The highly anticipated 70th Edition of The Winter Show exceeded expectations with over 70 booths full of treasures. The fair is known for having top-quality decorative and design objects and masterpieces from several centuries that have been carefully vetted before exhibition. “We have collaborated with several cultural organizations and institutions, including Asia Week New York, Master Drawings New York, the Wallace Collection, Magazzino, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Fund for Park Avenue.”
The Winter Show Executive Director, Helen Allen, said, highlighting a few of the many institutional partnerships that make this high-quality presentation so unique. “The Winter Show also offers the perfect space for a younger audience to learn about art and collecting as you see the history and conversations between artists and works. Younger collectors are drawn to that because it offers an opportunity to create a unique collection of the old and new together,” explains Tannie Ng, VP and Art, Jewelry & Valuable Collections Manager at Chubb, who returns as The Winter Show’s presenting sponsor for the Show’s 70th Anniversary, celebrating 28 years of partnership and support. The Winter Show was established by East Side House Settlement in 1954 as its major annual fundraiser. As Allen elaborated, “We are expecting a banner turnout for our 70th celebration. All ticket sales – be it for our private events or general admission, provide critical unrestricted funds for the work that the East Side Settlement House does to help transform the lives of thousands of individuals and families each year.”
Many contemporary artists are keen to draw inspiration from the Old Masters. There are countless examples, yet seeing the two exhibited together is still not common. Robert Simon Fine Art perfectly paired Guido Reni and Jesse Mockrin. A penitent Mary Magdalene by Reni inspired Mockrin, who maintained much of the composition but changed the subject into a depiction of Saint Agathe. Instead of clutching her hair like Reni’s Magdalene, her hands clutch a blood-drenched cloth covering her severed breasts, a punishment inflicted for rejecting Roman prefect Quintianus. Agatha took a vow of chastity and refused to break it, for which she paid a terrible price. Mockrin stated, “I created Unyielding to contrast with Guido Reni’s Magdalene, juxtaposing the recurrent historical gesture of hands crossed over the chest in one case, with the penitent Magdalene modestly covering her breasts with her hair, and in the other, the besieged Saint Agatha holding a blood-soaked cloth against her mutilated chest. The missing breasts–whether covered or torn off represent the long-standing religious and secular desire to control women’s bodies. These two female religious figures suffered (one at the hands of male attackers, the other at the hands of a patriarchal culture). Still, both Agatha and Magdalene deserve a rewrite: Agatha for holding to her values despite coercion and torture, and Mary Magdalene for being the closest female follower of Jesus, and not a reformed prostitute as she was so often depicted.” This painting and the conversation therein allow Mockrin to put her work in a historical context and overtly counter this history. Pairing these depictions of female Christian saints next to each other is a brilliantly illustrative example of why iconographic painting has endured for so long and how different paintings can be despite superficial similarities.
Masterpieces do not always have the names of artists attached to them. Perhaps no booth better illustrated this than Wartski. They have one-of-a-kind pieces by world-renowned jewellers like Van Cleef & Arpels, Fabergé and Cartier, but one of the most beautiful pieces in their booth, and the entire fair, was a golden snake bejewelled with stone settings that include diamonds rubies, and a substantially sized sapphire. The maker is unknown as there is no maker’s mark, but it is likely French circa 1875. The beautifully crafted piece can be worn as a necklace or a bracelet as it is modular, and the piece is so perfectly articulated it can even move like a snake. The sheer innovation of this piece is astounding, and yet the material itself is mimetic of the skin of a serpent. It feels like a snake to the touch and is a beautiful example of dazzling and dynamic jewellery.
Focus Americana is an ambitious curatorial effort by Alexandra Kirtley, the Montgomery-Garvan Curator of American Decorative Arts at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and designed by architects Frederick Fisher & Partners. This comprehensive display illustrated how many artistic movements occurred in America before the second half of the 20th Century. Kirtley assembled a world-class booth with pieces from 9 different exhibitors, including Hirschl & Adler, Olde Hope, Jeffrey Tillou Antiques, and Levy Galleries, to name a few.
A remarkable Grandma Moses was painting from Olde Hope that was perfect for the Winter Show, depicting a pastoral scene of sleighs and horses traversing a snow-covered hillside estate. The horses are sturdy, and the land is vast, capped by a green forest in the background. This odd detail does not seem to fit in with the wintry foreground; perhaps this painting is also about the passage of time.
There is also an engaging depiction of Santa Claus by John Vanderlyn Jr., courtesy of Jeffrey Tillou Antiques. This figure rides in a boat-like sleigh; the model was, after all, a ship captain, and he has none of the trappings of the modern-day depictions. He softly gazes at the viewer with a pipe in his mouth and two baskets of toys, including a sword, a bugle, clocks, dolls, a dog, and a wooden windmill. It is an excellent glimpse into a fascinating part of American history and a reminder that even the most iconic symbols evolve.
Contemporary artists often reference older ideas in ways that bring them into the present-day discourse. Georgina Warne presented her delicate and intricate works with Jonathan Cooper. At first glance, they seem like porcelain antiques; however, they are contemporary stoneware sculptures made in 2023. Warne has an incredible technique that is both richly detailed and inventively executed. One thinks of Rousseau but also of Mughal paintings and, of course, Ming vases. The tiger is standing still, facing forward, but the eye looks to the side, directly engaging the viewer; it almost appears to crack a smile. Her work is an excellent example that homages millennia of references while still rooted in the present. It is both playful and severe.
Thomas Lollar and Ricardo Arango are two artists who work together to bring ancient ideas into the contemporary world. Their works at Maison Gerard strongly reference ancient Roman and Etruscan mirrors, yet they are entirely contemporary. There is a dynamic tondo with a triple portrait, made using a melted composite of coloured glass, set in a metal armature. It almost feels like it could have been pulled from a shipwreck after centuries of submersion. There is another mirror with a classically proportioned structure of a temple of peace at the centre of another that is made of stoneware and illustrated with sgraffito. Two all-metal mirrors display the virtuoso welding talents of Arango, who painstakingly decorates these objects. The obverse of each mirror is highly polished steel that shines brightly, a reminder that in ancient times, glass mirrors did not exist, and this would have been the best way to create a surface capable of showing a reflection. The welding of Arango can look stylistically like it is from an ancient era. Yet, the approach draws inspiration from Expressionist, Modern, and Contemporary sculpture, even at times including found objects.
Decorative objects held multilayered meanings and conveyed important messages about their owners. They were sometimes given as gifts to publicly convey social status or used in official royal court settings. Les Enluminures exhibited a scarce and high-quality complete medieval livery collar. This ornate item was initially worn as a symbol of either office or allegiance and would have been rare even in its own time. The metalwork is flawless in an alternating 22-link motif of the letters S and M. There are minuscule striated patterns throughout the M letters, and the letter S has a circular pattern around the interior that creates even more depth in the chain. The dazzling collar recalls the Collar of Esses worn by Sir Thomas Moore and depicted in the portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger at The Frick Collection. It is hard to overstate just how rare these objects are given how easily it is to dismantle them and either sell pieces individually or scrap the precious metal. This is one of the few complete livery collars from the 15th Century.
Tiffany Studios’s large-scale operation during the late 19th and early 20th Century produced hundreds of designs. Even though they were mass-producing masterpieces, the studio produced breathtaking objects. Macklowe Gallery presented a fine example of a unique Tiffany “Crown” Lamp at their booth. Even in a setting like The Winter Show, this piece stood out immediately for its rich detail and countless references to antiquity ranging from Byzantine to Etruscan, to Roman, to Egyptian. The crown is richly decorated in bedazzled jewel-like colourful glass that is just translucent enough to allow light to pass through it while enhancing the material’s colour. It is painstakingly set into a perfectly crafted armature with a domed top that vaguely resembles the interior structure of the Pantheon, albeit with a closed oculus. There are imposing sphinxes on the three legs of the object that attentively sit on an elegant curve in the support that tapers into a thin support on a weighty foot that solidly supports the heft of the piece despite its delicate appearance. This piece is a prime example of how seamlessly integrated millennia of history can be into one object.
Aronson Antiquairs of Amsterdam had a booth full of exquisite Delft ceramics, including a pair of blue and white fan-shaped vases, circa 1710. The vases were used to hold flowers, more specifically, the prized possession of the time, tulips. The entire function of these vases was to display wealth, both in the object itself and in what was displayed in them. Each vase could hold nine different single flowers or small arrangements. Delftware was a direct result of the Dutch’s ambitious trade undertakings to China, which resulted in the influence of Chinese porcelain. The Dutch eventually mastered making their versions and pioneered their visual language. There are ducks that could just as quickly be dragons on either side of a garden scene at the centre of the vases. Two peacocks roam in the garden in what may be a courtship ritual between the two birds, as one bird is presenting its feathers to the other. The flower-filled vase is reminiscent of a male peacock spreading its coloured feathers to attract a mate. It is made for boasting and does so in a way that even though ostentatious, is quite beautiful.
Géricault was renowned for his depictions of horses, and despite the small scale of this watercolour drawing at Nathalie Motte Masselink, the impact is enormous. It was painted after Géricault returned from a stay in London, having likely taken in works by the English watercolourists John Sell Cotman and JMW Turner and studying George Stubbs’s perfect anatomical representations of horses. This piece depicts a cavalry battle between Hussars and Mamelukes during Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign. The mixed media techniques of watercolour, pen and brown ink, and graphite all intertwine here to create a composition that has depth and definition and yet, at the same time, is obscure and nebulous. Géricault is finding ways to represent motion in this work.
Decades before, Muybridge would have used multiple still images of horses to do the same. The rows of Hussars loosely depicted in the background also convey motion, sending a message of French military supremacy as they swarm the outnumbered Mamelukes.
Andrew Wyeth is one of the most prominent American artists of the 20th Century despite never being attached to any of the significant American movements of that period. He was a singular creator from a family of talented artists whose work almost always carries the feeling of solitude. “Wagon Blue (Study for Flood Plain)” is a piece that perfectly illustrates just what makes Wyeth such a virtuoso. Cerulean blue accents emerge from a white wintry landscape, enhanced by using sepia tones and light middle-tone washes. There is a dilapidated granary in the background, but no signs of life. The formerly functioning wagon now sits in a pile left to the elements in a fallow field with a thick undergrowth rendered in a way that enhances the contrast of the entire painting. The object is present, and the scene is stirring, conveying a cold and unsettling feeling. Wyeth used the family land in Chadds Ford as a font of inspiration, and he painted scenes there throughout the seasons. The painting from this study, “Flood Plain,” has almost no snow left and is executed in tempera, evidence of the careful observations that Wyeth undertook to achieve his results. The painting is undoubtedly a metaphor but can either be self-reflective or anecdotal for life as a whole.
Simon Cherry Urban Life In The South Bronx Photo: Clayton Calvert
True to its philanthropic mission, the very first display at The Winter Show is a photographic essay by Simon Cherry, commissioned by East Side Settlement House. It was composed of compelling images of the communities they serve. This was a great example of the pride taken in this partnership and helped illustrate what partnerships like this can do for local communities.
The quality of the work at the fair was superb, a trend that will likely persist throughout the art fair circuit, given the current global economic climate. Dealers know they must bring both exceptional and rare pieces. Tannie Ng shared, “We are seeing collectors become more cautious. We talk a lot about risk management and remind collectors that risk starts at the inception of a purchase. It’s important for collectors to vet what they are buying, do their due diligence and work with experts, research the seller, and ask about provenance documentation and condition reports. From an acquisition side, collectors are looking for works by more established artists with a proven market versus the more speculative buying we saw in 2022, dominated primarily by ultra-contemporary artists.” Fortunately, much of that due diligence is done a priori at The Winter Show, and even the most discerning collector can find many pieces suitable for a world-class collection.