Where Is the Money?
My thirty three years experience viewing, examining and investing in art is a treasure to share and make available to all those interested in art and want to invest in art or actually deal in art. My experiences are great but without your own, they will not be much of help.
The other day I visited an auction in London where I felt a painting was worth investing in. I wanted to see it from close range, examine it physically and then decide. The moment I saw the painting, let alone examine it closely, I decide it was not for me and thus I stopped the thought.
Over the years I had many experiences where the condition and the physically evidence looked great in the auction but… There are traps around so be careful and check meticulously.
(Italian, [1861-1920], Painter of Italian harbour and coastal scenes as well as city views. Well regarded and collected by international collectors as well as Italians. Auction price range £2000- 30,000)
April 1989, Christie’s South Kensington, London
What happened with the first painting I bought at Christie’s South Kensington the same evening as the Constantinople painting? Was the Brancaccio the money-spinner I hoped for? The amount I had paid was far less than what the market dictated and I was worried in case it was not genuine, even though it had been had catalogued as such.
When buyers view art at auction certain details are not as clear and obvious for many reasons.
· There might not be time to research items before purchasing them.
· It is impossible to take apart a painting in a saleroom during viewing to check how old or indeed how genuine the painting might be based on the condition of the canvas or the material it is executed on.
The Brancaccio painting was attractive enough but there were two issues I was worried about:
· The painting should have been included in a 19th century paintings’ sale and not a marine one. Was the expert on marine art experienced enough to recognize a genuine Brancaccio or indeed a fake one?
· The canvas looked rather fresh, new and clean for a painting that was supposed to be eighty years old plus, so I was suspicious of its authenticity.
Once I had collected the painting from Christie’s and brought it home, I got down to detective work immediately. Experience of six years was put to work. I needed to make sure that the Brancaccio was a sound investment by checking basic facts. Easy to do and no damage to the painting at all:
· I took the canvas off the new frame in order to examine the painting thoroughly.
· The first thing I noticed was that the painting was relined with an old looking brownish canvas, a fact I had failed to see at the viewing. That means there was a new canvas applied to the old one for support. That is normal for old or damaged paintings, a necessary practice that keeps paintings secure and alive. Relining also allows restoration to take place. However, the original first canvas of the Brancaccio did not look old to me. Why was it relined then?
Being suspicious when buying art is not paranoia or stupidity. Experience in the business taught me plenty of lessons and here I was put to the test by the vendors of this painting. I had no issues in checking the painting like a detective as I had risked £1200, which I was not prepared to lose under any circumstances.
· With a small pair of pincers, I lifted up the new canvas at the edge, just slightly, in order to see the condition of the old, original canvas. The old canvas was brand-new, a canvas of yesterday not eighty years old as it should have been.
I needed no other proof. The painting was a clever, modern fake beautifully signed and made to deceive. I picked up the phone and immediately informed Christie’s about the true identity of the Brancaccio. The process to reverse the sale was simple and easy:
· I wrote a letter to Christie’s informing them that the painting was not a Brancaccio.
· I returned the painting to Christie’s a few days later in the same condition I had bought it. Please always remember how long you have as a guarantee when buying at auction as it varies from auction to auction.
Christie’s apparently checked the painting out with the expert on the artist who confirmed what had become obvious to me once I had checked the painting closely. The Carlo Brancaccio was a good, deliberate fake. Christie’s returned my money promptly as their conditions of sale provided. Christie’s expert, as I suspected, had made a hasty cataloguing without checking the painting thoroughly. Was the expert qualified enough to catalogue such a painting?
How many investors buy at auction in good faith, keep the item for years and never question the attribution until somebody alerts them too late that the artwork is possibly wrong?
The guarantee of auctions is anything up to five years maximum, so please check well what you have bought within the time of guarantee. No restitution after that. Luckily, that fake Brancaccio was the reason I had bought the painting of Constantinople. Another coincidence, another stroke of luck or a knowledgeable investor determined to succeed?
Even the physical examination of the painting in the auction did not help me to see the real thing. It was my experience in looking at art and working out why certain things are not what they look like.
Peter Constant, Part of my Book Rags or Riches