THE SEAMSTRESS SELLS AT CHRISTIES FOR 45,000 POUNDS
Some time ago I decided to diversify a little from Greek art and invested a good sum of money in art of Vietnam. That was when I bought the pair of children by Mai Thu at a cost of 2500 pounds each. It was an investment I intended to keep for five years which I did for four. However, art is a longer time investment and the mature investors in art advise a ten to twenty years investment period.
That strategy and that advice I never followed because I was all the time pressed my money issues and hunger to invest to in more and more art. Thus the two Vietnamese paintings of Mai Thu were sent to Hong Kong where the story developed into a short time nightmare and now a bitter experience under the new circumstances of sales in Hong Kong.
Please read my blog of last week and then today’s.
October 2011, Sotheby’s Hong Kong 3:30am London GMT
In the 1980s I used to wake up at three in the morning to bid on paintings selling in San Francisco. Even though physically and psychologically demanding, I found it exciting and fulfilling. Acquiring that experience stood me in good stead in my trades throughout the thirty years. Thirty years on, the body slackens and the body refuses to follow orders of the brain willingly. But on this occasion I get up at about 3:30 am hoping to catch the live sale on the Internet and experience the thrill of selling in Asia first time and hopefully at a good profit.
There are about twenty lots until the sale of the two paintings of Mai Thu. How much will they sell? What will happen if they remain unsold? The outcome is uncertain as the stock exchanges are still falling and the world is poorer by trillions of dollars. My timing to sell has a lot to be desired. Unlucky timing as the New York sale of Das has already pointed out. In the thirty years of trading art, if nothing else is obvious, the relationship between stock exchanges and art prices is clear. Booming stock prices guarantee healthy art prices and vice versa, at least at the level I have been trading. But in spite of this and several negative signs, I hope against hope. The paintings are beautiful and I believe in them. My heart is in them. Surely Vietnamese and international investors will feel the same.
Watching a live auction on the Internet has brought a new dimension to investing in art. Do I have to be in Hong Kong? Not really. Hong Kong is in my office, in my house and I am enjoying it. The theatre of auctioning art has spread wings and is live on the net internationally. Sit back and enjoy it. The web has brought home, in front of you, all the emotions and pulse of the auction room to a good degree.
The first child of Mai Thu is up for sale. The beautiful girl appears on the screen of my laptop, serene, peaceful, absolute concentration on her handiwork.
“Lot 574, Mai Thu, ‘La Couture’ or ‘Girl Sewing’.”
I can see the auctioneer asking for 25,000 HKD, 30,000, but the bidding is sluggish and not moving as expected. “40,000 and 45,000 and 45,000 and no more?” was the auctioneer’s question, and that is it. I sink in the chair in despair. What do I do now? The young seamstress is the better one of the two paintings for me. No chance for the boy to sell! I am convinced!
Despair! Despair! I know the outcome before it happens.
“Lot 575 Mai Thu, ‘Garcon au travail’,” announces the ever-smiling auctioneer.
“I have 25,000HKD, 30,000, 35,000,” and the pattern is exactly the same. Hopeless!
“40,000, 45,000,” exclaims the auctioneer, now more animated and pointing somewhere. I strain my eyes to see who is bidding. I am too far – the camera is on the auctioneer not on the bidders. “50,000,” he points to his right or left, I cannot see well and then “55,000 and 55,000” and the boy studying sells for 55,000 HKD or £4,500.
Astonishing result! I am so confused and surprised. Why did only one of the two sell? What is so significant about the boy? Vietnam is a male dominated society, I suppose. Boys are treasured more? Who knows? The most unlikely result happened. One painting sells as estimated and the other one fails badly. What a test! What a new test for the connoisseur and this time in the Far East!
What shall I do now? Will there be an after sale bid? One week after the sale and there is no news of any interest in the unsold Mai Thu, but I am not worried at all about it. I will have the young girl back any day, any time. I am just disappointed she is separated from her sibling painting. I have always been against the separation of pairs of paintings but the ‘expert’ knew better, or did he? I should not blame him. The blame rests on me. I should have insisted on the two paintings selling together – they were an inseparable pair.
A pair of paintings is more valuable than two paintings selling separately!
My experiment in two investments led to no gains. I have collected £9,000 from the two sales and with another one expected to sell at about £3000 I am going to break even. As experience has already taught me, the auctioneers benefited from the sales and the investor has been left to pick up the pieces. The unsold painting is still in Hong Kong to be sold in the spring of 2013, if the economic situation allows it.
Will an unsold painting in October 2011 surprise me in 2013 with a much better than expected sale? I can only hope for better!
6th April 2013, Sotheby’s Hong Kong
I have discussed unsold art at auction on several occasions. I have narrated stories of investments in unsold paintings that returned significant profits, but they were closer to home than Hong Kong. In addition, they were not so small. Regardless of major issues with unsold art the fundamentals do not change. Keep faith in them as they are worth as much as they originally failed to sell at and perhaps a lot more.
Time flies and it is already 2013. The expert at Sotheby’s insists the Mai Thu painting is great and estimates it at 55,000 HKD. This is in complete contrast to cases I mentioned earlier and further down where the estimate is slashed to a fraction when offered for sale a second time. Everything is professionally done very quickly and my hopes rise once again. The cataloguing is great; the group of Vietnamese paintings is substantial; prices of Vietnamese art are still on the up. My hopes are well founded.
I have a few sleepless nights and many worries. Experience tells me that unsold art struggles second time round but not when a market is hot and improving fast. The sale happens and I leave it alone – I am too apprehensive to watch on the live stream! At about 6.30 in the evening I check the result. Sold at 55,000 HKD! What a relief! The second Mai Thu sold for £4500, but now I am expecting a cheque of £4,200, not £3500. Why is that?
- There are no illustration charges. My demand for this was met, as this is a policy second time round.
- No insurance is paid as that has already been paid earlier in 2011.
- The exchange rate has worked in my favour by a few hundred pounds.
It has been six years since the investment took place in 2007. The return is not great, but I am happy with a solid, net return of 40%. My target of 50% was missed but a 6% average return is very pleasing. Can any bank give a 4% return on any cash these days?
11th JULY 2020
TO MY SURPRISE I NOTICE THAT CHRISTIES IN HONG KONG WERE SELLING THE SEAMSTRESS ONCE AGAIN YESTERDAY. THIS TIME ROUND THE BEAUTIFUL PAINTING OF THE SEAMSTRESS SOLD FOR 45,000 POUNDS , THUS MAKING ME SICK FOR SELLING IT WHEN I DID.
YES, IT IS BUSINESS, BUT WHEN YOU ARE PROVEN SO SILLY, IT HURTS A LOT. LIFE CONTINUES AND MORE LESSONS ARE IN THE PIPELINE BUT HAVE I LEARNED ANYTHING FROM THIS DISASTER?
VIVA ART INVESTMENTS!!