AUCTIONS ARE PART OF OUR LIVES
THE AUCTION BUSINESS IN ANY AREA OF IT HAS PLENTY TO OFFER TO THE BUYER AS WELL AS THE SELLER. I HAVE SOLD MANY ITEMS AFTER THEY FAILED TO SELL DURING AN AUCTION. IT WAS A SOUND PRACTICE THAT I STILL USE , IF MY INTERESTS ARE SERVED. AT THE SAME TIME, I BOUGHT MANY ITEMS AFTER SALES AND THE RESULTS WERE NOT BAD AT ALL.
THE PRACTICE IS NOT UNUSUAL TODAY. IF AN ITEM YOU ARE INTERESTED IN FAILED TO SELL, THEN WAIT FOR THE SALE TO BE OVER AND MAKE YOUR OFFER, EITHER LOWER OR JUST BELOW THE RESERVE.
SOTHEBYS OFFER THEODORE RALLI BUT TOO EXPENSIVE TO BID
After sale bidding makes sense – Ralli’s ‘Odalisque’
15th May 1995, Sotheby’s London – 4th December 1995, Christie’s Athens
The 19th Century European Paintings Sale at Sotheby’s in May 1995 was a major affair in London. I had limited resources to buy, but I knew that on a bad day I could pick up a very good value painting. The Ralli in the sale was of good quality, but I could not afford to pay six thousand pounds for it as its estimate in the catalogue suggested. Being a pragmatist and a realist about the cash available and possible profits, I decided to stay away from the sale.
Sotheby’s was not the best venue for selling a Ralli at that time, as Christie’s had cornered the market with their Greek sales in Athens. This was a fact proven through sales, and so I hoped for an unsold situation, which on a bad day was possible. In the past I had bought a number of paintings with after-sale bids and these had proved to be shrewd investments.
Late that afternoon something told me, something pushed me at the last minute to make my way to Sotheby’s. I literally walked into the saleroom at about 4.00pm, just in time to see that the Ralli work had attracted no bids. I knew that the estimate was steep and that the painting would struggle to sell, so I was delighted when that happened! How auspicious was that! That failure was interesting and my experience told me that:
· Sotheby’s did not have Ralli collectors at that time as opposed to Christie’s
· Christie’s and Mihalarias in Athens were achieving better results for Greek art
Auctions do better for certain artists and worse for others. This has been proven time and again so collectors / investors have to take this into account when they are buying or selling.
I had already seen another Ralli remaining unsold at Sotheby’s and I had been the beneficiary. Such in-depth knowledge was worth its weight in gold! The unsold Ralli became my target immediately. Patience is a virtue and especially so when investing in art. I sat patiently in the saleroom, registering prices and impressions of sold and unsold paintings. I had already hatched a plan, which was simple, plain simple – deliver my written after-sale bid straight away and hope that nobody beat me to it!
As soon as the sale was over, I approached the auctioneer and made an after-sale bid to the total of £3000. Yes, £3000 inclusive of commissions and taxes. A bit of an insult, but in business all is acceptable and reasonable too.
‘The Odalisque’ was pretty but not beautiful, as I wished it to be, thus my lower than usual low bid. I was cautiously optimistic, but in all honesty only desperate owners would have sold at that price. I was bargain hunting. Chasing bargains was an essential part of the business and it was that policy that had kept everything going. Bargains in art! I was the connoisseur, wasn’t I? I used knowledge others did not have and turned that advantage into money.
Unexpectedly, or rather as I had hoped, the phone rang soon after I arrived home. It was Sotheby’s.
“Mr Constant. Your bid of three thousand for the Ralli was accepted and the Ralli is yours.”
I remained still for a few moments. The facts sank in and then I yelled, “Yes! Finally! Yes, a real bargain! Thank God!”
I was ecstatic! I was so happy that finally a good painting had come my way at my own price. Great work! Had I been shrewd or lucky? To be sold the Ralli at three thousand pounds, three thousand pounds total had to be pure luck. It was absolutely, marvellously unbelievable. This Ralli painting might be the start of a much awaited and hoped for rally after the terrible run of five years plus. There was hope, reasonable hope to collect a substantial sum from the sale of just one painting.
I had already learned from earlier after-sale bids that:
· A low bid is never a bad idea
· An after-sale bid enables the bidder to buy at his/her own level
· Never say never to such opportunities regardless of a seemingly ridiculously, low bid
The Ralli was destined for Christie’s Athens who had proven successful with their sales of Greek art in the Greek capital. I estimated the painting to be worth about eight thousand pounds and so all of a sudden another Ralli became the cornerstone of a comeback for me. I had already earmarked a small marine Tsingos painting for Christie’s December sale. One more work by Lembessis, unsold at Christie’s London in 1993, was already in Athens consigned by a friend on my behalf, and so a personal visit and negotiation with Christie’s Athens was essential.
It was not just survival but revival too! By the end of July 1995 I was in Athens already negotiating a private sale of Ralli’s Odalisque.
“I can sell the Ralli.” A near catastrophe!
Six years of close co-operation was enough for me to trust Mr T and vice versa. On hearing about the Ralli he assured me that he had a buyer.
“Let me sell it for you. I can sell easily for ten thousand pounds.”
“Ok, you have one week to sell as I have a potential buyer too,” I made clear to him.
The week was over. My expectations for a sale were dashed and so I visited Mr T at his house to collect the painting.
“Leave it with me”, he pleaded. “I will sell it before the Christie’s sale, and if I don’t, I’ll consign it for you for the December auction.”
I collected the painting and tried to sell privately. It was summer and it was no use. I left the painting with my agent who consigned it with Christie’s for the Greek sale of that December.
By October 1995 Mr T passed away unexpectedly. Had I left the Ralli with him that summer I would have been involved in an ownership battle with his inheritors who were already warring between themselves about the huge art collection he had left behind. I avoided a calamity of immense proportions, which taught me a very serious lesson!
Never loan or give for sale anything without the necessary paperwork. I trusted Mr T but without any documents of sale agreement, I would have been out of pocket for sure and in a legal battle with his inheritors.
The consignment of the Ralli plus the Tsingos at Christie’s Athens went smoothly. The lady in charge liked the Ralli and the estimate was actually £7-10,000. It was a high estimate, but for the Greek collectors it was an encouragement to buy rather than stay away; buyers in Greek art sales used to be mainly private individuals, as opposed to auctions in London, where about 70% of lots sold went to dealers.
The December sale in Athens was a major affair for Athenian art lovers. Major names were included in the sale and the Ralli looked splendid, although slightly small. The sale was extremely important for me financially. If it was good I could carry on with my art business, if bad I was in financial trouble again!
· Being at the top of my overdraft limit was usual for me. It is not a practice I would advise anybody to follow.
· Using credit cards to finance purchases should be avoided. It doesn’t pay! It leads to serious problems and financial headaches!
Christie’s Greek Sale in December 1995 was crucial. I took the decision to attend the sale on which so much depended. I also had a couple of small sales to make there and as an added bonus weekends in Athens were always enjoyable and entertaining.
Athens to the rescue! Frenetic Bidding on the Ralli
Nervous, apprehensive and full of expectation I made my way to the auction and sat together with a good Athenian collector who had already bought two small paintings from me that very day. The saleroom was packed to the rafters, usually a sign of a successful sale. I estimated about eight hundred people in the room. Was that New York, or Paris or what?
The noise was interestingly loud, the audience anxious for the event to start and so the shaky auctioneer, the young Greek female expert of Christie’s stepped onto to the rostrum. She looked nervous, but also in control and handled things well. From the first few lots I could work out that the sale was going to be successful. However that didn’t stop my anxiety from rising by the time lot 40, the Ralli, came up for sale. Raising funds, surviving for another day was paramount. Sitting on the edge of my chair with sweaty hands and usual fast heartbeat on such occasions, I looked around me anxiously. Silence! Unusual silence!
The bidding started. No time to dwell on the precarious position I was in. I had the ammunition to come out of the crisis but would the Athenians like the goods I had brought to them from Europe? The hands were up, the bids flew in and before I even realized what had happened the Ralli painting had reached the reserve of seven thousand pounds; hands were still fighting each other at five hundred pound intervals. Three million five hundred thousand drachmas was passed and soon enough ‘The Odalisque’was at four million drachmas or ten thousand pounds. The young auctioneer turned left and right at 4,200,000 and then 4,500,000 and finally at 4,800,000 drachmas the gavel came down. Incredible!!!
What a triumph! Unexpected and expected at the same time! Art was beautiful and more so when the money from such small investments as the Ralli became seriously important. Was that a nine thousand pounds profit? Wasn’t that 300% return in eight months? Maths at work, quick! How much was that in sterling pounds? £13,500 and I looked at Lord Poltimore, who was smiling happily supervising the event. I was saved. An unexpected investment in the shape of an after-sale bid had become the boat of salvation and the beginning of a comeback. I had the money to support the business, to invest further and carry on with my dream.
Once again another painting of Ralli promised to turn the struggles of survival in the early 1990s to profit making on a higher scale. Some artists are lucky for some and Ralli proved to be a goldmine for me! There is no way I can describe my relief, my happiness and joy on that day. Nearly every problem disappeared. The Tsingos, lot 125 in the same sale, made me another £2000 and the Lembesis made the reserve of £6000. Once again I was back fighting and well on top of financial troubles.
This is how the art market can be. Up and down, down and up. A constant headache and heartache about what will happen the following day, in a months’ time, the following year. Challenging and promising like a siren.
Being lucky in any business is essential and I must admit I was lucky on many, many occasions. I cannot say that I was unlucky ever. Would luck continue on my side and would I keep creating the opportunities for luck to play her hand? An unsold painting and an after-sale bid had proven to be a golden opportunity and the shrewdest of moves in the middle of a recession. I had grabbed it immediately and was freed from a myriad of financial headaches.