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For thirty odd years i bought and sold art at auction. i learned the business in practice with no help from anybody and advice from anybody. such advice is too expensive and at times i needed it but it was nowhere to be had.

thus, what my blog provides here is as valuable as any advice you might get of a paid professional for advice and guidance, when you buy at auction!!

no such issues when you buy from ther artists directly, like most of our stock is:

Elefterios Venizepos, painted by Vasilis Zenetzis in 2004

Guarantees of authenticity at auctions

Christie’s and Sotheby’s have earned the trust and confidence of their customers by offering guarantees of authenticity of five years on art they sell. Guarantees at other auctions can vary from two years at larger auctions, to months, weeks or no guarantees at all at smaller auctions. It is therefore imperative to read the conditions of sale for every auction you intend to buy or sell at.

The five-year guarantee at the major auctions reads as follows:

“ If a purchase is proven not to be genuine and not by the artist stated, then, provided the painting is returned in the same condition as bought, we will refund the purchase sum but not any expenses incurred because of the painting.”

That I already knew well. The Harpignies had cost an additional £1500 in expenses to restore, frame and ship to New York and back to London. That was a hefty loss and a very serious lesson to learn. Knowledge and experience gained cost high sums of money, but unfortunately there was no other way to carry on trading.

The experience gained from the Harpignies trade was invaluable and well worth remembering:

· The value of a painting dictates a proportionate restoration expense that should not exceed 20% of the final selling price.

· Buy from auctions with guarantees of authenticity.

· Major auctions as well as smaller ones make mistakes of attribution, thus great care should be taken when buying to ensure authenticity.

Auction houses honour their guarantees and legal responsibilities. The Harpignies was returned to Christie’s. The verdict of the expert could not be questioned and the investment of £2200 was returned promptly. The expert in charge, who was a good friend by then, apologized for the unfortunate event and promised to help financially with illustrations of paintings in future sales, so that I could recover some of the expenses incurred on the painting. I appreciated this and time and again illustration charges were waived. As a result of this good will and my friendship with the expert in charge, Christie’s were to make some serious money in the future from my business with them.

The expert was actually to help more than that later and when the difference between his opinion and that of others was in the tens of thousands of pounds. For that I am still eternally grateful to him. He was indeed a good businessman, and in helping me he helped Christie’s business too. Well done to him! Major auctions are sympathetic and understanding to their clients’ needs and problems. They try to help as much as they can and within the interests of the business they work for. However exceptions also exist, which will become apparent in later entries.

The most important lesson with the Harpignies purchase was loud and clear and it needs to be repeated and expanded:

· Experts are human and thus can make mistakes. They have an opinion, which at times, even though rare, might be wrong. Nobody is infallible.

It is also important to note that:

· There are experts on individual artists and they should be consulted before works of art are catalogued. Unprofessional cataloguing? No! Careless and quick cataloguing!

· Dealers make mistakes too or at times they gamble on a painting as being authentic or by a certain artist. I did not gamble in the Harpignies case. I made an investment relying heavily on Christie’s attribution, which happened to be wrong.

I concluded that I had to make sure myself that what I invested in was well researched and checked many times before it was purchased. If in doubt, I never paid my hard earned money. Even after I had bought something, I still carried on the checking to make sure everything was in order. Fakes are mushrooming all over the art world and one has to be one million percent sure that what is purchased is the genuine article. Keep your eyes open and tread cautiously as in rare cases such mistakes might be deliberate. Fake is not just banana skins you skid and fall on. The Harpignies case was a small skid by the summer of 1987, but by 1990 things would become much more serious. The Knoedler Gallery case in New York in 2012-13 is a case of millions exchanging hands for possible fakes.

Have I always followed my own advice and learnt from my own mistakes? Are you joking! I am human, I am stubborn and most of all I repeat mistakes, which as the ancient Greeks used to say:

“ To commit the same mistake twice is not a sign of a wise man”

When buying at small auctions the guarantees are for a few days if any offered at all. My advice, if you are to spend significant amounts, read the conditions of business of the particular auction. it might save you plenty of money!!

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