What you need to know when buying art
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How a picture can paint a thousand words (and be worth a few more pounds)
If collecting antiques is a keen interest for you, it’s quite likely that you appreciate many forms of art also. Antiquities and art seem to go hand in hand quite often, although it seems that sometimes fine art pieces, particularly paintings, can be somewhat overlooked at general auctions; the rare gem can occasionally be seen peeping out from behind large mirrors or empty frames. Where antique paintings are concerned, as the artist may or may not be known or unknown or even renowned in the field, there is a lot of scope for what could be available and also a broad guide price range as well. Fine art antique expert, Adrian Biddell, asserts that both household names and obscure artists’ work can be found and that quite often, pieces by regional and local artists can be sourced from whatever auctioneer you happen to frequent.
The most sought after kinds of pieces within the market currently include that of modern and post-war British art. From oil-on-canvas to watercolours and sketches, as well as prints and sculptures, Adrian explains that the post-war material is some of the most accessible and especially sought after at this time, as well as a growing interest in international post-war and contemporary pieces. ‘For the time-being, amongst such British material, you can still find really good quality items at a reasonable price.’ Adrian says. ‘I bought a drawing by Tristram Hillier at Chiswick Auctions last summer and was presently surprised to learn that there was a fine retrospective exhibition on Hillier at the Museum of Somerset in Taunton recently; it’s that such serendipity which makes finding quality things both exciting and a pleasure.’
At Chiswick Auction’s most recent Modern and Post-War British art auction, pieces on offer included modernist works by Roger Fry, which pre-dated the First World War, as well as a previously unknown preparatory sketch on canvas by Lucian Freud. There is also a popular demand for more contemporary art such as works by Banksy and similar artists. ‘The audience for this sort of material is young and very internet savvy, so there is huge on-line interest in such sales,’ Adrian explains. ‘Many of these pieces tend to be edition pieces so there is a clear way of assessing the value.’
When it comes to value and rarity, there is always going to be a demand for something that is rare, however Adrian asserts that the scarcity of an item doesn’t always mean it is more valuable. ‘The strongest markets are created and grow when you can compare like with like and critical mass is required to fuel a market,’ Adrian says. ‘So artists that were prolific and have a compelling story to tell are the most sought after.’
Whilst older works may be rarer than contemporary pieces, the buying and selling of older works require an interest in the historical context and narrative of the artist and the period, whereas more contemporary works often appeal to our aesthetic preferences and are often more readily available, therefore the demand for more recent works can be higher.
If you’re considering purchasing an antique of any kind, the consensus is that it’s always best to buy what you love, not because you think it’s a good investment. Adrian advocates asking for condition report as well getting a second opinion about the price of a piece. ‘Avoid buying two works at a time; one of the works will always come off as second best and buy for association, because a work resonates, because you have strong feelings for a place, for a person or because it is a special occasion.’
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In terms of taking care of your antique art, Adrian recommends ensuring that the frame is of high quality, as a good frame can improve the value and your overall enjoyment of the work. Always keep pieces away from any damp spaces to preserve the integrity of the original work. If something requires attention and care, Adrian advises approaching with caution and always consulting with a reputable and recommended restorer - preferably several to get a few opinions before going ahead with any restoration.