UNSOLD MONTEZIN AT SOTHEBYS AND ELSEHWRE SELLS …
Among the many stories and facts of dealing in art this one stood out then and today and served me well when I most needed it.
The learning curve doesn’t end on one’s shores
Pierre Montezin – never give up on good art
May 1987, Christie’s New York
1987 started slowly as most years did. By February it had picked up and gradually became hectic and frenetic. I was unprepared for all the events that followed during that year, but that is what makes art and dealing in art so interesting and exciting, so different to any other investment and so rewarding at times. It was an unpredictable year for any business including mine. The investment in Montezin had become a thorn in my side. Every business and every activity in life depends to a great degree on confidence and that painting was a case where I had lost confidence. I had tried to sell it in France at two different auctions and failed. I had tried once in New York and failed. By March 1987 I was desperate to be rid of it and would have been happy to get my money back, let alone make a profit. Fortunately Impressionist sales in New York in February and March 1987 had achieved excellent results for his work. All the catalogues I had, including a number from France, showed clearly that similar Montezins to mine were selling like hot cakes near the $20,000. Timing is the most important aspect of any financial transaction and I felt the time was right to try again in New York, but this time with Christie’s. I had to strike while the iron was hot and although the painting was not fresh on the market I was confident that not too many people knew about it, as there was no Internet in those days.
The correspondence and communications with the expert at Christie’s were clear and unambiguous. This is a good painting, we like it and we feel it can sell for about $15000. There was no guarantee, but the market warranted that estimate and sale expectations. I was not of the same view for once, because I knew the history of the painting – unsold, unsold, unsold!
Consign in person – get to know the experts! Experts at auctions usually know their buyers, know their artists and are generally good judges of what is to happen in the saleroom. I hope that was the case with Montezin. I wanted to accept their expertise wholeheartedly, but could not. Nevertheless, I had no other option. Christie’s New York was the only major auction left for the Montezin. Consigning the Hofmann in person had proved successful; consigning the Seago via proxy could not have been worse; lessons learned the hard way. I had no desire for intermediaries in consigning the Montezin. The best policy was to see the experts, discuss issues and get them on my side. Besides, I had other business and paintings to carry to New York. Christie’s was then on 5th Avenue in the centre of Manhattan. The expert I had corresponded joined me shortly. He was surprisingly young and very welcoming and polite. Introductions over, I nervously opened the package with the painting. The greens shone brightly in the rich light of the room, the rooftops in that soft pink stood out. I remained quiet, almost frozen and waited for the thunderbolt. After looking at the painting for a few seconds, just seconds, with no fuss, no beating about the bush, he said, “Yes, this is a good painting. I like it.” “Now that you see it in the flesh, do you think and feel any different?” I asked hesitantly. “No, absolutely not. It’s as good as I said in my correspondence. I believe we can sell it at $15,000 in our October 1987 sale. If you are happy with that, let’s draw the contract and go ahead with the sale.” Happy? Are you kidding? I was thrilled to pieces. It was all done in about fifteen minutes and I was on my way out of Christie’s, a relieved man, a hopeful man but still very much a non-believer. What a turnaround and what expectation! After a couple of setbacks already in 1987, I needed a good sale to balance the books and restore my confidence. New York was the place to stop the rot. Waiting for a sale was not easy but at the same time being busy makes time fly. I found myself supply teaching in a new school with great people. Mixing art and supply teaching was exactly the combination required. Summer was hectic and as you already read August was a month not to be forgotten so easily.
October was nearing and the catalogue from New York arrived three weeks before the early October sale. Illustrated in colour, the Montezin looked magnificent on the right hand page of the catalogue – absolutely brilliant and more than attractive! In addition, the artist’s son had authenticated the painting in a letter to Christie’s and was going to include it in his father’s catalogue raisonné. Such a statement in the catalogue increased the value of the painting and made it more desirable. That was a very good omen, it was something I did not expect, and yet there it was in the catalogue. I was so grateful to Christie’s! Sotheby’s, a year earlier, had dumped my property in a sale of no consequence. Christie’s had not only checked it, which led to it being included in the artist’s raisonné, but also included it in their best secondary Impressionist sale. I appreciated that very much and as a result, they won me as a client.
Unsold at Sotheby’s; sold at Christie’s
8th October 1987, New York