In the last thirty years there have been several world events that caused panic, financial shocks and temporary stop of activity not just in UK but worldwide. I was involved in a few serious financial shocks as early as 1987 and later years with Kuwait invasion, Iraq’s invasion etc.

The year 1987 is many years away now and nearly thirty years ago, makes that year history indeed. Black Monday I believe it was called and if I am right it was on the 19th October 1987. The Stock Exchanges round the world collapsed and the the markets from financial to housing and art nose dived. It was too bad to believe it but it happened and as always, many people went under and stayed under.

I was lucky to have sold just before the crash and be with some cash to exploit any distress signs in the art market. Indeed, the market collapsed and the sale rates plummeted to just about 40% in many cases. The same happened in 1990 when Iraq invaded Kuwait.


The 1987 crash offered many opportunities and it was at the end of it in 1988 that I acquired the bargain of a lifetime in Alexandra Exter. That was one of the cases where I knew what I was after, I knew that the market was favourable for buyers due to the exchanges crash, which lasted for about a year.

However, today I will talk about 1990 and what happened once Iraq invaded Kuwait. The world was in disbelief and the few sales in London immediately after were very poor and very few. Christies South Kensington was the saleroom that had nearly pictures sales every week or every fortnight and it was possible to purchase a good bargain quite often.

The sales at South Kensington are always well attended and prices never stop surprising private and trade buyers. The sale in November 1990 spoke of a very poor group of paintings. I targeted a medium size Constantine Kluge painting which I did buy at the reserve which if I am not mistaken was 450.00. It was not the best example of his work but it was commercial and that was proven when it sold in New York later.

The November sale was indeed poor but among the paintings that were on offer there was a big canvas that attracted me the most. Large, figurative, decorative and well framed. The price was just below fifty pounds and I felt that such a painting was worth a lot more than that small sum. However, times were hard, the invasion in the Gulf was a serious problem and the world was thrown very quickly into a recession that was to last for many years.

The time was right, the purchase of both paintings was a fact and life continued. As already mentioned, I did sell the Kluge in New York but the painting with the young girl of three and her mother were to prove the purchase of the year. Looking into the background of the painting and whatever other info I could collect, I found out that the painting was not just a painting of any family.

Queen Anna Maria of Greece with her Mother in Royal Palace of Copenhagen

It was a Portrait of a Royal family that was impossible to know at the auction. It was Queen Anne -Marie of Greece at the age of three with her mother Ingrid, the Queen of Denmark. That fact immediately alerted me to the importance of the painting for the Royal Families of Greece and Denmark and all collectors of of paintings of Royal Families worldwide and in Europe.

Paying 50.00 pounds for a canvas of 94 X 118 CM cm was indeed a bargain but the value of the painting increased dramatically with the information King Constantine of Greece provided me with later in 1992. The purchase of the painting in difficult times in 1990 was great. The content of the painting made it much more valuable then and today.

Why was the painting so cheap? My answer is only one. Unknown artist and timing of purchase. Very important paintings were failing to sell and thus this particular painting attracted just one buyer who bought quality, rather than name. The auctioneers knew nothing about what the real identity of the painting was and so it was sold as a decorative painting, which indeed it is.

Timing of sales and purchases then is of extreme importance. Any political and financial trouble and uncertainty offers opportunities!

Peter Constant

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