Sharing the Pleasure

The next best thing to buying and owning an object of art is finding a good home for one that you are ready to give up. I had such an experience after I sold my Main Street gallery.

I had owned an unframed painting for about ten years and had attributed it to Birger Sandzen, but without expert authentication. So, I decided to offer it on eBay and see if someone would agree with me. The result was that someone did agree, but only one.  In an auction, you need a minimum of two interested bidders, unless you put a reserve on the painting – the price that must be met for the painting to sell.  I don’t like reserves, so my painting was sold without one and made just $151.00. A signed, authenticated painting by Sandzen would be worth a few thousand.

The buyer was a collector of western art, and a week after the sale he emailed to say he was sure it was authentic, and that a friend who is something of an expert on Sandzen was of the same opinion. The buyer of my painting had framed it already and hung it with other items in his collection!

Now, you might ask, why did I not have the painting authenticated? I suppose the primary answer is that the money wasn’t that important to me.  Alright, I’m a little touched! Seriously, my pleasure is finding paintings like this, doing the research to learn more about them, and then enjoying them until the time when I have to make room for something else – or as in the present case, I have to begin selling off a very large collection of art. If the auction had attracted two or more bidders who were convinced of the authenticity of this painting, and the bidding had gone to 10, 20 or 30 thousand dollars, that would have been exciting, too! But the fact that it found a good home is satisfaction enough for a collector who has acquired art for enjoyment and not for investment.

Authentication of art isn’t pure science, and many an “expert” has been fooled. Had I taken the painting to an auctioneer with a competent staff, it’s likely they would not have agreed to sell it as a Birger Sandzen painting, since it was unsigned and without provenance (history or pedigree). They always err on the side of caution, assuming, as did I, that if it were the real thing the bidding would “take off” and they would profit without taking any risk. The difference between Sotheby’s, Christies, etc., and eBay is the amount the consignor has to pay, and the fact that the clientele of the auction houses are much more informed than the typical eBay buyer.

I paid a tiny sales commission and had an informed buyer on eBay who was willing to bid. As I have stated, though, I needed two informed bidders – both with deep pockets! If Sotheby had sold the painting my cost would have been about 25% of the hammer price – and if there was only one bidder convinced of the attribution, the result could have been no better than eBay!

By Lowe

Retired director of Thistle Fine Art.

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