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The best antiques and arts exhibitions coming soon to London

  • January 3, 2024
  • 8 min read
The best antiques and arts exhibitions coming soon to London

It’s tinsel time again, so how about a wee dram to get into the Christmas spirit? George Bernard Shaw described whisky as liquid sunshine, so I think he would have warmed to a bottle of Macallan 1926 single malt. Distilled in sherry casks for six decades, only 40 bottles were produced. Since it was bottled in 1986, this whisky has ben recognised as the most sought-after Scotch, as exemplified in 2019 when Sotheby’s sold a bottle for a record £1.5 mllion. Of the 40 bottles, at least one is believed to have been opened and consumed, while another is thought to have been destroyed during a Japanese earthquake in 2011. So, whisky aficionados were excited on 18th November when Sotheby’s offered a bottle of this rare malt – speculation was rife, “what would it sell for?” After keen bidding, the sum paid was a mind-blowing £2,187,500. Given that the novelist Raymond Chandler said, “There is no bad whisky. There are only some whiskeys that aren’t as good as others,” I will be calling into my local supermarket for my bottle. I wish you all a wonderful Christmas and all good arty things in 2024. Oh, now where is that whisky? Cheers!

In 1983, a young aspiring art dealer called Chris Beetles mounted an exhibition devoted to original illustrations at his home in Maida Vale. It proved so inspiring and popular that it became an annual happening. The 40th edition of The Illustrators: The British Art of Illustration 1831-2023 takes place until 30th December at the Chris Beetles Gallery, 8 & 10 Ryder Street, SW1Y 6QB, and is accompanied by an impressive, scholarly 240-page illustrated catalogue. With over 300 works, prices range from £300 each for amusing ink cartoons by Kathryn Lamb (b. 1959) to £17,500 for John Burningham’s (1936-2019) watercolor illustration for Bora: The Adventures of a Goose with No Feathers, published in 1963. Among compositions that grabbed my attention are Autumn Evening (£6,500), a watercolor by George Clausen, RA (1852-1944), and three of William Heath Robinson’s (1872-1944) brilliantly mad fantasy drawings, which were reproduced for Problems of a Structural Engineer. Running alongside The Illustrators is The Law Show, featuring over 180 works that celebrate, satirize, and caricature the British legal system. There is much to bring a smile to your face!

I am often asked if there are any art disciplines that are unjustifiably undervalued, and my reply is always pastel. From the general public, the medium has attracted myths such as “the colours fade” and “only amateurs use pastels.” Totally untrue! These are the facts – pastels have a long and distinguished record in art history. In the hands of a skilled exponent, pastel is the most poetic and responsive of mediums – for verification, just visit Impressionists on Paper – From Degas to Toulouse-Lautrec, the inspirational exhibition taking place until 10th March at the Royal Academy, Burlington House, Piccadilly, W1J 0BD.

Further evidence of pastel’s strengths can be found between 24th January and 10th February at the Mall Galleries, The Mall, SW1. Founded in 1899, The Pastel Society mounts its 125th Annual Exhibition at the gallery, and among the over 300 alluring works are examples by Liz Balkwill, Sarah Bee (b. 1951), Cheryl Culver (b. 1947), Roger Dellar (b. 1949), and the Society’s President Richard Rees. I have the task of selecting one artwork that I consider “best in show,” and this will receive The Anthony J. Lester Art Critic Award. Make a visit and see if you agree with my choice! And if you want to know more about the Society’s history, I suggest The Pastel Society: Pastel Painting and Drawing 1898-2000 (ISBN: 0 9537927 0 6).

I recall viewing Nick Archer’s (b. 1963) paintings in group shows, such as the ING Discerning Eye at the Mall Galleries, so I can recommend his solo show taking place until 12th January at Long & Ryle, 4 John Islip Street, SW1P 4PX. Situated just behind Tate Britain, this gallery has, over the last 35 years, built a reputation for introducing high-quality contemporary art from established British artists, of which Rye-based Archer’s creations are textbook examples. On view are thirty of his striking, richly coloured oil paintings of intriguing landscapes, figures, and flower subjects. He clearly enjoys a balance between painting in a realistic manner and the abstract qualities created when pouring the paint and allowing sympathetic accidents to occur. The results are most amenable.

The New Year brings the rollout of the art and antiques fairs, with the first being The Mayfair Antiques and Fine Art Fair, Marriott Hotel, Grosvenor Square, W1K 6JP, taking place between 11th-14th January. With around forty dealers, it is one of the smaller gatherings but is high on quality and style. Highlights will include a very rare set of four stunning silver fruit bowls and stands hallmarked for 1751/52 on offer at £69,500 by Mary Cooke Antiques Ltd, while Wimpole Antiques will be seeking around £20,000 for a spectacular 1960s gold and diamond bracelet by French luxury jewellers, Van Cleef & Arpels.

Over its 35 years, The Decorative Fair, Evolution, Battersea Park, SW11 4NJ, has built a powerful reputation amongst the decorating trade and private buyers, and I certainly hail it as one of my “must-see” events. The Fair is staged three times a year, with the next taking place between 23rd and 28th January 2024, bringing together around 130 specialist dealers. What makes this event special is the range of unusual and unique items dating from the 1700s to the 1970s and the inspirational room-sets that some dealers unveil. The fair is also the perfect place to discover the latest trends, among which are modernist studio ceramics and old-fashioned but very useful hall chairs. This winter’s outing also has the bonus of incorporating the London Antique Rug & Textile Art Fair (LARTA). Among the fourteen specialists are Villa Rosemaine from France with some awesome 18th-century costumes and Phil Bell Antique Oriental Rugs who will feature a rare 19th-century Melas rug (£3,750). As always, there is a free shuttle of small coaches from outside the Sloane Square Hotel, Sloane Square to the Fair.

Another event celebrating its longevity is the London Art Fair, Business Design Centre, Islington, N1 0QH, which is mounted between 17th-21st January. Established in 1989, it brings together over 120 UK galleries who showcase a diverse cross-section of art from emerging talent to established names such as Elisabeth Frink, Maggi Hambling, David Hockney, and Paula Rego. As well as London dealers such as Osborne Samuel, who will have bronzes by Henry Moore and Lynn Chadwick, and Browse and Darby, with works by Lucian Freud and Augustus John, there are several provincial galleries, including Norfolk-based Adrian Hill Fine Art, whose stand (G9A) will display work by Tracey Emin and L. S. Lowry. The event hosts a number of free panel discussions with leading experts – full details: www.londonartfair.co.uk

My feature on film posters in last month’s EyeOnLondon (Edition 18) generated much interest from readers. Several wanted to know how much the James Bond Dr. No quad film poster sold for at Ewbank’s. Estimated at up to £15,000, the buyer had to part with £24,700 to acquire it. I also mentioned the Pullman Gallery, 14 King Street, St. James’s whose stock includes rare vintage posters. This generated inquiries along the lines of “I love vintage posters, but they are so expensive” (some can cost £30,000!). Problem solved – visit the inspiring Pullman Editions, 94 Pimlico Road, SW1W 8PL. The sister company of the Pullman Gallery, Pullman Editions offers an impressive range of exclusive Art Deco-inspired posters. Printed on high-quality 100% cotton fine art paper, each poster is limited to an edition of just 280 and costs £420. My personal favourites include a striking Art Deco-flavoured image of Battersea Power Station and St. Moritz: Cresta Run, a bold depiction by artist Charles Avalon of this famous Toboggan run. The gallery has so many stunning posters; the problem is which to buy!

For art and antiques devotees, there is much to look forward to, so here are a few dates for the 2024 diary.

7th-23rd February: Annual Scottish Show, Panter and Hall, 11-12 Pall Mall, SW1Y 5LU.

29th February-9th March: Royal Society of British Artists, Mall Galleries, The Mall, SW1.

1st March-30th June: Angelica Kauffman, Royal Academy, Piccadilly, W1J 0BD.

6th-10th March: Affordable Art Fair, Evolution, Battersea Park, Queenstown Road, SW11 4NJ.

28th March-13th April: Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours 212th Exhibition, Mall Galleries, The Mall, SW1.

7th-12th May: The Spring Decorative Fair, Evolution London, Battersea Park, SW11 4NJ.

8th-12th May: Affordable Art Fair, Lower Fairground Site, Hampstead Heath, NW3 1TH.

9th-18th May: Royal Society of Portrait Painters Annual Exhibition, The Mall, SW1.

18th June-18th August: Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, Piccadilly, W1J 0BD.

27th June-1st September: Francis Alÿs Barbican Art Gallery, Silk Street, EC2Y 8DS.

29th June-13th October: In the Eye of the Storm: Modernism in Ukraine, 1900-1930s, Royal Academy, Piccadilly, W1J 0BD.

27th June-2nd July: Treasure House Fair, Royal Hospital Chelsea, South Grounds, SW3 4SR. 26th-29th September: British Art Fair, Saatchi Gallery, Duke of York Square, King’s Road, SW3 4RY.

1st-6th October: The Autumn Decorative Fair, Evolution London, Battersea Park, SW11 4NJ. The Tribal Art London Fair (TAL) will take place on the Mezzanine.

4th-10th November: Winter Art & Antiques Fair, Olympia, Hammersmith Road, W14 8UX. 9th November 2024-16th February 2025: Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael: Florence, c. 1504, Royal Academy, Piccadilly, W1J 0BD.

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Anthony Lester

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