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Buy for Love of Art; Buy Value for Money


“ No art is any good unless you can feel how it’s put together. By and large it’s the eye, the hand and if it’s any good, you feel the body.”

                                                                                               Frank Stella


I learned to trust my eye over the years and I have been rewarded well. Of course, one needs more than that but that comes first, then comes economic situations of nations and world and then luck at auction or exhibitions. You need all of them in one place and primarily you need the actual product, that is the ye and the instinct to buy the right material at the right time and sell at the right time too!!


Patience, perseverance and belief rewarded

13th November 2001, Phillips Bayswater, London – 31st July 2002, Barridoff Galleries, Portland, Maine USA

William Thon
(American, [1906-2000] Respected artist whose value is improving fast. Honoured and well collected in his native city Portland, Maine, where a museum in his name has been established. Auction price range £500-7,000)
Viewing paintings auctions at Phillips Bayswater, London was routine business for years. I did that week in, week out with no fail. Believing in bargains was no forlorn hope. Perseverance was the only way to find them and when others had had enough of hunting with no returns.
Nothing attracted my interest when viewing in the main rooms that November in 2001. Disappointed and unhappy, I took the way out, mumbling to myself “what a waste of time that was!” Yes, I felt like that on many occasions, but I also knew that some day I would uncover that elusive sleeper, that elusive bargain, my reward, when others had cried out enough! Patience and perseverance reward those who exercise them. Difficult to follow the same motto for years, year in, year out, but I kept going to Phillips because it had proved worthwhile on so many occasions.
Depressed and disappointed, head down, I stepped slowly out into the corridor, just outside the main selling room. It was only then, when I looked up, that I spotted a rather interesting painting in between a couple of others hanging on the corridor wall. Perhaps I was looking in the catalogue or was deep in thought when I had first walked past. Regardless, I had missed it on my way in!
I stopped for a moment and stared at the Cathedral painting. I liked it. I liked it a lot, but who was Thon, the artist who signed the painting? I had never heard of that name. But there was quality in the large oil on canvas and I needed nothing more to buy. I had enough money from the Exter sale to invest for the long term. It was no good sitting in a bank account- it had to be put to work!


William Thon The Cathedral

Image of another painting by Thon

My bid of £480 plus commissions was successful and I became the owner of a quality painting by an unknown but hopefully promising artist. Investing in a painting on aesthetic grounds and value for money was not new, but was the Thon a wise investment? How many such paintings could I afford? Did I have to pay £550 for a painting by an artist I knew nothing about? The artist is the primary attribute on any work of art, though subject is important too. Unfortunately my limited search on the artist called Thon yielded no positive results and no sales anywhere. However, I did not worry at all, as I was still convinced I had bought quality and value for money.
Who was Thon? Was s/he English, American, Canadian, Australian or what? I hoped s/he was at least known and more would be heard about the artist in due time. The exhibition label on the reverse of the painting indicated a respected and accepted artist, but how long could I wait, a year, a decade? What is a year or even ten years when investing in something that you enjoy looking at and getting pleasure from?

Invaluable investments and moneymaking tools!
The Art Sales Index was the main publication of sales’ results from all over the world in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s. I bought it annually and never regretted the investment. It was my right hand in researching artists and their possible value at auction and I still own and refer to them regularly. It is no exaggeration to say that investments in tools for the business rewarded me five-fold at least or shall I say twenty-fold for good measure? Today’s main information sites are the Internet websites ‘artprice’, ‘artnet’ and ‘AskArt’ but they are rather expensive and their provision of information lasts as long as your subscription does. The new website attempts to offer a cheaper alternative with no time limits.
The 2001 publication of the Art Sales Index arrived in late November and included a couple of sales by a William Thon, an American artist. I had no idea whether the Thon I had recently invested in was by the same artist, but experience dictated the way forward. I had done the same some seventeen years earlier with the Laurence, that early miracle that had opened the door and paved the way for my art venture. I had to do the research and detective work myself.
• A good investor knows how to find out about his/her stock and how to market it in order to get the maximum out of the investment.
• The major auction houses will not do that for anybody unless the work in question is worth a few thousands of pounds and by an established, known auction artist.
• Auctions have no idea who some artists are at times and Thon was one such example for Phillips, the third biggest auction in the world in 2001.
On calling Barridoff, the auction that had sold the artist referred to in the Sales Index, I found out that William Thon was a native of Portland Maine, USA. In addition, Mr Barridoff of Barridoff Galleries, Portland, Maine, gave me two very important pieces of information:
• The artist had passed away recently – a fact that nearly always assists to higher prices for the work of the artist.
• The city of Portland had established a museum in Thon’s honour, a good indicator of the significance of the artist.
That information was music to my ears. A deceased artist and a museum in his name spoke of a good collecting public. I took it all in and anticipated significant interest in the artist in his native city. However, my worry was not so much about the desirability of the painting, but the sale itself far away from home and with an auction I had not done business with before.


First time requires trust

It was first time with Barridoff, but how many times had it been first time and it had worked? Mr Barridoff was enthusiastic on hearing about the painting and my desire to sell it through his auction galleries. On receiving images and information he believed the painting to be worth between $2000-3000. That estimate did not match his earlier enthusiasm, but that was another ploy of auctioneers to attract buyers, bargain hunters that is. Estimate low; sell for sure! His estimate was hardly encouraging in view of the earlier sales at his gallery auctions. However, I had no option so I was prepared to experiment and take a risk for profit. I felt the painting was worth considerably more than the low estimate, perhaps double or treble that amount. Would the local collectors speak with their wallets endorsing my view or Mr Barridoff’s?
In May 2002 FEDEX transported the painting to Portland. Mr Barridoff liked the work upon inspection, but unfortunately still insisted on the $2000 starting price, low estimate and reserve. In spite of that, I was still hoping that the painting would sell more than that, simply because it was an impressive canvas that had also been exhibited at a major public exhibition.
Summer arrived quickly finding me on holiday in Spain. Thon was coming up for sale in Portland, Maine USA with plenty of worries and disappointments. The cataloguing was poor and the black and white illustration did not do justice to the painting. Far worse was the omission of the exhibition history of the painting. Paintings exhibited at important museums or galleries are valued more than other paintings of similar quality and subject by the same artist. I was extremely unhappy and upset with Barridoff. Being far away from the sale venue was an issue, nevertheless I complained vigorously and demanded a correction, which was made apparently.
Many worries reside at the back of one’s mind, when selling abroad:
• It’s far away and one cannot see first hand what is actually happening.
• The item might remain unsold in which case shipping it back and forth can be dangerous and expensive.
• Would unknown auctioneers be reliable and trustworthy?
• Would there be honest or dishonest bidding and rings? (A ring is an agreement between at least two people not to push the price on an item and thus buy it cheaply.)
I was worried, but I was also aware that the auction was a good venue selling major paintings, but more importantly selling successfully the artist called Thon.


31st July 2002, Spain

The day of Thon’s sale was unlike any other selling day I had experienced. I was enjoying myself in the Mediterranean and forgot my worries about the sale in Portland! The fact that I had invested a small sum in the painting made my anxiety less, far less. Four o’clock Spanish time, 10.00am USA time, the day after the sale; time to find out the result!
I entered the burning and suffocating phone cubicle at the resort near Malaga and quickly dialled Barridoff Galleries. A cheerful voice promptly greeted me on the other side of the Atlantic.
“Can I have a result of yesterday’s sale please, lot 160.”
“Lot 160, lot 160, the Thon, sold for nine thousand dollars, sir.”
“Nine thousand? Did you say, nine thousand, miss?” I could not trust my ears.
“Yes, sir! Nine thousand dollars, sold!” No doubt, loud and clear!
I put the phone down and let out a wild yell! Out of the fire of the cubicle, I danced wildly in the street like a madman. I ran, I stopped, kissed my wife and crossed myself, thanking my lucky stars! It was unbelievable; I was so happy! Spain and the world around me looked even more beautiful than it had a few moments earlier!
Love for art had rewarded me with a 1000% return on the $800 initial investment. That had been an investment made purely on art appreciation and aesthetics. I had started buying art for myself some thirty years ago because I loved it. That love had turned into a venture, but all along it has been love for art, not just money!
The incredible joy and satisfaction I always get from looking at and admiring my collection of paintings is impossible to describe and put on paper. I live in a dream! I enjoy the dream! Then I open my eyes wider and realize it is reality, not a dream at all! It is my world, a real world. Within the last thirty odd years I have managed to amass beautiful paintings, a unique collection from which I derive immeasurable pleasure and happiness. Such is the route to art riches, be they monetary or emotional.

Is it always like this? I would say at least 8 times out of ten is like this in art. Yes, it does not happen daily but if you know your onions, then onions are onions!!

Peter Constant

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