The Brafa 2013

The Brussels Antiques Fair, known as BRAFA [1], celebrated its tenth anniversary this year in the 14,000 m2 of the former industrial site at Tour et Taxis and is presided by Harold t’Kint de Roodenbeke, succeeding the dynamic Bernard de Leye. 128 dealers are participating in 2013, a number which remains rather constant over the years as the organizers do not want to expand so that each gallery has enough space to present its works and for the show to maintain its human dimension as well as its convivial atmosphere. Fifty-three of the galleries are Belgian, the other seventy-five come from all over but particularly Paris. Certain specializations have imposed themselves with time, and BRAFA thus appears to be adapting to the demands of a new generation of buyers devoting more and more space to Primitive, Pre-Colombian and Asian art. Archeology is also highlighted by a few well-known names such as Phoenix. As for Western art, selections go almost directly from the Middle Ages to the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries ; the periods in between being much less well represented.

1. Henri-Paul Motte (1846-1922)
Belus’ Fiancée, 1885
Oil on Canvas - 178 x 122 cm
Galerie Lécuyer
Photo : Galerie Lécuyer

2. Carlo Dolci (1606-1686)
Mary Magdalene in Penitence
Oil on Copper - 20.3 x 26 cm
Klaas Muller Antiques
Photo : Klaas Muller Antiques

There are fewer and fewer old master paintings, in particular, every year. However, visitors will be pleaser to discover Scourge ! at Vincent Lécuyer’s, a work by Henri Camille Danger (1901) which appears alongside another equally disturbing canvas, Belus’ Fiancée by Henri Paul Motte (ill. 1). What French school child has not contemplated Motte’s paintings in his history books illustrating the feats of Vercingetorix, Caesar or Richelieu, not to mention the Trojan Horse, recently acquired by the Wadsworth Atheneum, also from the Lécuyer gallery. This student of Gérôme, fond of anecdotes, often bypassed history in order to treat more esoteric subjects. In this painting, exhibited at the Salon of 1885, he represents Bélus, a Babylonian god, who received a virgin as an offering which he kept on his lap for twenty-four hours before receiving another the following day.
Klaas Muller offers us a less innocent woman in the form of Mary Magdalene in Penitence on copper by Carlo Dolci (ill. 2). This Florentine artist treats the subject differently in the painting at the Palazzo Pitti.

3. François-Rupert Carabin (1862-1932)
Siren and Octopus
Tinted Plaster on a Wood Piedestal -
28 x 13 x 24 cm
Galerie Philippe Heim
Photo : Didier Rykner

4. Clock after Night Time
by Joseph Michel-Ange Pollet (1814-1870)
Paris, c.1850
Gilt and Carved Bronze, Blue Lacquered Dial
82 x 53 x 30 cm
Galerie Jacques Nève
Photo : Jacques Nève

Among the sculptures and art objects, some discoveries stand out, notably a Siren and Octopus by François Rupert Carabin on view at Philippe Heim’s (ill. 3). This is the plaster cast for a bronze inkwell, two works presented at the Carabin exhibition in Strasbourg and Orsay [2]. The aquatic references, nature and its close associations to the female, the erotic and dream-like qualities, the contrasting textures of the surfaces are all found in many of the artist’s works such as the fountain-basin at the Musée d’Orsay as well as small objects like Woman with Colocynth and Siren with Shell. An inkwell, Woman Octopus, came up for auction at Christie’s, but less sensual than Philippe Heim’s Siren.

Another surprising object, presented by Jacques Nève, is the monumental gilt and carved bronze clock, founded by E. de Labrouë, about 1850 (ill. 4). The female figure embodies dawn, after a very famous sculpture by Joseph Michel Ange Pollet, Night Time. A student of Thorvaldsen, Pollet here seems to find his inspiration rather in Canova’s Hebe. The young woman reaches up gracefully, supported by two cherubs, over a dark blue lacquered globe, soaring above the darkness represented by small monsters with webbed feet, battling winged serpents which recall the work of Jean-Jacques Feuchère. He in fact, worked with Labrouë.

5. Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844)
Count Nicolas Demidoff, before 1819
Marble - 59 cm
Galerie Caiati & Gallo
Photo : Caiati & Gallo

6. Jan van Delen (c. 1640-1703)
Charity, 1675/1680
Marble - 106.7 x 78.5 x 47 cm
Bruxelles, Fondation Roi Baudouin
Photo : Didier Rykner

A bust of Count Nicolas Demidoff by Thorvaldsen is on view at the Calati and Gallo Gallery (ill. 5) There are several known versions of this portrait, one of which resides at the Hermitage. It was probably a companion piece to a portrait of his wife, Countess Stroganoff. Stendhal described this art patron and diplomat as a "singular man, so rich, so benevolent, who collected heads by Greuze and relics of Saint Nicholas, and had a troop of French actors in Rome...". Born in Saint Petersburg, Count Nicolas Demidoff did indeed stay in Rome before settling down in Florence.
The show in Brussels also pays tribute to native artists such as Walter Pompe, an 18th century sculptor from Antwerp featured at Bernard de Leye’s with a maple Christ from 1735 which recalls the more monumental one in oak produced in 1752 for the Béguinage in Turnhout, today held at the Begijnhofmuseum in that city. Walter Pompe’s studio was well known for its renditions of Christ, sometimes in ivory, often intended as devotional works for private individuals.
The BRAFA is also a chance for visitors to see the marble Charity, a masterpiece by Jan Van Delen (ill. 6) which had disappeared in 1794 and resurfaced recently, acquired by the Fondation Roi Baudouin (see the news item of 6/7/12) and will soon return to the chapel in the church at Sablon for which it was originally produced.

7. Large Pedestal Table from the Restauration Period
Rosewood veneer on a backing of satinwood,
maple and thuja veneer - H. 72.5, D.142 cm
Galerie Le Couvent des Ursulines
Photo : Le Couvent des Ursulines

8. Attributed to Nicolas Sageot (1666-1731)
Commode, Louis XIV Period
Marquetry of Engraved Brass on Tortoiseshell Veneer
79 x 119 x 67 cm
Galerie César Hermanovits
Photo : César Hermanovits

Art Nouveau and Art Déco are well represented, notably at the Cento Anni and Mathivet galleries. In furniture notably, there are also a few older works such as the Charles X pedestal table at the Convent des Ursulines stand, a remarkable piece for its rose marquetry, with ornamental foliage, and flower baskets (ill. 7). A commode with Boulle marquetry, attributed to Nicolas Sageot is on view at the Cesar Hermanovits Gallery, a newcomer to the fair this year (ill. 8). A master cabinetmaker in Paris in 1706, Sargeot produced notably the piece known as the "Mazarin desk" at the Petit Palais.

Finally, the Steinitz Gallery is offering a Louis XV commode by Jacques Dubois, master in 1742 (ill. 9). There are very few known furniture pieces in "vernis Martin", in the Japanese style, on a blue background. The scene in gold outline is of course an imitation of Oriental screens ; it shows a figure in a kind of carriage inside a polylobed cartridge ; he is surrounded by three figures walking alongside in a Japanese-like landscape. The rocaille bronzes are characteristic of Dubois’ work. Among the rare pieces of furniture in vernis Martin of Japanese style with blue background, there is the inclined desk from the Musée des Arts décoratifs attributed to Adrien Delorme as well as the commode at the Musée du Louvre by Matthieu Criaerd intended for Madame Mailly’s Blue Room at the château de Choisy.

9. Jacques Dubois (1694 – 1763)
Commode, Louis XV Period, c.1745-1749.
Oak frame, "vernis Martin" in Japanese style on blue background,
gilt bronze, Alep breccia marble - 83 x 113.5 x 62 cm
Galerie Steinitz
Photo : Galerie Steinitz

10. Angleterre (?), c. 1790
Brutus Surprised by Caesar’s Ghost
Oil on Canvas - 176 x 133.5 cm
Galerie Mendes
Photo : Galerie Mendes

As we mentioned earlier, old master paintings are becoming rare at BRAFA (we should also like to point out here the Alexis Bordes stand with many Symbolist works). The Parisian, Philippe Mendes, thus accepted the invitation extended by the Christian de Meeüs Gallery near the Sablons and is exhibiting several interesting works, of which we would note this work (ill. 10) which we already pointed out when it came up for auction in London in July 2011 (see article in French), then attributed to a little known Irish painter but which we had found was of true museum quality.
In fact, it no longer carries an attribution but is even more beautiful than before, after undergoing restoration. The lamp seen on the upper right hand was a repainted portion (in fact executed on an enlargement) and the subtle colors have reappeared. This is no doubt a canvas from the English school, though we have still not come up with the name of the artist (James Barry ?).

Visitor information : BRAFA, from 19 to 27 January 2013, Tour et Taxi, Avenue du Port 86C, 1000 Brussels. Open every day from 11 am to 7 pm, evening hours Tuesday the 22nd and Thursday the 24th until 10 pm. Admission : 20€.

Version française

Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges and Didier Rykner, mardi 22 janvier 2013


[1] Brussels Antique and Fine Arts Fair. It first opened in 1955 at the Salle Arlequin of the Galerie Louise, then between 1967 and 2003 was held at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels

[2] François Rupert Carabin (1862-1932) ou l’unité de l’art from 19 April to 11 July 1993, Musée d’Orsay and F. R. Carabin (1862-1932) at the Musée d’Art Moderne in Strasbourg from 29 January to 28 March 1993.

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