Last year Mie Mortensen bought a drawing by Louise Bourgeois, “The Couple” (2009), after seeing it at the Masterpiece Online art fair.
At first glance, the purchase wasn’t an exceptional event as Ms. Mortensen, who lives between London and her hometown Oslo, is a longstanding collector and art advisor.
But Ms. Mortensen surprised herself by the fact that the drawing sold by Galerie Hauser & Wirth at the time was the most expensive work she had ever acquired for herself, and she bought it without ever being in the same room with her. (She refused to share the price.)
The risk was worth it. “Personally, it’s even better,” Ms. Mortensen recently said over the phone from Oslo. “It’s in my living room right now.”
Masterpiece had a decade of personal spending in London before going online last year because of the pandemic, and this time it’s back on the virtual path with more than 120 traders participating Thursday through Sunday.
Masterpiece – which had around 50,000 personal visitors in 2019 and around 100,000 online visits of its virtual version for 2020 – follows two major trade shows, Frieze New York and Art Basel Hong Kong, which returned to face-to-face events last month with many pandemic Precautions.
Ms. Mortensen’s experience is the way that helped organizers prove that collectors were willing to buy from an online fair, not just scroll through it.
“We were hoping to do a full version of Masterpiece, but in the end it didn’t feel appropriate,” said Lucie Kitchener, the show’s general manager, noting that the lockdown levels in the UK have been increasing in recent years months since the fair was planned.
“That works for London in June,” said Kitchener. “It could be different in September or October.”
Masterpiece has tried to keep in touch with its collectors and dealers in the months leading up to the fair and is offering a series of podcasts, videos and online panel discussions under the heading “Encounter of Beauty through the Material World”.
As always, the focus of the trade fair presence is on the concept of “cross collecting”, that is, objects from the most varied of eras, origins and media are mixed with one another, with the idea that the versatile buyer would like to indulge in a wide range of tastes.
Ms. Kitchener said that for those who clicked through the presentations, there was art from about 6,000 years ago.
“We worked hard to keep the width of the fair,” she said. “There are a lot of great paintings that are a little easier to see online, but we also have a wonderful display of jewelry.”
Ms. Mortensen, who attended many editions of the event, said her approach was influential.
“Many of the international trade fairs have a sense of home,” she said of the versatile displays that reflect a living room arrangement. “Masterpiece has done that from the start.”
Despite the virtual platform, the fair still has an English accent: around three quarters of the dealers are based in Great Britain, including Trinity House, which has two spaces in the Cotswolds, northwest of London, and a branch in San Francisco. The gallery specializes in Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Modern British Art.
“Unfortunately, Masterpiece will not be incarnate,” said Beth Swaab, senior sales director at Trinity House. “But we look forward to the opportunity. The fair always has a bit of magic. “
An online event, she added, was “an accessible and convenient way to buy your pajamas.”
Trinity House will offer nine works – “that’s all we can upload,” said Ms. Swaab – including a Degas sketch “Dancer” from the late 19th century and a John Atkinson Grimshaw oil “Greenock Harbor at Night ”(1893).
The Atkinson Oil “will really benefit from zooming in on the details,” Ms. Swaab said, adding that having a video as part of the presentation of the work will help convey the value of the painting.
Kinsey Marable, a rare book dealer from Charlottesville, Virginia, said a video ad helped convince a customer to buy a pair of late 18th century Italian Commodinis.
Mr. Marable, who often finds decorative art purchases for his customers, received a special tour of the goods of various dealers from his friend Philip Hewat-Jaboor, chairman of Masterpiece.
When Mr. Marable saw the dressers in the virtual booth of the dealer James Graham-Stewart, he was just as enthusiastic as his customer.
“It was best, besides being present,” he said. “The photo and the videos were brilliant.”
VIPs like Mr. Marable will get another form of special access this year: small personal tours of the participating galleries in the cities in which they are located.
A tour called “Cross Collecting: Discoveries” stops at several galleries in New York, including London-based dealer SJ Shrubsole, who specializes in antique English and American silver.
Both in its physical gallery and at the online fair, Shrubsole shows works by British silversmith Paul Storr from the Regency era, including a set of eight candlesticks and a pair of gold-plated wine coasters. An openwork frieze surrounding the coasters shows frolicking baby Bacchus figures holding baskets of grapes.
London dealer Sarah Myerscough, who specializes in collector design and contemporary handicrafts, shows works by Adam Buick, Maisie Broadhead and Marc Fish, among others.
“I like their approach to the online experience,” said Ms. Myerscough, in which Masterpiece brought up the tone of previous personal issues.
“There is a huge variety of art,” she added. “You put fossils next to 18th century French furniture. It’s a wonderful, rich experience – a step into another world. “
All of her artists “have a strong connection with nature,” said Ms. Myerscough, including Eleanor Lakelin, who created a series of sculptural vessels from the roots of felled horse chestnuts that were created in response to stress.
“She turns them on a lathe to expose certain elements and make them shine,” said Ms. Myerscough.
Some of the dealers in this issue are highlighting hope after a long lockdown in the pandemic, including the Carpenters Workshop Gallery with locations in London, New York, Paris and San Francisco. The focus of the Carpenters program is on “functional sculpture,” said Loïc Le Gaillard, co-founder of the gallery.
“We wanted to develop a pure lighting show,” said Mr. Gaillard of the dozen or so items featured in his Masterpiece online presentation. “They are all unique or in limited editions.”
The group also includes the “New Family Lamp” (2020) by Atelier Van Lieshout from Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The steel lamp has a rectangular shade over a stylized, sculptural base that resembles three figures.
“People want a little lightness right now, and our show is what we need now to cheer up,” said Gaillard. “A little light at the end of the tunnel.”