THE BEGINNING OF BEGININGS!!

NEVER TOO LATE, NEVER WITHOUT MUCH LUCK!!

 

HOW ARE YOU IS THE QUESTION WE ALAWAYS ANYBODY WE MEET. THAT MEANS HOW IS YOUR HEALTH FIRST AND THEN YOUR LUCK. THAT IS SOMEHOW HOW THE PLUNGE INTO ART BEGAN IN 1983. IT WAS A PLUNGE INTO A SEA OF UNMKNOWN, IT WAS A DIVE INTO THE WORLD OF ART BUT WITH HARD WORK AND PLENTY OF LUCK ON MY SIDE, EVERYTHING WORKED WELL AND PLENTY FAVOURED THE AMATEUR OF THE EARLY 1980S.

 

THE BEGINNING!!

 

The story of the amateur investor began for real in London in October1983, but the seeds were sown years earlier in Athens, Greece. Narrating this incredibly amazing story of stories, I must declare my gratitude to Lady Luck from the very beginning! I am a lucky person to be alive having survived illness at an early age, airplane scares, emergency landings and the battlefield of war; a lucky person who entered the world of art a complete ignoramus, penniless and on a wing and a prayer. 

Everything became possible with luck and hard work, without which it would have been impossible to break into the serious art market the way I did. Luck, hard work and accumulated knowledge enabled me to make investments which returned significant sums regardless of whether I invested from home or in the auction room in countries as far apart as the UK, the USA, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Greece, Australia and the Far East.

Art has never stopped evolving from time immemorial, never stopped impressing itself upon the human race in a very deep, subsconscious way. Art has always attracted us like a magnet and has represented Man through the ages to today. How could I escape such a pull? I visited art exhibitions as a young student, I admired paintings in major museums and I loved the whole ambiance of art. In all those early, formative years of my life and until I got married, I never managed to buy a single work of art. It was a struggle to survive, a constant battle to lay the basic foundations for the future, let alone spend money on a painting.

Something inside me clicked as early as 1967 when in the company of an artist friend. He kindly painted for me two small ceramic paintings, the first I ever owned, and I regret I no longer have them. It was years later that I invested in my first painting together with my wife in 1979.  It was auspicious, but there was no way to even suspect that, a few years later, I would be involved in art in such a professional manner and with so much at stake.

 

Calling myself a collector and investor of art today, from an absolute novice in 1983, took many twists and turns that I was never prepared for nor anticipated. Nevertheless, I always faced strokes of luck and unlucky turns stoically and decidedly. I took successes with great satisfaction and failures as part and parcel of the process of becoming a better investor. I made do with no money in the beginning and persevered in adversity and hard times. Even when the worst financial situations affected the business and the world, I carried on, changed tactics and direction and survived. 

 

THE ASTROLOGER!! IS IT LUCK, IS IT HARD WORK OR SOMETHING ELSE??

 MANY TWISTS AND TURNS OCCURRED IN FORTY YEARS OF COLLECTING AND TRADING BUT HARD WORK AND LUCK REMAIN OF PARAMOUNT IMPORTANCE TO SUCCESS.

MR CONSTANT, IT WAS STOLEN!!

NO WORRIES, I BOUGHT IT FROM...

WHEN YOU BUY OR SELL AT AUCTIONS, YOU BUY OR SELL IN GOOD FAITH AND THE AUCTIONS TRUST YOU. THAT WAS THE CASE WITH ME BACK IN THE YEARS I WAS ACTIVELY INVESTING IN ART.

JACQUES SOMMERSCALES WAS AMARINE ARTIST!

A MARINE PAINTING BY LEON KALAOGEROPOULOS. THE PAINTING WILL BE INCLUDEDED IN MARINE EXHIBITION OF OCTOBER - NOVEMBER 2017

 

 

 “The police want to question you, Mr. Constant!” Second unlucky event

October 1990

The sale of the Somerscales painting was as uneventful as its purchase earlier. Nothing was strange or unusual about the transaction at the time until I received a call from Sotheby’s in early October 1990.  “Mr. Constant?” the polite voice of a Sotheby’s employee asked. “The police are inquiring about the Somerscales painting you sold with us in May.  Please be prepared to accept a call from them.”

“What is the problem?” I asked in disbelief.

“Apparently the painting was reported as stolen.”

It was as if I’d been hit by a thunderbolt!  My stomach churned and I felt nauseous.  No way! It cannot be stolen, but how could I be sure about that?  That had never happened to me before. 

Soon enough, the police called at the house. The two CID officers walked in quietly and apprehensively. One of them spoke Greek, no doubt expecting me to be a low life individual in the habit of stealing paintings and speaking no lingo! The officer in charge was polite, but I was more interested to hear about their evidence that the painting was indeed the property of somebody who had nothing to do with the sale at Gorringes a year earlier. I knew I would lose £2000 of profit, if the painting proved stolen. They had nothing to show me. No photos! That was a relief!

“Where did you get this painting you sold at Sotheby’s, Mr. Constant?” the line of inquiry began.  I was as calm as I could be under the circumstances.  The police were doing their job and I happened to be the individual of their interest. I wished I weren’t.  I wished it were all a dream, even a bad nightmare, not reality!

“I bought it in good faith at an auction near Brighton, Gorringes Auctioneers of Lewes,” I replied promptly.  You always buy in good faith and auctions also sell in good faith.

“When did this happen and do you have a receipt for that?”

“Of course, I do. The painting is Stock Number 226 and the receipt is here in my records.”  Satisfied with the information and evidence I gave them the officers left apologising for the inconvenience.  I breathed a sigh of relief although I was still shaken by the experience.   

I suspected how things would move forward from that point. I asked Sotheby’s for advice, and soon enough I knew the procedure of reversing the sale. That was another first that cost me a pretty penny.  The Somerscales painting was stolen. The vendor at Gorringes, I was told, was an individual who had no proof of ownership. 

Having a receipt/invoice for whatever you buy is essential.

I returned to Sotheby’s the net proceeds of the sale, and in turn Gorringes promptly returned me the money I paid for the painting. Everything was in place within two weeks minus £2000, my profit.  My finances looked like a devastated war zone. The bank was empty and by the end of 1990 I was in trouble and struggling to make the interest payments at the bank, the monthly mortgage payment and all the other expenses. This was the last thing I expected six months earlier, but when things go wrong they do go wrong in twos and threes.

I lost money with the Somerscales painting. I lost money in the fake painting.  In the blink of an eye I was in serious trouble. The multiplicity of wrong investments, unlucky events and recessionary pressures sent me to despair and depression. Was I going down as quickly as I had climbed up the art ladder or was there a way to survive?

 

THE FIGHTER IN ME WAS NEVER GOING TO GIVE IN!!

 

 

CONDITIONS OF SALES AT MAJOR AND SMALLER AUCTIONS

AUTHENTICITY OF ITEMS IS VITALLY IMPORTANT

 

AUCTIONS OF MENTION AND SMALLER ONES DO HAVE CONDITIONS OF SALES WHICH GUARANTEE THE AUTHENTICITY OF WHAT THEY SELL FOR A LIMITED TIME PERIOD. THAT VARIES FROM WEEKS TO UP TO FIVE YEARS AT THE MAJOR AUCTION HOUSES.

THE NECESSITY FOR GUARANTEES OF AUTHENTICITY IS A VERY IMPORTANT FACTOR FOR MANY HIGH SPENDERS WHO PREFER TO PAY DOUBLE OR TREBLE SUMS AT A MAJOR AUCTION WITH ALL THE GUARANTEES ATTACHED TO THEIR SALES, RATHER THAN SOMEWHERE ELSE WHERE THEY HAVE LIMITED TIME GUARANTEES. IF A DISPUTE ABOUT AN ITEM ARISES, THAT TAKES YEARS TO SORT OUT IN MANY CASES AND THAT MIGHT ANNUL ALL LEGAL ACTION.

MY OWN EXPERIENCES IN BUYING FAKES WORKS OF ART ARE TERRIBLE TO SAY THE LEAST AND THE STORY BELOW GOES TO A GREAT EXTEND TO EXPLAIN WHY IT IS REFERABLE TO MOST TO PAY THE AUCTION MORE RATHER THAN BUY CHEAPER A FAKE!!

 

Carlo Brancaccio                 

(Italian, [1861-1920], Painter of Italian harbour and coastal scenes as well as city views. Well regarded and collected by international collectors as well as Italians. Auction price range £2000- 30,000)

April 1989, Christie’s South Kensington, London

What happened with the first painting I bought at Christie’s South Kensington the same evening as the Constantinople painting?  Was the Brancaccio the money-spinner I hoped for? The amount I had paid was far less than what the market dictated and I was worried in case it was not genuine, even though it had been had catalogued as such.

When buyers view art at auction certain details are not as clear and obvious for many reasons.

·         There might not be time to research items before purchasing them.

·         It is impossible to take apart a painting in a saleroom during viewing to check how old or indeed how genuine the painting might be based on the condition of the canvas or the material it is executed on.

The Brancaccio painting was attractive enough but there were two issues I was worried about:

·         The painting should have been included in a 19th century paintings’ sale and not a marine one. Was the expert on marine art experienced enough to recognize a genuine Brancaccio or indeed a fake one?

·         The canvas looked rather fresh, new and clean for a painting that was supposed to be eighty years old plus, so I was suspicious of its authenticity.

Once I had collected the painting from Christie’s and brought it home, I got down to detective work immediately. Experience of six years was put to work. I needed to make sure that the Brancaccio was a sound investment by checking basic facts. Easy to do and no damage to the painting at all:

·         I took the canvas off the new frame in order to examine the painting thoroughly.

·         The first thing I noticed was that the painting was relined with an old looking brownish canvas, a fact I had failed to see at the viewing. That means there was a new canvas applied to the old one for support. That is normal for old or damaged paintings, a necessary practice that keeps paintings secure and alive. Relining also allows restoration to take place.  However, the original first canvas of the Brancaccio did not look old to me.  Why was it relined then?

Being suspicious when buying art is not paranoia or stupidity. Experience in the business taught me plenty of lessons and here I was put to the test by the vendors of this painting.  I had no issues in checking the painting like a detective as I had risked £1200, which I was not prepared to lose under any circumstances.

·         With a small pair of pincers, I lifted up the new canvas at the edge, just slightly, in order to see the condition of the old, original canvas. The old canvas was brand-new, a canvas of yesterday not eighty years old as it should have been.

I needed no other proof.  The painting was a clever, modern fake beautifully signed and made to deceive.  I picked up the phone and immediately informed Christie’s about the true identity of the Brancaccio. The process to reverse the sale was simple and easy:

·          I wrote a letter to Christie’s informing them that the painting was not a Brancaccio.

·         I returned the painting to Christie’s a few days later in the same condition I had bought it.  Please always remember how long you have as a guarantee when buying at auction as it varies from auction to auction.

Christie’s apparently checked the painting out with the expert on the artist who confirmed what had become obvious to me once I had checked the painting closely.  The Carlo Brancaccio was a good, deliberate fake.  Christie’s returned my money promptly as their conditions of sale provided.  Christie’s expert, as I suspected, had made a hasty cataloguing without checking the painting thoroughly. Was the expert qualified enough to catalogue such a painting?

How many investors buy at auction in good faith, keep the item for years and never question the attribution until somebody alerts them too late that the artwork is possibly wrong?

The guarantee of auctions is anything up to five years maximum, so please check well what you have bought within the time of guarantee. No restitution after that. Luckily, that fake Brancaccio was the reason I had bought the painting of Constantinople. Another coincidence, another stroke of luck or a knowledgeable investor determined to succeed?

 

 

NO NOOSE WHEN SOMETHING REMAINS UNSOLD!!

DISAPPOINTED AND DISILLUSSIONED, YET....

I NEVER LOST FAITH, EVEN THOUGH I HAD ONE SETBACK. MANY OTHER TERRIBLE THOUGHTS ABOUT THE MONTEZIN CROWDED MY MIND BUT PUTTING GUNS DOWN WAS NOT MYSELF AND SO ONWARD I WENT, FORWARD I LOOKED AND OPTIMISM WAS SUPPORTED BY MARKET DEVELOPMENTS!! 

 

Chapter XI         The learning curve doesn’t end on one’s shores

 

Pierre Montezin - never give up on good art

 

May 1987, Christie’s New York      

1987 started slowly as most years did.  By February it had picked up and gradually became hectic and frenetic. I was unprepared for all the events that followed during that year, but that is what makes art and dealing in art so interesting and exciting, so different to any other investment and so rewarding at times. It was an unpredictable year for any business including mine.

The investment in Montezin had become a thorn in my side.  Every business and every activity in life depends to a great degree on confidence and that painting was a case where I had lost confidence.  I had tried to sell it in France at two different auctions and failed. I had tried once in New York and failed.  By March 1987 I was desperate to be rid of it and would have been happy to get my money back, let alone make a profit.

Fortunately Impressionist sales in New York in February and March 1987 had achieved excellent results for his work.  All the catalogues I had, including a number from France, showed clearly that similar Montezins to mine were selling like hot cakes near the $20,000.  Timing is the most important aspect of any financial transaction and I felt the time was right to try again in New York, but this time with Christie’s.  I had to strike while the iron was hot and although the painting was not fresh on the market I was confident that not too many people knew this as there was no Internet in those days.

 

The correspondence and communications with the expert at Christie’s were clear and unambiguous. This is a good painting, we like it and we feel it can sell for about $15,000. There was no guarantee, but the market warranted that estimate and sale expectations. I was not of the same view for once, because I knew the history of the painting - unsold, unsold, unsold!

 

Consign in person – get to know the experts!

Experts at auctions usually know their buyers, know their artists and are generally good judges of what is to happen in the saleroom. In the case of the Montezin I prayed they were right.  I wanted to accept their expertise wholeheartedly, but could not.  Nevertheless, I had no other option.  Christie’s New York was the only major auction left for the Montezin.

Consigning the Hofmann in person had proved successful; consigning the Seago via proxy could not have been worse; lessons learned the hard way.  I had no desire for intermediaries in consigning the Montezin. The best policy was to see the experts, discuss issues and get them on my side. Besides, I had other business and paintings to carry to New York.

Christie’s was then on 5th Avenue in the centre of Manhattan. The expert I had corresponded with was soon with me.  He was surprisingly young and very welcoming and polite.  Introductions over, I nervously opened the package with the painting.  The greens shone brightly in the rich light of the room, the rooftops in that soft pink stood out.  I remained quiet, almost frozen and waited for the thunderbolt.  After looking at the painting for a few seconds, just seconds, with no fuss, no beating about the bush, he said, “Yes, this is a good painting. I like it.”

“Now that you see it in the flesh, do you think and feel any different?” I asked hesitantly.

“No, absolutely not. It’s as good as I said in my correspondence.  I believe we can sell it at $15,000 in our October 1987 sale. If you are happy with that, let’s draw the contract and go ahead with the sale.”

Happy? Are you kidding? I was thrilled to pieces. It was all done in about fifteen minutes and I was on my way out of Christie’s, a relieved man, a hopeful man but still very much a non-believer.  What a turnaround and what expectation!  After a couple of setbacks already in 1987, I needed a good sale to balance the books and restore my confidence. New York was the place to stop the rot.

Waiting for a sale was not easy but at the same time being busy makes time fly. I found myself supply teaching in a new school with great people. Mixing art and supply teaching was exactly the combination required.  Summer was hectic and as you already read August was a month not to be forgotten so easily.

October was nearing and the catalogue from New York arrived three weeks before the early October sale. Illustrated in colour, the Montezin looked magnificent on the right hand page of the catalogue - absolutely brilliant and more than attractive!  In addition, the artist’s son had authenticated the painting in a letter to Christie’s and was going to include it in his father’s catalogue raisonné. Such a statement in the catalogue increased the value of the painting and made it more desirable.  That was a very good omen, it was something I did not expect, and yet there it was in the catalogue. I was so grateful to Christie’s!  Sotheby’s, a year earlier, had dumped my property in a sale of no consequence. Christie’s had not only checked it, which led to it being included in the artist’s raisonné, but also included it in their best secondary Impressionist sale. I appreciated that very much and as a result, they won me as a client.

 

Unsold at Sotheby’s; sold at Christie’s

8th October 1987, New York

Thinking about the sale and worrying about another unsold trauma cannot be described easily.  Worrying to death, sleeping with nightmares aplenty I managed from day to day.  In spite of all the negative emotional issues related to the Montezin, somewhere, deep at the end of the tunnel of torture of unsold paintings, I could see a glimmer of twinkling light because:

·         The market was stronger in 1987 compared to 1986.

·         My property was included in a much better sale and catalogued amongst more important art, which attracted better buyers.

·         The painting had been authenticated by the artist’s son and was going to be included in his catalogue raisonné of the artist.

Waiting to hear the result of the sale was a torment. The year had not been the one I expected up to that point and I was teetering on the edge of a precipice. With fear and trepidation I called Christie’s the same day of the sale, after school and around six in the afternoon London time. Supply teaching earned me the daily bread, but art filled my life emotionally and with greater financial reward. 

“Can I have a result from today’s Modern and Impressionist sale, please? Lot number 44.”

“Let me have a look sir…yes, sold for $24,000 sir.”

“How much please?” 

“$24,000, sir.”

“Thank you,” I whispered, and put down the phone. I felt faint.  I was speechless, and then I screamed like crazy, “Yes, Yes, Yes!” punching the air, kicking in all directions, I went crazy!

Sold for $24,000 in October 1987 at Christie’s.  Unsold in October 1986 at $5,000 with Sotheby’s. You cannot be serious, can you?

I ran round and round like a madman. I sat to rest. I was exhausted!   I slowly calmed down and reflected! What a result!  That was crazy but it was also the reality of auctions.  The sale justified my persistence, my resilience and my hard work in following the markets so closely.  I never gave up.  I kept trying even when pessimistic.  I was not a pessimist any more! I have never been one, anyway!  I was right all along and I did everything to perfection this time round. Timing! I had timed the sale of the painting perfectly! It felt so satisfying. The sale gave me a serious financial injection of money, which I desperately needed; £14,000 net from an investment of £4,000 including expenses. What a return and what a turnaround?

Was I that shrewd or was I just lucky? Was I a good trader or was I a bloody lucky trader? I was not sure, but I was comfortable in my belief that I was a good investor, who had luck on his side because, a few days later, the stock exchanges crashed worldwide and with that the art market too. 

When an international financial crisis erupts, it takes everybody along with it, or does it?  The sale of the Montezin and the stock exchanges crash of October 1987 marked the second phase of my art dealing and its fourth anniversary.  How did a financially weak person like myself fare during those stormy times?  Did I exploit the crash of October 1987 to success or did I crash too?

 

 

 

 

 

IT IS UP TO YOU TO MAKE IT YOUR THEATRE!!

NEVER GIVE UP!!          

 

All the world’s a stage,

          And all the men and women merely players:

          They have their exits and their entrances;

          And one man in his time plays many parts…

                                                          

 

                                  Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act 2, scene 7

 

OUR WORLD IS CHANGING ALL THE TIME AS THE ANCIENT GREEKS SAID, " TA PANTA RI"" WHICH MEANS,  EVERYTHING CHANGES. THE NEW WORLD OF INTERNET, SOCIAL MEDIA, PRIVATE ENTERPRISE MAKE THE WORDS OF SHAKESPEARE AS WISE AS THEY HAVE ALWAYS BEEN.

THE BEGINNING OF ANY BUSINESS IN VERY DIFFICULT AND MINE WAS NO EXCEPTION. INVESTING THREE THOUSANDS POUNDS IN 1985 AND THEN BEING UNABLE TO MAKE A PENNY OUT OF IT, RATHER ABOUT A THOUSAND POUNDS EXPENSES WAS THE WORST THING THAT COULD HAPPEN TO ME AFTER 1985 TURNED TO BE VERY PROFITABLE.

THE FRENCH EXPERIMENT FAILED LUCKILY, THE AMERICAN EXPERIMENT HIT ME HARD AND I WAS IN DESPAIR, I MUST ADMIT.  I COULD NOT FATHOM THE EVENTS RELATED TO THE MONTEZIN PAINTING AND WHAT I WAS DOING TO GET RID OF IT, RATHER THAN SELL IT PROPERLY AND WHERE I SHOULD. I LOST PATIENCE AND I WA RUNNING LIKE A HEADLESS CHICKEN ALL OVER THE PLACE, AS IF MY LIFE DEPENDED ON IT. FAR FROM THAT!!

 

Pierre Montezin nearly drowns the amateur

 

 

 

October 1986, Sotheby’s New York

The Pierre Montezin work was included in the first Arcade Sale of Impressionist and Modern paintings of Sotheby’s in New York in October 1986.  This was the first sale of a new experiment; first catalogue, different clientele to the regular Impressionist sales.  I was worried, justifiably worried and very upset. Being in London, I could do nothing about it. I felt cheated and deceived!  Had I known, I would never have consented to selling my property in a new business venture with an unproven sales record. I was angry with myself, as I had not negotiated the right sale for my property.  My only wish was for the painting to sell and sell well; but the best result is usually achieved in the best sale.  That was not the best sale!

It was a complete disaster!  The painting failed to sell at $5,000, but I was happy as I would have been out of pocket had it sold at that reserve. The costs had already piled up.  Shipping the painting to New York, the trip to France, now unsold charges and the painting had cost me close to £4000. It was becoming a noose round my neck threatening to choke me! To add salt to injury some clever person offered, through Sotheby’s, an after-sale bid of $4000, to which I answered,  “If this person has any Montezin paintings similar to mine, I will buy them all at $8,000 each.”  I was furious with the audacity of that person.  I was in a financial squeeze, but I was not stupid. 

Never undersell your property even when everything points south because the compass can change direction quickly and dramatically.

I was very worried but also somehow hopeful! Where did that hope come from since that investment had been all doom and gloom up to that point? 

·        Thinking positively has been a trait of mine all along!  Never lose faith, think positively and hope! 

·        An unsold painting today might be worth double the following day! 

·         Something positive did happen later in October and November when several paintings by Montezin sold for around ten thousand dollars at Sotheby’s and Christie’s.

I kept asking myself, why had my property failed to sell since auction results in New York were much higher than $5000, my reserve?  It was a puzzle.  Was it the sale it was entered in or was there something wrong with the painting?  However, my accumulated auction experience of the last three years led me to believe that it was the new auction format of Sotheby’s that was to blame and not the quality of the painting. Even though fed up now with the adventure called Montezin, there was still hope for the future.  I would have to wait and ride the storm since I had no alternative at the time and had exhausted nearly all other options to sell.

On my next visit to New York in November 1986 I collected the painting and left it in the care of relatives in New Jersey.  I was resigned to live the nightmare for some more time.  Would it be months or years?  How long could or would I have to wait for the Montezin to fulfil the expectations I had when I bought it at Christie’s?  Would I be able to stop the haemorrhage and recover my £4000 investment, if nothing else?