Effect Magazine’s Dominic Lutyens rounds up the highlights from London’s premier art and design fair, which returned to the UK’s capital after a two-year break
Founded in 2010, art fair Masterpiece London commingles fine art, design and jewellery in a spacious marquee standing opposite the stately, Christopher Wren-designed Royal Hospital Chelsea. This year, artist Sarah Graham’s blown-up blooms – reminiscent of American artist Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings of flowers – were emblazoned on pillars fronting the venue, instantly imparting a high-summer vibe. These formed an arresting, decorative frieze at the Lyndsey Ingram gallery inside.
After a Covid-related hiatus of two years, the fair welcomed 128 international exhibitors who collectively contributed to its eclectic offering. These ranged from objects dating from antiquity – take Charles Ede’s stand with its artefacts from ancient Greece and Egypt – and natural history (David Aaron’s dinosaur skulls) to the extraordinarily creative period of British modernist interwar and postwar art. Experimental furniture, textiles and ceramics were another major draw.
Masterpiece London is a highly polished event with exquisitely presented stands – not all white cubes. And its roomy aisles feel almost runway-wide, which I opted to explore in an impulsively organic rather than systematic way. I’m not a novice when it comes to art history but I discovered many artists I’d never heard of along the way. Several gallerists spoke with passion about the artists and designers they promote, making the whole experience rewardingly educational. Here are five themes that stood out at Masterpiece London 2022:
Judging by Masterpiece London, throne-like chairs have garnered a cult following lately. Edward Hurst showed a pair of George III Coade stone thrones incorporating stone sphinxes, designed by Thomas Hope, which won the fair’s Philip Hewat-Jaboor award. Butchoff Antiques displayed an armchair with an elaborately carved, rare Irish bog yew wood frame, created by Arthur Jones and displayed at the Great Exhibition of 1851; this won a Masterpiece Highlight award. A more modern variation on this was the enveloping Easy Chair upholstered in a dusky pink fabric and designed by Uno Åhrén for Mobilia, shown at Modernity. The chair was exhibited in 1925 at the Swedish Pavilion of at the World’s Fair in Paris.
Asked for his opinion of Masterpiece London, Adam Kaye of Butchoff Antiques enthused about its return as a physical show after a two-year hiatus: “We’re happy to see gallerists and collectors connect again over their shared passions. I’ve been especially encouraged by a noteworthy emerging collector base of younger buyers who are discovering an interest in antiques and refined craftsmanship.”
Andrew Duncanson, founder of Modernity, which specialises in 20th-century pieces by renowned Nordic designers, said: “The atmosphere at this year’s fair has been very good, with excellent attendance, especially among London-based clients.” According to Gina Hamilton of London gallery Ronald Phillips, which showcased mirrors dating from 1800 that incorporated paintings of landscapes in Shanghai and Canton, the key benefit of this year’s fair was that it allowed people to “see everyone in person again and do great business”.
Hand-carved, sculptural furniture
We couldn’t help but spot a recurrence of sculptural furniture by mid-century maestro George Nakashima. This Japanese-American designer was known for making pieces out of hulking slabs of wood with ragged, rugged edges. Examples, in the form of benches, could be seen at Alzueta Gallery and, more spectacularly, at Geoffrey Diner. What’s more, a versatile collection of hand-crafted wood furniture – including library steps – graced the stand of Hampshire-based Edward Barnsley Workshop. This has an impressive pedigree: Edward was the son of Arts and Crafts furniture maker Sidney Barnsley, who was inspired by the Socialist ideals of William Morris. Its current designer, James Ryan, makes its curvilinear, bespoke furniture, including rocking chairs and tables.
Textiles and rugs
Textiles and rugs offered an appealingly soft alternative to solid furniture. Of particular note was a rug by multidisciplinary artist Sonia Delaunay, shown at Boccara Gallery in New York. In this design, her trademark, vibrantly hued Orphist forms float in the middle of the canvas-coloured rug rather than near the outer edges – the latter a more conventional way of defining a rug’s parameters. At Geoffrey Diner was a richly colourful carpet with rose and tulip motifs called Donnemara, designed by Arts and Crafts architect and designer CFA Voysey. Meanwhile, Rose Uniacke exhibited diaphanous 1970s and 80s woven wall hangings by Peter Collingwood.
Championing lesser-known female abstractionists
Avant-garde women artists from the 20th century – many of whom favoured abstraction and were overshadowed by their male counterparts – were a welcome sight at Masterpiece London. Of particular note was the work of Mildred Bendall, shown by Whitford Fine Art. This British painter settled in France and won the admiration of French artists Henri Matisse and Albert Marquet. After turning down a marriage proposal from Matisse’s son, Paul, she moved to Bordeaux, a conservative part of France at the time, and set up life-drawing classes – an unusual, somewhat shocking move then for a woman, according to the gallery. Other women artists espousing abstraction included Wilhelmina Barns-Graham (shown at Richard Green), who favoured hard-edged, geometric compositions, and Edna Mann, a co-founder of the Borough movement (Waterhouse & Dodd).
Ivon Hitchens – Titan of 20th-century British art
Time and again, we chanced on the bold, colourful paintings of Ivon Hitchens, such as his typically exuberant Sussex Landscape of 1977, shown at Piano Nobile. Characterised by broad brushstrokes, his work vacillated between abstraction and figuration.
The artist was a member of several edgy art movements in London – the Seven and Five Society, along with Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, and the London Group. A catalogue of Hitchens’ work from the Jonathan Clark & Co gallery reveals that he moved to a caravan in secluded Sussex woodland after his Hampstead studio was badly bombed in 1940. There he immersed himself in the British landscape, depicting it with a subtle, individualistic palette of colours, ranging from moody olive greens to sparky orange and violet. Another gallery showing his paintings, Alan Wheatley Art, opined that his current popularity has snowballed lately because one person has shown an appreciation of his work and others have followed.
Effect Magazine is brought to you by The Bruno Effect