Apostolos Geralis

(Greek, [1886-1983], Very successful figurative painter of peasant Greek women and men in their domestic chores. Auction price range £1500- 25,000)

16th December 2003, IEGOR Quebec, Canada – 10th May 2004, Sotheby’s London

How did I miss that paintings auction? My, my! It was supposed to be Christmas in a few days’ time, but for myself that was the time to hunt for a bargain, if there was one in Canada. Most people were getting into a festive mood, but I was still at work and looking for investment opportunities all done from home and all enjoyable. No time to waste. The sale was in twenty-four hours and I had just a few hours that Saturday to arrange bidding, if anything was of interest. The time in Montreal was about four in the afternoon.

One after the other the paintings were not for me. I was not disappointed, but then there had to be a Greek painting and a bargain somewhere. I felt it. I expected it. How was that? Instinct? Hope? Stupid expectation? Who knows what it was!

There! Once again, there was Geralis, this time the better-valued younger brother of Lucas, Apostolos Geralis! What a lovely painting of a peasant Greek woman at 3000 Canadian dollars, or about £1500. I liked the painting and loved the price. I estimated the painting to be worth well over £3000. I had to buy. That was my chance to buy a beautiful Apostolos Geralis and I was not going to miss it. First time once again! Excitement, thrill, wild thoughts of profits and riches! Greedy guts!

The arrangement to bid on the phone was set in motion immediately. No need to waste time, no research needed, no prices to be checked. I had everything in the memory bank.

Great expectations just before Christmas! Another bargain purchase, an unexpected Christmas present from Canada! Another bout of anxiety, worry and suspense! Was that my first purchase? Rather my thousandth one, but it felt like the first. Could I purchase another good Greek painting in the next twenty-four hours? Was I the only investor in Greek art? It was unbelievable. Either the whole world was asleep or I was daydreaming. Was I the only one digging for treasure or was I perhaps digging a financial grave by investing 80% of my money in Greek art? Which one was it? I was pretty sure at the time that it was treasure. I was one hundred percent sure of the rewards of investing in Greek art, but was I too full of myself and bullish?

Sunday night arrived so quickly that I had no time to worry or fret about bidding any more. Having splashed £25,000 on other purchases in October and November there was very little left to bid on the Geralis. Nevertheless, I hoped that not too many people had seen the painting and that the reserve would be the winning bid. The call from IEGOR could not have come earlier.

“Mr Constant,” the voice over the Atlantic, as clear as a bell, “two lots to the Geralis.”

Immediately the bidding started, I knew I was the only bidder and that the Geralis was mine. At £1500 the beautiful Apostolos Geralis was indeed a Christmas present from Canada. By the end of December the painting was hanging up on the wall at home and I was enjoying the art of an artist I had dreamed of buying for years. A peasant Greek lady busy with the chores of the house filled me with pride and joy. I deliberately stared and stared at the painting in admiration. I knew I had to cash it in soon and therefore I had to make the most of it while I could. It was a short-term investment, a moneymaking exercise, which hopefully would work in my favour and assist me in my plans for the Olympics.

Never put all your eggs in one basket! Too risky!

I was at that moment close to penniless because in addition to the Geralis investments I had also bought in Athens and Paris other Greek paintings by artists such as Xenos, Doukas, Kanas, Romanides, Sklavos and Prasinos totalling about £20,000. This did not include the additional payments I had to make to contemporary artists! I had gone mad!

Overnight and within 2003 the portfolio had become unbalanced and heavy on Greek art investments. That was a significant move and investment in one direction. I was at risk of ruining the work of the past twenty years by investing nearly 90% of my money on Greek art! Very dangerous! I could hear the bells of danger ringing in the distance, but I was also sure that Greek art was heading towards much higher and better pastures. The fine edge between success and failure needed a good pilot and I was under the microscope.

My addiction was close to sickness; to me however it was joy and happiness translated into love for art and love for my country’s art. But the flesh-biting question was always there. Was it love for art or was it love for money? I have always wondered and asked myself this one million-dollar question. Which came first? Nevertheless, whenever I invested in something it was because I liked it first, and that was the reason I stretched my finances to breaking point all the time.

I was rich in assets, but cash strapped! Isn’t that the case with all big business people, I kept wondering! Slow, dreamer! Slow!

The sale of all recent acquisitions had already been planned for Sotheby’s Greek sale in London in May 2004, just three months before the Athens Olympics. I felt it was the right time to sell, not only because I desperately needed the funds, but also because I believed the Greek art market would climb even higher that year because of the Olympics. That was the event I was banking on.

The May sale was to be my biggest auction sale in numbers ever. I had made the investments, and in doing so I had put nearly all of my eggs in one basket. If I read the market wrongly, I would have serious financial problems. I would be under a mountain of debt once again with a stock of several hundred paintings, mainly Greek, threatening everything I had built over the past twenty years.

I needed to sell, I had to cash in the investments in order to recover my money and hopefully make some profit. There was no Exter to fall back on any more. No other artist I owned could sell for sixty thousand pounds from the sale of just one painting, nobody, although I had collected hundreds of smaller value paintings, which I hoped would give me a breather whenever I needed a good sum of money.

Desperate to cash in some of my investments

The car was loaded with a dozen paintings plus the Sklavos sculpture. Even though there were no major pieces amongst them, quality art and artists were involved. I was not too concerned about estimates and the opinion of the experts. I was certain that my consignment was what they were looking for and that they would accept my property with open arms. All I needed were reasonable estimates and normal business terms.

The two experts of Sotheby’s were anxiously expecting my consignment. It was a significant part of their May sale. They arrived together as soon as arrived at the reception on George Street. Happy faces, happy remarks and down to business. There was no hustle, no arguments and no aggravation – everything as smooth as silk. I was an important seller with the goods to attract both major and casual buyers. They had to take into serious consideration my needs, as Sotheby’s wanted a second Greek annual sale.

I consigned thirteen items for the sale, which I listed clearly together with all my requirements. By providing the experts with a list, I had made a statement of needs, forced the issue of reserves and gave them no chance to reject anything I planned for sale. Consigning such a large number of paintings enabled me to demand the best terms and also enabled the experts to afford me the best terms as a trader. In a sale of 172 lots, I owned thirteen lots, in other words, about 8% of the sale.

The experts were impressed by nearly all the consignment, but they particularly liked the Xenos painting of Vouliagmeni, the large Zenetzis canvas of Monastiraki with Acropolis Beyond and the Sklavos sculpture. Encouraging comments for most of the significant art, but how would my splash on Greek art fare in the test arena of auction on 10th May 2004? Would I recover the total investment cost of £19,000 and make a 50% profit too?

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