While the history of The European Fine Art Foundation (TEFAF) goes back to its inaugural fair, which opened its doors on March 19, 1988, an even longer history precedes it. Before there was TEFAF, there were Pictura and Antiquairs International: two specialized fairs—one for paintings, the other for antiques—held in the south of The Netherlands, whose organizations and the subsequent merger would lay the foundation for TEFAF today.
TEFAF’s two predecessor fairs were born out of several needs which were identified in the Dutch art market of their times. Pictura opened its doors as ‘Europe’s first fine art fair’ in December 1975, dedicated to painting starting from the sixteenth century. Its establishment was instigated by a desire to create a specialized fair which focused on the fine arts specifically, moving away from painting dealers’ inclusion in the larger, more populated antiques fairs. Pictura aimed to achieve a fair ground that fostered closer contact between the art trade and the collector, while presenting visitors and collectors alike a survey of the best art on the market.
The city of Maastricht provided an ideal location for this new endeavor, situated between various cultural centers such as Brussels, Cologne, London, and Paris; the decision for hosting the fair in the most southern region of the Netherlands also broke ties with the regular centers of the Dutch art market such as Amsterdam and Delft. The inaugural edition in 1975 was the first art fair to be held at the Eurohal in Maastricht, located on the banks of the Maas river. Its executive committee consisted of Jacques van Rijn, Herbert Terry-Engel, Jeff Leegenhoek, Günther Abels, Evert Douwes Sr. and Rob Noortman; for later fairs, art dealers such as David Koetser, Richard Green, Johnny van Haeften, and Jan Huynen from the Eurohal organization would hold seats in the committee as well.
“Faith in the art trade can only be based on the lifelong experience and outspoken ‘craftsmanship’ of the dealer, his continued critical attitude towards new acquisitions and his tender appreciation for the beautiful objects in his care.” — Jaqcues van Rijn, Managing Director, Catalogue Pictura '75
The fair organizers considered quality the strength of the art trade and championed the high standard of presented works through a serious selection of its 28 exhibitors and a vetting process to examine the works on offer. “Vetting was an important aspect of the fair from the start, for which leading dealers were invited to take part in the vetting committee,” says David Koetser, who is also a founding member of TEFAF. The question of participation, specifically by international exhibitors, was a second element that contributed to the founding of the fair. Pictura’s organizers saw the potential of looking beyond the Dutch borders, making it the first-ever art fair in the Netherlands that also welcomed international participants. The invitation was positively accepted by 21 dealers from Belgium, France, Germany, England, and Switzerland. Its first edition being well-received by its exhibitors, the fair established a bi-annual tradition through its return in 1977 with 40 participants. The fair would gain the royal patronage of HRH Prince Bernhard for its 1983 edition.
“This was actually my first time participating in any fair, anywhere, so it was rather a learning curve. I did not know what to expect, how to hang the paintings or light them properly and had to follow the example of other colleagues,” says Johnny van Haeften, looking back at his first time at Pictura. “We did not sell very much at the beginning, but perseverance paid off and by the second or third year we finally got into our stride. It was very small of course with only some 25 or so participants, but one could see the potential.”
Following the success of the first and second edition of Pictura, a specialized antiques fair was soon organized at the same location. Antiqua Maestricht—which continued as Maestricht Antique the following year—made its debut in 1978. As was the case for their colleagues at Pictura, looking beyond borders proved itself an important feature of the new art fair, with 43 national and international dealers participating in its first edition. Antique Maestricht would continue as a yearly affair, though a forthcoming structural change in the mid-1980s would change its course and lay the foundation of what remains an important element of TEFAF to this day: becoming an art fair run by dealers, for dealers.
Much like Pictura, Antique Maestricht’s organization involved parties from outside of the trade, though voices among the exhibitors arose with a different view on the organization of an art fair. Unable to reach an agreement, a group of exhibitors who no longer aligned with the policies of Antique Maestricht left. They saw a larger role for dealers to provide input on various aspects of the fair organization and to maintain the high standard of quality art works. They founded their own association, The International Art and Antique Dealers Group, and the Antiquairs International fair in April 1982 in the neighboring town of Valkenburg, which also stood under the royal patronage of HRH Prince Bernhard.
The organizing committee of the first Valkenburg fair consisted of six art dealers: Jacob Stodel, Clemens Van der Ven, Eugène Stender, Josephine Dirven-Duyndam, Jan Dirven, and Axel Vervoordt. They aimed to show how dynamic, energetic, and rejuvenated the art trade really was. 50 exhibitors from six countries participated in the new fair, which was to foster a meeting place for the discerning collector and the expert art dealer. The most important element, however, would remain the quality of the works on display, the high standards guaranteed through a thorough vetting of the objects, carried out by art dealers. Jan and Josephine Dirven-Duyndam, founding members of Antiquairs International and TEFAF, reminisce those busy first days at the Valkenburg fair of 1982: “The days of planning, building, press, vetting, cataloguing, route markings, running your own business back home, and finally receiving clients and guests blended into each other.” But undoubtedly, they were “proud to stand in Valkenburg, independently, with the colleagues we had invited.”
As Pictura and the Antiquairs International established their reputations independently, a merger of the two important organizations followed in 1985. The fine arts and antiques were once more reunited in the Antiquairs International & Pictura Fine Art Fair in Maastricht’s Eurohal, providing collectors the opportunity to acquire the highest quality objects ranging from Impressionist painting, Chinese ceramics to Gothic sculpture all under one roof. “It became clear to me and the EC that it made no sense to have a separate fair of only picture dealers in Maastricht, and another fair of mostly antique dealers, two weeks later, just down the road in Valkenburg and that one should explore the possibility of a merger,” says Johnny van Haeften, who was Chairman of Pictura at that time. “The market was quite strong and we felt that the timing was right, so I had a long and memorable lunch with Clemens van der Ven who at the time was Chairman of the Antiquairs, and we thrashed out the parameters of what would work best for the exhibitors, as well as the visitors.” The merger of Pictura and Antiquairs International created the opportunity for a bigger, stronger, and more energetic fair. “When we saw the fair for the first time, we realized we had made the right decision, and people who would normally be buying pictures were also buying jewelry, and people who would normally be buying furniture were buying pictures, so the cross-fertilization that we hoped would occur became immediately self-evident.”
“Following the successes at Pictura, we were very excited for the first day of the fair with Pictura and Antiquairs International," recalls David Koetser. It proved a success as well: “When we opened at 11 in the morning, hundreds of visitors were already queueing.” Jan and Josephine Dirven-Duyndam also express the excitement they felt about the merging of the two fairs: “The idea of working together again and more intensely with our friends in paintings was a new prospect.” The forthcoming move to the newly built MECC in Maastricht in 1988 added to the positive outlook. “We returned to the Eurohal for the time being on better conditions, and with the move to the MECC all our wishes were fulfilled: our own organization, working on a fair ‘for dealers, by dealers’.” That year gave way to an important structural change, as it saw the introduction of The European Fine Art Fair opening its doors to the public on March 19, 1988 with 97 exhibitors participating.