For a while in the mid-60's I was the manager of a small Art Gallery in Devonshire Street W1.
My boss, Miklos, had been to view a nearby sale, and I'd been given the job of going to bid for several lots he'd earmarked; one of which was a large portfolio of early (or old) etchings.
I bought the portfolio well under his maximum price, and returned to the gallery, complete with another couple of lots.
Miklos immediately started to search through the portfolio, becoming angrier and angrier as he realised that the one etching he'd wanted was missing. It had been placed amongst a load of more ordinary prints to attract bidders; then carefully removed. Such practices, sadly, were commonplace in those days.
However, in amongst the less interesting prints he discovered a very small black and white print that attracted his attention. It was about 4 by 5 inches in size (the image even smaller), and quite amateurishly etched. It illustrated a battle, with two 'cherubs' holding a swag depicting the location and date. It was not particularly inspiring.
I'm afraid I've forgotten the exact details, but it illustrated a skirmish from the American civil war, and looked to be very rare. It might even have been a sole surviving example.
I was instructed to take it to The Parker Gallery in Albemarle Street, and to ask for £500 (a lot of money in those days). The Parker Gallery was (and probably still is) one of those lovely old-fashioned Oak-panelled galleries that only dealt in the finest and rarest.
They looked at it under a magnifying glass, held it to the light, passed it around, then asked how much I wanted for it. I was almost embarrassed to ask for the £500, but I did so. They didn't flinch!
To my amazement they wrote me a cheque and the deal was done. I came out feeling that, had I asked for £1,000 they would probably have paid it. It must have been an extremely rare print.
Its sale made the missing etching from the portfolio seem unimportant; and we still had about another 100 etchings to sell.
p.s. I'm afraid the illustration above is nothing like the etching, but I couldn't find anything more suitable.
Such an interesting story! Sometimes I'll run across a piece of art in a thrift store and wonder if it has value. I hate being so far (two hours) from any real valuers as I'd love to be able to take my finds and for a fee get some decent feedback. I've sold a few pieces on eBay for not too much and I wonder if on the other end the buyer is shrieking with joy over his great deal?ReplyDelete
I had quite a few interesting experiences whilst working at the gallery. Some I couldn't repeat!Delete
A world well beyond my ken.ReplyDelete
This was my second job, after I quit the London Stock Exchange.Delete
There is always fun in dealing of any sort. My grandfather was a cattle dealer and I was a dealer in stocks and shares. Always plenty of cut and thrust going on. I miss it.ReplyDelete
This was always fun, if occasionally a bit hairy. Meeting all the big-wigs in the London art world was probably the best bit.Delete
A few years ago I represented a client at London auction houses and spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on a few objects. It was both exhilarating and terrifying. Long periods of boring inactivity interspersed with brief flurries of hectic, nerve-wracking bidding.ReplyDelete
I always enjoyed it (it wasn't my money), but the sums were always quite small; not much over a couple of hundred.Delete
I once had a friend who ran an auction room. The provenance was sometimes dubious. Well more than sometimes I suspect. Another friend, whose job it was, found 30 stolen paintings in the catalogue of a famous auction house one time. I'm always suspicious. I heed the advice of Picasso. Why do they bother forging my paintings? I do my own forgeries.ReplyDelete
And I believe Keating when he tells me half the works on the market are fakes. I only buy artworks direct from the artist or if I spot something of interest on a flea market for very little money.
I once went to a sale at Sotheby's where I noticed an unsigned horse painting that we had previously sold, was now signed by Sir Alfred Munnings. I informed my boss, he phoned Sotheby's, and the well-known Bond St gallery owner who was selling it, was banned for several years. They're all at it.Delete
My step-father bought of load of old pictures at auction for a song, he wanted the glass for his greenhouse. Amongst them was an etching by Rembrandt. Probably wasn't worth much but he was always very proud of his Rembrandt!ReplyDelete
They very much depend on what 'state' they are. An early pressing (state) can be worth quite a lot, but the later pressings, that have probably been re-worked several times, can be bought for peanuts. Even so, it's always good to say you own a Rembrandt.Delete
I so enjoy reading these post about your life in the art galleries and auction. I have always wanted to visit Sotheby'sReplyDelete
cheers, parsnip and badger
I used to go quite often, both as buyer and seller. Not all their sales are in the millions.Delete
I love the illustration at the top Cro.ReplyDelete
Good isn't it; the little engraving was even better.Delete
The diamond business and the art world have much in common and many leading diamond merchants are interested in modern art. I am afraid this is based on the fact that both markets are very similar, value is in the eye of the beholder, rarity commands a premium and very few people really understand what is going on. Add to this the fact that art and diamonds are both very useful means of moving money around very quietly. If you look at how much stolen artwork taken by the Nazis is still missing you will get my point. Sharp practice would appear to be abundant in both. Oh what a tangled web we weave etc etc.ReplyDelete
After 30 years in the diamond business I am safely out of it, gardening and watching the world go by. Before you ask no I do not have any diamonds, you would be surprised at what an inefficient source of wealth they are unless you are well connected, already rich and know exactly what you are doing. I was never in that situation, I made a living by being honest, something that crooks appreciate more than an honest person might suppose.
I imagine we could add Stamp Dealing to the list. Another good way of moving money; as long as you know what you're doing. The big difference, of course, is that we buy paintings to embellish our homes, and demonstrate our wealth and good taste!Delete
Chicanery everywhere...very depresseing.ReplyDelete
Anywhere there is money to be made, there are people who will make it dishonestly.Delete