Is 19th century art the next big thing?

Thomas Falcon Marshall 'Woodcutters' oil on board 1856 - is this art as investment?

Thomas Falcon Marshall 'Woodcutters' oil on board 1856 - is this art as investment? - Credit: Thomas Falcon Marshall

Anthony Smith mulls over the question of art as investment - and suggests some areas which might be worth investigating

Investing in art is a subject dear to many – while others really aren’t concerned. I have recently seen quite an increase in publicity encouraging investing in artwork and really wanted to share my opinions with you, for what they may be worth. 

I was interested to see Frazer Bailey’s comment in the April issue of Norfolk Magazine where he mentions that ‘a print from one artist sold by Moosey for £150, sold again six months later for £15,000.’ 

This, in anyone’s world, is a phenomenal return and exceptionally rare. An almost 10,000% return in six months... If I could sustain that even for a few sales I could retire! 

There has also been an online advertising campaign to invest in world-renowned artists, such as Picasso, Dali, Leger for example. I receive almost daily notifications about these.  

The first question we need to ask is are these works investable and is investing like this, or in fine art in general, a profitable or even desirable pursuit? 

I believe that art has a deeper purpose other than being cash on a wall. I have been into many homes over the years where the personality and taste of the residents have been evident by simply looking at their walls.  

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Some homes are empty, minimalist in the extreme. Yet others have every inch of wall space covered by paintings, works that say something to their owners every day.  

These works may not be particularly desirable to others or may be amateurish, but to the people who collected them, they are part of their being and, most importantly, are loved. 

Occasionally, I see collections that simply elevate me to a new dimension.  

Recently, I was browsing online real estate sites, not with the intent to buy or move, but simply to see what was available and the prices. As I was browsing, the images of the interior of one home stopped me in my tracks. The artworks were spellbinding. I was transfixed.  

These works were valuable, I had actually sold some by the same artists a few years before and I knew that they had increased in value significantly, but their investment value in what they actually added to this home was incalculable. The style and intimacy they gave to the rooms was tangible.  

But for those who are seeking to invest in art, there are two real questions; do you love what you’re buying or is it something you’ll tolerate to enable a financial return further down the track? 

Artworks can come into and go out of fashion the same as anything really. So, whatever you buy, there is no guarantee you will make a profitable investment. 

That said, there are two areas that I would be looking at both for collectors and investors: contemporary art and ‘unloved’ art, such as 19th century paintings.  

To be able to support existing artists through buying their works is a noble cause and also many of the works are superb and interesting. I know my world now is 90% involved in contemporary art.  

If it touches you and you can see the context as well as skill and beauty, look too at 19th century paintings, many of which are exquisite. But be careful of investing in art for the sake of it.