PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE IN ALL LIFE MATTERS!!

REGRETTABLY WE ALL SHOW MOMENTS AND TIMES OF IMPATIENCE

 

OVER THE THIRTY YEARS I TRADED ART I HAD SIGNIFICANT PURCHASES AND SALES. IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN WITH REGRET I SOLD THE BEST PAINTINGS AND ART I BOUGHT BUT IN MOST CASES THE SALE OF ONE BROUGHT THE INVESTMENT IN ANOTHER. WHEN MONEY IS SO LITTLE,THEN INVESTMENTS HAVE TO TAKE THAT INTO SERIOUS CONSIDERATION AND ACT ACCORDINGLY. I STARTED MY ART ADVENTURE WITH A TEN POUND INVESTMENT IN 1983.

I HAD TO SELL THE BEAUTIFUL SEAGO PAINTING IN 1986 IN ORDER TO BUY THE MAGNIFICENT HANS HOFFMAN THAT TODAY WOULD HAVE BEEN WORTH AT LEAST HALF A MILLION DOLLARS. WHEN IT SOLD FOR 30,000 IN 1986 , I WAS OVER THE MOON BUT WITHIN A COUPLE OF YEARS I CURSED MYSELF AND TODAY I STILL CURSE MYSELF. SHOULD I HAVE SOLD OR HELD ON TO THAT TREASURE? YES, YOU KNOW THE ANSWER BUT MY IMPATIENCE AND LACK OF FUNDS FORCED ME TO SELL.

THE LESSONS OF SELLING THE HOFFMAN PREMATURELY WENT IN AND WHEN I MANAGED TO BUY ANOTHER MASTERPIECE BY ALEXANDRA EXTER I WAITED PATIENTLY FOR THE RUSSIAN MARKET TO WAKE UP AND THEN SELL. ONE WISE GENTLEMAN ADVISED ME IN THOSE HECTIC YEARS OF DEALING IN ART.

""KEEP AN INVESTMENT FOR FIFTEEN YEARS AT LEAST.""

ALAS, I LISTENED NOT, ALAS I WAS PRESSED BY MONEY ISSUES AND SOLD THE EXTER PAINTING JUST AT THE WRONG TIME OF THE RUSSIAN ART PRICE BOOM. YES, ONCE AGAIN I SOLD IMPATIENTLY EVEN THOUGH I WAITED FOR TWELVE YEARS BETWEEN INVESTMENT AND CASHING IN.

 

ALEXANDRA EXTER

IN 2000 SOTHEBYS SOLD THIS EXTER FOR 60,000 FOR ME BUT I KNOW THAT HAD I WAITED FOR THREE MORE YEARS, THE PAINTING WOULD HAVE SOLD AT LEAST FOR 200,000, IF NOT MORE. IMPATIENCE AND LACK OF FUNDS FORCED ME TO SELL THE BEST PAINTING I HAD AND TODAY I LAMENT THE DECISION AND ITS RESULT.

MY ADVICE TO ALL READERS AND FUTURE ART INVESTORS. KEEP YOU ART INVESTMENTS FOR FIFTEEN YEARS AT LEAST, IF YOU CAN AFFORD IT, THAT IS.

PETER CONSTANT

 

INVEST ON THE DOWN!!

INVEST ON THE DOWN!!

WHEN INVESTING IN ANYTHING, TRY TO AVOID THE REALLY HIGHS AND DECIDE TO GET INTO THAT MARKET IN THE MIDDLE OR LOWS. THE GREEK ART MARKET WAS HOT IN THE YEARS 2007-2009. SINCE 2010 THE GREEK MARKET SLOWED DOWN AND OVER THE LAST FIVE YEARS THE MARKET TOOK A BATTERING. IT IS STILL ON THE BOTTOM IT COULD HAVE EVER BEEN. ROUGHLY SPEAKING THE ART MARKET OF GOOD GREEK ART IS ABOUT WHERE IT WAS IN 1990.

THUS OPPORTUNITIES ARE PLENTY TO INVEST IN GREEK ART AND EVEN THE REALLY TOP PAINTINGS OF ARTISTS SUCH AS GHYSIS, VOLANAKIS, IAKOBIDES, GHIKA, PAPALOUKAS , MALEAS CAN BE BOUGHT AT 50% OR LOWER OF THEIR HIGHS OF 2007-09. 

I HAVE BEEN OF THE VIEW THAT INVESTING IN GREEK ART IS A GOOD MOVE RIGHT NOW.

 

 

Constantine Maleas

 

 

(Greek, [1879-1928] One of the top artists of early 20th century Greek art. Collected avidly by private and public galleries and museums.  Sells worldwide at very high prices. Auction price range £5,000-300,000)

May 24th 2013, Salonica

Greek art is still under a cloud and it will remain so for as long as the economy in Greece remains negative and stagnant.  However, the believers and bold business people are out fighting the storm, seizing investment opportunities and chasing the riches. True to my advice and beliefs, I am one of those and hopefully some of my readers are persuaded to follow suit.

There were about half a dozen paintings to choose from in the Salonica auction but as usual money was limited and being selective was the order. Contopoulos was possible, but abstract and not to my liking.  Spyropoulos was possible, but moody and dark, even though at a bargain price.  Fassianos was to my liking, but a very prolific artist and too many pieces of his out on the market.  Finally, there was Constantine Maleas with a superb oil painting “View of Lavrion” in the inimitable 1920s style of the artist.

 

Photo from catalogue photo scan   XXXXXXXXXXXX

What superb colouration and poetry in oils!  I looked at it once, ten times, fifty times and more. I fell in love with the painting and the realistic demands of the vendors. It was low, it was teasing.  I could not resist it, although I would be adding another Greek artist to the collection, but at a bargain price. Not half price, but about one tenth of the price at present and perhaps one twentieth in a few years’ time.

Is it genuine? Yes, no doubt!  The provenance is solid as well as all the particulars of the painting, style, age, location and medium painted on. I am not optimistic, but I am not to be put off. 

23rd May 2013

I leave an indifferent bid, and as I informed the auctioneer, to start the bidding. My bid is too low, the auctioneer informs me. I raise the bid and I wait for the sale result hoping rather than believing in my bid- too low, but I was not prepared to go any higher. A bargain should be a bargain!! Remember the Coulentianos at Rosebury’s?

Sunday, 25th May 2013

The email from the auctioneer reads: “You are the successful buyer of Maleas, a beautiful work by the artist and the best piece in the sale!”

At £4600 I became the new owner of a wonderful painting by one of the top Greek artists of the early twentieth century. I genuinely wanted the Maleas but my maximum offer was five thousand and not a penny more.

I am over the moon, I am tremendously excited and I cannot wait to get the Maleas home and hang it up next to the best pieces of the collection. The Maleas is not just a beautiful, evocative scene painted by a master, it is a painting in a unique style of a special location and also the bargain I had waited patiently for a few years now.

An anxious wait until the painting finally arrives. I open the small packet and stare at the masterpiece of Maleas. First impressions are better than the images in the catalogue and the Internet. However, I have to make sure that I have invested five thousand pounds wisely.

Is it a genuine Maleas or is it a fake?

I take the frame off the painting. I examine the board the work is painted on. Great!  Old, genuine, untouched!  I check the signature and the front of the painting once again. A great Maleas work!

Satisfied and beaming with happiness, I hang the painting over my working table. I stare at it hungrily and I love it more and more by the day.  What an investment for the future!

Why is the Constantine Maleas work such a great investment and bargain, you might wonder?  How can I invest five thousand pounds in such a piece with the Greek market in freefall?

·         Maleas’ work of this quality and size (25cm x40cm), depending on colouration and location, used to sell between £20-60,000 over the last fifteen years.

·         Maleas’ top auction price reached £300,000 and more significantly even during the downturn in Greek art this type of painting by the artist has sold for £50,000.

With such prices reached at auction how was I able to buy for so little? 

Well, the auction I bought from was not a major auction in London or elsewhere. Investors in Greek art are still apprehensive about investing in that art and while the market is down! My experience tells me this is the time to invest in very good pieces at bargain prices.

Opportunities exist not only in the Greek market but elsewhere too, as you will read further down. There is always a bargain somewhere as long as you have the knowledge and you put the effort to locate it. This time it happened to be a Greek artist, next time it might be a French or German or American artist.  Whoever perseveres and searches for the bargain will succeed.  Patience is a virtue!

 

 

WAS IT A SLEEPER OR WAS IT A GIVEAWAY??

AUCTIONS OFFER OPPORTUNITIES!!!

IN ORDER TO FIND THE SLEEPER AND MANAGE TO GET IT YOU HAVE TO CHASE IT. NO SLEEPER, NO OPPORTUNITY WILL COME AND DROP ON YOUR LAP. THUS, I HAD TO RUN FOR IT AND THE REWARD WAS GREAT!!

 

IS THIS ANOTHER SLEEPER?? IT COST ME ONLY £40.00

 

 

Chapter XXV    Bargain Hunting in Paris while Blindfolded

The early 1990s were a constant battle of survival. Buying cheaply and selling at high percentage profits was the aim. There were no boundaries as far as location was concerned but money was limited and hard to come by. The small amounts made in the early 1990s kept the business going, teaching made life at home comfortable and the restless art investor maintained the enthusiasm and belief in the opportunities existing all over the globe.

 

A trip in the dark and a £300 gamble – Nicolas Ghika

 

April 1997, St Germain-en-Laye, Paris - October 1997, Sotheby’s London

The 1990s pointed out clearly two major lessons:

·         New York was the place to sell fine art and get returns of about 100-200%

·         Greek art returned between 100-400% either at auction or in private sales at exhibitions in London or Athens

There was no reason to change the formula even though it gradually became harder to buy fine art cheaply enough to send to New York. By 1997 too many investors were chasing too few bargains and the competition was stiff.  However, that could not be said about Greek art, where it was still possible to buy a small bargain at auction worldwide, as well as privately in Athens.

The small, unimpressive catalogue arrived from Paris and I eagerly started scanning the entries and images of paintings.  Was there a bargain? Was there anything Greek?  Gounaro, Fassianos, Tsingos, Gaitis, Samios?  Was there anything else by artists who had worked in Paris in the twentieth century?  It was on the fourth or fifth page that an entry stopped me in my tracks and nearly popped my eyes out!

 ‘Niclas Ghika’ it read. There was no image, no other information except an enticing, inviting, tantalising 500 euros (£350) estimate for an oil on canvas, so loosely described, that you had no idea what it really was.

 

Nicolas Hadjikyriacos-Ghika

(Greek, [1906-1994] Top artist of twentieth century Greek art. He is found in top collections in Greece and worldwide. His art is housed in the best museums all over the globe. Auction price £2000-400,000)

Was this a real, genuine Nicolas Hadjikyiacos-Ghika, the famous Greek artist of Modern Greek art, the top Greek artist of the second half of the twentieth century? It was possible as he had lived in Paris for many years and was collected by famous, well-heeled people worldwide.  But there was no information, no image, no provenance or literature to start a search. How frustrating and upsetting was that?

It was Thursday and the sale was on the following Sunday, 10th March 1997.

The estimate of 500 - 800 euros was laughable, if indeed the painting was by him. I had already bought two Ghika drawings of much smaller size in 1988 for two thousand pounds each. A painting of Ghika of that size, whatever the quality, was surely worth thousands of pounds and perhaps tens of thousands of pounds. The market indicated an average price of twenty thousand pounds, if size was anything to measure things by. Have in mind that the value of art is determined by:

·         Size

·         Colouration

·         Subject

·         Period of execution

·         Medium (oil, gauche, watercolour, pencil, print)

·         Provenance and literature

·         The artist’s name and signature

What was the Paris auction up to?  Was it a trap to attract Greek buyers? Was it a synonymity? I could not tell. I could not rest and could not relax! I was floating on my usual dream trip of bargains, profits, investments and art adventures. Who wouldn’t like an adventure of that kind accompanied by very high rewards too?

Art! Stimulating, challenging, inviting, rewarding!

I waited for Saturday morning, the day of viewing. My call was to find out more about the piece. Was the painting signed? What was the colouration like? What was the subject of the painting? I was very familiar with the artist’s work having seen a good number of his paintings in the National Gallery in Athens and at a Ghika exhibition in London at the Royal Academy. I had also seen several of them at auction and in Mr T’s private collection.  Furthermore, an acquaintance and relative of the artist had a very good collection of the artist’s work, which I was lucky enough to have seen and admired. I was confident I could say what a Ghika painting should look like.

The phone call to the auction went through quickly and I was lucky the assistant was helpful and not that busy. I needed help, quite a bit of help and somebody who spoke English.

“Can you describe the colours of lot… the Ghika, to me, please?” 

“They are pastel colours of green and brown. It is an interesting painting, sir.”

“Is it signed, sir?”

“Yes, it is signed Ghika in the front and also signed on the reverse and titled too. It is a good painting, sir!”

I put the phone down and fell into serious thought for about ten minutes. I had a dilemma to overcome, but in those ten minutes I reasoned and decided firmly. I can get to Paris by train in three hours tomorrow morning. It will cost me £100-150, but it might be my lucky day.  If I stay in London, there won’t be another possible Ghika anywhere.  Besides, there might be something else to buy in that sale, if the painting turns out not to be a Ghika. I was determined and very focused on buying Greek art, which time and again had rewarded me handsomely in spite of hiccups here and there. In any case, I fancied a bargain hunt in Paris. Why not?

Bargains are everywhere; they only need to be chased and grabbed!

Without much more deliberation, I picked up the phone and made a reservation on Eurostar first class.  I might as well travel in style, I thought to myself.  With the travelling formalities over I could not wait for the trip to France the following day and the chance to see ‘The Ghika’?  I was ready to bid up to £7000, all my bank, as I felt the work was worth double that amount, if genuine. That was roughly what the sales in Athens pointed out and slightly higher, if sold privately.

 

Paris auction a joke!  You cannot be serious!

My trip to Paris took three hours, but by the time I arrived at the auction house just outside Paris it had gone past 1.00 pm, and it was lunchtime, the French way. Do not ask the French to miss their lunch, especially Sunday lunch! Impossible! It’s an anathema!

Outside the auction house, a semi-classical building in the picturesque suburb of Paris St Germain-en-Laye, I went round and round in circles. Could this be the auction house? It was hermetically closed and everything round it was deserted.  No sign of life. No offices to see no doors to knock on. No bells to ring, no phone boxes to call!  Was I at the right place or was it a desperate trip and wishful thinking? I had the catalogue, but I doubted everything about it when inspecting the area around the auction. The leafy streets of St Germain-En-Layes looked abandoned; shutters were shut, gates were locked and not a soul to be seen.

I doubted myself, I doubted my sanity and I doubted the catalogue I had at hand! The auction could not be closed with just an hour to go before the sale, I reasoned. My worry was immense, my anxiety huge. I felt dizzy because of the four hours’ trip and my brain was in reverse.  Frustration immeasurable, anger increasing, demons of doubt possessing me the closer to two o’clock it got.  I walked round the auction address like a madman for the tenth time, waiting for a sign of life, something stirring, something living. Not a soul! No sign of life inside the locked up auction house nor outside it.

Desperation had set in! Going round and round in circles at a faster pace, I felt I was over the edge!  It was almost two o’clock when a couple of people arrived and stood outside the auction door. They were holding that flimsy catalogue I had kept checking and re-checking for errors. Thank God, I am at the right place, I breathed in relief!  Finally and at 2.10 the doors of the auction house were pushed open from inside.  Where were those phantoms? Where had they come from?

Wasting no time, I rushed inside the auction building looking around for paintings inside the huge room. What the hell is going on, I fumed?  There were no paintings hanging on the huge expanse of walls, only stacks of them on the floor next to the auctioneer’s rostrum.  My heart sank. Such a rush to arrive early was futile and now inside the auction room I could not see the painting I had travelled all the way from London for. It was hugely frustrating. I felt like screaming! Calm down, cool, impatient investor! There was only one option left and that was not so good.

“Can I see lot number…please?”  I begged one of the attendants.

“I’m afraid it’s under there, sir. There are about eighty paintings on top of it. We cannot remove them to see just that one.  May I suggest you sit in the front row here, and when the painting comes up for sale, have a good look at it?”

I pleaded, but to no avail.   I felt like running away in disgust.  I felt sick!  I felt faint!  I needed fresh air.  Four hours on trains, all that way from London and I couldn’t even see the painting before it was auctioned!  Depressed and with the hope of a Ghika decreasing by the second, I sat in the first row of seats helpless and waited - in fury.

“Sit in the front and wait.” That was a joke, for sure, I mumbled to myself furiously.  That was disgraceful!  What kind of auction is this?  Where have I come to, I wondered?  Yes, I did not know this auction house. I did not know how they conducted their business. I did not know whether the painting I was after was a deliberate attempt to attract the Greek bidders.  This auction was definitely no Sotheby’s, no Christie’s nor Bonhams. I found out throughout this business that auctions have different systems and ways of doing business and I learned to accept their ways and live by them.  That auction was way different to anything I had experienced up to that day.

Having no alternative, feeling as sick as a dog, I sat in the front row hopelessly waiting for the supposed Ghika to be auctioned. It seemed an eternity, but actually it was very quick as the sale was terrible.  Paintings were passed over, one after the other, without any bidding. It was one of those dead auctions with only about a dozen buyers present.  One exception was a small Greek painting, a minute painting, I might add, by the Greek artist Thanos Tsingos, which sold for 800 euros. I was not interested in Tsingos, a small fish on the day; I was after a much bigger fish.

The sale of that painting convinced me that those buyers would push the estimate of the Ghika picture too and make my day a complete hell. Such a thought sent me into further worry and despair, but I was there and I had to go through the ordeal and suffer! Even bargain hunting entails suffering and heartaches of a high degree. I was hanging from a thread of hope. Simply it was desperation! What else could it be?

 

Two hundred and fifty euros to you!  What a fake!

With very little bidding on earlier lots my turn for action came quickly. Too quickly to be ready!

The Ghika is up for sale and all seems like a dream.  The assistant holds it up firmly for bidders to see, but at two metres away I can’t see well. I get up, move two steps forward, try to look for a moment or two, but the auctioneer pays no attention to me.  I am an unknown face and name to her.  She is in a hurry to finish the auction and get rid of the audience, a runaway train trying to beat the clock and crash unceremoniously into a river or ravine perhaps!

“Five hundred euros for the Ghika,” she asks looking round swiftly.  Fortunately for me no hand goes up, no nodding of the head or waving of a catalogue.  It happens so quickly, it is like a hundred metres dash.  Before I manage to put my hand up, as I’m still trying to sneak a look at the painting, I hear, “two hundred and fifty euros!”

My hand shoots up like a piston not worrying whether I am buying junk or gold.  I act on instinct! I am in a dream or rather a nightmare à la French!  I am there.  I have to bid.  Caution for two hundred and fifty euros is silly and stupid now! A fake can be worth that much.

“To you sir!” shouts the triumphant auctioneer, smiling happily and registering my paddle number.  The hammer thunders down with a deafening bang, loud enough to raise the dead, and I am the owner of the questionable Ghika. Auctioneer, assistants and the whole room look happy and smile coyly.  Are they laughing at me?  Stupid man!  Yes, I can still see the sneers. Whoops! Caught, you clever expert in Greek art!

I had bought the fake Ghika! What else could it be at two hundred and fifty euros! O là là! I couldn’t believe what had happened, everything in split seconds. It was like lightning and the thunderbolt had hit me. I was paralysed, numb and floating dizzy.  I didn’t know what to make of it.  I had bought something by 50% less than the original estimate, even though by accident. I should have been pleased, but I was unhappy!  Disappointed!  Hugely worried!  Everything seemed too shady and unprofessional.  Fake, I whispered!  Fake!  I sank in my chair!  Crooked business, I whispered!  Damn it!  Blast it! The French have caught me once again!

It can’t be a Ghika! Impossible under the circumstances! 

I had gambled 300 euros (22.5% commission included) and was still in the dark. I had bought something I hadn’t seen really. Whilst they wrapped the painting at the collection area I had a momentary closer look and my spirits lifted a little. It seemed a strange painting, but fine as far as quality was concerned. However, that was a very quick look, a very inconclusive glance by a very biased new owner.

I did not even look at the Sergei Ponomarew pointillist painting I had paid another three hundred euros for. I was speculating in art. I was an addict and going to Paris and returning empty handed was not on the cards.  Yes, I had an addiction to punting on art, but I knew this was backed up by knowledge and expertise acquired over time and hard work. How many others could say the same?

 

TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK!!

 

 

BUYING UNKNOWN ARTISTS IS NOT THROWING MONEY AWAY

WHY DO WE BUY ART?

THE MAIN REASON FOR EVERYDAY PEOPLE IS BECAUSE THEY LIKE WHAT THEY SEE AND SEE SOMETHING OF THEMSELVES IN THE ITEM THEY BUY. IN THE CASE OF A DEALER IT IS BECAUSE THE ART IS GOOD AND THERE IS POTENTIAL OF MAKING GOOD PROFIT FROM THE INVESTMENT.

OVER THE YEARS I MADE MANY INVESTMENTS WHICH WERE MADE PURELY ON POTENTIAL AND HOPE THAT WHAT I INVESTED IN WAS REALLY THE WORK OF AN IMPORTANT ARTIST!! THIS IS ONE OF THOSE STORIES THAT COMES BACK TO MIND BECAUSE THE OTHER DAY I BOUGHT A BEAUTIFUL STILL LIFE F FLOWERS, SMALL I MUST ADMIT, FOR ONLY A FIVER. WHAT DO I HOPE TO ACHIEVE? REALLY NOTHING. BEAUTIFUL, SKILLFUL AND I LIKE IT A LOT.

 

Patience, perseverance and belief rewarded

William Thon

(American, [1906-2000] Respected artist whose value is improving fast.  Honoured and well collected in his native city Portland, Maine, where a museum in his name has been established. Auction price range £500-7,000)

 

13th November 2001, Phillips Bayswater, London  - 31st July 2002, Barridoff Galleries, Portland, Maine USA

Viewing paintings auctions at Phillips Bayswater, London was routine business for years.  I did that week in, week out with no fail.  Believing in bargains was no forlorn hope.  Perseverance was the only way to find them and when others had had enough of hunting with no returns.

Nothing attracted my interest when viewing in the main rooms that November in 2001. Disappointed and unhappy, I took the way out, mumbling to myself “what a waste of time that was!”  Yes, I felt like that on many occasions, but I also knew that some day I would uncover that elusive sleeper, that elusive bargain, my reward, when others had cried out enough!  Patience and perseverance reward those who exercise them. Difficult to follow the same motto for years, year in, year out, but I kept going to Phillips because it had proved worthwhile on so many occasions.

Depressed and disappointed, head down, I stepped slowly out into the corridor, just outside the main selling room.  It was only then, when I looked up, that I spotted a rather interesting painting in between a couple of others hanging on the corridor wall.  Perhaps I was looking in the catalogue or was deep in thought when I had first walked past.  Regardless, I had missed it on my way in!

I stopped for a moment and stared at the Cathedral painting.  I liked it. I liked it a lot, but who was Thon, the artist who signed the painting? I had never heard of that name.  But there was quality in the large oil on canvas and I needed nothing more to buy. I had enough money from the Exter sale to invest for the long term.  It was no good sitting in a bank account- it had to be put to work! 

 

 

 

My bid of £480 plus commissions was successful and I became the owner of a quality painting by an unknown to me artist but hopefully a promising one. Investing in a painting on aesthetic grounds and value for money was not new, but was the Thon a wise investment?  How many such paintings could I afford?  Did I have to pay £550 for a painting by an artist I knew nothing about?  The artist is the primary attribute on any painting, though subject is important too. Unfortunately my limited search on the artist called Thon yielded no positive results and no sales anywhere.  However, I did not worry at all, as I was still convinced I had bought quality and value for money.

Who was Thon?  Was s/he English, American, Canadian, Australian or what?  I hoped s/he was at least known and more would be heard about the artist in due time.  The exhibition label on the reverse of the painting indicated a respected and accepted artist, but how long could I wait, a year, a decade?  What is a year or even ten years when investing in something that you enjoy looking at and getting pleasure from?

 

Invaluable investments and moneymaking tools!

The Art Sales Index was the main publication of sales’ results from all over the world in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s. I bought it annually and never regretted the investment. It was my right hand in researching artists and their possible value at auction and I still own and refer to them regularly.  It is no exaggeration to say that investments in tools for the business rewarded me five-fold at least or shall I say twenty-fold for good measure? Today’s main information sites are the Internet websites ‘artprice’, ‘artnet’ and ‘AskArt’ but they are rather expensive and their provision of information lasts as long as your subscription does. The new website 10000artists.com attempts to offer a cheaper alternative with no time limits.

The 2001 publication of the Art Sales Index arrived in late November and included a couple of sales by a William Thon, an American artist. I had no idea whether the Thon I had recently invested in was by the same artist, but experience dictated the way forward. I had done the same some seventeen years earlier with the Laurence, that early miracle that had opened the door and paved the way for my art venture.  I had to do the research and the detective work myself. 

·         A good investor knows how to find out about his/her stock and how to market it in order to get the maximum out of the investment.

·         The major auction houses will not do that for anybody unless the work in question is worth a few thousands of pounds and by an established, known auction artist.

·         Auctions have no idea who some artists are at times and Thon was one such example for Phillips, the third biggest auction in the world in 2001.

On calling Barridoff, the auction that had sold the artist referred to in the sales index, I found out that William Thon was a native of Portland Maine, USA. In addition, Mr Barridoff of Barridoff Galleries, Portland, Maine, gave me two very important pieces of information:

·         The artist had passed away recently - a fact that nearly always assists to higher prices for the work of the artist. 

·         The city of Portland had established a museum in Thon’s honour, a good indicator of the significance of the artist.

That information was music to my ears.  A deceased artist and a museum in his name spoke of a good collecting public. I took it all in and anticipated significant interest in the artist in his native city.  However, my worry was not so much about the desirability of the painting, but the sale itself far away from home and with an auction I had not done business with before.

 

First time requires trust

It was first time with Barridoff, but how many times had it been first time and it had worked?  Mr Barridoff was enthusiastic on hearing about the painting and my desire to sell it through his auction galleries. On receiving images and information he believed the painting to be worth between $2000-3000.  That estimate did not match his earlier enthusiasm, but that was another ploy of auctioneers to attract buyers, bargain hunters that is.  Estimate low; sell for sure!  His estimate was hardly encouraging in view of the earlier sales at his gallery auctions. However, I had no option so I was prepared to experiment and take a risk for profit. I felt the painting was worth considerably more than the low estimate, perhaps double or treble that amount.  Would the local collectors speak with their wallets endorsing my view or Mr Barridoff’s?

In May 2002 FEDEX tramsported the painting to Portland.  Mr Barridoff liked the work upon inspection, but unfortunately still insisted on the $2000 starting price, low estimate and reserve. In spite of that, I was still hoping that the painting would sell more than that, simply because it was an impressive canvas that had also been exhibited at a major public exhibition.

Summer arrived quickly finding me on holiday in Spain. Thon was coming up for sale in Portland, Maine USA with plenty of worries and disappointments.  The cataloguing was poor and the black and white illustration did not do justice to the painting.  Far worse was the omission of the exhibition history of the painting.  Paintings exhibited at important museums or galleries are valued more than other paintings of similar quality and subject by the same artist.  I was extremely unhappy and upset with Barridoff.  Being far away from the sale venue was an issue, nevertheless I complained vigorously and demanded a correction, which was made apparently.

Many worries reside at the back of one’s mind, when selling abroad:

·         It’s far away and one cannot see first hand what is actually happening.

·         The item might remain unsold in which case shipping it back and forth can be dangerous and expensive.

·         Would unknown auctioneers be reliable and trustworthy?

·         Would there be honest or dishonest bidding and rings? (A ring is an agreement between at least two people not to push the price on an item and thus buy it cheaply.)

I was worried, but I was also aware that the auction was a good venue selling major paintings, but more importantly selling successfully the artist called Thon.

 

31st July 2002, Spain 

The day of Thon’s sale was unlike any other selling day I had experienced. I was enjoying myself in the Mediterranean and forgot my worries about the sale in Portland!  The fact that I had invested a small sum in the painting made my anxiety less, far less.  Four o’clock Spanish time, 10.00am USA time, the day after the sale; time to find out the result!

 I entered the burning and suffocating phone cubicle at the resort near Malaga and quickly dialled Barridoff Galleries.  A cheerful voice promptly greeted me on the other side of the Atlantic.

“Can I have a result of yesterday’s sale please, lot 160.”

“Lot 160, lot 160, the Thon, sold for nine thousand dollars, sir.”

“Nine thousand? Did you say, nine thousand, miss?” I could not trust my ears.

“Yes, sir! Nine thousand dollars, sold!”  No doubt, loud and clear!

I put the phone down and let out a wild yell!  Out of the fire of the cubicle, I danced wildly in the street like a madman.  I ran, I stopped, kissed my wife and crossed myself, thanking my lucky stars! It was unbelievable; I was so happy!  Spain and the world around me looked even more beautiful than it had a few moments earlier!

Love for art had rewarded me with a 1000% return on the $800 initial investment.  That had been an investment made purely on art appreciation and aesthetics.   I had started buying art for myself some thirty years ago because I loved it. That love had turned into a venture, but all along it has been love for art, not just money!

The incredible joy and satisfaction I always get from looking at and admiring my collection of paintings is impossible to describe and put on paper.  I live in a dream!  I enjoy the dream!  Then I open my eyes wider and realize it is reality, not a dream at all!  It is my world, a real world.  Within the last thirty odd years I have managed to amass beautiful paintings, a unique collection from which I derive immeasurable pleasure and happiness. Such is the route to art riches: be they monetary or emotional.

 

 

DO NOT ACCEPT AUCTION EXPERTS OPINION AS DEFINITE!!

MY EXPERIENCES SAYS, TRUST YOUR OWN OPINION AND INSTINCTS!!

I HAVE HAD MANY DISAPPOINTMENTS AT THE RECEPTIONS OF AUCTION ROOMS BUT MY KNOWLEDGE OF WHAT I OWN AND HOW I GOT IT WAS ALSO MY GUIDE TO ACCEPT OR REJECT THEIR OPINION ON MANY OCCASIONS.

WAS THE EXPERT AT SOTHEBYS RIGHT TO DISMISS ME WITH A VALUABLE PAINTING IN MY HANDS? WAS HE MAKING A DECISION BECAUSE OF OTHER REASONS RATHER THAN FOR WHAT HE HAD IN FRONT OF HIM TO EXPRESS OPINION AND MAKE AN HONEST VALUATION?

WAS THE EXPERT AT CHRISTIES SOUTH KENSINGTON QUALIFIED ENOUGH THE DISMISS THE AMERICAN GENTLEMAN WHO OWNED THE TWO PAGE WATERCOLOURS I BOUGHT OFF HIM FOR PEANUTS AT THE COUNTER OF CHRISTIES?

 

Opinion of the Senior Director and expert at Sotheby’s

 

THEODORE RALLI, IT'S WORTH 2-3000 POUNDS! WAS IT??

 

June 1989, London

Consigning any property at auction is extremely worrying and at times traumatic even for the seasoned traders.  Needless to describe how it must feel when it’s only once in a lifetime.  Even though the following is just basic advice, please follow this as much as you can.  When consigning an important painting for sale at a major auction house one needs to know that:

·         It takes about four months from the moment one consigns a work of art with a major auction house till the day of sale.

·         There is another wait of about five weeks to receive the proceeds after the sale.

·         If the item is very important and there is a need for further research by the auction the whole process will take longer than six months.

Such details are very important especially when a seller needs the money urgently, in which case, a smaller, faster selling auction room might be more appropriate. In such a case one needs to know that:

·         Smaller auctions take a shorter time to sell and some sell and pay within one week.

·         The negative side of this route is that smaller auctions might sell for less, as they attract a smaller audience and less affluent buyers.

·         It might also be more expensive to sell with these fast selling auction houses.

·         If there is no urgency to sell, then selling at a reputable auction house is the most rewarding and the one we strongly advise.

The Ralli sat at home for a few months. I enjoyed it, but I could not afford it, in all honesty. The time to take it to the auction was late June, for entry into the November 19th Century European Paintings Sales.  The paintings in those sales ranged from £3000 upwards, so I had no worries about any auction accepting the painting.   

Setting off from home at about 11.00 with my wife and children, I assumed I would be at Sotheby’s London at about 11.45.  I was very hopeful and relaxed about the consignment process. The research was done; I had the latest prices and felt well prepared to defend the painting’s value and possible sale in a top auction.  Nevertheless, one can never be sure about anything until the whole business is over and money is in the bank.

Losing money on the Ralli trade was not on the cards.  I was one million per cent sure it was an ace!  It was a beautiful painting in its heavy contemporary frame and a lot of inborn optimism filled me with confidence, perhaps overconfidence.  My wife, however, never comfortable with my art venture, was anxious and apprehensive knowing I had paid top money for the painting.  Our two boys played happily in the back of the car, while I at the front waited for events to unfold in a positive, happy mood.

Through Hampstead and then Regents Park with no problems I was soon at Sotheby’s in George Street. On arrival I asked for the director of the 19th century paintings department, whom I knew from earlier consignments and purchases. He was actually one of the experts that had a look at the unsigned Constantinople painting I refer to elsewhere. It always helps when you know the people you are dealing with.

 The expert arrived, but he looked as if he was in a hurry. A cold breath of air in mid-summer swept over the consultation room of Sotheby’s.  It seemed I had interrupted his business or upset his social life or something, even though he was at work and supposed to be making money for Sotheby’s, wasn’t he?  Not a good omen.  Polite greetings over and then he was on to the business of examining the painting.

It took the top expert of the 19th century department a few seconds, literally seconds, to look at the Ralli and say quickly, dryly and tersely and I quote, “two to three thousand pounds, I believe.”

“Two to three thousand,” I mumbled, unable to grasp what he was saying.  I felt numb, dazed and confused.  It took me a few seconds to comprehend what he had just uttered.  I could not process the figures and I am good in Maths.  Doubting what I had heard, I asked in disbelief,  “Did you say £2-3000?”

“Yes, that is my opinion.” I was shocked hearing that figure twice. My head began spinning and my balance began to fail me. I was ready to collapse. Somehow, I composed myself and asked shakily, “Why is that?”

“That is my opinion!”

Was this man out to destroy me?  No doubt about that. No mistake - two to three thousand!  Come on man!   React!  Say something!  Defend yourself!  Defend the painting!  Slowly, I was coming back to my senses realizing the seriousness of the situation.  Extremely worried and upset, I finally comprehended that that was no joke and no misunderstanding. I was in deep trouble.

Anger took over me. I was boiling mad. I was beyond control and restraint at this point.  I was furious.

“Why two to three thousand pounds? Explain to me, why?  What was better about the Ralli painting you estimated £6-8000 in one of your sales last year?  Was it the fact that it was 20 x 15cm?  Was it the fact that it was just an unattractive portrait?  I have a popular composition here of 60 x 50 cm and you are telling me £2,000-3,000 estimate?  Do you think I stole the painting or found it lying on a pavement?”  I screamed at him.

“This is my opinion. If you don’t like it, take your painting somewhere else!”

I couldn’t believe my ears! That was not the director of Sotheby’s I knew!  That was no Sotheby’s expert!  That was so unlike him!  What was the problem? Why so rude?  It was unbelievable to me.  In no time he was gone and I was left standing in a cold sweat, fuming with rage.

The director had other important matters to deal with and didn’t care about a client, about his business nor about his employers’ business. That was the first and last time I ever experienced such behaviour and attitude at Sotheby’s. This was 1989, five years after I had first done business with the auction house.  By then, many experts knew me and I knew well how the auction business was conducted.

I had a good idea what was valuable and what was worthless!  How could Mr T and I be wrong at the same time? Virtually impossible! Unsteadily, I walked out of Sotheby’s in a daze. The world had collapsed around me. The top expert of the 19th Century European paintings at Sotheby’s had demolished my dreams and my confidence as a dealer. This was a knockout blow ruining everything. I took it badly, but my wife even more so after I narrated the events to her.

“Why was he so abrupt and so against the painting?” she questioned almost tearfully.

“ I don’t know,” I retorted angrily. “He was in a hurry, he was rude and he wasn’t interested.  The b...!  He destroyed me in there,” I admitted in defeat. 

Yes, your confidence, knowledge and experience can go up in smoke in seconds in the hands of these experts. Watch out!  Twenty-four years on but the scars of that event are still with me. They are as vivid today as they were then. How helpless, how unhappy and downtrodden I felt!  I hated the man!  Perhaps he hated me too. That’s why he was so against the Ralli picture. Down the drains went £10,000.  Down went all my dreams, unless he was wrong and biased for reasons of his own.

Was there a way to save the boat?  Was there another expert who would look at the painting with a more positive eye and view?  Virgin Mary, help me! I crossed myself, I begged and and prayed.  I was lost in my misery and inability to think straight and reasonably. The top man at Sotheby’s had condemned me to bankruptcy with his verdict and at the same time destroyed my thinking processes. I was paralysed, in shock.