Spitfire, Francis Bacon lure super-rich to Masterpiece fair

Thu Jun 30, 2011 11:40am EDT
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By David Brough

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A rare Spitfire warplane and a Francis Bacon still life painting were star attractions at the Masterpiece fair on Thursday, underscoring a strong appetite for unique luxury goods at a time when many Europeans are struggling with austerity.

Across town, a Rolex boutique had its official launch do at London's costliest real estate complex, with a glitzy champagne reception attended by high net worth individuals and celebrities.

A private preview at the Masterpiece fair in the expansive grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea was packed with uber-wealthy aficionados of fine art, high jewelry, vintage cars and silverware, shopping for items that rarely come to the market. The fair runs to July 5.

A unique prototype Spitfire, the warplane that symbolized victory in the Battle of Britain, stood indoors in a huge marquee, with a price tag of 8 million pounds ($13 million).

A few meters away, the large Francis Bacon painting, "Still Life - Broken Statue and Shadow," available for 9.5 million pounds, triggered a buzz among the crowd. Christie's sold a painting by the Irish-born Bacon for $28.7 million two days ago.

At the stand of Parisian gallery Galerie Boulakia, Impressionist oil paintings by Camille Pissarro were on sale, including a country view, "Pommiers en fleurs, Eragny," dated 1888, for 1.7 million pounds, and an English scene, "Place d'Eau a Kew," for 1.3 million pounds.

"The market is still buoyant for blue-chip artists," said Robert Smith of MacConnal-Mason Gallery in London, which displayed works by L.S. Lowry, celebrated for his scenes of working class England in the mid-20th Century.

"You see criticism that some people are spending huge sums on luxury at a time of economic crisis, but people forget that the luxury industry provides a good living for people who sell in galleries, set up sets at these shows, the taxi drivers who bring people to these events, and so on."   Continued...