FRANCE WAS THE BEST PLACE TO SELL FRENCH ART
MY BOOK TELLS THE WHOLE STORY!!!
I HAD BOUGHT A RATHER DULL PASTEL OF A BALLERINA AND IN SPITE TRYING TO SELL IT IN LONDON TWICE, I FAILED. THEN I BOUGHT A REALLY DULL MAURICE BRIANCHON THAT WAS SELLING IN FRANCE AND FINALLY I HAD A VERY GOOD MARCEL DYF TO MAKE MY SALES EASIER TO ACCEPT AND HOPEFULLY SELL BETTER THAN IN LONDON.
I HAD ALL THE SALES IN MY HEAD, I KNEW WHAT SALES THE AUCTION HAD MADE ON ALL THREE ARTISTS AND OFF I WENT TO FRANCE TO CONSIGN AND NEGOTIATE THE SALE OF THE THREE PAINTINGS. EASY FOR A TRADER BUT SEEMINGLY A MOUNTAIN FOR SOMEBODY WHO IS NOT FAMILIAR WITH AUCTIONS. THAT IS UNDERSTANDABLE AND OUR ADVICE IS TO GET PROFESSIONAL ASSISTANCE WHERE TO SELL YOUR ART AND ACHIEVE THE BEST RESULTS.
Unsold paintings might be worth considerably more in the future
25th March 1987, Sotheby’s London – 2nd July 2001, Pillon Calais, France
(French, [1852- 1929] Henri Gervex is a respected French artist, a contemporary of the Impressionists. Collected all over the world. Auction price range £1000 – 50,000)
‘Ballerina in pink tutu’ was an attractive pastel although the ballerina could have been prettier. Gervex’s auction records persuaded me to part with £750 at Sotheby’s London in early 1987. I felt I had a good chance of doubling my money soon enough. My calculation was perhaps right, but the timing of selling was unlucky time after time. The recession of the 1990s had affected everybody and every country. Trying to sell the pastel at Christie’s was unsuccessful. Re-offering the piece at Sotheby’s in the late 1990s was even worse. Disappointed and discouraged, I left the painting with Sotheby’s for years until Rosebury’s auctioneers, a small South London auction, informed me that they were selling the painting on my behalf.
“Certainly not.” I instructed them. “How did you get my property?” I demanded to know. Apparently Sotheby’s had released it to them for sale without asking my permission. I immediately collected the work, which by now had no frame. Yes, the elaborate, custom-made frame had disappeared. That was the second time a frame of quality from a property of mine had disappeared within an auction house for obvious reasons. However, Sotheby’s did replace the frame with one of equal quality after I demanded a replacement. I have spent fortunes on frames, which on contemporary art count for up to 50% of the total investment at times.
Gervex’s ‘Ballerina’ sold for £2000 in July 2001, thus justifying my view that an unsold painting does not mean a wasted effort and a bad investment. It was not a colossal return but doubling my money was not bad either.
The case of the Gervex pastel brought home significant lessons:
• Never give up on a work of art even if it fails to sell on numerous occasions.
• Circumstances conspire against certain paintings at times.
• If your property is damaged while at auction, then demand compensation. Frames are part of the artwork and very expensive at times, thus compensation is due if they are damaged or disappear while at auction.
• Collect unsold art from major auctions before they dispatch your property to a smaller auction for sale with a ridiculous estimate.
Period of execution determines value
(French, [1899-1979], Important modernist artist of the 1930s-1970s. Respected and collected worldwide for his modernist late work. Auction price range £2000-30,000)
The Brianchon sold well below what I had paid eight years earlier, thus leaving me out of pocket by about two thousand pounds. Even in the 2000s I had lessons to learn!
• Do not retain a poor work of art in the hope of appreciation. Better recover some of the outlay and re-invest in another piece with better potential.
• Early Brianchon work, similar to my property, was boring, unattractive and dark coloured. It was his later work that commanded high prices.
• My research into Brianchon’s work was flawed and I paid the price.
When buying fine art factor in the following:
• Price: compare the item to similar pieces at auction and galleries.
• Period of execution: the early and late periods of an artist’s work might differ considerably in style and have different money values.
• Subject matter: a portrait is generally much less valuable than a landscape, a seascape or an interior scene even though exceptions exist.
• Colouring: Bright colours usually sell for more.
• Size: in general larger paintings are more valuable, if everything else is on a par.
• Provenance, history, literature and exhibitions: they all contribute to higher selling prices.
Second bidding war on Dyf?
Time for the Dyf to be auctioned and I was hoping for a bidding war between a single bidder in the saleroom and two active telephone bidders. Bidding climbed to 50,000 francs in no time but it was just a skirmish. It was all ‘French’ to me of course, but I could count well in French.
“55,000 francs, on the phone and against you in the room,” called Pillon, red faced and sweating. My heartbeat was accelerating, my anxiety climbing. I expected something major to happen. Come on bidding war, where are you? Wasn’t that the case at Gorringes thirteen years earlier?
Pillon was trying, but the bidding had slowed and he looked impatient and flustered. He had an auction to finish. Calling out,“60,000 in the room” and looking round, a hand in the first row went up. “Sixty thousand I have,” pointed Pillon and all seemed done when another hand went up at 65,000 francs.
“65,000, 65,000” called Pillon, and before the assistant on the phone had finished with his bidder, the gavel was down and the Dyf was sold for 65,000 francs or £6,000.
Pillon had rushed the bidding. He had given no more time for the telephone bidder who was slow with his bids. I was upset and angry with the auctioneer! I felt like screaming at Pillon! That happens at times in an auction when the auctioneers act inexplicably, strangely. But I was not going to shout and become a laughing stock! Yes, I see it happening in auctions where dissatisfied vendors or bidders scream and shout abuse at the auctioneers! It is unsavoury, but nevertheless it happens. Be prepared!
I was disappointed, but how could I be unhappy with such a sale? I came down to earth from the high expectations and looked at reality and the actual returns on the purchase. It was £3400 net or just about 150% return within three months. If I annualize that, it was close to 600%. That was an amazing figure. The first two investments with the Exter proceeds were extremely satisfactory and gradually helped to put the disappointment of that sale behind me.
Luck perhaps was once again following me closely and plotting on my behalf, but had I moved my little finger as well to make it happen? Changing countries to sell art had proved a success and negotiating selling terms had saved me at least five hundred pounds. Trading art with knowledge and experience of years was returning unimaginable sums. It was a winning formula.
Opportunities were still plenty in spite of the Internet. The art market was moving upwards so there was room to buy something major again I kept hoping and believing. And hopes and dreams are what make life sweeter!
ALL THREE PAINTINGS SOLD IN FRANCE, THE RETURNS WERE RATHER GOOD AND I HAD MORE CASH TO PURSUE OTHER INVESTMENTS AND HOPE FOR BETTER. I MUST CONFESS THAT ON MANY OCCASIONS I WASTED MONEY EVERYWHERE AND THE INVESTMENTS I MADE FROM SUCH GOOD SALES WERE NOT THE RIGHT ONES. THAT IS ANOTHER STORY THAT SITS HEAVILY ON ME. HOWEVER, THE INVESTMENTS MADE CONSEQUENTLY ARE STILL POSSIBLE LUCRATIVE ONES WITH TIME ON MY SIDE RIGHT NOW.
PETER CONSTANT BA MA