Greek Art Reaches Giddy Heights at Bonhams –

Greek Art Reaches Giddy Heights at Bonhams –


Lot No: 23 Spyros Papaloukas (Greek, 1892-1957) Mt. Athos, skete of the Three Hierarchs and the Holy Trinity signed in Greek (lower right) oil on cardboard 54 x 50 cm. Sold for £168,000 inclusive of Buyer's Premium

Bonhams UK have been promoting themselves as the gods of Greek art for quite a while now and have claimed market dominance in the UK when it comes to selling Greek art on more than one occasion.  I am not entirely sure what brought about Bonhams’ fascination with Greek art, but whoever is responsible for the assault on this region should be congratulated for what has proven to be, and continues to be, a shrewd move for Bonhams.  Bonham’s most recent sale of Greek art held on the 10th of November was a good indication that the market for Greek art is extremely buoyant and also that Bonhams continue to maintain a dominant position in what is a competitive niche.  A total of £3.5 million worth of art was sold and a number of significant prices were achieved including:

– Spyros Papaloukas (Greek, 1892-1957) ‘Mt. Athos, skete of the Three Hierarchs and the Holy Trinity’ which sold for £168,000 (auction record for artist) inclusive of Buyer’s Premium

– Constantinos Maleas (Greek, 1879-1928) ‘Acropolis / Acropole vue entre des pins et aloès’ which sold for £311,200 (2nd highest price achieved at auction for artist) inclusive of Buyer’s Premium

-Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika (Greek, 1906-1994) ‘Calligraphy of a town’ which sold for £264,000 (3rd highest price achieved at auction for artist) inclusive of Buyer’s Premium

As a side note I am hesitant to refer to 2nd and 3rd highest auction prices for an artist as ‘world records’ as Bonhams have done and consider the practice of doing so to be dishonest.  Is the 20th highest auction price for an artist a world record too?  Bonhams went as far as to list the fifth highest auction price for an artist as a ‘world record’ which I think is rather cheeky. Anyway, back to the action.

Bohnams have a good record with the Greek art auctions that are held in the UK. In November of 2008, Bonhams’ sale of Greek art held at their Bond St. Saleroom brought in a total of 3.8 million pounds and resulted in fourteen artists’ auction records being broken.  According to Bonhams, a large majority of the buyers were Greek.  Moving on to May 2008 and once again Bonhams made headlines with their Greek art sale when they managed to shift 3.6 million pounds worth of art with and sell a record 90% lots offered.  Bonhams also reported 17 new world record prices which, as per above, should be taken with a grain of salt.

The Greek art market is quite unique because of the history of Greek art which basically revolved around the creation of religious icons until the start of the 19th century due to the fact that Greece was essentially shielded from the Renaissance by the ruling Ottoman empire .  “Modern” art is therefore a relatively new concept to the Greeks and represented a relatively untapped market that the three major auction houses were quick to take advantage of.  There are several reasons that the opportunity to dominate the market for Greek art became available to an organisation outside of Greece.   The main reason is that  much like the Indian art market, the Greek art market is relatively un-regulated and there is also a severe lack of infrastructure relating to authenticity, valuation and art market expertise that would be required to support the development of a free market in Greece.  An opportunity was therfore available to an international organisation that could supply what the Greek art market lacked and to satisfy the needs of those rich Greeks who have a passion for art.

Although the market for Greek art has proven to be very strong even during the recent financial crisis, investors and collectors should be extremely wary of the hype surrounding Greek art and should be extremely cautious with their purchases.  My reason for suggesting caution is that the Greek art world lacks the cultural sector infrastructure that is so important to the long term stability of an art market and the buoyancy of the prices being paid for the work of that market’s artists.  The contemporary Indian art market has suffered during the financial crisis due to the same lack of infrastructure that the Greek art market suffers from.  Greek art, especially the work of contemporary artists, has plenty of potential for investors but is also fraught with potential traps and problems that could have a major effect on the price of the work of many artists.

Although Bonham’s quip that “Interest in Greek art is more than just a myth at Bonhams 15th Greek Sale” does ring true, the market for Greek art is in it’s infancy and is at a relatively high risk of becoming a very fragile bubble that could easily be burst.  Investors and collectors should be particularly concerned about authenticity and future value until a more advanced cultural and market infrastructure is in place.

**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications