Portraits as Art Market Currency pt. 3 – artmarketblog.com

Portraits as Art Market Currency pt. 3 – artmarketblog.com

The last installment of “Portraits as Art Market Currency” received an interesting comment from a reader who said: “Is that why we have portraits on our banknotes? hehe! Maybe that’s what they thought when they designed them….”. All jokes aside, this comment is actually a good introduction to the concept of the portrait as a historical document – a concept that I want to explore with this post. Although we tend to think of paper money as merely a means of acquiring goods, the coins and notes that we use everyday are in fact historical documents of great value. The fact that there is such a vibrant and growing market in old and obsolete coins and notes confirms the fact that we place a considerable level of value on the historical value of money. I constantly hear of coins and currency notes being sold for astronomical amounts of money, thousands of times beyond their face value, because of their rarity and historical significance. There is no doubt in my mind that bank currency often has an intrinsic historical value and that most forms of bank currency could be considered to be historical documents in themselves. Considering that one of the most recognisable and common features of paper money is a portrait of some sort, it would be reasonable to assume that those portraits which appear on notes and coins also have a significantly high level of historical value. And if you think that people don’t care what the portraits on money look like then think again. When Australia changed over to decimal currency in 1966 a new portrait of Queen Elizabeth appeared on the one dollar bill . The new decimal currency bills were designed by Gordon Andrews who was widely criticised for portraying the Queen with what some people thought was a look of unhappiness, and for giving the Queen what some people saw as a slight scowl. Mr. Andrews defended the portrait by pointing out that “if you have someone grinning at you on a bank note, which you have to look at over and over again, you get to hate the sight of it”. A fair point I think. Another example of the extent to which the portraits on paper money are assigned value is a newspaper article from 1962 about counterfeit currency in which a US Secret Service Chief advised people to look at the portrait. According to Chief James J. Rowley “Counterfeit currency has a lifeless portrait, the fine cross-lines are not clear or distinct”. Sounds more like the musings of an art critic than a secret service agency.

Some may disagree with the concept of historical value as a type of intrinsic value but I think there is more than enough proof to suggest that the historical value that many portraits have can be considered to be intrinsic. The sort of value I am talking about is the value of what a portrait can tell us about various areas of history, not the value we place on a portrait because of the positive opinion we have for the person depicted – an opinion that could change depending on the information we have about that person. The US National Archives conducted an investigation into the Intrinsic Value In Archival Material in 1982 which came up with some useful definitions and information that is relevant to this post. According to the ‘Report of the Committee on Intrinsic Value’ it was determined that “Intrinsic value is the archival term that is applied to permanently valuable records that have qualities and characteristics that make the records in their original physical form the only archivally acceptable form for preservation. Although all records in their original physical form have qualities and characteristics that would not be preserved in copies, records with intrinsic value have them to such a significant degree that the originals must be saved.The qualities or characteristics that determine intrinsic value may be physical or intellectual; that is, they may relate to the physical base of the record and the means by which information is recorded on it or they may relate to the information contained in the record.” It is also worth noting that the committee determined that one of the characteristics of records with intrinsic value is “General and substantial public interest because of direct association with famous or historically significant people, places, things, issues, or events”. The findings of this committee confirm that historical documents can have intrinsic value.

One of the best sources of evidence that supports the idea that a portrait can have value as a historical document is the fact that the National Library of Australia has Guidelines for the acquisition of portraits that are acquired to “provide a documentary record of Australian life and achievement”. According to the guidelines “The National Library collects portraits of Australians of national significance as well as portraits of individuals and groups who are not necessarily known but who are representative of different occupations or of various social, racial or cultural aspects of Australian life. Portraits are acquired to provide a documentary record of Australian life and achievement”. Even more revealing is one of the selection criteria that the library uses to determine whether a portrait is worth acquiring. The following is one of the selection criteria:

2.2.2 The documentary value of the portrait

Portraits acquired must provide an authentic record of the physical appearance of the subject. In addition, some suggestion of the field of achievement of the subject is looked for in background details, dress or any objects shown in the portrait.

The extent to which the portrait offers insights into the personality and character of the sitter, and the originality of the portrayal, are also considered important. For some individuals an original portrait as well as a photographic portrait may be acquired if it is considered that they provide differing insights. However, for an original portrait to be preferred to a photographic portrait when both are available, the original work should display this quality to a much greater degree (see 2.2.1).

In the case of original works, a portrait painted from life is preferred to one painted from a photograph, as being more likely to provide the added dimension of character insight. The relationship of the artist to the sitter may also be of relevance here.
From a really young age, we learn to read faces. They have a language and can articulate themselves with nuance in a way that nothing else in the world around us can quite reach. The way an artist paints a face is highly distinctive, and portraiture tells you far more about the artist than it does about the subject. Get to know the vernacular of one artist’s face compared to another, and you can use that knowledge to hunt down other examples.

Non-representational works of subjects are not collected as generally these do not convey documentary information about the subject’s appearance.

Cartoons that offer insights to personality and character will be considered for acquisition.

As far as I can see the value that can be placed on portraits because of their status as historical documents is the sort of future proof intrinsic value that will always remain with the portrait and cannot be disassociated from the portrait.  It is this sort of intrinsic value that makes the portrait a good candidate for use as currency – a concept that I will continue to explore.

To be continued……………….

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

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Sold to Richard Green – artmarketblog.com

Sold to Richard Green – artmarketblog.com

Thomas Gainsborough R.A., A Pug, oil on canvas

Thomas Gainsborough R.A., A Pug, oil on canvas

While browsing through the top results of recent auctions, as provided by Sotheby’s through their press releases, I came across something that I don’t see to often – the identity of a buyer listed in the release. Usually under the heading “Buyer” there is an indication of what sort of buyer they are and sometimes where they are from. Examples of the usual identities given to buyers are: UK Private, UK Trade, Private European Collector, London Trade or, as is often the case, a buyer is listed as anonymous. I continued perusing the press releases when I came across another with the same buyer once again identified as having purchased a painting that had achieved one of the ten highest prices of the auction. The buyer in question was the very well known London art dealer Richard Green who dabbles in everything from 17th century Old Masters to 20th century British art but is best known for his dealings in Old Master paintings.

In a market where a high level of discretion is the norm for both buyers and sellers it is interesting that a dealer in Old Master paintings, of all people, would be so transparent with their dealings. It makes sense though that if you are a dealer and want to sell a painting that having your name on the press release identifying you as the successful bidder would not only advertise your business but attract potential buyers. This tactic seems to be working quite well for Mr. Green whose business seems to be fairing extremely well in the current climate. There is, however, more to the story of Richard Green and his success as an art dealer. Much more in fact. To start with, the two works that I said were listed by Sotheby’s as having been purchased by Mr. Green are rather revealing. The first painting was purchased on the 9th of July from the Sotheby’s Early British Paintings sale and was an oil on canvas by Thomas Gainsborough titled “A Pug”. Listed with an estimate of 100,000-150,000 pounds, “A Pug” was purchased by Green for £993,250 (including premium) which, other than being more then six times the high estimate, was the highest price of the auction. The second work was a painting by Herbert Olivier titled “Summer Is Icumen In” which Green purchased  from Sotheby’s July 15 Victorian & Edwardian Art sale. He paid for 331,250 pounds against an estimate of 80,000—120,000 pounds estimate – a new record for the artist at auction and the third highest price of the sale.

Richard Green is known for identifying then purchasing works of art that he, as a results of his research, has identified as being undervalued. In fact, there are many reports of Green uncovering hidden gems which he then manages to on-sell for many times more than he paid for them. Both “A Pug” and “Summer Is Icumen In” were purchased by Green for well above the high estimate which suggests that Green identified these two works as being undervalued. One thing is for sure, he would not have paid what he did for these two works unless he was confident that they would appeal to his wealthy clientele and that he would be able to make a profit from them. Exactly what Green knows about these two paintings that makes them so much more valuable than the estimate provided by Sotheby’s I do not know. What I do know is that the research Green does, and his scholarly knowledge of the art he deals in, has played a major role in his success. One of the smartest dealers around if you ask me.

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

The Old Master Painting Trap – artmarketblog.com

The Old Master Painting Trap – artmarketblog.com

n02948_9In my last past on the Old Masters I gave an in depth definition of an Old Master and explained exactly what an Old Master is in art historical terms.  Although the characteristics that define an Old Master are relatively straight forward and specific in art historical terms, the market has a much broader definition for an Old Master.  According to the Christie’s Old Master Paintings department on their website “Masterpieces by the most famous Western artists from the 14th to the early 19th century have appeared in Christie’s auctions, including Raphael, Cranach, Titian, Velázquez, Van Dyck, Rembrandt, Hals, Reynolds, Canaletto, Gainsborough and Fragonard. Subjects include still life, landscape, genre, portraiture, religious and grand history themes, with prices ranging from $1,000 to $35.8 million for Turner’s Giudecca, La Donna della Salute and San Giorgio (2006)”.  This explanation of the works that Christie’s Old Master Paintings department sells is very broad and judging by the huge price range that they quote will cater for a huge number of different works of varying quality and importance.

Because the market is so vague when it comes to defining an Old Master artwork the ability to be able to profit from the purchase and sale of Old Masters is made all the more difficult.  Most of the people who deal in Old Masters have some sort of scholarly background that enables them to be able to determine whether a work of art that comes under the Old Master banner is actually going to be a good investment.  Upon hearing the phrase Old Master, many people automatically see dollar signs and assume that an Old Master has to be worth huge amounts of money.  Unfortunately this is not the case and many people get caught out because they are unaware that a painting that can be defined as an Old Master is not necessarily worth huge amounts of money or is a good investment.

I conducted a search on ebay for “Old Master” and came up with a total of 66 works of art that according to the market definition can technically be called Old Masters.As an example of the type of work I am talking about, one of the works that appeared on ebay as an Old Master was a watercolour painting by Julius Caesar Ibbetson (English Painter, 1759-1817) which was described as “18thC British PAINTING OLD MASTER – JULIUS IBBETSON”. The dates for this work fit the market’s Old Master definition and the artist is a well known and highly regarded artist whose work has been sold by the major auction houses and is in the collections of major museums (et. Tate, British National Portrait Gallery). Is Julius Caesar Ibbetson an Old Master?. Well according to the market it would appear that he could be considered an Old Master. One would most likely expect that such a painting would be worth considerable amounts of money but the watercolour painting being sold on ebay by Julius Caesar Ibbetson has a starting bid of US$99. According to artprice.com the last watercolour painting by Ibbetson sold for US$1466 with most of his watercolour paintings selling for around the $1000-$2000 mark. Considering that the painting being sold by Ibbetson on ebay is at least a couple of hundred years old the value of this painting has not increased very much at all. In fact, taking inflation into consideration the value of this painting may not have increased in value at all from when it was originally purchased from the artist. Looking back through the auction records for Ibbetson it would appear that his watercolour paintings of around the same size were selling for $1000-$2000 from as early as 1986 provides further evidence that  that the value of the artists work has not increased in value much, if at all.

The “old master” tag is used far and wide as a lure aimed at deceiving buyers into thinking that they are either buying a long lost masterpiece or a work of art being sold at a mere fraction of it’s true value. In most cases, however, the work is being sold for exactly what it is worth or even more than it is worth. Just because a painting is is called an Old Master or fits into the Old Master category does not mean it is extremely expensive or a good investment. As always, caveat emptor (let the buyer beware)

image:

Julius Caesar Ibbetson 1759-1817  (from Tate collection)

Sand Quarry at Alum Bay ?exhibited 1792

Oil on wood
support: 190 x 254 mm
painting

See previous posts on the Old Masters here:

http://artmarketblog.com/2009/04/11/what-is-an-old-master-painting-artmarketblogcom/

http://artmarketblog.com/2009/04/03/approaching-the-old-masters-artmarketblogcom/

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

What is an Old Master Painting? – artmarketblog.com

What is an Old Master Painting? – artmarketblog.com

michael-sweertsIf you have ever wondered exactly what determines whether a painting is considered to be an old master painting or not then you are not alone. The market generally defines any painting of quality created prior to 1830 as being an Old Master painting which, considering the number of paintings created during this period, makes the market’s definition applicable to a large number of paintings. Add in the drawings and prints created by the same artists and the number of works that come under the old master category becomes even larger.

The British National Gallery says that Old Master is a term widely applied to painters and their works which come from the period between the 13th and 18th centuries which is a pretty vague definition. In general, the criteria that dictate whether an artist can be called an old master or not are very broad with the date the artists worked being the primary factor that determines whether a work of art falls into this category. Many works of art may come under the category of Old Masters just because of the period during which they were created even if the artist is unknown. Technically, however, a work of art should only be referred to as having been created by an old master if the artist was a fully trained artist who undertook an apprenticeship under a master artist and was then judged as worthy of being called a master artist themselves. The training and regulation of the master artists was overseen first by artist guilds which were then gradually replaced beginning in the late 16th century by the academies of art that still exist to this day.

Now for a bit of art history. The painters guilds, which dated back to the middle ages ,were named the Guilds of Saint Luke after the Evangelist Luke who was the patron saint of artists. The Guilds of Saint Luke were basically localised trade organisations similar to the present day trade unions which provided their members with a regulated market that favoured their work over non-members and an extremely influential advocacy body that made for their rights and privileges. Guilds were also educational institutions that allowed the member artists to open a workship and take on apprentices. To become a full member of one of the guilds an artist had to prove that they were a master of their craft and worthy of being termed as such. Because the guilds often had ties to the local government, the guilds were able to monopolise and control the market for art to the point that being a member of a guild was a requirement if an artist wished to be commercially successful. According to essentialvermeer.com “Guild restrictions were intended to ease the excess of competition by limiting the sales of works of art by painters who were not registered in the Guild of Saint Luke of that municipality in which the artist wished to sell his works.”

In the late 16th Century the guilds came under fire because of the way they operated which combined with the chance in people’s perception of the role of the artist resulted in the rise of the academy and the slow decline of the guild. The academies were far more liberal than the guilds and catered to the newly accepted concept of the creation of art as an academic pursuit as opposed to a mere trade. It wasn’t until the 18th century, however, that the academy became the dominant force in the education of artists.

To be continued………..

See part 1 here:

http://artmarketblog.com/2009/04/03/approaching-the-old-masters-artmarketblogcom/

image:

Jan Steen

The Drawing Lesson
c. 1665
J. Paul Getty Museum,
Los Angeles

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

Approaching the Old Masters – artmarketblog.com

Approaching the Old Masters – artmarketblog.com

bruegelOld Master paintings are the quiet achievers of the art world – conscientiously going about their business and becoming more valuable at a slow but steady pace. When the contemporary art market is at full speed the poor old masters tend to be pushed aside and seriously neglected. The most significant benefit that contemporary art has over the Old Masters is that the artist is still alive and able to do everything in their power to capitalise on a bull market. This is not, however, a bad thing. Because the market for Old Masters is not anywhere near as prone to inflated prices caused by the unjustified hype that plagues the contemporary art market, the market for Old Masters is far more stable and predictable. Stability and predictability are two factors that are highly desirable characteristics for any sort of investment which is why the work of the Old Masters are such a good long term investment.

Now that the contemporary art market has begun to suffer as result of the speculation, inflation and hype that defined the most recent bull market run, the stable and predictable Old Masters have once again come back into favour. To be able to take full advantage of the solid market for Old Master art one must first have a good understanding of the old masters and their work. Unfortunately, successfully investing in works by the Old Masters is not as easy as it may seem and is best approached by those with a scholarly understanding of the work of the old masters due mainly to the factors that determine the value of an old master work of art. This doesn’t mean that someone with limited knowledge of the Old Masters should not invest in such works but there are definitely certain things that are vital to be aware of before approaching the market for old masters.

Over the next few months I will be writing several posts on the Old Masters and the market for their work which will provide some basic information that should be helpful to anyone interested in purchasing or selling a Old Master work of art. To begin with I want to look at exactly what an Old Master work of art is and how such works are defined. According to the British National Gallery, Old Master is a term widely applied to painters and their works which come from the period between the 13th and 18th centuries. Yes, the definition of an Old Master is extremely vague which can prove problematic when it comes to purchasing a work by an old master. The reason this is problematic is because of the fact that not every work of art produced between the 13th and 18th centuries is an Old Master and will not be an investment quality work of art as the definition provided by the British National Gallery would suggest. This is where things start getting interesting.

To be continued…………

Image: ‘The Tower of Babel’ by Pieter Bruegel The Elder,

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