Entry 15th February 2015
My education in art started in 1983 but it was only until the near disaster at Sothebys with the Jongkind in the summer of 1985 that the lessons began seriously and as you will find out further down today and later, they never cease. Learning from mistakes distinguishes wise people but ” To make the same mistake twice is not of a wise person”
Pierre Eugene Montezin
(French, [1874-1946] Post-Impressionist artist who painted mainly landscapes and town views; popular with collectors in France and the USA. Auction price range £4,000- 40,000)
Christies London, November 1985
The painting by Pierre Montezin was attractive and well painted. The French artist was little known to me, but my investments in catalogues pointed to serious interest in him in the USA and of course France. Christie’s was the second biggest auction house in the world at that time so to buy something from a major auction and then manage to sell it with a good profit was not easy, I reasoned. Would it work to buy from a major auction in London and then sell at another top auction in Paris or New York? From the little I knew, New York was a stronger, bigger market and Montezin was very popular with collectors in the USA. Of course I could also try to sell in France, much nearer home. I felt that the Montezin was worth the risk. However, I was unaware that the painting had remained unsold two years earlier at Sotheby’s, London. Two years is a long time in investment, but in art it is very short for the knowledgeable investors.
The general concession is that the time to keep a painting for investment purposes is ten years at least, longer is even better. However keeping investments for the long term was unaffordable and impossible under my financial circumstances. I needed to reinvest every six months let alone every ten years!
Sales in London were sluggish and there were good opportunities to purchase paintings of artists with potential. It was easy to see that and I could already verify the difference in auction prices achieved in London and New York in the catalogues I was investing in. I had all the results achieved right after the sales, which I believe gave me an advantage and a good edge.
Pierre Montezin was a good name in the secondary category of post-impressionists and that was good enough for me at that time. Painted in a free style in exquisite greens of all shades the painting oozed quality. The shades of green in the trees and fields of the landscape were beautifully complemented by the amazing soft pink on the rooftops of a cluster of country houses nestling on a hill in the distance. That added a different dimension to the whole composition.
I was prepared to pay a substantial sum for the painting not only because I loved it but also because I saw a lot of potential in such an investment. The USA and French markets were very active and supportive of the artist, sales of impressionist art were robust and the trend was positive.
Apprehension, nerves and anxious moments before the auction proved unfounded! I was the only person interested in the painting and managed to secure it at a total of £3,000 including buyer’s commissions, which was about one thousand pounds below my top limit. Three thousand pounds I believed made it a good investment that promised some returns. However, one concern and worry bugged me. Why had other investors/dealers failed to see the potential in the painting? Was I simply too lucky? Doubtful! Art traders of London shy away from unsold paintings, a fact about the painting I did not know at the time of purchase.
I was always in a rush to sell and reinvest in those days and perhaps later too. I had little spare money and I needed to return my investment with about 50% profit twice a year. Whatever I bought, I had the plan for its sale before the purchase. If I could not sell quickly, I did not buy. That policy had worked up to that stage and there was no reason to change a working formula.
As soon as I had bought the Montezin, France was on my mind and my selling plans. It was simple:French artist, French impressionist, good prices in France, why not France?
First time lucky, I kept thinking. It was imperative to shift the painting quickly in order to reinvest the money. I was a mercenary in art because I had to be! I did not feel good about it. I knew it was perhaps wrong, but my plans of becoming an art collector were long term ones and for that I had to lay the foundations early on in the business. Make as much money as possible, learn as much as possible through dealing at that stage and time and then collect for love of art! So France it was! If nothing else I had to learn the ins and outs of French auctions.
France and business en Français! Are you serious?
Soon after the purchase of the Montezin in December 1985 and after having made arrangements for my visits with the auctioneers in question, I rushed off to France together with the painting. I was soon to find out, and at a cost of a few hundred pounds, that French auction houses/owners were a different breed to the London auction houses and their experts. Both French auction houses did not come close to my expectations.
I was neither happy with their conditions nor their demands; commissions as auctioneers were 25% compared to London’s auctions of 12% all expenses included. Where was the logic in selling with them, if they refused to offer me a better deal than that? No deal and so no business with the French auctions. After two frustrating days in Paris, I took the long road of return to London with mixed feelings of disappointment, failure and worry about the investment. Montezin was nowhere welcome in Paris. There was a feeling of cold air in the city of love that put me off for many years, but at least I found out first hand how these auctioneers operated and why so many famous French artists were selling nearly exclusively in London and New York rather than Paris.
Did I need to sell or buy in Paris? Frankly, yes! I could not cut Paris off. It was an important market on the brink of becoming a lot bigger and more significant! There were bargains too, I was sure of that. However, the experience made me think hard and deep before I bought a painting with the intention of selling there.
Doubts kept entering my head about the Montezin investment. Anxiety replaced the euphoria of purchase. New plans had to be hatched to sell the painting quickly! But did I have to sell so quickly since I had the proceeds of the October sales? How impatient was I?
Being superstitious, I knew that the Montezin would be a headache because my return trip from France on the ferry was a torture to say the least. It was one of those terrifying crossings with hurricane winds and tossing of the ferry all over the place. A normal crossing of seventy minutes took three hours during which I had to lie low down on the deck, being a bad sea traveller in rough seas. It was a horrifying, scary experience I could have done without! The omens around the Montezin painting were frighteningly bad and I am superstitious, very superstitious!
Although my trip to France had been extremely disappointing I did not lose hope. I turned my attention to the market in New York where prices were the best and climbing higher. Why did I go to France, I questioned myself? Impatience, inexperience and lack of meticulous study of the markets, I found out later! Being impatient was a major issue, rushed decisions always a regrettable fact and costly too!
By early summer of 1986 I shipped the painting to Sotheby’s, New York. I preferred Sotheby’s because I had bought the painting at Christie’s and considered it wiser to sell with another auction. It was my first consignment in New York, another first, another new beginning! How on earth did I manage that within three years? A new seller at the best auction place on earth, in the city with the biggest market! Surely the highest prices should be achieved there! Shouldn’t they?
If you make it in America, you can make it anywhere! Isn’t that the saying?
Pierre Montezin nearly drowns the amateur
October 1986, Sotheby’s New York
The Pierre Montezin work was included in the first Arcade Sale of Impressionist and Modern paintings of Sotheby’s in New York in October 1986. This was the first sale of a new experiment; first catalogue, different clientele to the regular Impressionist sales. I was worried, justifiably worried and very upset. Being in London, I could do nothing about it. I felt cheated and deceived! Had I known, I would never have consented to selling my property in a new business venture with an unproven sales record. I was angry with myself, as I had not negotiated the right sale for my property. My only wish was for the painting to sell and sell well; but the best result is usually achieved in the best sale. That was not the best sale!
It was a complete disaster! The painting failed to sell at $5,000, but I was happy as I would have been out of pocket had it sold at that reserve. The costs had already piled up. Shipping the painting to New York, the trip to France, now unsold charges and the painting had cost me close to £4000. It was becoming a noose round my neck threatening to choke me! To add salt to injury some clever person offered, through Sotheby’s, an after-sale bid of $4000, to which I answered, “If this person has any Montezin paintings similar to mine, I will buy them all at $8,000 each.” I was furious with the audacity of that person. I was in a financial squeeze, but I was not stupid.
Never undersell your property even when everything points south because the compass can change direction quickly and dramatically.
I was very worried but also somehow hopeful! Where did that hope come from since that investment had been all doom and gloom up to that point?
· Thinking positively has been a trait of mine all along! Never lose faith, think positively and hope!
· An unsold painting today might be worth double the following day!
· Something positive did happen later in October and November when several paintings by Montezin sold for around ten thousand dollars at Sotheby’s and Christie’s.
I kept asking myself, why had my property failed to sell since auction results in New York were much higher than $5000, my reserve? It was a puzzle. Was it the sale it was entered in or was there something wrong with the painting? However, my accumulated auction experience of the last three years led me to believe that it was the new auction format of Sotheby’s that was to blame and not the quality of the painting. Even though fed up now with the adventure called Montezin, there was still hope for the future. I would have to wait and ride the storm since I had no alternative at the time and had exhausted nearly all other options to sell.
On my next visit to New York in November 1986 I collected the painting and left it in the care of relatives in New Jersey. I was resigned to live the nightmare for some more time. Would it be months or years? How long could or would I have to wait for the Montezin to fulfil the expectations I had when I bought it at Christie’s? Would I be able to stop the hemorrhage and recover my £4000 investment, if nothing else?
Art is an investment but also a great activity to feed the mind and soul and at the same time hope for a good investment return. What a great combination! Did the Montezin make the return I hoped for in 1985? Read the outcome in my entry of next Sunday. On Wednesday read my adventures at Bonhams Oxford!