Illustration #5: Garvin


Developing Connoisseurship and Assessing Values in Current Markets

by: Lorena O. Allen, M.Ed., Fine Art & Antique Appraiser

As seen in Antiques & Art Around Florida, Winter/Spring 2008

Eccentricities of Collectors

Collectors are usually adventurous with a sense of personal discovery. In order to become a true collector one has to have an innate desire or compulsion to acquire and hoard certain items. Other collectors may want to collect beautiful art and objects as forms of status symbols or to follow trends and fashion in the marketplace. Some collectors, once they have reached their goal of obtaining their art and/or antique collection will lose interest and dispose of their collection by various means, their passion being the discovery of the object and negotiating the terms of its ownership.

Important American Collectors and Patrons of the Arts

America has had exceptional collectors, who although it was not their primary business, were able to become important patrons of the arts, amassing fantastic collections of art during the early quarter of the 20th century, which led to their involvement in major museum collections, whereby they donated all or part of their collections at the end of their lives. Some of these well known collectors and patrons of the arts are: Sterling and Stephen Clark (The Sterling Clark Museum, Massachusetts and The Metropolitan Museum, N.Y.); Charles Frick (The Frick Museum, Washington). Of vast importance to the American Decorative Arts is Henry F. Dupontís Winterthur Museum in Delaware. The painting by Edward Hicks entitled "The Peaceable Kingdom" Circa 1830 is among the collection (See illustration #1).

Florida also has its share of collectors who promoted their museums, giving the public an opportunity to view outstanding art: The Norton Museum, Palm Beach, Florida, The Mennello American Art Museum, Orlando, Florida and The Ringling Museum, Sarasota, Florida.

Illustration #1: The Peaceable Kingdom

Developing Connoisseurship

When one develops a taste for collecting, curiosity and perseverance is an asset. Museums are the best source to observe works by the masters and develop connoisseurship. When entering the gallery of a museum, the connoisseur will be drawn to the work with the most appeal, seeking to discern what may be the difference between the "good, better or masterpiece" of an artistís oeuvre, a process of "separating the wheat from the chaff". Some museums have workshops to enable collectors to gain hands-on knowledge of the works in the museum. One of the most beneficial workshops is the Winter Institute at the Winterthur Museum.

When initially viewing a work of art or beautiful object it should set off an initial reaction to the collector. Whether it evokes an emotional response or passive curiosity, the work of art or antique should be observed for details and craftsmanship. Two examples are: The detailed marquetry workmanship from a plethora of exotic woods seen on a French commode and hand painted, gilded scenes in the pair of Chinese rose famile vases. (See illustrations #2 and #3). The subject matter of a painting dictates whether a work of art will be highly collectible. A portrait of the sitter in elegant surroundings will be more appealing than a composition in somber hues or depressing subject matter. Usually collectors like being amused or having their imagination stimulated, which romantic titles on a painting can achieve.

Collectors should look beyond the frame on a work of art. Many collectors of fine art make the mistake of not accepting an exceptional painting because they are turned off by its frame. Of course frames should enhance a painting and be appropriate to the school and subject matter. Sometimes in a paintingís lifetime, especially with Old Master works, the frame will have been changed several times. If a collector is lucky enough to find a painting with a hand carved original frame it should be kept regardless of the collectors taste.

Left: Illustration #2: Marquetry

Above: Illustration #3: Chinese Vases


Assessinq Valuation

Other important characteristics will ultimately determine value of a particular painting or antique in the current marketplace, including provenance or historical evidence of prior ownership ( a work exhibited in a museum or owned by a famous individual may have a high market value). The collector needs to closely examine a work of art or object for flaws, restoration, loss of pigment, inherent vice or other problems that can devalue the work. The verso of a canvas should be closely examined for oxidation of the canvas support, patches that hide tears or other damage; relining of the canvas support usually indicates losses of pigmentation; the verso gives other useful information as well, including artists signature, date or title; there may be a paper label citing exhibition history or provenance. Artistsí works that have had a gallery representation and exhibition history usually command higher prices.

Who Determines Current Trends and Whatís Hot in the Market

Dealers sometimes impose their eccentricities and tastes upon collectors by taking advantage of the snobby among collectors and the willingness to go along with current trends. In the 19th Century a well known dealer by the name of Duveen tried to impose his taste by advising his clients not to purchase Barbizon School works and thus the decline of the interest in Corot paintings. Today too many copies have contributed to the low demand for works by Corot although other artists of the Barbizon School are finding an increased niche of collectors. Also during the late 19th Century paintings by Bouguereau and the Orientalist paintings were considered highly collectible; today they are not being sought out by collectors and seem outdated fantasies; although the cycle may one day turn around.

Being able to forecast cycles and trends in the art and antique marketplace may also depend on the political and economical climates of a certain country or region. Dealers and auction galleries, by being in sync with these climates are able to use this to their advantage. Because of a rise in capitalism and ensuing wealth in certain counties its possible for their collectors to place high bids at international auctions. Russia is an example of a country able to recover economically and reinstate a desire to reclaim itís history and heritage. Russian art and icons are setting unbefore heard of precedents at auction. One such work of art by Russian artist Alexandre Benois, a watercolor entitled "Le Pont du Rialto" Circa late 19th Century, was estimated at auction for $6,000, then had a hammer price of over $20,000. (See illustration #4).

American Western art is another example whereby it appears that paintings by noted early 20th Century American West/Wildlife artists are increasing in value. An example is a gouache painting entitled "Evening Talk" by Artist John Garvin. (See illustration #5). Other Western/wildlife artists that seem to be on a roll are Charles Russell and Frank Johnson, especially in auctions with venues in the Western states including the Coeur DíAlene in Nevada. Another cycle that has turned around is Chinese art. In the 1980ís Chinese art and artifacts were going through the roof; subsequently there was a downward trend for Chinese art in the 90ís and today the market is hot once again and possibly because of the increase in marketing and capitalization in China.

In some instances, if a group of artists working in a particular style has caught the eye of the public and has become a hype collectors become buyers. A notable group of Florida regional artists known as "The Highwaymen" whose works include coastal scenes and tropical landscapes, are a case in point. Even though a few of the artists were less than notable, there is a current wave of their paintings on the market that have commanded high prices and the trend appears to be escalating. The problem is that if trends and fashions in fine art have not had the advantage of standing the test of time they may become a fad or outdated, losing their appeal in the market because they have become too commercial. And by the time the collector finds this out the prices have already risen to obscene levels.

Illustration 4: Benois

De-Accessioning of Collections

As mentioned above, many collectors have used their good taste and unlimited resources to collect fine art and antiques for the benefit of mankind by donations to museums or by creating their own museums. Whether collectors decide to de-accession a work of art or the entire collection to a museum or sell to a private collector, dealer or place at auction, it is important to analyze the market. When placing the works at auction finding the best venue for the work is important. The desire to dispose of the work does not always mean it will find a donee or buyer. Some museums only accept certain periods of art and antiques. In addition, when placing art or antiques on consignment in an international level, the collector will find that most auction galleries have lot minimums that would eliminate some works of fine art. Regional auctions have more options for the collector as they are able to have lower minimums on works of art and antiques. Consulting with an experienced art broker/consultant, whose intimate knowledge of the market may be helpful in assisting the collector in making decisions, negotiating the terms and going through the process.

About the author: Lorena O. Allen, M.Ed., President of L. Allen Appraisal Studios, Inc., is a fine art appraiser/consultant in Winter Park, Florida and a certified member of Appraisers Association of America and International Society of Appraisers. She includes among her clients, museums, attorneys, and insurance companies as well as collectors of fine art and antiques. Address: P.O. Box 2543, Winter Park, Florida 32790. Tel: 407-671-1139,

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