 50 years and his stand was fascinating – the best works available by the second tier of post-war contemporary artists such as Adami, Hantai and Riopelle. It is a mightily impressive stand showing the dealer’s excellent eye as much as his purchasing clout.


One old master dealer that had some superb paintings was the French gallery, also seen at TEFAF, called Galerie de Voldere. Their Brueghel the Younger (at under 3m Euros) was amongst the best I have seen. A classic example of a ‘gem’: small but perfectly formed.


There were countless other stands with the odd good piece but prices were understandably high. The time to buy at fairs is at the end, when hearts are wilting and the dealers want to shift stock as best they can to avoid expensive shipping fees and to ensure that their books add up for the whole tortuous fair process.


The Biennale is worth a visit, without question, and I would not hesitate to buy if the quality is good enough. Just remember to negotiate hard and use an advisor – the fees will be worth it when it comes to both the purchase and the resale.