Tag Archives: art auction tips

2009 Art Sales May Not Have Been Bad For Auction Houses, But Was It Good For Art?

Antique Week, Vol. 41, Issue No. 2112 (January 11, 2010) has a report in the national section on art sales in 2009.

In the article, two things stood out for me.

First:

Auction houses started slashing pre-sale estimates by as much as 50 percent to stimulate sales. When Sloans & Kenyon of Chevy Chase, Md., gave a $6,000-8,000 estimate to an unsigned 18th century oil of the Grand Canal in Venice, bidders from around the world smelled a deal. Instead, the painting went for $687,125 at the Sept. 27 auction.

The math’s off (the pre-sale estimate was what, 10-15% of the final sale?), but one thing’s for sure: People buy classic art the same way they buy bags of socks at Wal*Mart.

Second:

Old Masters are getting a new look from investors wary of fluctuations in more modern art, Warhol excluded. In its art review of 2009, Bloomberg said, “Collectors responded to the financial crisis by selecting the best 20th century classics, Old Masters, wine and jewelry at international auctions. They shunned investment in some contemporary art as prices dropped by half.”

And, it was noted earlier in the piece that Bloomberg had reported “that the sale of high-value contemporary art took a big hit last year when major auction houses ceased providing consignors with price guarantees.”

What this says to me is something about fundamentalism at times of crisis and art pretension as a form of commerce; art as financial investment based on fear of depreciation, not art purchased for appreciation.

A Word On Buying Antique Paintings At Auctions

auction painting I hate putting a value on art. I think you should pay what the artist asks, so long as the depth of your affection for the piece matches the depth of your pockets.

But, because I mostly write about antiques and collectibles, people often ask me about how much they should pay for art at auctions, or at least want a rule of thumb to guide them at their local farm or estate auction…

I’m no art appraiser; most of my experience with antique paintings has been observed at (countless) smaller local auctions, Antiques Roadshow episodes, and those Roadshow style trash or treasure events. But I feel rather confident saying that any antique painting purchased for $150 or less is a bargain. Seems like no old painting is ever, unless the canvas is completely shredded, deemed worth less than $150. Even antique paintings by unknown artists with small tears and in need of professional cleaning seem to be valued at or over $150.

That said, expect to pay more. Not just for big name artists, but for paintings which charm. If the painting charms you, it likely will charm another bidder or two, increasing the price. That said, console yourself with the following rational reasons to spend as much as you’d like buying antique paintings at auctions:

  • Consider how much something else covering that space would cost — be it a framed poster or generic starving artist art.
  • Spend as much as you are comfortable with; you’re going to have to live with it.