Apollo Magazine

BRAFA reclaims its rightful place in the calendar

Northern Renaissance paintings and art nouveau designs are among the highlights of the Brussels fair when it returns at the end of January

The Temptation of Saint Anthony by Pieter Huys

The Temptation of Saint Anthony (detail; n.d.), Pieter Huys. De Jonckheere at BRAFA

From the January 2023 issue of Apollo. Preview and subscribe here.

After a year that has seen art fairs rushing to catch up with themselves, the calendar for 2023 promises a regularity not seen since 2019. First up is BRAFA, Belgium’s premier art and antiques fair, which returns to Brussels six short months after a one-off summer edition that saw it vying for attention with TEFAF and Art Basel. As a result, says Beatrix Bourdon, the fair’s managing director, 16 ‘very good dealers’ who had a clash of obligations last June are returning to the fold.

‘We learned a lot about how we can improve the fair,’ Bourdon says of the summer experiment – not least by settling into a new home at the Brussels Expo. There are 130 exhibitors – many from Belgium, although 65 per cent are international. Among those returning from hiatus are the Galerie de la Présidence, Parisian specialists in modernist masters such as Giacometti, the experts in modern British art Osborne Samuel and Guy Pieters, the contemporary specialists who helped realise Christo’s posthumous L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped (2022).

There are also nine newcomers, including Franck Anelli Fine Art, which brings northern European Old Masters and Parisian furniture, the Milan-based antiquities dealer Ars Antiqua and Van der Meij Fine Arts, offering works by J.C. Dahl, Peder Balke and Vilhelm Hammershøi. This eclecticism is a hallmark of the fair, but there is also a strong core of dealers offering works of the Northern Renaissance. De Jonckheere brings a diabolical Temptation of Saint Anthony by Pieter Huys, the Antwerp-born follower of Hieronymus Bosch.

In place of its usual ‘Guest of Honour’, the fair has organised a wide-ranging collaboration with the King Baudouin Foundation, the Belgian Royal Chamber of Art Dealers (ROCAD) and the Brussels tourist board to kick off what has been dubbed ‘the Year of Art Nouveau’. Many of this year’s dealers are offering works of art nouveau design, ranging from Thomas Deprez’s patinated bronze clock by Pieter Braecke to Philippe Wolfers’ marble visage of Pan at Victor Werner. ROCAD is showing a selection of original designs by Victor Horta – one of which features on the fair’s carpeting. The King Baudouin Foundation is also exhibiting the remarkable 15th-century Hans Memling portrait it helped to secure in 2021 for Musea Brugge. ‘It’s important for the foundation to have this visibility – they do things for the protection of Belgian patrimony that nobody else can,’ Bourdon says.

There are many challenges that the art market continues to face – not least the prospect of recession. ‘I think galleries need to be more careful in their choice of fairs,’ says Bourdon. ‘I was very happy to see how exhibitors have been faithful in returning to BRAFA.’ Belgium may not be the largest market in the world, ‘but we do have very discreet, big-name collectors – and the exhibitors will come with high quality pieces.’ As such, Bourdon is hoping for ‘happy faces – and good business’.

BRAFA takes place from 29 January–5 February at the Brussels Expo.

From the January 2023 issue of Apollo. Preview and subscribe here.

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