Stunning Portraits On Market For First Time At Europe’s Leading Art Fair

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Spanning centuries, genres, and continents, an array of portraits on the market for the first time captivated my gaze at the triumphant in-person return to TEFAF-Maastricht today.

A robust crowd of elite global art, antiques, and jewelry collectors filled in the sprawling MECC Maastricht on the first of two days of invitation-only VIP entry, underscoring a seismic shift from last year’s excruciating decision to cancel the live experience. Traditionally held in March, TEFAF opened in June for the first time in 35 years. Next year’s fair will be held in March. Opening to the public on Sunday, this year’s fair runs through June 30, featuring 242 dealers in total from 20 countries, with 217 returning dealers, and 19 dealers exhibiting for the first time.

A doe-eyed, lithe, statuesque woman in an elegant high-waisted, long skirt and elongated jacket cinched with a belt and accented by a white pocket kerchief, rests against a cane. Her lissom figure is emphasized by narrow tree trunks and the slender legs of horse ridden through the forest.

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We’re drawn into her narrative by the cinematic feel of Kees van Dongen’s Portrait of Madame X or L’Amazone (circa 1920-1925), from a private collector in London who inherited the work from family memberBaron Élie de Rothschild, guardian of the French branch of the Rothschild family banking dynasty. It has been on public view only twice and unseen for six decades, at Musée des arts Décoratifs in Paris in 1962 (as the Portrait de Madame X and dated 1925-1930) and at Château des Rohan in Strasbourg in 1962. A highlight of the Wildenstein & Co. Inc. of New York booth, the painting encourages us to pause and examine each meticulous detail.

It’s a symbolic homecoming for the naturalized French Post-Impressionist painter, draftsman, and printmaker,who was born Cornelis Theodorus Maria van Dongen into a middle-class family of brewers in the borough of Delftshaven on the outskirts of Rotterdam in the southern Netherlands.

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We engage with a young girl, her gaze greeting ours as she turns her head to the viewer’s left, while a glimpse of yellow and blue patterned fabric hints at her Nigerian heritage. Babajide Olatunji’s Tribal Marks Series III #64 is hung alongside his Ibeji #9 (2021), a must-see at the booth of TAFETA, a London-based gallery specializing in 20th century and Contemporary African Art. Ibeji #9 depicts twin (ibeji) boys who also stare directly at the viewer, their shoulders overlapping and their heads tilted toward each other.

Eschewing sitters, Olatunji creates large-scale portraits from memory and imagination that appear hyper-realistic. The dewey complexions and bright eyes of his subjects exude youth and energy, the masterful use of charcoal, pastel, and acrylic on paper could be mistaken for close-up photography. These two works are on view for the first time.

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Born 1989 in Nigeria, Olatunji lives and works in London,where he began his full-time self-taught studio practice seven years ago after earning a bachelor’s degree in botany from the Obafemi Awolowo University. His Tribal Marks Series is informed by his extensive research into the centuries-old practice of facial scarification, and discussions with carriers of these marks.

Her eyes darkened, a woman in a head scarf looks to the viewer’s right, her chin kissing her shoulder. Her supple, plump lips juxtapose with her triangular, pointed, upturned nose and jutting eyebrow. A single round breast erupts higher than expected, seemingly elevated by her exaggerated pose.

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Olga Sacharoff’s Female bust (1913-1915) is a rare early work, possibly a self-portrait, showcasing her cubist experimentation during her Parisian stage.Born in Georgia into an aristocratic family, discovered German expressionism in Munich while studying fine art before settling in pre-war Paris, where she encountered cubism. Among fewer than ten known works from this period, the portrait has been in a private collection in Barcelona, where Sacharoff lived and died. The work is displayed for the first time by Arthur Roman Art of Barcelona.

Journeying back to the late seventeenth century, we can’t look away from Antonio Rasio’s outlandish Anthropomorphic Figure with Game, Charcuterie and Poultry. This bizarre example of Italian Baroque still-life painting, which can be interpreted as a portrait, is also shown for the first time by Trinity Fine Art of London.

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There are various works in the style of Arcimboldo adorned with fruit, vegetables, and flowers made by painters in Rome during the second half of the seventeenth century by artists such as Giovanni Stanchi, and Giovanni Paolo Castelli, but none other that depict an anthropomorphic figure composed of cuts of meat, charcuterie, game, and poultry.

The subject’s face is an assemblage of offal, some rolled up to form eyes and cheeks, while a small chicken forms his nose and eyebrows. Weirdness abounds as two thrushes with plucked stomachs hint at a chin above a mouth made up of two pieces of dark red meat that looks like liver. Two slices of ham form a neck, while a pheasant and a mallard stand in for a shoulder that leads us to sausage fingers. He wears a necklace of charcuterie and a long string of chipolatas, as well as a belt of skinny sausage held clasped with a rock partridge and a woodcock, while clutching a skewered chicken.

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