Friday, 27 July 2007

Buying for love

The poor lass stood on the doorstep like a waif and stray trying to sell us pictures from a folder under her arm.

She said her name was Miya and in perfect English – but with perhaps a Polish or Croat accent – she explained that she was from a group of young artists who were setting up a not-for-profit gallery in Liverpool.

They needed funds and were going door to door to try to raise capital by selling some of their art.

It got me to thinking how great it would be to have the ability – and spare cash – to be able to talent-spot up and coming young artists and buy their paintings?

Just think of the untold riches that might have fallen to the lucky punter who bought Picasso … or L.S. Lowry … or whoever, before their work rocketed in value.

Just think what you could achieve if you had the millions to go out and indulge yourself - Charles Saatchi-like – (perhaps that should be John Moores-like) in the Liverpool Biennial exhibitions and then watch the artists you backed become household names – with prices to match.

Or do you agree with me that that is the worst possible way to buy – and appreciate – art?

In my book you should buy from the heart, not from a head ruled by profit and loss. Buy because you fall in love with a painting or work or art, because you cannot live without it, not because you see it as a “good investment” (or worse still because someone says it is a good investment).

If what you buy goes up in value, fine. If it doesn’t, so what? If you love the piece, what it’s worth (or what it cost) is meaningless.

So, climbing down from my soapbox, I ask you to direct your attention to the pictures illustrated here.

Not all of them are to everyone’s taste and not all of them are out of the reach of collectors like me, with champagne taste and beer pocket money.

But what they have in common is that they and pictures like them are being snapped up by investors who have little regard for their artistic merit.

The paintings were among the star lots in an auction of Welsh fine art on Saturday September 25 at the Colwyn Bay saleroom of Rogers Jones & Co. According to auctioneer David Rogers Jones, there is no end in sight to the price spiral such works have been enjoying.

The sale was the third of its type to concentrate solely on the work of Welsh artists or Welsh subjects, but the search for quality pieces gets ever harder.

“We’ve hunted high and low for flagship lots,” Mr Rogers Jones said, “and as before, the pictures everyone wants are by Sir Kyffin Williams.”

The auctioneer is not the only one searching out Royal Academician’s work. “People are scouring the country looking for his pictures, but they are being bought as commodities like investors would buy stocks and shares,” Mr Rogers Jones said.

Oil paintings that were fetching £6,000-7,000 two or three years ago are now twice that and the auctioneer said he had seen one work, fresh to the market from the easel of the living artist, priced at £20,000 in a North Wales gallery.

The latest area to see big price rises at Williams’ watercolours. “Their value has shot up,” Mr Rogers Jones said.

“They were selling for £1,500-2,000. Now people who can’t afford his oils are buying his watercolours and the prices have doubled.”

Mr Rogers Jones said it was Williams’ work from the 1970s and 80s that he most admired. At first sight, a landscape of a Welsh coastline, for example, looked to be painted in black and white.

On closer inspection, the picture was made up of a dozen different tones. “Put you nose up to one off his pictures and you see a merging of subtle tones. There’s three greens, three greys, three different blacks. Stand a yard away from the picture and the effect is three-dimensional.”

Such an example was on the cover of the sale catalogue (and illustrated here). The oil on canvas was titled Caernarfonshire coastalscape with the Rivals and at 35.5 by 35.5 inches, it had great wall power. Buyers agreed – it sold for a mid-estimate £18,000.

The other Williams oil in the sale was always ikely to be dearer still. Showing a farmer and his sheepdog on a mountain path above Llithfaen, the work fetched £19,000.

Watercolours are less stratospheric. A view of Welsh cottages with farmer and dog on a path at Cilgwyn sold for £3,500-4,500 and “Slate Tip, Bethesda” sold for £4,900.

Representing good value is a pencil and colourwash picture of a farmer and his dog at an above top estimate £2,900, while buyers like me were attracted to artist’s proof linocuts: an interesting self-portrait sold for £340 and a Farmer John Jones sold for £390.

Another artist whose work is becoming increasingly sought after is Charles Wyatt Warren, who painted for pocket money – and probably light relief from his job in the finance department of Caernarfonshire County Council.

David Rogers Jones recalled that Warren was particularly adept at painting silver birch trees. He also had a unique production line in an outhouse at his home.

All his oils are painted on hardboard panels. Using a thick ball of string, the artist would rig up a “washing line” and suspend five sheets of hardboard from it using clothes pegs.

Working on the sheets consecutively, he would paint mountains on each in turn, then go back to the beginning and add a lake and then the prerequisite silver birches.

The results were sold in local galleries and cafes at prices ranging from £10-15.

Today, they fetch anything from £300-600 and six featured in the Rogers Jones sale. The one illustrated here shows a disused Anglesey windmill and millpond, which fetched £450, despite the lack of silverbirches!

Pictures show:

Above Llithfaen, the most expensive lot in the sale at £19,000

Caernarfonshire coastalscape with the Rivals by Sir Kyffin Williams, sold for £18,000

Charles Wyatt Warren’s Anglesey windmill landscape, sold for £450
(Pictures Rogers Jones Co)

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