Making their way past I.M. Pei’s Inverted Pyramid in the Carrousel du Louvre, visitors to Fine Arts Paris this year will find themselves confronted with something altogether different to that structure’s usual cool modernism. Taking his cues from the city walls built in the reign of Charles V in the 14th century – a section of which was uncovered while the Carrousel was being built – the interior designer Jacques Garcia has produced an elegant series of mises en scène, billed as gateways to a ‘strangely oneiric world’. ‘We wanted something more… intimate,’ says Louis de Bayser, the fair’s director. ‘Less like an airport.’
Intimacy has always been an important word for this young fair, which began life as a boutique offering of 34 exhibitors at the Palais Brongniart in 2017. It has since grown; after the magazine Connaissance des Arts acquired a 48-per-cent stake in 2019, plans to scale up last year were shelved as the fair was forced to move online only at the eleventh hour, but this year the fifth edition sees some 55 dealers packing into the Carrousel – including, for the first time, specialists in jewellery, Asian art, ethnographical material and rare books. ‘The aim is to continue to grow,’ De Bayser says. ‘We want to build an international fair here.’ All the same, he doesn’t want it to become ‘too big’. The main virtue of the fair has always been its selective nature, with the focus still squarely on museum-quality works of painting, drawing and sculpture.
Among a strong group of Old Master paintings on show is Frans Francken the Younger’s Triumph of Neptune and Amphitrite – a favourite subject of the Dutch artist, with similar works in the collections of the Palatine Gallery in Florence and the Konstmuseum in Gothenburg. This version, in which the mythical couple are surrounded by a troupe of satyrs and horses with the tails of sea serpents, once formed a part of the prestigious De Sangro collection in Naples; it appears on the market for the first time here, courtesy of first-time exhibitor De Jonckheere. Elsewhere, Talabardon & Gautier brings an intimate interior scene by Paul-Claude-Michel Carpentier; dating from 1825, it gives a fly-on-the-wall view of a young woman’s painting lesson inside an artist’s studio – almost certainly Carpentier’s own, on the rue de Lancry. De Bayser’s own gallery offers a fine portrait of a horse by Jean-Léon Gérôme.
This year’s sculptural offerings include an exhibition on Aristide Maillol by Galerie Malaquais, ahead of a major survey of Maillol’s work at the Musée d’Orsay next year. Close partnerships with museums remain an important part of the fair’s identity – this year, it is hosting two symposia at the Petit Palais, including a celebration of Antoine Watteau to mark the tercentenary of his death, as well as its annual series of private visits to some 20 partner museums in and around Paris.
‘It’s still complicated to put a fair together,’ De Bayser says; vaccine passes, travel restrictions and online programming serve as reminders that the pandemic is still with us. But these are worries that visitors can leave on the other side of Garcia’s ghostly city walls.
Fine Arts Paris takes place at the Carrousel du Louvre from 6–11 November.
From the November 2021 issue of Apollo. Preview and subscribe here.