MARINE ART AND ITS BLESSINGS!!

INVESTING IN MARINE ART PROVED VERY GOOD!!

 

HENRY SCOTT, INCLUDED IN OUR EXHIBITION OF OCTOBER 2017

THE LESSONS OF THEN DO NOT APPLY TODAY BUT ONE HAS TO LOOK AT THE LONG TERM PICTURE. MARINE PAINTING HAVE BEEN POPULAR ALL ALONG AND NO WAY THEY WILL NOT BE IN THE FUTURE. AS LONG AS THERE IS MARINE LIFE, MARINE PAINTINGS AND ART WILL BE POPULAR!!

WHERE DO I GET THREE THOUSAND POUNDS WITHIN A MONTH??

 

Deal or No Deal?

Lucien Potronat

(French, [1889-    ] Well known for his magnificent views of the Côte D’Azur in Southern France and mostly collected in England. Auction price range £500-3000)

In June of 1987 I bought a beautiful View of the Côte D’Azur by Lucien Potronat at Phillips Marylebone, London for just £125. It was a painting for the house and my own joy and enjoyment.  It spoke about home, it spoke about my life and it was a bargain.  More importantly, it was provenanced by Stacy-Marks, Eastbourne England, at some time in the past, as the label on the reverse of the painting indicated.

I knew that Stacy-Marks were actively buying the artist because I had seen them bidding and buying Potronat works at Lewes in East Sussex. It was no secret! All good traders, should have known that or similar facts about rich galleries.  Could Potronat assist me to raise the funds I needed in a private sale?

Twenty days to go! The pressure to pay the Dawson was on and gradually increasing as the days went by. It was three thousand pounds, a very serious sum of money in 1987.  I had no such sum in the bank as everything had been invested in Penck, Roubaud, Girardet, Montezin, Fassianos and other artists, which were to be sold at auction later in the year.

I loved the Med View of Lucien Potronat and had intended to keep the painting for the family’s enjoyment and for the future. However, when in need of money, you need to sell what is the easiest and the quickest. If you own stocks you sell your stocks, if you own art you sell your art and selling art privately to a gallery was the quickest way for me.

I knew the painting was worth a couple of thousand pounds because smaller size paintings of the artist were selling close to six hundred pounds at auction. Could I sell the Potronat privately to Stacy-Marks? Would they be interested?  How would I make up the missing money even if I sold the painting to that gallery? I would still be short of a few hundred pounds and I had only twenty days to pay Bonhams.

Stacy-Marks was one of those family galleries with old stock and shrewd old shoes running the business. My call to them was short and to the point. On mentioning the name Potronat, they immediately asked to see the painting with a view to buying it, if we came to an agreement.  No promises, but that was an encouraging initial contact. I could not mess up this transaction, as I was desperate for the money.  It was tricky, it was the first time I was selling to a gallery, but there is always a first time. 

I drove to Eastbourne that Saturday with a million thoughts circling in my mind. Would they buy at the right price? Would they throw me out?  What would happen with the Dawson? Would Bonhams cut me out as their client, if I failed to pay in time?  Keep cool, do not panic and do not show anxiety and worry. Play your cards right and everything will be fine, I kept telling myself.  Much harder to do than say!

On entering the impressive gallery in the heart of Eastbourne, a thriving town on the south coast of England, I was struck by the high quality of the art on the walls. I introduced myself and soon enough it was show time.  They liked the painting. They surely did. It was one of theirs. “How much do you want?” inquired the old fox, Stacy-Marks. He was the one calling the shots and there was a bright sparkle in the old man’s eyes. He knew the business much better than his sons and myself. The evidence was there to see.

“I am selling the painting for £2000.  It’s a lovely painting and worth every penny.”  Cool and composed, I made my case. No nerves, no worries and very sure of myself. Where did that come from? This was supposed to be a first time!

“Yes,” the old man responded, “it is worth that much, but we are dealers and we want to make a little bit of money too. I think a fair deal is £1500.”  I rejected the offer as too little in the hope of making a little more. Back and forth, hesitation here and there and the compromise was £1800 on the spot. They were happy with the purchase - I was delighted with it, to say the least.  A cheque of £1800 was handed to me; signed and rubber-stamped.  It was an immense achievement as a first time!

With an £1800 cheque in my pocket, I felt like flying back to London. I was on top of the world!  Four years after I had started dealing in art, I could sell directly to galleries at a good profit.  Do you call a return of 1500% only a good profit!  The trip back to London was like a minute. I was so proud of myself. It was such a satisfying experience and a moneymaking one too.  I was full of beans and convinced that I wouldn’t have a problem paying for the Dawson.  But I was still short of about £1000, still a significant sum. What else could I sell or buy for immediate re-sale? Success whets the appetite and you want more of the same.

Luck was on my side all the way! Thank you!

Fiction is fine, but the art trading events in these memoirs are better than fiction at times.  Here I am recounting these unbelievable events that occurred at the right time and the right moment. How was that possible?  I still wonder and still ask!  Who and what was moving the pieces and making events happen? Luck? Surely something was intervening on my behalf. I was moving my little finger too, but something else was at play and the Ancient Greek saying is appropriate here,

“ Sin Athena kai heira kinei”.  “Move your little finger, if you wish luck to assist you.”

 

Bargain at my doorstep can pay for the Dawson  

Gabriel Deschamps

(French, [1919-   ] Twentieth century artist of French landscapes, well collected and popular at auctions in the UK.  Auction price range £500-3000)

I was back in London that Saturday hoping that something else might happen quickly and the Dawson problem would be solved.  Sunday for me was viewing of various auctions in two or three different places in London. That included North West Auctions in North London where from time to time the odd worthwhile painting appeared in their weekly auctions and nearly always at a bargain price.  On that Sunday in August 1987 I was not expecting anything miraculous after the Saturday miracle at Eastbourne. A second miracle within days was too much to ask.

Nevertheless, Lady Luck was looking after me from above and I was moving around to make things happen. Covering nearly half the display wall of the auction was a huge impressive landscape with a style and colouring that was immediately recognizable to me. On approaching I was spellbound.   There it was, signed to the bottom right G. Deschamps or Gabriel Deschamps. The painting looked magnificent, fresh, clean and straight from a home. That was the possible solution to the problem called Montague Dawson, but could I buy it at that ridiculous estimate?  Would I be going back to Stacy-Marks again the following weekend?  Deschamps was another one of his artists! 

Monday evening and it was auction time.  My hope was to buy the painting for nothing as only experienced traders knew who Deschamps was and Finchley auctions did not attract too many of those. I was sure of that.  I waited patiently and quietly. Cool, cold and calculating, the hunter took aim hiding behind the large items of furniture. I wanted nobody to see me, to smell my presence.  The situation was grave; I wanted the Dawson problem solved that very night.

The loud voice of the auctioneer still echoes in my ears. Loud, crisp and clear.  Why didn’t he become a singer? Great voice for that profession! Deschamps is in view and up for sale.  “Thirty pounds I have,” he shouted out. Easy mister, I need a bargain, do not wake them up.  “Thirty-two, thirty-four, thirty-six, thirty-eight … forty-five I have and I am selling at forty-five,” he boomed.  The hammer came blissfully down and I became the owner of the Deschamps shy of fifty pounds, which included commissions. I can still see his beaming face. However, all the smiles were mine! 

I walked out of the crammed auction to take a breath of fresh air.  I could not digest the event.  I could not believe that such conspiracies of luck happened to normal humans. How could I be so lucky and privileged?  Lady Luck, my protectress, had provided me with another opportunity to raise the remaining sum for the Dawson painting.  Luck had been good to me again, but it was also invaluable knowledge of art that enabled me to seize this opportunity.

Forty-nine pounds and a few pence I paid that very night and off I set with the beautiful Deschamps. What did I buy? The canvas, the paints, the frame or what? It was a ridiculously low price, but hey, that was auctions for you with the great opportunities offered to all.

My second trip to Eastbourne was as successful as the first one - no hassles and no arguments at £1500. I had struck another great deal with the old Stacy-Marks and solved an immense problem hanging over my head. Four trades within a month, under such circumstances, were not only hugely rewarding but also didactic.

·         Sell to gulleries privately even if the profits might be slightly less.

·         Knowledge of the stock of galleries is important.

·         Daredevil investments might cause serious money problems and lead to litigation, if one fails to pay.

·         Luck is an important ally, but knowledge is a battle winner.

 

Specialist theme sales are preferred

Three agonizing weeks it took me to fund the Dawson, but I enjoyed having it up on the wall in the meantime. I loved the subject, the style and colours.  But it was not destined to stay there.  The artist’s work was selling extremely well at auction.  I needed a return on my investment so the Dawson was entered for Sotheby’s Marine sale of May/June 1988.  I considered a specialist sale much better than a general one for several reasons:

·         Serious collectors of that type of art frequent such auctions and prices climb higher, especially if an item is unique.

·        Art unique to a nation in a specialist sale always sells better than in a mixed sale.

I consigned the painting with Sotheby’s in February 1988 with an estimate of £6-8000 and a reserve of £6000, reasonably hoping for a sale close to £10,000.  The reserve guaranteed me a 75% profit.

The Dawson looked great in the catalogue. Unfortunately three similar watercolours by the same artist plus several oil paintings were also included in the same sale.  I did not mind the oils, but the watercolours were an issue. Too many of the same thing in a sale was a disadvantage. Had I known that, I would have delayed the sale.

The watercolour sold for £6000 at the reserve. I was hugely disappointed, but still relieved that it had sold and returned me about £2500 profit, a good result, taking into account the after-effects of the October Exchanges crash.  And more seriously, the Dawson had been a purchase with the profits from two other investments, so essentially it was all profit! Celebrate, cross yourself and say a big thank you amateur investor! 

Making about 75% profit in less than a year was great!  Selling the Penck in New York at the same time and making about £2500 profit or 50% also added to the beauty of dealing in art. Trading paintings of £50-8,000 value was very good business, since the returns were on average 100% and in certain special cases over 1000%.  Did I carry on with that strategy or did I mess up?  The years 1985-1988 were proving to be dream years with insignificant losses, if any at all, to major profits.  Could it get any better? Would it get any better?   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MARINE ART FOR THE SOUL AND THE POCKET!!

INVESTING IN MARINE ART WAS ALWAYS A JOY AND MOSTLY PROFITABLE TOO!!

 

LEON KALOGEROPOULOS

 

THE COLLECTION OF GREEKSINART INCLUDES ABOUT 40 PAINTINGS OF MARINE CONTENT AND IN VARIOUS STYLES INCLUDING IMPRESSIONIST PAINTINGS BY VASILIS ZENETZIS. THE MAIN BODY OF THE COLLECTION IS BY LEON KALOGEROPOULOS, WHOSE TALENT WAS WELL RECOGNISED AT THE MAJOR AUCTION OF LONDON.

 

 

Daredevil acts!

Montague Dawson

(British, [1895-1973] Most famous and most popular British marine artist of the twentieth century. His art is extremely popular on both sides of the Atlantic. Auction price range £6,000- 200,000)

13th August 1987, Bonhams, London - 1st June 1988, Sotheby’s, London

It was summer 1987, but no holidays for the penniless investor and the family. The kids were too young, cash money was scarce, rather non-existent, and so London was to be the holiday place. Why not? Auctions never stop in the summer even though they are rare and far between. Never one to worry about what to do daily, I kept my routine and had my diary marked for the Marine Sale at Bonhams in August. Always hopeful, I kept hoping for the best possible bargain to lift the gloom I had put myself in with purchases I had made earlier in the year.

There were several paintings I liked, but the ones with potential were two watercolours by Montague Dawson, the most popular and most valuable English marine artist of the twentieth century.  The Dawson watercolours looked magnificent - predominantly blue, atmospheric with proud fishing boats riding the waves. Furthermore and most importantly, they were ridiculously low estimated.  At a thousand pounds each, they were bargains as the markets indicated a valuation close to £10,000 pounds.  They were obviously privately entered and so the experts at Bonhams had a good opportunity to whet the appetite of bargain hunters.

Bargain hunters aplenty everywhere and I was one of them, albeit an art lover too.  How else should I describe myself at that stage of the quest to become an art investor/collector?  I was one of those bargain hunters, no shame to admit it. However, the burning question was how many more like myself were out there to bid that summer evening at Bonhams?  Nothing would stop me from bidding to buy at a reasonable price, but would there be a bidding war, one that could definitely knock me out financially and further into trouble?

I picked up Mr T and headed to Bonhams’ evening sale early. The Dawsons were to be auctioned in the first ten lots and it was hateful to me to be late for any sale. Besides, seeing the paintings once again increased my confidence in them and gave my guest a chance to see what English marine art was all about.

Mr T liked the Dawsons, but he knew nothing about prices or about bidding at auction. There were no auctions in Athens at that time, something that he would change single-handedly soon enough.  There was no significant Greek market in London, something that he would again change soon after. On seeing his collection of Greek art later, I estimated it to be worth about five million pounds.  There were over one thousand paintings of the most famous artists in Greece from Gysis to Volanakis, from Maleas and Parthenis to Ghika and Fassianos.  Both his gallery and his house were Aladdin’s Caves. As he mentioned in passing, “you haven’t seen anything yet until you see the warehouse.” There was no Greek artist whose paintings he didn’t possess and in a good number too. To mention but only one detail, he had the best collection of Parthenis’ work ever; something like twenty great canvases and perhaps one hundred drawings.  This man was indeed “The Man” in Greek art!

The two watercolours of Dawson were very attractive, but I liked the second one more. I was anxious and worried, but I didn’t show this to my guests.  Could I buy the Dawsons at the low estimate?  The first lot came and I bid to £1000 nearly buying at that price. Then calamity! A new face on the auction scene of London entered the dance and the bidding became unpleasantly bloody.  Hundred by hundred, step by step, the price climbed to £2500. Disappointed and frustrated, I looked away and dropped out of the bidding war. No use fighting a losing battle!

Underbidder! How many times did that happen to me? The bitter taste lasts for long and at times it never leaves the memory because that painting was always the life changing one.  However, no use bidding to destruction was my philosophy, so I restrained myself!  Live for another day and another painting! They always appear when least expected!  Money is the only problem as it vanishes instantly into thin air!  Bidding wars are always for the sellers and not the buyers anyway.

I stopped, took a deep breath and decided resolutely that I would bid slightly more and buy my preferred second Dawson. The bidding went exactly like the first one. The buyer of the first lot remained quiet until the £1000 mark. Then he started bidding against me, but I suppose because he had bought one painting already he stopped bidding at £2600, thus allowing me to buy the Dawson I found more appealing at £3000 inclusive of commissions. I was not prepared to pay a penny more. I suppose I was lucky he stopped bidding or was I unlucky?

It was a fair price and I estimated I had a margin of 50% profit at worst. That was the minimum I was working towards and if it happened to be more, all the better.  I was relieved, I showed good face to my guests and I also felt I had made a seriously good buy.

 

Skinned! Where and how do I find £3000?

Never buy without having the funds ready!

I broke the rule as early as 1985 and then again in August 1987. I had no ready funds to pay the Dawson.  However, I had thirty days credit of time to pay Bonhams. Even though auctions say that payment is immediately due, buyers have this time to send funds, to wire funds, and that is a whole month.  That was plenty enough time to raise the money, if I did not sell anything to raise that sum by then. Buying without the funds put me under immense pressure but I always came through before in similar situations and I hoped to do the same in the Dawson case!  Always the optimist, aren’t I?  Managing this time round would take a miracle however!  It was summer!  It was slow! It was three thousand pounds - an enormous sum.

When you deal in pictures you ought to know who buys what and where!

I knew about the stock of galleries in London and outside London, galleries in Athens, a few galleries in Paris, New York and Philadelphia. I also knew a few good dealers. It was to my advantage to be aware of their stock and what they were buying and selling. I made it my business to know by visiting these galleries and asking about future exhibitions and paintings in stock. I wish I had done that with the Seago!

Stacy-Marks was a major gallery in Eastbourne, E. Sussex, which I knew sold good quality paintings. They ran a large, luxurious gallery in one of the most affluent areas of South - East England.

 

Deal or No Deal?

Lucien Potronat

(French, [1889-    ] Well known for his magnificent views of the Côte D’Azur in Southern France and mostly collected in England. Auction price range £500-3000)

In June of 1987 I bought a beautiful View of the Côte D’Azur by Lucien Potronat at Phillips Marylebone, London for just £125. It was a painting for the house and my own joy and enjoyment.  It spoke about home, it spoke about my life and it was a bargain.  More importantly, it was provenanced by Stacy-Marks, Eastbourne England, at some time in the past, as the label on the reverse of the painting indicated.

 

I knew that Stacy-Marks were actively buying the artist because I had seen them bidding and buying Potronat works at Lewes in East Sussex. It was no secret! All good traders, should have known that or similar facts about rich galleries.  Could Potronat assist me to raise the funds I needed in a private sale?

 

Twenty days to go! The pressure to pay the Dawson was on and gradually increasing as the days went by. It was three thousand pounds, a very serious sum of money in 1987.  I had no such sum in the bank as everything had been invested in Penck, Roubaud, Girardet, Montezin, Fassianos and other artists, which were to be sold at auction later in the year.

 

I loved the Med View of Lucien Potronat and had intended to keep the painting for the family’s enjoyment and for the future. However, when in need of money, you need to sell what is the easiest and the quickest. If you own stocks you sell your stocks, if you own art you sell your art and selling art privately to a gallery was the quickest way for me.

 

I knew the painting was worth a couple of thousand pounds because smaller size paintings of the artist were selling close to six hundred pounds at auction. Could I sell the Potronat privately to Stacy-Marks? Would they be interested?  How would I make up the missing money even if I sold the painting to that gallery? I would still be short of a few hundred pounds and I had only twenty days to pay Bonhams.

 

Stacy-Marks was one of those family galleries with old stock and shrewd old shoes running the business. My call to them was short and to the point. On mentioning the name Potronat, they immediately asked to see the painting with a view to buying it, if we came to an agreement.  No promises, but that was an encouraging initial contact. I could not mess up this transaction, as I was desperate for the money.  It was tricky, it was the first time I was selling to a gallery, but there is always a first time. 

 

I drove to Eastbourne that Saturday with a million thoughts circling in my mind. Would they buy at the right price? Would they throw me out?  What would happen with the Dawson? Would Bonhams cut me out as their client, if I failed to pay in time?  Keep cool, do not panic and do not show anxiety and worry. Play your cards right and everything will be fine, I kept telling myself.  Much harder to do than say!

 

On entering the impressive gallery in the heart of Eastbourne, a thriving town on the south coast of England, I was struck by the high quality of the art on the walls. I introduced myself and soon enough it was show time.  They liked the painting. They surely did. It was one of theirs. “How much do you want?” inquired the old fox, Stacy-Marks. He was the one calling the shots and there was a bright sparkle in the old man’s eyes. He knew the business much better than his sons and myself. The evidence was there to see.

 

“I am selling the painting for £2000.  It’s a lovely painting and worth every penny.”  Cool and composed, I made my case. No nerves, no worries and very sure of myself. Where did that come from? This was supposed to be a first time!

 

“Yes,” the old man responded, “it is worth that much, but we are dealers and we want to make a little bit of money too. I think a fair deal is £1500.”  I rejected the offer as too little in the hope of making a little more. Back and forth, hesitation here and there and the compromise was £1800 on the spot. They were happy with the purchase - I was delighted with it, to say the least.  A cheque of £1800 was handed to me; signed and rubber-stamped.  It was an immense achievement as a first time!

 

With an £1800 cheque in my pocket, I felt like flying back to London. I was on top of the world!  Four years after I had started dealing in art, I could sell directly to galleries at a good profit.  Do you call a return of 1500% only a good profit!  The trip back to London was like a minute. I was so proud of myself. It was such a satisfying experience and a moneymaking one too.  I was full of beans and convinced that I wouldn’t have a problem paying for the Dawson.  But I was still short of about £1000, still a significant sum. What else could I sell or buy for immediate re-sale? Success whets the appetite and you want more of the same.

 

Luck was on my side all the way! Thank you!

 

Fiction is fine, but the art trading events in these memoirs are better than fiction at times.  Here I am recounting these unbelievable events that occurred at the right time and the right moment. How was that possible?  I still wonder and still ask!  Who and what was moving the pieces and making events happen? Luck? Surely something was intervening on my behalf. I was moving my little finger too, but something else was at play and the Ancient Greek saying is appropriate here,

 

“ Sin Athena kai heira kinei”.  “Move your little finger, if you wish luck to assist you.”

 

TO BE CONTINUED NEXT SUNDAY!!

 

 

 

OOPS AND THE PAINTING FALLS OFF THE WALL!!

I HANGED MANY EXHIBITIONS

 

ANGELOS, AT THE GREEK COFFEE SHOP

 

ART EXHIBITIONS!!

IN MY ART QUEST AND ENDEAVOURS I HAD ORGANISED MANY EXHIBITIONS AND HAD PLENTY TO DO IN ORDER BRING THE SHOWS TO OPENING DAY AND VIEWING OF FIRST DAY. IT IS ALL HARD WORK AND MUCH HELP AND ASSISTANCE IS NEEDED TO HAVE ALL READY IN TIME.

PIMLICO, LONDON WAS THE AREA AND THE GALLERY ONE OF THE BIGGEST IN THE SQUARE TO RENT AND BE IN THE MIDDLE OF AN ANTIQUES AND ART AREA. IT WAS BACK IN 1992 AND THE HANGING OF PAINTINGS WAS GOING SMOOTHLY. I HAD DONE IT BEFORE AND THERE WAS NO DIFFICULTY IN HANGING PAINTINGS IN A GALLERY ORGANISED THAT WELL.

AMONG THE EXHIBITION ITEMS WAS AN ALABASTER STATUE OF A GOOD SWISS ARTIST WHICH I BOUGHT AT SOTHEBYS FOR A SMALL SUM A FEW YEARS EARLIER. CONDUIT STREET OFFERED BARGAINS THEN.

THE STATUE WAS IN ITS EXHIBITION SPOT AND THE PAINTINGS HANGING PERFECTLY ON THE WALLS. SUDDENLY, AND WHILE I WAS AT THE BACK OF THE GALLERY HANGING A FEW MORE PAINTINGS, I HEARD A BIG BANG AND RUSHED INTO THE MAIN GALLERY ROOM TO SEE WHAT HAPPENED. 

WHAT WAS THAT, I WONDERED, BUT SUSPECTED THAT A PAINTING HAD FALLEN OFF THE WALL FOR ONE REASON OR ANOTHER. INDEED, AT THE FRONT OF THE GALLERY WAS A PAINTING, A BIG PAINTING IN A HEAVY FRAME, LYING ON THE FLOOR AND SCATTERED IN FIVE SIX PIECES THE ALABASTER STATUE. I WAS OF COURSE SURPRISED THAT ONE OF THE PAINTINGS CAME DOWN LIKE A THUNDERBOLT TO DESTROY A GOOD PIECE OF ART. FORTUNATELY AND MIRACULOUSLY, THE PAINTING WAS NOT DAMAGED. THAT WAS GOOD FORTUNE, I AM SURE!!

I PICKED UP THE PIECES TO GET RID OF THEM BUT.....

NO WORRIES, PETER, THE OWNER OF THE GALLERY SAID. THE PAINTINGS ARE INSURED AND YOU WILL GET THE INSURANCE ON THE ITEM AS YOU HAVE IT PRICED IN YOUR CATALOGUE. THAT WAS SOME COMPENSATION FOR HAVING INSURANCE. WITHIN A WEEK I WAS PAID FROM THE GALLERY INSURANCE 1000 POUNDS.

THAT IS THE BENEFITS OF INSURING ALL YOUR ART AND THAT IS WHY I NEVER QUESTION INSURANCE CHARGES AT AUCTIONS, WHENEVER I SELL ANYTHING THESE DAYS. I AM HAPPY TO SAY THAT NO ART OF MINE WAS LOST IN ANY POST OR CURRIER TO THIS DAY. 

I GUESS I AM LUCKY BUT ALSO I DO NOT WORRY PAYING THEIR INSURANCE. PEACE OF MIND IS BETTER THAN HEADACHES OF SERIOUS LOSSES.

PETER CONSTANT

 

 

 

 

INSURANCE SAVES ME A PRETTY PENNY!!

PAYING INSURANCE COSTS AT AUCTION IS A HEAVY BURDEN

MANY A TIMES I RESENTED PAYING INSURANCE BECAUSE IT AMOUNTS TO A LOT OF MONEY IN THE NED. AT 1.5% OF THE SOLD VALUE OF ANY ITEM AT MAJOR AUCTIONS, IT MAKES A HEFTY EXPENSE WHEN YOU ARE TURNING OVER A FEW HUNDRED THOUSAND POUNDS. HOWEVER, WITH NO INSURANCE ONE IS WALKING THE ROPE OVER NIAGARA FALLS!!

 

 

Stolen! What do you mean stolen?

 

I have not spoken about Christie’s South Kensington, London extensively yet because most of the paintings I had bought there up to 1988 were either too insignificant or unprofitable enough to mention.  I started frequenting this auction as early as 1984 and made many purchases, albeit nothing spectacular up to this point of my story.  However, the following story is unique and needs to be narrated because several lessons can be learned.

 

Otto Gebler

 

(German, [1838-1917] A well-respected and collected artist in Germany and elsewhere who painted animal scenes with sheep and cows. Auction price range £3000- 60,000)

 

17th March 1988, Christie’s S. Kensington – 8th April 1988, Dr Nagel, Cologne, Germany

 

The work by Otto Gebler had been offered for sale at Christie’s, King Street main saleroom a few months earlier but remained unsold with an estimate of £6-8000.  I attributed that failure to post stock exchanges effects. The painting was then brought over to South Kensington, where it failed to sell again with an estimate of £2-3000. That was very strange because Gebler was an artist with very good auction sales in Germany and elsewhere. 

 

Soon after in March 1988 that same Gebler appeared for sale a third time at Christie’s. Was it third time lucky? Yes, it was!  I was the lucky buyer at a cost of £1000!  It was a fine oil painting on panel, which on a good day in Germany could sell for £5000.  Admittedly it was small, but it had what was required; a well painted, popular subject and in very good condition.

 

No sooner had I bought the minute oil painting than I shipped it to Nagel Auctions in Cologne.  No procrastinating, no difficulties and no headaches at all. Sending it via the Post Office for a few pounds was easy as the painting was in total 30x20cm, including the flimsy, old frame.  The consignment documents were sent and all paperwork was in place. The agreement was £3,000-5000 estimate with a reserve of £3,000 to be sold in April 1988.  This was efficient, quick trading.

 

It was the second week of April, but no catalogue had arrived yet.  This was not the usual German efficiency!  Nearly all auctions have their catalogues ready two to three weeks before the relevant sale and consignors receive a copy together with a confirmation of their property for sale including estimate and reserve.  By the third week I was seriously worried!  Where was my catalogue from Nagel of Cologne?  I waited and waited in vain. Worried, frustrated and puzzled by the event, I decided to phone the auction. The telephonist / receptionist had no idea who I was and there was no Gebler of my description in the sale!  My worry increased tenfold, by which time I was passed on to one of the senior directors. That alerted me to a serious problem, but what was it?

 

“I am Peter Constant, sir. I cannot get a satisfactory answer to my problem. Can you please help me?”

 

“Mr Constant, I am afraid I have some bad news for you.”

 

“What bad news?”

 

“Your painting was stolen from our gallery!”

 

“What do you mean stolen? Where is my painting? What happened?”

 

“Please, do not panic,” the manager reassured me calmly. “Your painting was insured for £3000, at the reserve you set, and that you will get within the next month.  Mr Constant, your property was a small painting. Two robbers rushed into the gallery and took your painting and a small carpet. We chased them for some distance and we got the rug back but not the painting. It was so small and light that they got away with it. I am so sorry to disappoint you!”  He was genuinely apologetic.

 

“Yes, yes, I see,” I mumbled.  But, I was happy and relieved! The insurance sum was plenty enough for me!  I thanked him for the information, but I was not sorry for the theft. I was so relieved they would pay me at the reserve, a handsome profit on my investment in less than three months.  I put the phone down and sighed with relief.  Thank God it was stolen! No worries about it being sold or not!  Life teaches us many lessons daily and this was a lesson I took on board even more seriously after that event.

 

·         Unsold art should be respected.

 

·         Have a reserve on your consignments.

 

·         Insure your property for peace of mind with the auctioneers’ insurance or your own.

 

·         Have peace of mind by insuring your valuable art, even though it is an expensive policy.

 

 

All auctions of mention insure anything consigned to them for fire, damage, theft etc. This is a necessary expense passed on to sellers although in many cases resented by them. The proceeds from the insurance came in by the end of May and the bank account was bulging in the thousands.  For the first time since late 1986 my bank account was looking healthy, and that after a major financial disaster.  My stock was substantial, but I still lacked that one important major item.  Would I find it and bare the account to the bone?

 

IN MY NEXT BLOG I WILL WRITE ABOUT HOW I SAVE 1000 POUNDS

BECAUSE OF INSURANCE. HOW MANY TIMES I LOST A PAINTING ON ITS

WAY TO A N AUCTION ABROAD??

 

                                                         PETER CONSTANT

  

TIMING DEFINES SUCCESS OR FAILURE!!!

WHEN DO YOU BUY OR SELL?

SELLING WHEN YOU ARE IN THE CORNER AND IN DESPAIR IS A RECIPE FOR DISASTER. THAT WHAT HAPPENED TO ME DURING THE LONG RECESSION OF 1990S. OVER-EXPOSED TO LOANS, OVER-INVESTED, I HAD TO SELL EVEN THOUGH I KNEW IT WAS THE WRONG TIME TO SELL.

 

An inexplicable disastrous sale!!!

 

WAS IT INEXPLICABLE THOUGH??

November 1993

A biting, deepening, hard recession for three years caused alarm bells to go off once more by mid 1993. The difference to 1991 and 1992 was the intensity and severity.  Even though my expenses on the loans and overdrafts were high, I stubbornly continued to invest small sums in Greek art, other art and contemporary art from studios. I was addicted to collecting and trading. The consolation was the regular monthly salary that kept the wolves at bay. The pain was just about bearable, but for how long?  This was not good enough for me.  I was in shackles and I was unhappy!

Should I sell out?  Not I!  There are no guarantees of sales at auctions, unless you own a high-class collection of Picassos, Matisses, Renoirs or Monets.  Then, perhaps Monsieur Pinault of Christie’s will guarantee them for you in the hope they either sell very well or do not sell at all and end up in his enviable collection, one of the best in the world.

No such luck here! Selling at auction does not guarantee success ever. Sales might be great one day, but disastrous on another. One needs to experience these ups and downs of the markets in order to be prepared for the worst. The best is always welcome, but a terrible sale is hard to stomach and harder to cope with emotionally. The early 1990s tested the resilience of any business including mine, which I must admit was precariously close to bankruptcy but for the steady job that made things viable.

Mr T in Athens needed to sell and I was desperate to sell too. We agreed with not much hesitation to consign a good selection of Greek paintings at Christie’s, London, in spite of the annual Greek sale at Christie’s in Athens.  It was an experiment with a small downside to it, which was partly forced upon us by the expert at Christie’s in Athens who was not agreeable on many of the issues related to our consignments. Needless to explain that both myself and Mr T found it hard at times to work with the lady there.  From a casual receptionist at Christie’s, London, oops, all of a sudden, she became the expert and the main person in Athens, which seemed too quick for her.

Beware! Some experts do become experts by association, not through qualifications and experience. Appearances do mislead; titles are just allocated and assumed, not necessarily earned.

Selling important art in 1993 was like setting off from port in hurricane winds. In addition, selling Greek art in London was not the ideal place at the time. But when circumstances force one to sell, one has to sell. The agreement I made with Christie’s was simple, a 6% selling commission, and if no sale no charges.  I was able to negotiate the sale with such good terms because:

·         I had contacts in the right places, whose help was invaluable.

·         My experience and good knowledge of the auction business and items for sale facilitated the acceptance of a consignment.

·         A good consignment of ten or twenty paintings cannot be rejected easily by any auction, especially when the consignment totals hundreds of thousands of pounds.

·         Auctioneers appreciate regular sellers and buyers of good value art.

 

November 1993, Christie’s London

The sale at Christie’s in November 1993 was a desperate attempt to raise money from various investments and pay off all my creditors. I was tired of struggling month after month to meet the payments at the end of each month. It was a vicious circle, which I could put to bed with the sale of the ace painting I had, Alexandra Exter.

There were thirty-five Greek paintings by artist and content ranging from £1500-100,000 in the 19th Century Christie’s sale of November 1993. Thirty of them belonged to Mr T and myself.  The Exter painting was the top lot with a low estimate of £100,000, a reasonable reserve in my view.  Although it was a slow time for all areas of the art market the Greek market was upward moving. This fact was supported by the sales in London in earlier years, those held in Athens by Mihalarias since 1987 and Christie’s since 1992.

The Greek section of the sale started misleadingly well, with an Apostolos Geralis painting belonging to Mr T selling for £18,000. That raised my hopes for the next lot, which was the Exter. I was on the hot seat. I had raised my hopes for a good sale and I had made several plans on what to do with the money raised. The Exter painting remaining unsold was inconceivable. Simply it was my trump ace and my pride!

“Alexandra Exter,” announced the auctioneer asking for £60,000 and I am trembling like an autumn leaf ready to drop and rot away.

“Sixty thousand pounds, sixty thousand. Sixty-two thousand, sixty-two thousand, I have.” The auctioneer looked anxiously around, but there was no leaf moving.  No hand went up. No interest at all.  The gavel came down like a ton of bricks, crashing my hopes and dreams.  The Exter remained unsold at £62,000.  It was a devastating blow but not the end of the world as I knew that a painting unsold today might be worth tens of thousands more in a few years’ time. That was a fact and that gave me some encouragement to disperse the blues that engulfed me.

Besides, there were thirty other paintings to make money from. No need to worry and despair! Little did I know!  The pressure piled further; the next lots remained unsold too and were even worse than the Exter. Volanakis failed, Iakovides failed, Ralli failed, Lembessis, Prosalentis. Those were important names in Greek art, but there was no interest. To add to that calamity the same pattern continued with Ithakisios, Geralis, Karavia Flora, Geraniotis and even Parthenis and Nicolas Lytras. To keep the sinking boat afloat a lovely marine painting by Krystallis brought in about £3500 net. What a relief!

What happened? What did Christie’s do this time round? I had no idea! Actually, I could not think straight under the circumstances. It was so bad, so unbelievably hard to accept and understand.  That was the first time that such a collection of first-rated Greek artists had remained unsold en masse. I had read the market so wrongly which was unlike me.  It was incomprehensible.  I guessed that such bad sales do occur from time to time and that was one of them! The impact on my morale and my business was serious but fortunately not crippling to the point of going under. I did have one small sale and I collected introductory commissions in London and Athens a couple of months later. Those commissions were like blood infusions to the sickly art business. Such sums plus my salary from teaching kept everything going although the danger of folding up was real and constant.

 

Unsold works of art might be worth more in later years

I mention the artists unsold in 1993 to point out that an unsold painting today does not mean it is worthless. My experience told me that actually there was a good chance of better prices in later years.

The point is well served when some of those unsold paintings sold after 1993.

·         Lembessis sold for £7000 at Christie’s, Athens two years later.

·         Ithakisios sold for £7,000 at Christie’s, Athens after failing to sell for £5000 in London.

·         Apostolos Geralis (landscape) sold for £5,000 at Sotheby’s London a year later, after failing to sell at £3,000.

·         Lytras sold for £14,000 in Athens a few years later after failing to sell at £5,000 in London.

·         Volanakis sold for £75,000 a few years later at Sotheby’s.

·         The Prosalentis marine picture I sold privately in Athens for £3,000 a few months later, having bought it there for only £500 in 1991, but more importantly after I had it cleaned and framed properly.

·         Finally the Exter did not sell at Christie’s in 1993 but did so in 2000 at Sotheby’s, an event I shall elaborate on later. 

Dealing/investing /collecting for nearly thirty years has always been a learning curve and an accumulation of experience of one sort or another. It has been crystal clear from day one that any work of art has a value and if it fails to sell today, it may sell tomorrow for more money and rarely for less. Keep faith! Choosing the right venue and time to try again to sell might lead to great surprises as was the case with the Eugene Montezin painting in 1987.  Timing, change of venue, literature, better cataloguing and better economic times help to a better sale!

 

With a few thousand made from this sale I breathed a sigh of relief and got on to investing once again. But how long would a few thousand last with my addiction?