Final thoughts on BRAFA 2009

The 2009 edition of the Brussels Antiques & Fine Arts Fair concluded with reports of “a feeling of relief tinged with optimism.” Over the course of its 10-day run, from Jan. 23 to Feb. 1, approximately 36,000 visitors attended, a slight drop from 2008.

The strongest sectors were modern paintings, ceramics and porcelain, Oriental and African art, jewelry, tapestries and ancient arts. Dealers were encouraged by results in light of the world financial crisis.

My memories of the fair are devoted mostly to the renewal of friendships begun last year, and the chance to meet other American writers covering the event for the first time.

The staffers at Galerie Florence De Voldère (Paris) — Florence, Raphael and Daphne — were again generous with their time and knowledge. Their booth featured a stunning collection of Old Master paintings, some of which found eager buyers.

Among the offerings was a series of small, round seasonal paintings by the Belgian artist Abel Grimmer (circa 1570-1619). A single painting by Grimmer, slightly larger than those offered by Galerie Florence De Voldère but still just 7 1/4” in diameter, sold for $251,844 including buyer’s premium at Sotheby’s Dec. 2, 2008, sale in London.

Other impressions:

~ Meeting sculptor Olivier Strebelle at his spacious home/studio in the villa-dotted countryside near Brussels. I told him of the painting I had seen for sale at BRAFA showing his older brother, painted by their father before Olivier was born. He said he was pleasantly shocked to see the oil on canvas at the fair, and knew its history and previous owner.

~ Spending a relaxing morning at the Brussels antique market on the Place des Sablon. The quality of the merchandise was excellent for a small urban event, and the place is thick with friendly dogs who don’t care what language a visitor speaks as long as you’re scratching their ears.

~ My parting encounter with a sociable but slightly bewildered gentleman in the Grande Place just a block from our accommodations at the Hotel Amigo. His French was only slightly worse than mine, and when I asked if he could rephrase his question in English, he shook his head. But between the two of us, in patchy French, English and what turned out to be Armenian, I was able to direct him and his giggling family (wife and two young daughters) to the obligatory tourist destination when in Brussels: the Manneken Pis.

Manneken Pis (Dutch for “little pee man”) is a famous Brussels landmark. It is a small bronze fountain sculpture depicting a naked boy urinating into the fountain’s basin.

On regular occasions, the statue is dressed in costume and his wardrobe now consists of several hundred outfits. The costume changes are often accompanied by brass band music. Sometimes the statue is hooked up to a keg of beer, and cups are offered to people passing by.

Our Brussels trip this year was hosted by Robin Massee of Massee Productions, Brooklyn, N.Y., and Annette Choynacki, Director of the Belgian Tourist Office for the U.S. and Canada. The press contacts were ably handled by the unflappable Bruno Nélis of MVG Partners, Liège, Belgium.

It’s not too soon to begin planning to attend the 2010 BRAFA, which will again be held at the Tour & Taxis facility on the edge of metropolitan Brussels. Dates are Jan. 22-31. For more information, visit

Images from the 2009 BRAFA: Part IPart II

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