NOTHING IS SO EASY BUT PERSEVERANCE PAYS OUT HANDSOMELY!!
I HAVE ALREADY TALKED ABOUT DIFFICULTIES IN LEARNING A NEW JOB, STARTING A NEW BUSINESS AND GOING THROUGH THICK AND THIN IN ORDER TO SUCCEED. KNOWING WHERE THE BARGAIN IS, MAKES THINGS EASIER BUT WAS I THAT GOOD BACK IN 1985?
PART II Knowledge & Experience Matter (1986 – 1987) The baptism into trading was immeasurably hard but extremely didactic too. Inspired by success and aspiring higher, my aim was to become a better investor through the lessons learned and experiences gained. Investing and re-investing the money quickly I believed was the way to riches. The whole world was my playing field and it offered great opportunities, which I had to grab in order to make my dream come true.
Chapter IV Trading Between Major Auctions An Odyssey to the Promised Land – Montezin
3rd December 1985, Christie’s London If there has been a problem during the whole of my life, it has been inability to hold onto cash. Cash never lasted nor lasts in my pocket. Somehow, I have been drawn to owing money and spending money rather than saving it. Investing in art was a positive way of using the money, but could I stop when I had plenty of it and leave a little bit of cash for a rainy day or for a better deal? The money from the sales at Sotheby’s plus other smaller ones was considerable. Feeling that in my pocket, even though I had not collected it yet, I was already seriously immersing myself into upcoming auctions in order to reinvest some or all of the money. It was the right time to do that. Prices were depressed in London; money was scarce in Great Britain, France and the USA. I had money and felt luck on my side. Pressing on and trying my luck once again was the only way forward. Tasting such success at Sotheby’s was intoxicating. I viewed auctions, I researched paintings for days on end and finally I narrowed it down to just a couple of important paintings. A post-impressionist painting at Christie’s, King Street London in November 1985 was my serious target. Two impressionist artists had made good money for me already, why not another one and a third time lucky?
AN IMPRESSIVE PAINTING BUT….
Pierre Eugene Montezin (French, [1874-1946] Post-Impressionist artist who painted mainly landscapes and town views; popular with collectors in France and the USA. Auction price range £4000- 40,000) The painting by Pierre Montezin was attractive and well painted. The French artist was little known to me, but my investments in catalogues pointed to serious interest in him in the USA and of course France. Christie’s was the second biggest auction house in the world at that time so to buy something from a major auction and then manage to sell it with a good profit was not easy, I reasoned. Would it work to buy from a major auction in London and then sell at another top auction in Paris or New York? From the little I knew, New York was a stronger, bigger market and Montezin was very popular with collectors in the USA. Of course I could also try to sell in France, much nearer home. I felt that the Montezin was worth the risk. However, I was unaware that the painting had remained unsold two years earlier at Sotheby’s, London. Two years is a long time in investment, but in art it is very short for the knowledgeable investors. The general concession is that the time to keep a painting for investment purposes is ten years at least, longer is even better. However keeping investments for the long term was unaffordable and impossible under my financial circumstances. I needed to reinvest every six months let alone every ten years! Sales in London were sluggish and there were good opportunities to purchase paintings of artists with potential. It was easy to see that and I could already verify the difference in auction prices achieved in London and New York in the catalogues I was investing in. I had all the results achieved right after the sales, which I believe gave me an advantage and a good edge. Pierre Montezin was an important name in the secondary category of post-impressionists and that was good enough for me at that time. Painted in a free style in exquisite greens of all shades the painting oozed quality. The shades of green in the trees and fields of the landscape were beautifully complemented by the amazing soft pink on the rooftops of a cluster of country houses nestling on a hill in the distance. That added a different dimension to the whole composition.
I was prepared to pay a substantial sum for the painting not only because I loved it but also because of its potential. The USA and French markets were very active and supportive of the artist, sales of impressionist art were robust and the trend was positive. Apprehension, nerves and anxious moments before the auction proved unfounded! I was the only person interested in the painting and managed to secure it at a total of £3,000 including buyer’s commissions, which was about one thousand pounds below my top limit. Three thousand pounds I believed made it a good investment that promised some returns. However, one concern and worry bugged me. Why had other investors/dealers failed to see the potential in the painting? Was I simply too lucky? Doubtful! Art traders of London shy away from unsold paintings, a fact about the painting I did not know at the time of purchase. I was always in a rush to sell and reinvest in those days and perhaps later too. I had little spare money and I needed to return my investment with about 50% profit twice a year. Whatever I bought, I had the plan for its sale before the purchase. If I could not sell quickly, I did not buy. That policy had worked up to that stage and there was no reason to change a working formula. As soon as I had bought the Montezin, France was on my mind and my selling plans. It was simple: French artist, French impressionist, good prices in France, why not France? First time lucky, I kept thinking. It was imperative to shift the painting quickly in order to reinvest the money. I was a mercenary in art because I had to be! I did not feel good about it. I knew it was perhaps wrong, but my plans of becoming an art collector were long term ones and for that I had to lay the foundations early on in the business. Make as much money as possible, learn as much as possible through dealing at that stage and time and then collect for love of art! So France it was! If nothing else I had to learn the ins and outs of French auctions.
France and business en Français! Are you serious? Soon after the purchase of the Montezin in December 1985 and after having made arrangements for my visits with the auctioneers in question, I rushed off to France together with the painting. I was soon to find out, and at a cost of a few hundred pounds, that French auction houses/owners were a different breed to the London auction houses and their experts. Both French auction houses did not come close to my expectations.
I was neither happy with their conditions nor their demands; commissions as auctioneers were 25% compared to London’s auctions of 12% all expenses included. Where was the logic in selling with them, if they refused to offer me a better deal than that? No deal and so no business with the French auctions. After two frustrating days in Paris, I took the long road of return to London with mixed feelings of disappointment, failure and worry about the investment. Montezin was nowhere welcome in Paris. There was a feeling of cold air in the city of love that put me off for many years, but at least I found out first hand how these auctioneers operated and why so many famous French artists were selling nearly exclusively in London and New York rather than Paris. Did I need to sell or buy in Paris? Frankly, yes! I could not cut Paris off. It was an important market on the brink of becoming a lot bigger and more significant! There were bargains too, I was sure of that. However, the experience made me think hard and deep before I bought a painting with the intention of selling there.
Doubts kept entering my head about the Montezin investment. Anxiety replaced the euphoria of purchase. New plans had to be hatched to sell the painting quickly! But did I have to sell so quickly since I had the proceeds of the October sales? How impatient was I? Being superstitious, I knew that the Montezin would be a headache because my return trip from France on the ferry was a torture to say the least. It was one of those terrifying crossings with hurricane winds and tossing of the ferry all over the place. A normal crossing of seventy minutes took three hours during which I had to lie low down on the deck, being a bad sea traveller in rough seas. It was a horrifying, scary experience I could have done without! The omens around the Montezin painting were frighteningly bad and I am superstitious, very superstitious! Although my trip to France had been extremely disappointing I did not lose hope. I turned my attention to the market in New York where prices were the best and climbing higher. Why did I go to France, I questioned myself? Impatience, inexperience and lack of meticulous study of the markets, I found out later! Being impatient was a major issue, rushed decisions always a regrettable fact and costly too!
By early summer of 1986 I shipped the painting to Sotheby’s, New York. I preferred Sotheby’s because I had bought the painting at Christie’s and considered it wiser to sell with another auction. It was my first consignment in New York, another first, another new beginning! How on earth did I manage that within three years? A new seller at the best auction place on earth, in the city with the biggest market! Surely the highest prices should be achieved there! Shouldn’t they?
If you make it in America, you can make it anywhere! Isn’t that the saying?
TO BE CONTINUED NEXT SUNDAY!!