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    The 1851 Great Exhibition carved bog yew armchair by Arthur Jones of Dublin at Butchoff Antiques.awarded a Vetting Committee Highlight for the stand out piece of furniture at the fair.

    Masterpiece, in full swing at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, London until July 6, is a place of discovery.  The UK’s premier antiques fair – making a welcome return after a three year gap – offers the finest works of art, design, furniture and jewellery from antiquity to the present day. The fair is remarkable for its depth, breadth and scholarship. Quality is a byword and everything on display has been rigorously vetted by a panel of 180 experts.

     This is an outing not just for the rich, who are catered for royally, but for the culturally curious. It offers much to discover in a non 21st century way.  “Search engines direct us to what we supposedly want or need.  I think Masterpiece does the exact opposite: it encourages people to discover things they weren’t expecting to find”,  Lucie Kitchener, the Masterpiece managing director said. You might not, for example, be expecting to find something by our remarkable Cork based sculptor Eilis O’Connell.  But you will, a carved Portuguese pink marble work entitled Thornmorph, at sculpture specialists Pangolin London  priced at £14,600.

    There was definitely something familiar about a heavily  carved Irish chair at Butchoff Antiques, also of London.  The 1851 Great Exhibition carved bog yew armchair, made by Arthur Jones of Dublin, had featured at a local auction in Ayr last December where it sold for a hammer price of £44,000 over a top estimate of £3,000. There is Irish furniture, as there is nearly always at the world’s leading fairs.  Among a number of Irish pieces displayed at Rory Rogers Ltd. is a wonderful c1780 glass oval mirror with original cobalt blue and opaque glass studs.  This one is enclosed in a carved giltwood frame.

     A pair of antique Irish  mirrors not too dissimilar in style turned up at Lynes and Lynes in Cork last Saturday where they made a hammer price of €4,600.A remarkable ceramic sculpture by Merete Rasmussen, another artist from the Pangolin stable, garnered much attention from the pre-fair publicity. The sinuous yellow sharp edged piece entitled Ouroboros dates to 2019 and is priced at £22,000.  The sculpture series curated by Melanie Vanderbrouck of the V and A considers innovative investigations of form and matter and how other disciplines may inform and enrich sculptural practice.

    The super rich on whom this fair relies are less affected by harsh financial reality than the rest of us. Challenges remain nevertheless.  It will be interesting to see whether Brexit will have an adverse impact on a selling event that is, in fact, global.  Russians are absent and Covid is present.  Possible good news is that Masterpiece is not immune to the pent up demand released everywhere by the ending of lockdown.In the face of all the adversities of 2022 Masterpiece – with 128 exhibitors including 27 from overseas – is a welcoming place that offers a visitor experience that is pretty much unrivalled.  From Roman statues to contemporary jewellery, Andy Warhol to a panelled Georgian Tavern settle, Tutankhamum (the centenary of the discovery of his tomb is being marked with a 21st century virtual display) to Rodin and Matisse, to jewellery, silver and furniture from across the ages this fabulous fair is a place for curators, collectors, the curious and those who want to learn.

     Irish oval mirror in a carved giltwood leaf frame at Rory Rogers Ltd.

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