MY EXPERIENCES SAYS, TRUST YOUR OWN OPINION AND INSTINCTS!!
I HAVE HAD MANY DISAPPOINTMENTS AT THE RECEPTIONS OF AUCTION ROOMS BUT MY KNOWLEDGE OF WHAT I OWN AND HOW I GOT IT WAS ALSO MY GUIDE TO ACCEPT OR REJECT THEIR OPINION ON MANY OCCASIONS.
WAS THE EXPERT AT SOTHEBYS RIGHT TO DISMISS ME WITH A VALUABLE PAINTING IN MY HANDS? WAS HE MAKING A DECISION BECAUSE OF OTHER REASONS RATHER THAN FOR WHAT HE HAD IN FRONT OF HIM TO EXPRESS OPINION AND MAKE AN HONEST VALUATION?
WAS THE EXPERT AT CHRISTIES SOUTH KENSINGTON QUALIFIED ENOUGH THE DISMISS THE AMERICAN GENTLEMAN WHO OWNED THE TWO PAGE WATERCOLOURS I BOUGHT OFF HIM FOR PEANUTS AT THE COUNTER OF CHRISTIES?
Opinion of the Senior Director and expert at Sotheby’s
THEODORE RALLI, IT’S WORTH 2-3000 POUNDS! WAS IT??
June 1989, London
Consigning any property at auction is extremely worrying and at times traumatic even for the seasoned traders. Needless to describe how it must feel when it’s only once in a lifetime. Even though the following is just basic advice, please follow this as much as you can. When consigning an important painting for sale at a major auction house one needs to know that:
· It takes about four months from the moment one consigns a work of art with a major auction house till the day of sale.
· There is another wait of about five weeks to receive the proceeds after the sale.
· If the item is very important and there is a need for further research by the auction the whole process will take longer than six months.
Such details are very important especially when a seller needs the money urgently, in which case, a smaller, faster selling auction room might be more appropriate. In such a case one needs to know that:
· Smaller auctions take a shorter time to sell and some sell and pay within one week.
· The negative side of this route is that smaller auctions might sell for less, as they attract a smaller audience and less affluent buyers.
· It might also be more expensive to sell with these fast selling auction houses.
· If there is no urgency to sell, then selling at a reputable auction house is the most rewarding and the one we strongly advise.
The Ralli sat at home for a few months. I enjoyed it, but I could not afford it, in all honesty. The time to take it to the auction was late June, for entry into the November 19th Century European Paintings Sales. The paintings in those sales ranged from £3000 upwards, so I had no worries about any auction accepting the painting.
Setting off from home at about 11.00 with my wife and children, I assumed I would be at Sotheby’s London at about 11.45. I was very hopeful and relaxed about the consignment process. The research was done; I had the latest prices and felt well prepared to defend the painting’s value and possible sale in a top auction. Nevertheless, one can never be sure about anything until the whole business is over and money is in the bank.
Losing money on the Ralli trade was not on the cards. I was one million per cent sure it was an ace! It was a beautiful painting in its heavy contemporary frame and a lot of inborn optimism filled me with confidence, perhaps overconfidence. My wife, however, never comfortable with my art venture, was anxious and apprehensive knowing I had paid top money for the painting. Our two boys played happily in the back of the car, while I at the front waited for events to unfold in a positive, happy mood.
Through Hampstead and then Regents Park with no problems I was soon at Sotheby’s in George Street. On arrival I asked for the director of the 19th century paintings department, whom I knew from earlier consignments and purchases. He was actually one of the experts that had a look at the unsigned Constantinople painting I refer to elsewhere. It always helps when you know the people you are dealing with.
The expert arrived, but he looked as if he was in a hurry. A cold breath of air in mid-summer swept over the consultation room of Sotheby’s. It seemed I had interrupted his business or upset his social life or something, even though he was at work and supposed to be making money for Sotheby’s, wasn’t he? Not a good omen. Polite greetings over and then he was on to the business of examining the painting.
It took the top expert of the 19th century department a few seconds, literally seconds, to look at the Ralli and say quickly, dryly and tersely and I quote, “two to three thousand pounds, I believe.”
“Two to three thousand,” I mumbled, unable to grasp what he was saying. I felt numb, dazed and confused. It took me a few seconds to comprehend what he had just uttered. I could not process the figures and I am good in Maths. Doubting what I had heard, I asked in disbelief, “Did you say £2-3000?”
“Yes, that is my opinion.” I was shocked hearing that figure twice. My head began spinning and my balance began to fail me. I was ready to collapse. Somehow, I composed myself and asked shakily, “Why is that?”
“That is my opinion!”
Was this man out to destroy me? No doubt about that. No mistake – two to three thousand! Come on man! React! Say something! Defend yourself! Defend the painting! Slowly, I was coming back to my senses realizing the seriousness of the situation. Extremely worried and upset, I finally comprehended that that was no joke and no misunderstanding. I was in deep trouble.
Anger took over me. I was boiling mad. I was beyond control and restraint at this point. I was furious.
“Why two to three thousand pounds? Explain to me, why? What was better about the Ralli painting you estimated £6-8000 in one of your sales last year? Was it the fact that it was 20 x 15cm? Was it the fact that it was just an unattractive portrait? I have a popular composition here of 60 x 50 cm and you are telling me £2,000-3,000 estimate? Do you think I stole the painting or found it lying on a pavement?” I screamed at him.
“This is my opinion. If you don’t like it, take your painting somewhere else!”
I couldn’t believe my ears! That was not the director of Sotheby’s I knew! That was no Sotheby’s expert! That was so unlike him! What was the problem? Why so rude? It was unbelievable to me. In no time he was gone and I was left standing in a cold sweat, fuming with rage.
The director had other important matters to deal with and didn’t care about a client, about his business nor about his employers’ business. That was the first and last time I ever experienced such behaviour and attitude at Sotheby’s. This was 1989, five years after I had first done business with the auction house. By then, many experts knew me and I knew well how the auction business was conducted.
I had a good idea what was valuable and what was worthless! How could Mr T and I be wrong at the same time? Virtually impossible! Unsteadily, I walked out of Sotheby’s in a daze. The world had collapsed around me. The top expert of the 19th Century European paintings at Sotheby’s had demolished my dreams and my confidence as a dealer. This was a knockout blow ruining everything. I took it badly, but my wife even more so after I narrated the events to her.
“Why was he so abrupt and so against the painting?” she questioned almost tearfully.
“ I don’t know,” I retorted angrily. “He was in a hurry, he was rude and he wasn’t interested. The b…! He destroyed me in there,” I admitted in defeat.
Yes, your confidence, knowledge and experience can go up in smoke in seconds in the hands of these experts. Watch out! Twenty-four years on but the scars of that event are still with me. They are as vivid today as they were then. How helpless, how unhappy and downtrodden I felt! I hated the man! Perhaps he hated me too. That’s why he was so against the Ralli picture. Down the drains went £10,000. Down went all my dreams, unless he was wrong and biased for reasons of his own.
Was there a way to save the boat? Was there another expert who would look at the painting with a more positive eye and view? Virgin Mary, help me! I crossed myself, I begged and and prayed. I was lost in my misery and inability to think straight and reasonably. The top man at Sotheby’s had condemned me to bankruptcy with his verdict and at the same time destroyed my thinking processes. I was paralysed, in shock.