I decided to sell before it was the right time. Any investment in art must be for the long run and no less than ten years. That is the absolute minimum. Alas, I forgot all about it as if possessed to make the mistake of my life perhaps but…. No, no I made far bigger mistakes earlier and yet, after nearly thirty years in dealing in art I made another stupid mistake as if I was an amateur investor. Did I need the money? No, I was just trying to fit an experiment into an investment and that cost me tens of thousands of pounds.

Hong Kong the old, new world
May 2011

I regret the decision to sell. I hate the prospect of living without the children that have kept me company for nearly four years. It is impossible to disassociate sentiments from money matters in art investments. However, I have become a pragmatist and I see things more rationally at the age of sixty-five. Pragmatism prevails! Money wins!
The research into the latest sales of Mai Thu’s work favour Sotheby’s as the venue to sell, and thus the negotiations with Sotheby’s Hong Kong start. The expert in charge loves the paintings the moment he sees images of them. “Beautiful, what the market is after,” he comments. “We can sell them for you Mr Constant at 55000 HK dollars each,” (about £4000 each). I am very happy with that, and with no bargaining, no demands except the usual charges as a trader, I prepare to ship the beautiful pair of Vietnamese children back to the region they belong to.
Dreaming of a good sale once again, reliving the dreams of earlier days and earlier times, I start the process of shipping the small pictures to Hong Kong. I am optimistic about the sale result, but also apprehensive at the possibility of the paintings remaining unsold in a far away country.
The packing is finished but the sadness and feelings of emptiness in parting with something living in the house is no exaggeration. I do not fill the space where the two images of the Vietnamese children have been. Perhaps, I am expecting them back at some point soon. Who knows what will happen in Hong Kong? FEDEX collects the tiny box containing the two paintings hours after I call them in May 2011. It has been a year or so since I shipped anything abroad and my worry is as usual deep but unnecessary. Will the packet get lost being so small? Will the paintings arrive safely and as packed? When will the two children arrive and will the expert like them as much when he sees them close up?
Two days later the packet is still in transit in Paris. Why is FEDEX so late? What an ordeal! It takes six long days to receive confirmation that the paintings have arrived safely in Hong Kong. The email with a photo proves to me that they are finally in the safe hands of Sotheby’s. They look fine and I feel comfortable once again, but for how long? This is a business of unpredictable and unexpected events. What new event is going to happen to this old fox? Everything possible has already happened, hasn’t it?
One week later still no contracts from Sotheby’s. Emails are exchanged with the promise they will send the documentation soon. Two weeks and then three weeks pass and alarm bells are ringing. This is not Sotheby’s normal practice. I find out that Hong Kong is so busy they barely cope with the limited personnel they have. Sotheby’s eventually dispatch the contract documents with a reputable courier, who I must admit offer a service I dislike a lot. They fail to deliver as nobody is home, and that’s it! They never try again; they never deliver the documents! At the end of the fourth week, Sotheby’s email the contracts and everything is back on track.
What a headache already and the omens do not encourage me! I am sitting on edge. This is not just far away – this feels like events are happening on another planet. The situation is out of my hands, it is out of my control and that inexplicably worries me. It’s Sotheby’s, silly. Calm down! Stop worrying and start hoping for an unforgettable sale!

August 2011
It is late August 2011 and there is no announcement of the impending sale in Hong Kong. I am writing the last parts of my diary. It is the last quarter of 2011 and the Mai Thu masterpieces are on my mind all the time. I am frustratingly worried for just one reason now. Will they sell and for how much? Am I going to be poorer or richer? Silly worries at my age really. I am comfortably well off. The marriage of teaching and trading art has been well cemented and has paid off handsomely. I have built a great art portfolio of some potential and my pension from teaching should be the rock of my retirement.
By mid-September my worry has shifted to the catalogue and its late arrival. When will it come? What will the images be like? Will the catalogue do justice to the paintings? It finally arrives the third week of September – a lavish catalogue with plenty to admire. I flick through the pages anxiously searching for the entries of the two children. Then on page ninety-eight, on a full page and next to each other, appear the beautiful children of the Vietnamese master, Mai Thu Trung. The illustration is extremely good and the children look amazing. Perfect images! Breathtaking, real life on paper!

Timing, ah timing and the world’s financial troubles!
September 2011

The financial situation worldwide takes the route south with stocks retreating, real estate prices falling and the manufacturing world on the brink. Who wants to know about art? I am looking at the pair of paintings and am thinking. Will they return the 50% profit I dreamed of four years earlier? What if they return me 20%? There is a glimmer of hope. The South – East Asia region is still manufacturing, is still the area on the planet to do business with, and since stocks and shares have been falling dramatically there are only a handful of alternatives to invest in, art being one of them. Naturally, I have to be optimistic, but realistically the picture two weeks before the sale looks grim and gloomy. Am I going to be disappointed or will my investment in South – East Asian art be profitable?
At this moment, it’s all up in the air. I look at the two children time and again. I love the paintings and I am sure the Vietnamese collectors will love them more. I estimate them to sell for at least 70000 Hong Kong dollars each now (£6000).
Sunday 2nd October 2011
The world is a very uncertain place at the moment. Anxiety at a world recession causes panic selling on the stock exchanges, including Hong Kong. Naturally, I panic too and I am afraid the two paintings will struggle to sell the following day, Monday. On the other hand, I am hoping investors will divert some of their funds into art, but really when you lose money on the stock exchanges you rein in your investment hunger. My worry and anxiety is immense.
I open the catalogue for the hundredth time. I look at the two lovely faces of Mai Thu’s children, the hope of our world. Hope! I witness this in classes daily and I enjoy children’s happiness when I see them drawing, playing, studying and doing things they love. Why did I buy these paintings? Is it to make money or is it because of something else deeper in my subconscious? I fail to work it out.

3rd October 2011 3:00 am, London time

I have a sleepless night worrying about the sale in Hong Kong. Anticipation, apprehension, anxiety, immense worry keep me awake and half asleep. The paintings are surely desirable and are going to sell. How much? Guessing is over now as this morning I will find out the result for sure. Has the connoisseur over-estimated the value of his property? Not unusual! Will they sell or will they become a headache to be brought back to London?

I look at Hong Kong now. Will I be in another period of trouble in Hong Kong with another sale this time round? Well, it seems so and what an unlucky series of events once again; more on that come the right time in October/November. Lady Luck decides and we are mere spectators and playthings!!

Peter Constant

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