INVESTING IN MARINE ART WAS ALWAYS A JOY AND MOSTLY PROFITABLE TOO!!
THE COLLECTION OF GREEKSINART INCLUDES ABOUT 40 PAINTINGS OF MARINE CONTENT AND IN VARIOUS STYLES INCLUDING IMPRESSIONIST PAINTINGS BY VASILIS ZENETZIS. THE MAIN BODY OF THE COLLECTION IS BY LEON KALOGEROPOULOS, WHOSE TALENT WAS WELL RECOGNISED AT THE MAJOR AUCTION OF LONDON.
(British, [1895-1973] Most famous and most popular British marine artist of the twentieth century. His art is extremely popular on both sides of the Atlantic. Auction price range £6,000- 200,000)
13th August 1987, Bonhams, London – 1st June 1988, Sotheby’s, London
It was summer 1987, but no holidays for the penniless investor and the family. The kids were too young, cash money was scarce, rather non-existent, and so London was to be the holiday place. Why not? Auctions never stop in the summer even though they are rare and far between. Never one to worry about what to do daily, I kept my routine and had my diary marked for the Marine Sale at Bonhams in August. Always hopeful, I kept hoping for the best possible bargain to lift the gloom I had put myself in with purchases I had made earlier in the year.
There were several paintings I liked, but the ones with potential were two watercolours by Montague Dawson, the most popular and most valuable English marine artist of the twentieth century. The Dawson watercolours looked magnificent – predominantly blue, atmospheric with proud fishing boats riding the waves. Furthermore and most importantly, they were ridiculously low estimated. At a thousand pounds each, they were bargains as the markets indicated a valuation close to £10,000 pounds. They were obviously privately entered and so the experts at Bonhams had a good opportunity to whet the appetite of bargain hunters.
Bargain hunters aplenty everywhere and I was one of them, albeit an art lover too. How else should I describe myself at that stage of the quest to become an art investor/collector? I was one of those bargain hunters, no shame to admit it. However, the burning question was how many more like myself were out there to bid that summer evening at Bonhams? Nothing would stop me from bidding to buy at a reasonable price, but would there be a bidding war, one that could definitely knock me out financially and further into trouble?
I picked up Mr T and headed to Bonhams’ evening sale early. The Dawsons were to be auctioned in the first ten lots and it was hateful to me to be late for any sale. Besides, seeing the paintings once again increased my confidence in them and gave my guest a chance to see what English marine art was all about.
Mr T liked the Dawsons, but he knew nothing about prices or about bidding at auction. There were no auctions in Athens at that time, something that he would change single-handedly soon enough. There was no significant Greek market in London, something that he would again change soon after. On seeing his collection of Greek art later, I estimated it to be worth about five million pounds. There were over one thousand paintings of the most famous artists in Greece from Gysis to Volanakis, from Maleas and Parthenis to Ghika and Fassianos. Both his gallery and his house were Aladdin’s Caves. As he mentioned in passing, “you haven’t seen anything yet until you see the warehouse.” There was no Greek artist whose paintings he didn’t possess and in a good number too. To mention but only one detail, he had the best collection of Parthenis’ work ever; something like twenty great canvases and perhaps one hundred drawings. This man was indeed “The Man” in Greek art!
The two watercolours of Dawson were very attractive, but I liked the second one more. I was anxious and worried, but I didn’t show this to my guests. Could I buy the Dawsons at the low estimate? The first lot came and I bid to £1000 nearly buying at that price. Then calamity! A new face on the auction scene of London entered the dance and the bidding became unpleasantly bloody. Hundred by hundred, step by step, the price climbed to £2500. Disappointed and frustrated, I looked away and dropped out of the bidding war. No use fighting a losing battle!
Underbidder! How many times did that happen to me? The bitter taste lasts for long and at times it never leaves the memory because that painting was always the life changing one. However, no use bidding to destruction was my philosophy, so I restrained myself! Live for another day and another painting! They always appear when least expected! Money is the only problem as it vanishes instantly into thin air! Bidding wars are always for the sellers and not the buyers anyway.
I stopped, took a deep breath and decided resolutely that I would bid slightly more and buy my preferred second Dawson. The bidding went exactly like the first one. The buyer of the first lot remained quiet until the £1000 mark. Then he started bidding against me, but I suppose because he had bought one painting already he stopped bidding at £2600, thus allowing me to buy the Dawson I found more appealing at £3000 inclusive of commissions. I was not prepared to pay a penny more. I suppose I was lucky he stopped bidding or was I unlucky?
It was a fair price and I estimated I had a margin of 50% profit at worst. That was the minimum I was working towards and if it happened to be more, all the better. I was relieved, I showed good face to my guests and I also felt I had made a seriously good buy.
Skinned! Where and how do I find £3000?
Never buy without having the funds ready!
I broke the rule as early as 1985 and then again in August 1987. I had no ready funds to pay the Dawson. However, I had thirty days credit of time to pay Bonhams. Even though auctions say that payment is immediately due, buyers have this time to send funds, to wire funds, and that is a whole month. That was plenty enough time to raise the money, if I did not sell anything to raise that sum by then. Buying without the funds put me under immense pressure but I always came through before in similar situations and I hoped to do the same in the Dawson case! Always the optimist, aren’t I? Managing this time round would take a miracle however! It was summer! It was slow! It was three thousand pounds – an enormous sum.
When you deal in pictures you ought to know who buys what and where!
I knew about the stock of galleries in London and outside London, galleries in Athens, a few galleries in Paris, New York and Philadelphia. I also knew a few good dealers. It was to my advantage to be aware of their stock and what they were buying and selling. I made it my business to know by visiting these galleries and asking about future exhibitions and paintings in stock. I wish I had done that with the Seago!
Stacy-Marks was a major gallery in Eastbourne, E. Sussex, which I knew sold good quality paintings. They ran a large, luxurious gallery in one of the most affluent areas of South – East England.
Deal or No Deal?
(French, [1889- ] Well known for his magnificent views of the Côte D’Azur in Southern France and mostly collected in England. Auction price range £500-3000)
In June of 1987 I bought a beautiful View of the Côte D’Azur by Lucien Potronat at Phillips Marylebone, London for just £125. It was a painting for the house and my own joy and enjoyment. It spoke about home, it spoke about my life and it was a bargain. More importantly, it was provenanced by Stacy-Marks, Eastbourne England, at some time in the past, as the label on the reverse of the painting indicated.
I knew that Stacy-Marks were actively buying the artist because I had seen them bidding and buying Potronat works at Lewes in East Sussex. It was no secret! All good traders, should have known that or similar facts about rich galleries. Could Potronat assist me to raise the funds I needed in a private sale?
Twenty days to go! The pressure to pay the Dawson was on and gradually increasing as the days went by. It was three thousand pounds, a very serious sum of money in 1987. I had no such sum in the bank as everything had been invested in Penck, Roubaud, Girardet, Montezin, Fassianos and other artists, which were to be sold at auction later in the year.
I loved the Med View of Lucien Potronat and had intended to keep the painting for the family’s enjoyment and for the future. However, when in need of money, you need to sell what is the easiest and the quickest. If you own stocks you sell your stocks, if you own art you sell your art and selling art privately to a gallery was the quickest way for me.
I knew the painting was worth a couple of thousand pounds because smaller size paintings of the artist were selling close to six hundred pounds at auction. Could I sell the Potronat privately to Stacy-Marks? Would they be interested? How would I make up the missing money even if I sold the painting to that gallery? I would still be short of a few hundred pounds and I had only twenty days to pay Bonhams.
Stacy-Marks was one of those family galleries with old stock and shrewd old shoes running the business. My call to them was short and to the point. On mentioning the name Potronat, they immediately asked to see the painting with a view to buying it, if we came to an agreement. No promises, but that was an encouraging initial contact. I could not mess up this transaction, as I was desperate for the money. It was tricky, it was the first time I was selling to a gallery, but there is always a first time.
I drove to Eastbourne that Saturday with a million thoughts circling in my mind. Would they buy at the right price? Would they throw me out? What would happen with the Dawson? Would Bonhams cut me out as their client, if I failed to pay in time? Keep cool, do not panic and do not show anxiety and worry. Play your cards right and everything will be fine, I kept telling myself. Much harder to do than say!
On entering the impressive gallery in the heart of Eastbourne, a thriving town on the south coast of England, I was struck by the high quality of the art on the walls. I introduced myself and soon enough it was show time. They liked the painting. They surely did. It was one of theirs. “How much do you want?” inquired the old fox, Stacy-Marks. He was the one calling the shots and there was a bright sparkle in the old man’s eyes. He knew the business much better than his sons and myself. The evidence was there to see.
“I am selling the painting for £2000. It’s a lovely painting and worth every penny.” Cool and composed, I made my case. No nerves, no worries and very sure of myself. Where did that come from? This was supposed to be a first time!
“Yes,” the old man responded, “it is worth that much, but we are dealers and we want to make a little bit of money too. I think a fair deal is £1500.” I rejected the offer as too little in the hope of making a little more. Back and forth, hesitation here and there and the compromise was £1800 on the spot. They were happy with the purchase – I was delighted with it, to say the least. A cheque of £1800 was handed to me; signed and rubber-stamped. It was an immense achievement as a first time!
With an £1800 cheque in my pocket, I felt like flying back to London. I was on top of the world! Four years after I had started dealing in art, I could sell directly to galleries at a good profit. Do you call a return of 1500% only a good profit! The trip back to London was like a minute. I was so proud of myself. It was such a satisfying experience and a moneymaking one too. I was full of beans and convinced that I wouldn’t have a problem paying for the Dawson. But I was still short of about £1000, still a significant sum. What else could I sell or buy for immediate re-sale? Success whets the appetite and you want more of the same.
Luck was on my side all the way! Thank you!
Fiction is fine, but the art trading events in these memoirs are better than fiction at times. Here I am recounting these unbelievable events that occurred at the right time and the right moment. How was that possible? I still wonder and still ask! Who and what was moving the pieces and making events happen? Luck? Surely something was intervening on my behalf. I was moving my little finger too, but something else was at play and the Ancient Greek saying is appropriate here,
“ Sin Athena kai heira kinei”. “Move your little finger, if you wish luck to assist you.”
TO BE CONTINUED NEXT SUNDAY!!