Previous Posts: June 2012

The thief who got cold feet

June 30 2012

Image of The thief who got cold feet

Picture: BBC News

Last week a thief was recorded on CCTV stealing a Dali from a gallery in New York. Now the picture has been sent back by post. Details here

At the Prado's Raphael conference

June 29 2012

Image of At the Prado's Raphael conference

Picture: 3PP

Three Pipe Problem reports on all you need to know from the Prado's Raphael conference here. I was pleased to learn that Sir Timothy Clifford (above, grey suit) presented the most amusing primary source of day 1:

'Raphael will do as he likes and not as he is told'

Did you know...

June 28 2012

...that if you want to order a high-res image of a painting from the Louvre purely for research purposes, they'll charge you EUR175. As we say over on Twitter, #incroyable

Calculating Constable

June 28 2012

Image of Calculating Constable

Picture: Christie's

A reader alerts me to an interesting article in the FT about the value of Constable's The Lock, shortly to be sold at Christie's. The picture sold for £10.8m in 1990, and is estimated at £20m-£25m now. The FT asks:

[...] will this wonderful masterpiece actually reap a profit for its vendors? We asked the FT’s finest number-crunchers to calculate, taking into account inflation, costs and other factors, how it has fared as an investment over a 22-year period.

The FT's answer, as you can see from the chart above, is that The Lock was a turkey of an investment. You might think that potentially doubling your money between 1990 and 2012 is quite a good bet. But the FT introduces an extra 'cost' in owning the painting - the so-called 'opportunity cost' of having your money tied up for the 22 year period. The argument goes that you will have lost out by not investing that £10.8m elsewhere, and earning interest or a dividend on it. 

I'm often asked 'is art a good investment?', so these figures are a useful case study. A look at the stock market today suggests that the FT is right. In July 1990 the FTSE 100 was at about 2300 points. Now it is slightly more than double that, at about 5500 points. With interest or a dividend at, say, 5% annually and reinvested, you would be looking at quite a bit more than doubling your original investment.

As an art dealer, you might expect me to say that art is a brilliant investment, and the ideal alternative asset class. But on a purely financial and short-term level, I would tell you it isn't, as the FT argument proves. Art is very illiquid, hard to sell quickly, and worse, it's hard to buy, or at least buy the right thing. In order to guarantee not buying a dud picture (say, one in bad condition) you have to use expert advice, and that is often expensive. And then there are charges relating to the purchase and sale of the art - at auction, anything up to a combined figure of 40%. All these costs need time to fall away in relation to the picture's capital accrual, so you have to keep your painting for the medium to long-term. The 22 year period for for re-selling The Lock at auction is, I'd say, probably too short for a picture so well known.

On the other hand, art as an asset class has the benefits of stability. Unlike Enron, a famous Constable cannot go bust. If the FT had done its calculations in early 2009, when the stock market crashed, The Lock would have looked like a far sounder investment than shares. And of course art lovers everywhere will know that to value a painting in terms of its 'opportunity cost' is philistine reductionism. The dividend of pleasure from owning such a work is incalculable.   

So to view art as an investment is daft in the short-term, potentially quite sensible in the medium term (if you buy well, with good advice), and usually very sensible in the long-term. After all, when James Morrison bought The Lock in 1824, he paid 150 guineas for it. That's less than £20,000 today. 

Update - a reader writes:

That FT piece is interesting. If you look at the far left column in their graph, you'll see they have adjusted the £10.8 million paid in 1990 for inflation - £10.8 million has become £20 million or thereabouts. Let's say the picture sells for £25 million, as the FT imagines. Take off the fees you paid for buying and selling it, plus any other costs, and you're still left with about £20 million. In other words, your money has stood still, after you've taken inflation into account. This is precisely what the FTSE100 has done in your 1990 and 2012 snapshots - the number has doubled but the purchasing power of the number has remained flat. Remember, we were entering a rather bleak global recession in 1990, which in the UK turned out to be the longest since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Black Monday was a recent memory. With the benefit of hindsight, it's easy for financial analysts demonstrate how you should have invested your money over the past 20 years. But I think this old master painting was actually quite a good bet at the time, and hasn't performed badly.


June 28 2012

Image of Yesterday...

Picture: BG

Sorry for the lack of service, I was at the preview of the Masterpiece fair (our stand above). Non-stop art talk from 11am till 10pm, with only a cheeseburger in between. My ideal kind of day.

Munch retrospective at Tate Modern

June 26 2012

Image of Munch retrospective at Tate Modern

Picture: Munich Museum, 'Self-Portrait with Spanish Flu'

new exhibition on Edvard Munch opens 28th June, till 14th October. Read Adrian Searle's review here, and see photos here

Read More

Guido Reni's 'David & Goliath'

June 25 2012

Video: Sotheby's

Sotheby's head of Old Masters, Christopher Apostle, talks about Guido Reni's David & Goliath, coming up for sale in London on 4th July. The estimate is £3m-5m.

Update - a reader alerts me to the fact that it previously failed to sell in 1992, and fetched the enormous price of £2.2m in 1985. It'll be interesting to see what it makes this time. Does the relative lack of uplift since the '80s suggest that Italian 17th C religious works will always be rather unfashionable? It makes a useful comparison with Constable's The Lock, which sold for £10.8m in 1990, and is now guaranteed with an estimate of £20m-£25m.

The 'death of the middle market'

June 25 2012

I was surprised to read in the Financial Times that a number of London Old Master dealers think the 'middle market' is dead:

The problem for all these dealers is that, as elsewhere, it continues to be far less difficult to sell the very best and the least expensive than the vast amount of material in between. As the London and Milan-based Old Master and contemporary art dealer Edmondo di Robilant explains: “At Art Basel the bigger galleries selling the biggest names seemed to be fine. It is the same for this business. We do very well with expensive pictures, making one or two big deals a month with works over £1m but we are not selling anything in the middle market.” He adds: “The industrialist worth hundreds of millions is diverting £3m into buying a picture but the notary with a surplus of £200,000 has disappeared.”

Dealer Julian Agnew believes the market is becoming even more discerning: “The middle market is tough unless things are very competitively priced.”

I wonder what these dealers are doing wrong: in the last three months, we've sold 48 pictures for under £100,000 (we being Philip Mould & Co.). The middle market is very alive. The only difference is that the buyer in the 'middle market' has changed, and you have to work much harder to reach them. It helps not to call them 'the middle market', which is slightly patronising. But that's enough trade secrets...  

Willem van Aelst exhibition in US

June 25 2012

Image of Willem van Aelst exhibition in US

Picture: NGA

A new exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC is the first dedicated to the still lives of Willem van Aelst. See images here in The Washington Post:

That Rembrandt coaster

June 25 2012

Image of That Rembrandt coaster

Picture: Christie's

... (the one coming up at Christie's) was found in an attic. The Guardian reports:

The sketch came to light after the owner found it in a wardrobe and contacted Christie's. Even from initial photographs, their experts were sure it was by the 17th-century Dutch master.

"We always dream of finding new drawings by the great artists, but it happens very rarely nowadays," said Benjamin Peronnet, head of old master drawings at Christie's. "That made this discovery all the more exciting."

A Blind Beggar With a Boy and a Dog is a black chalk study measuring 13cm by 8.5cm (about 5in by 3.3in). It does not relate to a known painting but the composition is echoed in a drawing in the Kupferstichkabinett, the vast prints and drawings collection in Berlin's state museum.

Peronnet said: "When we began our research, we were surprised to find an almost identical drawing of a beggar in Berlin – it usually isn't good news when you find … a similar drawing in a museum, because it can mean that the [discovery] … is only a copy."

An art dealing weekend

June 25 2012

Image of An art dealing weekend

Picture: BG

Great excitement here at Philip Mould & Company as we finish preparations for London's Masterpiece fair. Over the weekend we hung 21 pictures and 54 portrait miniatures. So far, nothing has fallen down. We also managed to squeeze in 1 marble bust.

Today is vetting day, and we exhibitors are not allowed in...

Update - vetting complete, and we have no re-hanging to do. Phew...

Every home must have one

June 25 2012

Image of Every home must have one

Picture: Coopers of Stortford

A reader has sent me this indispensable 'Mona Lisa door fly curtain'. You may order one here for just £12.99. But be careful, for one online customer reviewer states:

Attractive product, however the packing could have been better. I had to glue one section back together. One curtain needed to be shortened to fit one of the doors. This was easy using small split rings. No more birds sneaking in!

Art History Toys - 'My Little Napoleon'

June 25 2012

Image of Art History Toys - 'My Little Napoleon'


A reader from Holland has sent in this gem to add to our art history toy selection, and writes:

The card my father bought for me in 1974 when we visited Versailles. I still have it. As a child I was mesmerized by the painting by J.L.David. In 2002 I found the puppet, also in France. I had to buy it. He and the horse look stupid in 3 dimensions and not very menacing…

The lost Duke

June 25 2012

Image of The lost Duke

Picture: Your Paintings / BBC

A sleuthing reader has found this portrait of the Duke of Wellington, lurking as 'an Unknown Gentleman' in the collection of the National Library of Wales. He writes:

How many men of the early to mid 19th Cent had the Order of the Garter and the Order of the Golden Fleece?

I'll try and have a dig for the artist. It relates to this engraving at the NPG, which is listed as 'unknown artist'.

5 new curators at Tate Britain

June 24 2012

Image of 5 new curators at Tate Britain

Picture: BG

Congratulations to the five curators who have been appointed to 'the historic team' at Tate Britain. In terms of the collection's chronology, the earliest appointment is from 1750. More details here

'Late Raphael' at the Prado

June 24 2012

Image of 'Late Raphael' at the Prado

Picture: Louvre

Watch a short video on the new exhibition here

The Picasso Pillock

June 21 2012

Image of The Picasso Pillock


This is the pillock who vandalised the Picasso in Houston last week. I don't want to give him the credit of repeating his name. But you can read more about his idiotic act here


June 21 2012

Today's lack of blogging has been sponsored by BT Broadband. They said the problem would be fixed 'in an hour', five hours ago...

A Frith found, and a Frith lost

June 20 2012

Image of A Frith found, and a Frith lost

Picture: Guardian

Funny how these things come at once - in the same week an exhibition highlights a long lost work by William Powell Frith (of Kate Nickleby, painted for Charles Dickens and seen in the engraving above), an auction house, Boningtons in Essex, finds a newly discovered work by the artist (The Rejected Poet, below).

Art history toys - the Finger Puppet Set

June 20 2012

Image of Art history toys - the Finger Puppet Set

Picture: Shakespeare's Den

These are a bit creepy, don't you think. From left, Dali, Van Gogh, Kahlo, and (I think) Monet. Yours for $19.95. Here's the blurb: 

What would these great artists say to one another? What would they say to you? You can be a playwright, an actor and director, and you can put on countless productions. Each set comes in a box that easily converts to a puppet theatre. The Great Artist set includes Monet, Dali, Van Gogh and Frida Kahlo. They're magnetic, so when you're done, you can stick them to the fridge!

Like something out a Stephen King novel...

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