Do you like it and can you afford it?

I have just two criteria for buying art – do I like it and can I afford it. Consequently, much of what I’ve acquired will be of interest to a relatively few persons. Still, if I liked it enough to exchange some of my limited financial resources, there must be at least one other person who could enjoy it – and afford it. Thus, as I have stated before in this blog space, my interest now is to find a home for each item in my collection/inventory. It is important to me that each piece of art is acquired by someone who will appreciate it for the long term, either on a wall or in portfolio. It will give me immense pleasure to accomplish this during my lifetime!

People are attracted to art for many reasons including intrinsic aesthetic appeal, financial investment, or maybe due to a visceral reaction evoked by a remembered event. I will provide here a few examples from my own experience.

Pastel of a canal-side cafe in Venice.

This pastel by Stephen Crowther evokes for me the memory of dinner with members of my family beside a Venetian canal. I’ve no idea now what I paid but it was bought at auction, and I would not be outbid! It was not just the visceral feelings, however. It is a beautiful painting – one that will remain in my collection during my lifetime.

Watercolor of a winter landscape featuring a barren tree with a road wandering past it to the hills beyond.
Framed watercolor of a winter landscape featuring a barren tree with a road wandering past it to the hills beyond.

My art taste is eclectic, but this watercolor appealed to my appreciation for simple lines and subtle color. The artist’s name was unfamiliar to me, but it was obvious when I saw this painting offered at auction that Edward Vuillamy was both gifted and well-trained. Not only was he a good artist but he was the honorary Keeper of Pictures at the Fitzwilliam Museum. He was not an artist by profession, but a lecturer in French and Modern Languages at Cambridge. He exhibited extensively, however, and this watercolor might have been purchased at one of those exhibitions, near the end of his life in 1962. If that is the case, someone has taken really loving care of the painting which was sympathetically matted and presented in a gold-gilt frame.

A third motive for buying  art was responsible for my purchase of the oil painting below, by James Stuart Park.

Oil portrait of a young woman amidst white and yellow flowers.

My purchases have always been modest but visiting art galleries and art auctions is the only way to enjoy art that is beyond reach for most middle-class buyers. During a business trip to Chicago in the early 1990s, I left my wife at the hotel and on a very rainy day took a quick walk around to browse a few antique shops and art galleries. I was a little surprised, being a country boy, that on Michigan Avenue there were numerous commercial galleries in some of the tall buildings. I took the elevator to one that featured antique art and was rewarded by an excellent collection. Most of the paintings included a card showing the details but this one had no attribution. My first impression was that it was Scottish and that I had seen a very similar painting while living in Scotland. I asked about it and and was told that it was found in a Wisconsin barn! The painting bears the artist’s monogram (which I did not recognize) and I was told that exhaustive research had not revealed the artists’ name nor the original origin of the painting. I told him I was certain it was Scottish, and I might be interested in purchasing it. I buy what I like and what I can afford! I could not afford this one! Returning to the hotel, I recounted my experience and suggested to my wife that this was a painting deserving of a financial risk. A phone call resulted in a sale and the painting was delivered to our hotel and upon return home to Arkansas, I searched my collection of art reference books. In a catalog from a Fine Art Society exhibition during the Edinburgh Festival in 1970, I viewed a plate that confirmed my intuition. It was the younger sister of the woman in my painting!

Oil portrait of a girl surrounded by red poppies.
Park, Stuart; A Gipsy Maid; Dundee Art Galleries and Museums Collection (Dundee City Council);

Both paintings are the same size and are signed with the same monogram. At the time of my purchase, small flower paintings by James Stuart Park were routinely selling at auction for up to $10,000! I paid much less, and it is just as well. Today, only a special example of this artist’s work will reach $5,000 at auction. Such are the vagaries of art fashion (this being an example of the late Victorian period, not presently popular with collectors). The painting exhibited by The Fine Art Society had been on loan from one of the Scottish public galleries (Kirkcaldy, I think) and is now in the collection of the McManus, Dundee’s Art Gallery and Museum.

Whatever your reason for buying art, please peruse the art work at and consider making an offer for something – if you like it and can afford it.

By Lowe

Retired director of Thistle Fine Art.

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