Some words about gallery content

The gallery content of Thistle Fine Art is certainly eclectic so a few words should be said about it.

The first thing that needs to be said is that the content consists of items from the remaining inventory when business ceased in 2018 and items from my personal collection, some of which are not for sale – at least at this time. Also, while those listings “not for sale” may seem redundant to the public viewing them, there is a secondary purpose for this site. When site construction is concluded there will be approximately two hundred paintings, watercolors, and prints. Many are still hanging but the majority are in storage. The only feasible way to assist with estate settlement is to provide an accessible visual record. This website is the best way for me to do that.

The initial collection and the subsequent gallery inventory of Thistle Fine Art were acquired under financial constraints and are reflective of the personal tastes of the collector – for better or for worse! My first significant purchase was priced at only £7 (about $17.50). That might not seem much today, but I was earning just over £100 per month! My collection grew, thereafter, by careful buying and selling. The quality of the art acquired improved, it is true, but it was a very long time before I could invest more than a few hundred dollars for a single work of art. Usually, we read about how many million dollars an art collector has paid for a painting! And, it’s always been that way. Is it any wonder that few people ever consider collecting art? There is good reason, then, for an attempt to debunk the idea that art collecting is only for the wealthy!

When one visits an art gallery or museum it’s unlikely most are aware of a little known fact. In the 19th and 20th centuries there were many thousands of professionally trained artists. Engravings, etchings, and paintings would be supplanted in our time by photographic imagery, but for many in the the previous two centuries “art” was a utilitarian means for providing portraiture and scenic wall decoration. The bulk of the product of these artists was, therefore, “commercial”. The “academic” artists relied on successful financial support from benefactors and/or the support of organizations like the Royal Academy in London. These artists would often employ assistants in their studios, some of whom would attain the necessary status to launch their own successful careers but most would never rise above their support status for a “master” painter, who frequently was their teacher. Others would practice their skills with publishers, sign painters, etc. Consequently, the art system of that period produced a vast reservoir of art and much of it today resides in private collections or inventories of investors. A considerable volume of art is constantly changing hands – mainly between dealers, a subject worthy of discussing in another blog, perhaps.

When I began buying art, there was an abundance of objects appearing in the secondary art market – as generations of people born in the late 19th century were downsizing or their heirs were liquidating their estates. That flow of art has slowed to a trickle but there remains a good possibility that exceptional art can still be discovered at modest prices – that is part of the joy of collecting. By searching for paintings by the second and third tier of artists working during the early and mid-20th century it is possible for many more people to enjoy original art. Much of the work of these “lesser” artists is equal in quality to the production of the first tier – their “masters”. Their work isn’t the equal to that of a French Impressionist, maybe – they’re not signed Monet, Van Gogh, or Cezanne – but there is wonderful art available for modest prices because of the sheer volume produced. Don’t forget that Van Gogh couldn’t give away his paintings! Also, be aware that for every “Master” there were many more who were equally gifted but without patronage or the marketing skills required to gain recognition.

The esteem with which we regard artists is due to many factors, not least of which is management and marketing. Some artists regularly destroy paintings that fail to satisfy their own quality criteria. One artist I knew had a weekly “burn” day! It’s only logical there will be few mediocre examples of work by these artists that will have survived. Not every painter could afford to destroy his work, however! Painting materials have always been costly and most artists were forced to offer for sale all of their creative product.

The reputation of masters (and the value of their work) is stringently protected long after their death. The best example is the Wildensteins in Paris. Theirs’ is the final word on whether a painting was executed by Monet. Therefore, many paintings that are not outstanding, but may have been painted by a “master”, are labeled “copy” or “fake” and are relatively worthless – except to the collector who buys art – not autographs. Once again, Van Gogh should be mentioned! I’ve visited the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. It’s worth a visit but there is little quality art on display – in my opinion. I’ve no doubt that under different management or with the right public relations and/or patronage a lot of artists unknown today could have taken their place among “the greats”.

Art prices rise and fall in value as the work of particular artists and styles become popular and in time wain. When I started collecting, prices for art and antiques of the Victorian period were almost beyond reach. Today, it’s not easy to give away a lot of it!

That brings me to the point of this post. While I have a few examples by first tier artists, most of the art in my collection/inventory were created by second and third tier artists (in the latter group are talented amateurs). My focus today is to extend the pleasure that these paintings, watercolors, and prints can provide to another generation.

Thistle Fine Art listings are priced appropriately but are still out of reach for some who could enjoy them and of no interest to many who would rather hang a reproduction of Monet. I’d happily gift many of my paintings, but my belief is that we don’t value a gift as much as an investment! Albeit, a modest investment. By inviting offers rather than quoting a set price there is greater opportunity for new collectors with limited means. Some of the items listed on this site will not be sold below the estimate; most will be. Just like an auction, you’ll never know if you could have bought something if you don’t make an offer! This is not an auction, however. If an offer is made in good faith, it will most likely be accepted. One final thing to consider – auctions list their “lots” with an estimate range. A good auction house will publish accurate estimates. Nevertheless, paintings will often exceed the higher estimate, sometimes by remarkable margins (and some don’t reach the lower estimate and are withdrawn). The estimate given in the Thistle Fine Art gallery is not the starting point for bidding but, rather, a starting point for discussion. An offer equal to the estimate will be accepted . Probably, 75% of offers below the estimate will also be accepted!

By Lowe

Retired director of Thistle Fine Art.

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