The importance of understanding condition

March 4 2013

Image of The importance of understanding condition

Picture: Spear's Magazine

Regular readers will know that I often bang on about the importance of understanding a picture's condition, particularly when it comes to making attributions. In a recent edition of Spear's Magazine, dealer Ivan Lindsay counsels that anyone buying at auction needs to be sure of condition too:

It’s worth being cautious about restoration when it comes to auction rooms. The leading auction rooms, particularly as they develop their rapidly growing private sales (dealing) business, go to considerable lengths to advise their clients that buying at auction is so easy that they shouldn’t feel the need to seek any independent advice before buying. They are wrong.

In the Daily Telegraph in October, Orlando Rock, deputy chairman of Christie’s, offered up a detailed guide on how to buy art at auction. It is all very reassuring to know that, despite any misgivings you may have had about the art world, it is in fact a nice cosy place and the leading auctions are a ‘transparent and fair platform’ that offer goods at fair prices with the ‘stamp of long-term quality and value’. And that buying art at auction is ‘accessible, affordable, personal and fun’. I would add ‘nerve-racking, opaque, confusing and often expensive’.

Rock does mention that condition is an issue and suggests that, if you feel the need, you can ask for a condition report from one of the in-house experts. However, these should not be relied on. A good restorer can make a painting that is in bad condition look fine to all but the trained eye. They can also be very good at disguising their work. The old expression that you do not find out what you have bought in the art world until you try to sell it is never truer than when it comes to condition.

If experienced dealers always feel the need to seek the advice of an independent third-party restorer before they buy, then that should tell private clients what they should be doing. Restorers are mainly generous with their time and often have to attend the major sales on behalf of clients. By seeking such advice, collectors will save themselves plenty of expensive mistakes, and it is sound practice to take the time to get to know a good restorer and make him part of your team.

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