Who Needs Miami? Old Masters Enthusiasts Are Flocking to the UK for London Art Week

This year’s winter edition kicks off tomorrow in the English capital's traditional fine art district.

Onlookers at the Weiss Gallery, one of London Art Week's exhibitors. Courtesy of London Art Week.

Early December is a busy time for the art world—and not just for the contemporary crowd. While many are descending on Art Basel Miami Beach and its many itinerant events, those that are more interested in Old Masters, antiquities, and pre-contemporary art have another event to look forward to: London Art Week.

London Art Week is a biannual event held in July and December that brings together some 30 dealers, galleries, and auction houses across London’s traditional fine art district for a week’s worth of shows, talks, and other programming. It’s not a fair, per se—more like a collection of themed art events. Perhaps the most important distinction is that there’s no carnival-like tent. Instead, the event takes place throughout various locations in the district, encouraging art lovers, collectors, and newcomers alike to explore the historic area and engage with its inhabitants.

“It’s as much about talks, conversations and sharing ideas about art as it is about exhibitions,” says Amelia Higgins, director of London Art Week.

Courtesy of London Art Week and Ben Elwes Fine Art.

This year’s winter edition, which kicks off tomorrow and runs through December 7, is called the Winter Salons and includes a number of noteworthy events throughout the week. There will be a special presentation on Mary Shelley, a preview of a new opera at Bonhams auction house, and daily “highlight tours” of different galleries.

Higgins is particularly excited for a lunchtime talk next Thursday at the National Gallery entitled “The National Gallery and the London Art Trade: Past, Present and Future.” With a panel of dealers moderated by Dr. Susanna Avery-Quash, Senior Research Curator (History of Collecting) at the National Gallery, the talk will explore the “long-standing synergies between museums and dealers.”

London Art Week was first launched 15 years ago as a “dealer-led open house event to coincide with the major auctions at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Bonhams,” Higgins said.

But it has evolved a great deal since then. “It has grown from drawings, paintings, and sculpture week to something much more varied,” she said. “We now have participants specializing in ceramics, silverware, works of art, tribal art, antiquities, textiles, and more—reflecting the breadth of art expertise that resides with dealers based in St. James’s and Mayfair.”

Courtesy of Trinity Fine Art and London Art Week.

After 13 years of hosting a single event in the summer, London Art Week added a second iteration in December of last year.

Old Masters and pre-contemporary art has had a reputation for being an older person’s game. But Higgins says that’s not actually the case. In fact, the majority of the week’s galleries are run by young dealers, and they are committed to opening up the field to younger generations of collectors, as well as casual art lovers and laypeople outside of the industry.

“The last couple of years of London Art Week has proved that we are attracting a new audience,” said Higgins. “Our talks and curated tours are a good opening for a younger audience to engage with the art our dealers work with.”

Courtesy of Tomasso Brothers Fine Art and London Art Week.

Another programming highlight this week is a conversation titled The Gentileschi Effect” at Robilant+Voena gallery, which is opening an exhibition of the same name. The talk has to do with the National Gallery’s recent high-profile acquisition of a rare self-portrait by the 17th-century artist Artemisia Gentileschi as part of the institutions effort to redress the gender imbalance in its permanent collection.

“It’s a newsworthy subject relevant to younger audiences,” said Higgins. Not surprisingly, the talk is already sold out.

London Art Week opens Thursday, November 29, and will take place through December 7, 2018. See the full list of exhibitors and programs here.


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