Montezin Unsold at $5000 in October 1986, Sold in October 1987 for ????

An Odyssey to the Promised Land – Montezin

3rd December 1985, Christie’s London

If there has been a problem during the whole of my life, it has been inability to hold onto cash. Cash never lasted nor lasts in my pocket. Somehow, I have been drawn to owing money and spending money rather than saving it. Investing in art was a positive way of using the money, but could I stop when I had plenty of it and leave a little bit of cash for a rainy day or for a better deal?

The money from the sales at Sotheby’s plus other smaller ones was considerable. Feeling that in my pocket, even though I had not collected it yet, I was already seriously immersing myself into upcoming auctions in order to reinvest some or all of the money. It was the right time to do that. Prices were depressed in London; money was scarce in Great Britain and more elsewhere, Paris, France, New York. I had money and felt luck on my side. Pressing on and trying my luck once again was the only way forward. Tasting such success at Sotheby’s was intoxicating.

I viewed auctions, I researched paintings for days on end and finally I narrowed it down to just a couple of important paintings. A post-impressionist painting at Christie’s, King Street London in November 1985 was my serious target. Two impressionist artists had made good money for me already (Jongkind and Lebasque), why not another one and a third time lucky?

The learning curve doesn’t end on one’s shores

Never give up on good art

May 1987, Christie’s New York

1987 started slowly as most years did. By February it had picked up and gradually became hectic and frenetic. I was unprepared for all the events that followed during that year, but that is what makes art and dealing in art so interesting and exciting, so different to any other investment and so rewarding at times. It was an unpredictable year for any business including mine.

The investment in Montezin had become a thorn in my side. Every business and every activity in life depends to a great degree on confidence and that painting was a case where I had lost confidence. I had tried to sell it in France at two different auctions and failed. I had tried once in New York and failed. By March 1987 I was desperate to be rid of it and would have been happy to get my money back, let alone make a profit.

Fortunately Impressionist sales in New York in February and March 1987 had achieved excellent results for his work. All the catalogues I had, including a number from France, showed clearly that similar Montezins to mine were selling like hot cakes near the $20,000. Timing is the most important aspect of any financial transaction and I felt the time was right to try again in New York, but this time with Christie’s. I had to strike while the iron was hot and although the painting was not fresh on the market I was confident that not too many people knew this as there was no Internet in those days.

The correspondence and communications with the expert at Christie’s were clear and unambiguous. This is a good painting, we like it and we feel it can sell for about $15,000. There was no guarantee, but the market warranted that estimate and sale expectations. I was not of the same view for once, because I knew the history of the painting – unsold, unsold, unsold!

Consign in person – get to know the experts!

Experts at auctions usually know their buyers, know their artists and are generally good judges of what is to happen in the saleroom. In the case of the Montezin I prayed they were right. I wanted to accept their expertise wholeheartedly, but could not. Nevertheless, I had no other option. Christie’s New York was the only major auction left for the Montezin.

Consigning the Hofmann in person had proved successful; consigning the Seago via proxy could not have been worse; lessons learned the hard way. I had no desire for intermediaries in consigning the Montezin. The best policy was to see the experts, discuss issues and get them on my side. Besides, I had other business and paintings to carry to New York.

Christie’s was then on 5th Avenue in the centre of Manhattan. The expert I had corresponded with was soon with me. He was surprisingly young and very welcoming and polite. Introductions over, I nervously opened the package with the painting. The greens shone brightly in the rich light of the room, the rooftops in that soft pink stood out. I remained quiet, almost frozen and waited for the thunderbolt. After looking at the painting for a few seconds, just seconds, with no fuss, no beating about the bush, he said, “Yes, this is a good painting. I like it.”

“Now that you see it in the flesh, do you think and feel any different?” I asked hesitantly.

“No, absolutely not. It’s as good as I said in my correspondence. I believe we can sell it at $15,000 in our October 1987 sale. If you are happy with that, let’s draw the contract and go ahead with the sale.”

Happy? Are you kidding? I was thrilled to pieces. It was all done in about fifteen minutes and I was on my way out of Christie’s, a relieved man, a hopeful man but still very much a non-believer. What a turnaround and what expectation! After a couple of setbacks already in 1987, I needed a good sale to balance the books and restore my confidence. New York was the place to stop the rot.

Waiting for a sale was not easy but at the same time being busy makes time fly. I found myself supply teaching in a new school with great people. Mixing art and supply teaching was exactly the combination required. Summer was hectic and as you already read August was a month not to be forgotten so easily.

October was nearing and the catalogue from New York arrived three weeks before the early October sale. Illustrated in colour, the Montezin looked magnificent on the right hand page of the catalogue – absolutely brilliant and more than attractive! In addition, the artist’s son had authenticated the painting in a letter to Christie’s and was going to include it in his father’s catalogue raisonné. Such a statement in the catalogue increased the value of the painting and made it more desirable. That was a very good omen, it was something I did not expect, and yet there it was in the catalogue. I was so grateful to Christie’s! Sotheby’s, a year earlier, had dumped my property in a sale of no consequence. Christie’s had not only checked it, which led to it being included in the artist’s raisonné, but also included it in their best secondary Impressionist sale. I appreciated that very much and as a result, they won me as a client.

Unsold at Sotheby’s; sold at Christie’s

8th October 1987, New York

Thinking about the sale and worrying about another unsold trauma cannot be described easily. Worrying to death, sleeping with nightmares aplenty I managed from day to day. In spite of all the negative emotional issues related to the Montezin, somewhere, deep at the end of the tunnel of torture of unsold paintings, I could see a glimmer of twinkling light because:

· The market was stronger in 1987 compared to 1986.

· My property was included in a much better sale and catalogued amongst more important art, which attracted better buyers.

· The painting had been authenticated by the artist’s son and was going to be included in his catalogue raisonné of the artist.

Waiting to hear the result of the sale was a torment. The year had not been the one I expected up to that point and I was teetering on the edge of a precipice. With fear and trepidation I called Christie’s the same day of the sale, after school and around six in the afternoon London time. Supply teaching earned me the daily bread, but art filled my life emotionally and with greater financial reward.

“Can I have a result from today’s Modern and Impressionist sale, please? Lot number 44.”

“Let me have a look sir…yes, sold for $24,000 sir.”

“How much please?”

“$24,000, sir.”

“Thank you,” I whispered, and put down the phone. I felt faint. I was speechless, and then I screamed like crazy, “Yes, Yes, Yes!” punching the air, kicking in all directions, I went crazy!

Sold for $24,000 in October 1987 at Christie’s. Unsold in October 1986 at $5,000 at Sotheby’s. You cannot be serious, can you?

I ran round and round like a madman. I sat to rest. I was exhausted! I slowly calmed down and reflected! What a result! That was crazy but it was also the reality of auctions. The sale justified my persistence, my resilience and my hard work in following the markets so closely. I never gave up. I kept trying even when pessimistic. I was not a pessimist any more! I have never been one, anyway! I was right all along and I did everything to perfection this time round. Timing! I had timed the sale of the painting perfectly! It felt so satisfying. The sale gave me a serious financial injection of money, which I desperately needed; £14,000 net from an investment of £4,000 including expenses. What a return and what a turnaround?

Was I that shrewd or was I just lucky? Was I a good trader or was I a bloody lucky trader? I was not sure, but I was comfortable in my belief that I was a good investor, who had luck on his side because, a few days later, the stock exchanges crashed worldwide and with that the art market too.

When an international financial crisis erupts, it takes everybody along with it, or does it? The sale of the Montezin and the stock exchanges crash of October 1987 marked the second phase of my art dealing and its fourth anniversary. How did a financially weak person like myself fare during those stormy times? Did I exploit the crash of October 1987 to success or did I crash too?

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