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Britain's most prestigious fair outside the capital takes place this week at the NEC, Birmingham. The National Fine Art & Antiques Fair, supported by LAPADA The Association of Art & Antiques Dealers, runs 18th - 22nd January 2012 and will be the first major test of the market of the new year. The fair enjoys a reputation for high quality exhibits, whether its rare examples of oak furniture from the Tudor period, Italian designer glass or 20th century and contemporary art and sculpture. With most antique furniture pre-dating 1914, most other exhibits pre-1940 and high quality art and sculpture of any period permitted, this fair maintains an adherence to a high level of craftsmanship and artistic endeavour that ensure this event stands apart.

As usual, exhibits are meticulously vetted for quality and authenticity before the fair opens and on every subsequent morning. Exhibitors have travelled from across the country and beyond to be here and none more so than newcomer Camburn Fine Art from France who is showing paintings in ink and gouache on paper by Alan Halliday. Here is a painter who specialises in ballet, opera and theatre subjects, in dress rehearsal and during performances, and has a reputation earned from twenty-five years of achievement and recognition. Halliday made a number of drawings in 1998 during the dress rehearsals for 'Still Life' at the Penguin Cafe by David Bintley, a one act ballet to music by the late Simon Jeffes of the Penguin Café Orchestra, and performed by the Birmingham Royal Ballet. Camburn will be showing several of these finished works including ‘three Penguin waiters’, ‘the Great Auk’, ‘Humboldt's Hog-nosed Skunk Flea’ and ‘Amazonian Rain Forest dwellers’, all of which were drawn in the Hippodrome Theatre, Birmingham.

It’s often forgotten that orange blossom was seen as a symbol of fertility in the Victorian period and was worn by Queen Victoria on her wedding day. An oil painting depicting a pretty young maiden with a wreath orange blossom in her hair and a sprig in her hands, by the artist Sophie Anderson, (1823-1903), will be a major attraction the stand of Paul Mayhew, the London dealer. Born in Paris, Anderson exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy between 1855 and 1896 and today her work is associated with the Pre-Raphaelite movement. It’s a charming work with a host of associations and meanings worthy of closer examination. The Blackbrook Gallery from Leicestershire specialise in 19th century animal art and have a particularly eye-catching painting by Harry Hall (1813-1882) depicting a famous racehorse of the period. ‘Satirist’ was the winner of the Great St Leger Stakes, Doncaster, in 1841, as ridden by Bill Scott (1797-1848), a popular jockey remembered for riding nineteen Classic winners. Such paintings of a horse and jockey have a special appeal not only for equine enthusiasts but also followers of the turf. Antique armour and costume sometimes speak volumes about a time and period.

None more so than the distinctive garb worn by Cromwell’s New Model Army during the English Civil War. At Garth Vincent’s stand, now run by Dominic Vincent, is a Harquebusiers set of armour, circa 1642 – 1660, complete with the distinctive ‘lobster tail pot’ helmet and buff coat, the sight of which as worn by a troop of advancing cavalrymen must have sent shivers of fear running down the backs of Royalist supporters across the country. The fair offers a feast of special items for furniture collectors. What more could a proper gentleman want for a New Year treat than a particularly superb George III period mahogany dressing table by Gillows of Lancaster on the stand of W.R.Harvey & Co. from Witney This highly attractive and very functional piece features a cross-banded top opening to reveal an adjustable rising mirror, bottle holders, a large moulded edge hole for a bowl and small holes for soap dishes, above a dummy drawer and a cupboard door giving to access the water jug, all above a pull-out bidet formed as two dummy drawers on legs, and still retaining the original white Wedgwood bidet bowl. A fine 19th century bronze sculpture of Venus cast after the original by Christophe-Gabriel Allegrain will be standing proud against a backdrop of fine oil paintings and watercolours on the stand of Benton Fine Art from Moreton-in-Marsh.

Parisian artist Allegrain was influenced by the well-known sculptor Jean-Baptiste Pigalle who was also his brother-in-law. Allegrain’s most famous works include a marble statue ‘La Baigneuse’ (commissioned by Louis XV) and ‘Venus au Bain’, which are both on display at the Louvre. As ever, the National Fair is just the place to discover something you will never find in any dealer’s shop or museum. Such is the collection of silver overlay porcelain belonging to John Newton from East Yorkshire. Among several shelves of brightly colourful pieces that demand to be acquired as part of a new collection is a stunning Furstenberg porcelain vase. This exquisite piece was decorated with its study of magnolias in silver overlay and enamels upon a black-ground in the art studio of Spahr & Co. It dates from circa 1950, the original age of austerity that is now under constant re-evaluation for its significant artistic achievements. This silver overlay porcelain is exactly the kind of serious ‘antique of the future’ so often talked about but so rarely found.

As with so many fine pieces at the fair, enjoy it while it can be found!

About the Author

David Harvey

David Harvey

W.R. Harvey & Co. (Antiques) Ltd was founded over sixty years ago by Walter Harvey who is still actively involved with the company whilst his son, David, is the Managing Director.   Harvey'...