Alongside the internationally renowned galleries featuring masterpieces by Van Gogh and other artists, this year’s TEFAF will feature pieces curated by Floris van Wanroij Fine Art. Newcomer Floris van Wanroij, a UM alumnus, will present pieces from his collection of Old Masters and late medieval sculptures. “TEFAF is the best platform you could have.”
We meet in Floris van Wanroij’s family home – a villa in Dommelen in the municipality of Valkenswaard where Floris and his parents live. This is where his love of old art began. This is the home he travelled to and from during his studies in Maastricht. This is also where he founded his art gallery in 2008. Artworks line the walls and halls of the entire house, but a separate room has been reserved for the gallery. “My parents are art collectors, particularly modern art, and they have a large library of books on ancient art. As a boy of four, I was always browsing through those books and was fascinated by ancient art and art history, old traditions and old buildings. Valkenswaard used to have a private history museum with an impressive collection of late medieval artwork and early paintings. I loved wandering through that museum. That’s where my love of sculpture came from. My love of the Dutch and Flemish masters came later.”
Personally, Van Wanroij prefers the refined sculptural techniques of the late Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the Baroque periods. While perusing his collection, he points lovingly to the armpit of an ornately carved wooden statue of Jesus on the cross, which he attributed to Mechelen-born sculptor Antoon Faydherbe. “He even has armpit hair.” Van Wanroij purchased one of his first paintings by the Old Masters at a small auction house near Dommelen. “I was twelve years old when I bought a portrait by The Hague artist H.J.P. Hanau for 850 guilders. It’s still in my bedroom to this day. The painting wouldn’t fit in my collection and is not at all suitable for TEFAF, but I can’t bear to sell it. Plus, it’s a high-quality nineteenth century painting, so not a bad buy for a twelve-year-old kid.”
He will be bringing a small painting by Pieter Leenmans, one of the Leiden masters. “It’s an portrait of Maria Magdalena, which was sold as a Gerard Dou in 1966. This was inaccurate, but it does have that quality. It’s an excellent representation of my collection. I want to profile myself with better work by the lesser-known masters. The great masters, like Rembrandt, Rubens and Vermeer, are not financially possible for me. But next in line are the painters whose best work is often better than the ‘lesser’ work of the great masters.”
It was obvious that Van Wanroij would go on to study art history. While attending Utrecht University’s open day, he was told that just 15 of the 250 students would find a job in their field. This disappointing prospect prompted him to follow in his older brother’s footsteps and study law in Maastricht. He enrolled in 2001 and continued to pursue art as a hobby, but the law programme proved disappointing. “I finished the first year and then transferred to the Faculty of Arts and Culture. This programme fitted like a glove. It was much broader than the bachelor programme in art history and because of my knowledge of art, I really enjoyed supplementing the programme with courses in philosophy and political history. Because I had done rather well in my bachelor’s programme, they asked me if I’d be interested in following the research master in Culture of Arts, Science and Technology, which was set to start that year. This master is designed to prepare you for an academic career. Everything seemed to fall into place: I designed my own research study and wrote my thesis on the history and current status of museums of religious art.” Van Wanroij graduated cum laude and won the Student Award for his thesis in 2007.
From art collector to art dealer
Van Wanroij continued to collect art alongside his studies. “I wanted to buy nicer pieces for myself, which meant I had to start selling some as well. I sold a lot of pieces to American art dealers when the dollar was stronger than the euro. Americans tend to have very specific taste when it comes to art: they prefer what we would consider the sentimental nineteenth century paintings from the Belgian Romantic Movement. I bought them for next to nothing at the market in Tongeren and sold them like hotcakes.”
After graduating, he opted to join the workforce instead of a PhD programme. “I was offered a position at Glerum auction house in Amsterdam as head of the paintings department. That was extremely educational, but I started feeling restless after about a year. I saw so much potential pass me by, but I couldn’t do anything about it. After all, auction house employees aren’t allowed to trade. I missed searching for new pieces, doing historical research and overseeing restorations – that’s probably my favourite part of all. One day my parents came to me and said: ‘If you want to enter the art market as a professional, then that’s what you should do now. You’re going to want stability, a house and a family when you’re thirty and by that time the step will be too big to take.” At age 27, Van Wanroij took the plunge and opened his own gallery.
The gallery is doing incredibly well, as illustrated by the invitation to participate in the TEFAF Showcase Programme, which gives young and promising gallery owners the opportunity to profile themselves and gain experience. “In terms of the Old Masters, TEFAF is the best fair in the world. It’s by invitation only, so it’s a real honour to be able to participate. We’re meticulously judged by a committee of experts on quality, authenticity and condition. Of course, I hope to sell some of the pieces, but it’s just as important to present myself to art collectors, museums and international art dealers in my sector. The art world is very small in the Netherlands, particularly dealers who trade in work by the Old Masters. Most of these pieces are owned by a few reputable companies that pass them on from generation to generation. They know me and have accepted me by now, so I am ready to take the next step. All of the Showcase candidates are located near the restaurants, which may not be the ideal spot, but I’d be willing to stand in the bathrooms if it meant presenting at TEFAF.”
Source: UM Web Magazine, 13 March 2014