It is Not Over Until Is Over , 15th March 2015

Believing Is Essential

Friday! The days went by and the exhibition was nearly over. Barely sold anything and the Bank Manager came to view the items I exhibited and to remind me that I was well over the limit. The pressure was on, I was in danger of losing nearly everything but I had two day more. What could I do? I felt I did everything I could but it failed!!

Lucky or Hard Working?

May 1992

A week of despair!

The whole week was nearly over. It was Saturday already and the only painting sold during the week was a small Zenetzis for £350, barely enough to pay my assistant’s wages. Alexandra Exter remained unsold, as did the other major paintings in the exhibition. It was really a hopeless situation and a nightmare scenario. The art was good, but even the best paintings had attracted no interest and I had just two days to resurrect a dead show. I could do no more.

I left everything to Lady Luck! She was in charge. I was a passenger that last weekend. Only a miracle could save the sinking boat and it was sinking fast! The bank manager was demanding sales and deposits in the account. The creditors were sharpening their knives, ready to decapitate the wizard kid of the 1980s and bury for good the achievements of the earlier decade. Was it possible to recover my expenses at least and save the business?

Exhibitions have major targets to achieve. The exhibition of 1992 had only one major target and a couple of secondary ones.

· Primarily, sell as many paintings as possible and raise cash in order to balance the books

· Make the acquaintance of important collectors and establish constant selling relationships

· Exhibit the paintings thus enhancing their value, especially that of Exter and the Zenetzis collection

Two days of the exhibition left and only the third target had been achieved. No major collectors had crossed the threshold of the gallery in order to buy. That was dismal, heartbreaking and very, very upsetting. Feeling low cannot adequately describe the way I was feeling. It was far deeper, far more complex than that – it was hopelessness, depression and despair. Failure was tangible, inside me, engulfing me, eating away my confidence and business acumen, if I ever had any that is.

Hope, expectation, drive to succeed, planning to address all issues and problems had all been done, and there were no results to touch and feel the pleasure of. I was miserable, despondent, ready to surrender and raise the white flag! What else could I do? I did not know! The desperate last minute calls over the week had taken place and only one thing remained to do. Wait! Wait and wait! Hope, hope and hope!

By Saturday morning I had virtually given up, even though Saturday was an important day. Perhaps a miracle might happen! I needed just one good collector to drop in and purchase an important painting. The profit margin on any one of those paintings would have turned losses to profits. If only I could work the oracle and make things happen! I arrived at the gallery before 10.00 am and sat thinking, waiting and praying for mercy really. Would anybody come? Would any passers-by come inside the gallery? This was a business where I depended on the buyer now. As a seller, I felt, I had done my best to attract the buyers.

The last desperate act! Will any major collectors arrive?

Eleven o’clock. Nothing doing, silent telephones, nobody through the door, everything quiet and literally I could hear the clock ticking the seconds and minutes away. Then frustrated and choking for fresh air and inspiration, I got up from the chair, I walked purposely outside the gallery and looked at the two display windows. There were three very attractive paintings inviting passers-by, but nobody was drawn to walk in. Why? Why? Why? What could I do? What was missing? My mind was working, but up to that moment there was no inspiration, no ‘Eureka’!

Thinking hard, my brain super charged, I mumbled. Yes, yes!! If not anything new, at least it might attract one or two passers-by! I picked up the marker and slashed the prices on the three paintings in the window by 50%. Yes, it was a desperate measure, but I had nothing to lose as most paintings were on a 200% profit margin and, if unsold now, would be in the stockroom for at least a couple of years collecting dust and costing me a fortune in high interests month after month.

Clock ticking away, minutes and hours dying away. Time passed. Twelve o’clock came and went but still nobody to talk to, nobody to show round the gallery. One o’clock – my desperation was immeasurable. I kept looking outside the gallery in order to forget my misery and troubles. I was going down with every minute ticking away. It was about 1.30pm.

The middle-aged couple looked in the window. They chatted for a minute or so and then walked in! The well-heeled couple was discussing the still life in the window, stopping my suicidal thoughts. I welcomed them in handing them a catalogue nervously and silently prayed for the miracle to happen.

Letting art lovers alone to enjoy art is a must and so I retired and left them to view and discuss the paintings. After a few minutes I approached them and offered my services.

“Yes, we like many paintings, but our budget is only £2,000.” I left them to look around once again and then they asked to buy the two paintings in the window, one by Vasilis Mastoras, a still life painter, and the other by George Gogle, an English still life artist. The total was £800 with the profits a negligible 100% on both paintings, but that was manna from heaven at that moment! A penny of profit was extremely welcome let alone four hundred pounds.

There is still hope, I thought quickly. Oxygen found its way to my lungs and some money into my empty pockets to relieve the heavy burden of failure. Then, unexpectedly, the couple turned and looked at a lovely still life of an artist I knew little about, but it was punchy, beautifully framed and in my view cheap. Priced at £1500 in the catalogue, the Jan De Ruth painting was a bargain. It was a bargain for the buyers at £1200, the last price I offered, which they accepted happily. I handed it to them with great relief and collected another £1200 that thankfully took care of my rents at the gallery in one go. What a beautiful, colourful still life of roses that was! Measuring a sizeable 125cm x 65cm, its superb frame alone was worth £500. The deal was done, the £2000 were down and I set about wrapping the paintings quickly, sighing heavily in relief and feeling a million tons lighter and happier. That done in a flash the paintings were in the Jaguar of the couple and hope revisited my tormented, desperate soul.

Thank God! Nearly out of jail! What an escape from serious money headaches! What a sale and what a turnaround! Optimism and expectation for something more reappeared. Could I hope for more? Plenty of business hours to go! There was Sunday too!

By now it was two-thirty in the afternoon, a bright, beautiful afternoon. Spring was in the air, colourful flowers dominated the square in front of the gallery and people were out and about shopping and being sociable in spite of the gloomy economic situation. The three sales I had already made helped me to breathe and feel a little better, worry a little less and hope for more in the few hours I had left that Saturday and Sunday. Perhaps someone from above was looking after me after all, I wondered. Being superstitious and one who believes in the intervention of powers from above, I attributed everything to them! No sooner had I finished packing the paintings of the English couple and caught my breath than the phone rang. I was expecting a friend or my wife at the other end.

“I am Mrs LM. Will it be OK to visit the exhibition in about half an hour?”

That was the voice I had been hoping to hear the whole of the week, the wife of a renowned Greek collector and supporter of anything Greek. The phone calls had started yielding results. I had spoken to Mrs LM. three times begging her to come and see the show. Perhaps it was the reward I had been waiting for and felt I deserved. The content of the show was nearly 100% Greek art.

Apprehensive, anxious and sitting uncomfortably in expectation, I prepared myself. These were important people and the kind of collectors I hoped the show would enable me to meet and make clients of, if not now, in the future. It seemed as if the second leg of my targets was going to be achieved. It was a great feeling but would it also be translated into sales?

The well-groomed couple walked into the gallery within twenty minutes of the call. Making their acquaintance, I welcomed them, handed them catalogues and allowed them space to walk round the gallery a couple of times. Going round slowly, they looked at everything, discussing works and examining carefully details and prices. However, their main interests were in the area of the expensive paintings with Exter, Maleas, Page, Economou, Parthenis, Ghika, Tsoclis to mention but a few.

I took my time to approach them and invited them to a drink and questions about the paintings. Mr. LM. was a gentleman in all his actions and words. The lady was equal to her husband’s polite manner and bearing. High society people but at the same time down to earth and friendly. They looked very comfortable discussing the merits of several paintings and were very knowledgeable, I soon realized!

Mrs LM. started first. “We like the Zenetzis painting of Nicosia and the Archbishop’s Palace. This takes us back years and years and reminds us of our romance and life in Cyprus some thirty years ago. The late Archbishop Makarios had us engaged there. We would like to buy that painting.”

“Great,” I added. “I am glad you like something of Zenetzis’ work.” There were some twenty paintings of his in the show. It was only £400, but that was a good beginning. Somehow I felt they were looking more seriously at other more important paintings and thus I eagerly expected more to follow. At last, a couple of collectors who seemed prepared to spend some money.

Then Mr. LM. walked over to the major works and stated firmly, “I would like to purchase the work of William Page of the Acropolis. I like it. We have a collection of the artist and this will fit in nicely with what we have of the artist.”

That went smoothly but I had to make something clear to him before we proceeded to money issues. With no hesitation and for many reasons, I stated clearly, “The inscription ‘Page’ on the watercolour is added.”

“I know,” smiled Mr.LM. happily.

That was something I did not expect from him, but I was so relieved I had told him. Better be honest and straight about something than hide the truth. That never pays in any situation or event but more so when it comes to art. I was always straight with my sales to everybody and what I did at that moment was not unusual.

I liked the couple. I guess they liked me too. I closed the deal at £1200 for both paintings and I can assure you, I was younger by fifty years by the end of that hour. All the pressure of the past week disappeared, all my fears and anxiety vanished and I was on top of the world once again. Remember that the Page work was bought at Christie’s South Kensington counter for only sixteen pounds, yes sixteen pounds. The frame cost £20 and with those two small sales, I was definitely out of jail.

Could I make some profits after all? Could I sell some more paintings? All of a sudden things had turned around, and now I was expecting the unimaginable to happen.

Having a drink and talking about art is always a pleasure for collectors. We talked about the whole show and especially the top lots. We discussed the Exter and the merits of the work as well as the artist. Mr. LM was apprehensive about the Parthenis drawings (although they had been bought from the artist’s son). Incidentally, they did sell at Sotheby’s and Christie’s a couple of years later for more than I had priced them at the exhibition. The Economou portrait was of particular interest to Mr. LM but no offer was made and there was no hint of a possible purchase at that time.

Then Mr. LM. added, “Will you bring the paintings to the house next Saturday, when you have time?”

“No problem,” I responded calmly. I was dying to see his house and his collection!

“We will talk further about the major paintings you have here, he added. “I might be interested in one or two of the important paintings. Come to the house and we will talk further. We have to attend another event at four and time is running out now.”

Departing, the couple remarked how rich the exhibition was and how they liked what they saw. They were very polite but also well into art so their appreciation of the whole show made me feel very good. I knew already they were genuine and that they meant what they said. I also felt that I had won the trust of a client and perhaps made a new, important client. With another £1200 in the till and perhaps more to come from these collectors, I sat down for a breather. I was breathing comfortably because that £3,200 had made the difference between an unpalatable loss and a small profit.

That Saturday in May 1992 was meant to be full of happy memories and surprises. As soon as those two lovely people walked out of the gallery another good friend walked in. Literally minutes separated the departure and arrival of the two parties. My accountant knew about the show, my art activities and perhaps the company wanted to support me because I was a client of theirs. Could I sell a couple of paintings to them? That would really boost my finances! The young partner in the firm walked in alone. As always a happy man with a broad smile and kind words, he walked around admiring the paintings on display. He stopped from time to time at Zenetzis’ work. I approached quietly and we started talking about the Cyprus paintings of Zenetzis.

It was obvious he was interested in the homeland’s paintings. Finally he chose three paintings by Zenetzis, two of Cyprus and one of Corfu, to the total of £2500. They were great pieces of high quality, bright, beautiful and very accomplished impressionist art, which still decorate the offices of his business premises. They bring a distant home in the Mediterranean to the place of work. The masters of such art sell in the millions. I was providing impressionist, quality art by a very good artist at very low prices. Zenetzis’ work was not just a fancy of mine that started in a small gallery in Athens in 1988. He was also an artist whose work was admired by art lovers in Greece and elsewhere, irrespective of their nationality.

It was about 4:30 pm on that glorious Saturday in May. The day that had started so ominously had ended unexpectedly well. I had achieved, to some degree, what I had set out to do about six months earlier. However, the Exter had not attracted that elusive major collector! The major pieces in the show had not attracted any buyers. That was disappointing, but was it premature to moan and complain? Could I sell any of them still or would it be better if I did not?

Wrapping up the exhibition in high spirits, the Cretans arrive!

Sunday was the last day of the exhibition at Hallam Fine Art Gallery. I was in a very good mood after the sales of Saturday. A few thousand pounds had meant the salvation of the business and kept the dream of riches alive. Much relief, satisfaction and newly found confidence that cannot be put in words followed that Saturday.

It was impossible to forget that about nine years earlier I had entered the world of art not owing any money to banks and credit cards. By 1992 I had come a long way with a large inventory of fine, valuable art and a new trade learned through trial, error and hard work, but my bank account was in the red by a huge sum. I had to keep the bank happy and I had to make a penny’s profit too, if I was to feel happy myself. It was a fine edge between success and failure! I knew that the investments in Greek art had helped to steady the ship but to rely solely on Greek art was never the plan or idea.

The expectation on that Sunday was to sell another couple of paintings as it was the last day of the exhibition and it is a Greek custom to “leave it to the last minute in order to get a bargain.” I had done that at auction myself and it had worked. There was every reason for others to do the same. People had called about paintings asking for more information, but had not yet appeared at the gallery and so there was a glimmer of hope. Perhaps I could sell a few more posters of the Exter work (priced conservatively at £5 each), I joked to myself.

Sunday morning and it was very quiet. Reading the newspaper kept me busy for a while, but my mind was on sales, more sales. It would have been gratifying to finish off the exhibition with a few more pounds in my pocket. I kept dreaming, but then again I am a dreamer. It was a dream for somebody like me to mount an exhibition worth close to half a million pounds in 1992!

Dreaming and hoping, time passed. It was about one o’clock when the young couple walked in talking and gesturing purposefully. They had come in to view the show before and had expressed an interest in a beautiful painting by Vasilis Zenetzis. Revisiting was a good sign of serious interest. The husband was from Crete and he was the one making the decisions. Cretans stand by their word, they wear the trousers and usually hold the purse too. I was to find out soon enough whether that was the case or not.

I welcomed them back and they immediately walked up to the Goule painting by Zenetzis, their compatriot. The image of Goule was 100 x 70 cm. It was one of the biggest Zenetzis works carrying a price tag of £2,000. The castle was superb, the boats and figures very well painted and one did not have to be in Crete to be there. Crete was present in London, in this painting, gratifying emotions and senses. It was an impressive, magnificent painting standing very well alongside masters such as Exter, Parthenis, Ghika and Maleas. You might think I am exaggerating, but the future is going to judge such statements more accurately, I am sure. The present and past are harsh on artists but the future nearly always vindicates them with interest.

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