Sunday, January 31, 2010

London: Auctions High and Low

We went to two auction previews today, and they couldn't have been more different. They are at the opposite ends of high and low. We started at the 'low'.

Bonhams in Knightsbridge (as opposed to the one on New Bond) generally has the more affordable offerings.

Bonhams in Knightsbridge

We were a bit dubious of the offering given the title: 'Pictures and Frames - to sell without reserve.' That's as low a description as I can imagine. We were surprised what fun it actually was in a decorative inspirations sort of way. The paintings were almost all by amateurs but not of bad quality. I could easily see buying 3 or 4 at £25 a piece ($40) and grouping them on a library or den wall. I don't know the estimate range to expect since the catalogue did not include any, given that the sale is 'without reserve'. I will have to check in a few days to test my theory. 

This is the kind of auction I would attend in person. The idea would be to pick up a few items at very low prices. Absentee bidding would not be the way to go. 

Here are a couple of photos to give a flavor of the show. 

Paintings at Bonhams
Our next stop was at the highest of 'high'. We went to the Christie's Impressionist/Modern sale preview at their King Street branch in St. James's. We had actually not been to this Christie's before, having usually gone to the South Kensington branch which has the more affordable shows. 

            Christie's in St. James's

The show was impressive. They seemed to have a better offering than the Sotheby's preview we attended yesterday, and it was better presented. I was mesmerized by this Kees van Dongen.

 Kees van Dongen: Estimate £5.5 - £7.5 million

Almost all on offer is coming from private collections so has generally been hidden away. It's great to be able to get a peak before they disappear again.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

London: A visit to Sotheby's

We built our day around a visit to the Sotheby's preview for the Impressionist and Modern Art Sale. Now this is clearly out of our range unless we win a mega millions lottery, but a great chance to sneak a peak at paintings that are briefly out of private collections before going to new private owners.

Before going to Sotheby's on New Bond Street we went to the Royal Academy of Art to the exhibit of 'The Real Van Gogh: The Artist and his Letters'.

Burlington House which houses the Royal Academy of Art

It was a fantastic exhibit and much better than I ever expected. I was a bit focused on the mention of letters in the title, and thought they would dominate. They only enhanced a comprehensive collection of Van Gogh drawings and paintings. I have seen many Van Gogh's over my lifetime, but never like this. I was entranced by the paintings and felt I learned a lot about Van Gogh's work and life as well.

After the Royal Academy we wandered along Old Bond Street to New Bond. It's a tempting walk of designer shops, and the day was glorious with blue skies, if a bit chilly for London.

Window at Sotheby's

The show was an impressive collection of all the names you would expect and more: Renoir, Bonnard, Seurat, Matisse, and Cezanne. This Klimt is one of the headliners, and estimated at between £12 million and £18 million ($19 million - $29 million). This is the kind of sale that makes the newspapers as a test of the economy.
Klimt: Church in Cassone
After Sotheby's the decision was where to have lunch! One of our favorite restaurants in London is just down the street at 5A Burlington Gardens (right behind the Royal Academy) - Cecconi's. It's got a great buzz to it and wonderful modern Italian food. 

But we decided to go to Daphne's instead. Also wonderful Italian food and a bit less hectic. It's located at Brompton Cross just down from the South Kensington tube stop at 112 Draycott Avenue. It's a bit long to walk from Sotheby's, so taxi, bus or tube are better options.

We had a wonderful meal, and good people watching.

Terrific day in London, and I'll be watching the papers later this week to see what they say about the sale and what it says about the art market and the global economy.

Friday, January 29, 2010

London: Lots Road Auctions

We're in London for a few days and today went back to an old haunt, Lots Road Auctions. Lots Road is off Kings Road a fair ways down from Sloane Square, but in a good area for browsing antiques and decorative furniture and lighting stores.


Our second apartment in London was unfurnished, and Lots Road benefited from our frequent patronage! We found a brand new George Smith sofa (with the label on) for a fraction of the retail price, and a range of antiques and modern furniture for great prices. We also bought quite a few rugs with our future house in mind at great prices.

Lots Road is a mixed bag of good finds and the tacky. One also needs to be a bit careful in the 'antiques' section, but we always bought what we liked and not for an investment. We bought a few modern pieces for new house, and when we went today they had the same chairs. We figure a retailer is unloading them a pair at a time. But we also saw them in a decorator's store window for about three times what we paid for them. 

These might fall in the tacky category, even at 200 to 400 pounds (1 pound = $1.6).

 I think this chandelier falls in to the bargain category at an estimate range of 200 to 300 pounds ($320 to $480). Most chandeliers I've priced in the US are much more than this. 

 Of course we made an outing of our visit and went across the street to Lots Road Pub for lunch. It's a 'gastro pub' which means that they focus on the food and it's quite good. It doesn't even have much of a bar crowd. We made a reservation and were glad that we did because they were packed for Friday lunch. 

This photo was taken before the crowds arrived.

We miss Lots Road Auctions now that we're back in New York. We haven't (yet) found an auction house that has the bargains at this does. It's fun to visit again, however, as we did today.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Checking auction results

Probably the best way to prepare yourself for bidding in the future is to check the results of the auction where you flirted with a few items, and maybe didn't bid. At the Doyle's auction this week I considered bidding on two paintings and now see that I probably should have!

This painting was estimated at $300 to $500 and sold for $225!

The horse painting I liked was estimated at $2,000 to $4,000. You may recall that I saw something very similar at the Winter Antiques Show for $4,500. This painting sold for $1,600! Both bargains in my view.


You can't regret these things too much or it will haunt you. I still have memories of things I bid on and lost and wonder if I should have done something differently. I guess I get a bit attached! In the case of these two painting we knew that we didn't have space for them, so it was the right decision. BUT....

There's always another auction to look forward to!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Winter Antiques Show - New York

I realize that the Winter Antiques show does not fall into the category of 'auctions' which is what this blog is mostly about. However, before one can comfortably bid on antiques or art of any era, having some idea of retail price range gives some confidence when setting a bid.

The Winter Antiques show is definitely at the high end (if not almost the top!) of the antique show offerings and thus a visit offers the great opportunity to attend a 'museum with price tags' as my mother used to call it. We find it lots of fun. Any time I see prices like $695,000 for a painting by Sir John Lavery I get a shiver down my spine. He's an artist I mostly do see in museums.

Not everything is quite as expensive as that, but we're rarely tempted to buy even at the lower end. Besides the fun of the visit, we use it mostly as an education on retail pricing. Today there was a painting of a racehorse at the Antiques show that was quite similar to one on offer at Doyle's. It was early 19th century, about the same size, and priced at $4,500. I went back to the Doyle's web site, and Lot 59 is estimated at $2,000 to $4,000. I flirted with making an offer to see if we could get it at the lower end, but decided not to this time.

The show itself is dominated by Americana, which is not generally our strong interest, but nice to see anyway. 

There are other periods represented as well, ranging from pre-Colombian artifacts to some quite contemporary paintings. We lingered over the Arts and Crafts, some mid-century modern, and particularly enjoyed the Art Deco offerings. 

We picked up a magazine at the show 'The Magazine Antiques', and their website has a good calendar of shows in the US that are scheduled for the coming months. You may find something near you.

If there are auction houses in your area, I'll bet they'll schedule sales around the same time since the shows create interest to buy!

Monday, January 25, 2010

The visit to Doyle's auction preview for January 27th

We visited the current preview at Doyle's for a sale January 27th. They had a range of items from paintings to decorative objects. We saw lots of interesting things and some gave a bit of a chuckle.

We liked some of the paintings and considered bidding on an 18th/19th century portrait of a man in a red coat with an estimate range of $300 - $500.  We decided not to because we just didn't love it enough and the walls are getting full! Something else might have to be displaced and that's a bigger decision than just a purchase.

A couple of items in the section called the 'Well Appointed Room' were interesting in the 'not sure what I'd do with that' sort of way. This salamander was one of pair and some 3 feet tall.

There was also a pair of desks that are about as unusual as I've seen. They were called late 19th century 'renaissance revival' writing desks for a wopping estimate of  $20,000 - $30,000. They would certainly be conversation pieces!

The show was very interesting and had lots of pieces that if we 'needed' something we would have been tempted.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Attending an auction

I mentioned in my first blog entry that we rarely attend the auctions in person. For us they are very anxiety inducing if we want something. We have only been twice and both times we were out bid by miles on the item we wanted.

The most recent auction we attended in person was at Stair Galleries in Hudson, NY.

You can leave an absentee bid at Stair, but if you bid, say, $525, and the last bid was $345, then you would get it for $525. Somehow that doesn't feel good. So a few months ago we went to a preview of someone's estate, and there were a number of interesting contemporary art pieces. We decided that we wanted to bid on a sculpture that had an auction range of $300 - $500. We liked it enough to try to get it.

The day of the auction we went to town, and registered for the sale. They told us it was unlikely to come up until after 2pm, so we went for lunch at Swoon Kitchenbar on Warren Street.

After a wonderful meal, we walked back up Warren Street to Stair. The auction was in progress and the place was lively with people coming and going, having lunch, and helping themselves to coffee and tea. It was high drama to sit through some of the lots and see some barely sell for the minimum and others go for multiples of the top estimate. We couldn't figure out which way our lot would go - bargain or a real battle.

I was getting more and more nervous as ours came up, and starting to plan when I would join the bidding. You don't want to get in at the beginning. Our lot came up and we had decided that our top bid would be $725. We liked it a lot. The bidding started and it move fast. I was trying to raise my hand at about the $600 mark, but the bids sped so fast past my top range, that I sat back deflated. The piece sold for close to $3000!

That has been our experience both of the two times we attended auctions in person. Maybe it was just our bad luck, and we've had lots of auction bidding successes. I think it's worth going a few times to see how it works, and enjoy the drama of the bidding wars, but I think you have to have nerves of steel to go if you want something. I suspect that many of those attending are more 'professional' than we are, and can stand losing something (or have bigger check books!).

The other danger you will undoubtedly face at some point will be 'auction fever.'  This is where you can get swept up in the bidding, and before you know it you are way beyond the number you set as your 'limit'. You have to have real discipline at those moments because you don't want a case of 'buyers remorse' as you write the check for your new purchase. You may like it the object, but maybe not as much as all that!

It's absentee bidding for us, or maybe we'll try the on-line option next time. It's one step removed.

This weekend at Doyle's

I can't wait to go to the auction preview at Doyle's this weekend. Today I could only peer through the window.

The auction is 'Old Master Paintings and Drawing; Important English and Continental Furniture and Decoration; and The Well Appointed room.' The auction is January 27th and the preview is January 23 - 27.

The on-line catalogue promises a lot of decorative pieces that won't break the bank. You never know when you'll find an interesting piece and take a chance that you will win the bidding at a good price. But if you don't win, there's always another auction!

We'll make a day of it, and have lunch somewhere in the neighborhood of Doyle's. Some of our favorites are:

Demarchelier at 50 East 86th Street (212-249-6300). This is a good neighborhood French bistro and always buzzing. Very reasonable as well. Friendly with children.

Centolire is just around the corner at 1167 Madison Avenue (212-734-7711). It's very good Italian with a downstairs that's more informal, and a somewhat more formal upstairs. Very friendly to children.

Le Paris is another French bistro and a bit more of a walk. It's at 93rd St. and Madison Avenue (1312 Madison, 212-289-0997). It's pretty small so maybe call ahead. There is a very well priced lunch special.

If you get a chance to go, have fun!

Wednesday, January 27 at 10am
January 23 - 26

Decorating with Auction Finds

I did call this blog “Auction Decorating’, so thought the second installment should be about how I’ve used auction finds in my NY apartment. I have a very traditional apartment, and have on occasion used the help of a decorator. We collect contemporary art as well, and will be furnishing a second home in a more mid-century inspired look.

This mirror we got at a Doyle’s ‘At Home’ auction. This is usually stocked with decorative items rather than good antiques. This is one mirror of a pair and belonged to a well know decorator. We love it because we haven’t see the blue in many venetian mirrors and feel like we got a one of a kind piece at a very good price.

We got this mirror at Bonham’s while living in London. It’s a George III mirror and something we’ve always wanted. We looked for one at many auctions and in stores, and knew that this was the one when we saw it. We got it well within the price estimate range, and after so much looking we feel it was a good price and certainly less than retail. Shipping it home was not cheap, and we were anxious that it would make it, but here it is and in perfect condition.

Both mirrors we bought via an absentee bid, and got them both for slightly less than we put in.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

January starts the new auction season!

My husband and I have been visiting auction previews for over 20 years, We enjoy them for themselves, and have decorated much of our home with auction finds. We love all matter of furniture and art, starting with antiques and moving to contemporary. We are not slaves to any style or building 'collections'. More than anything we have fun going to auction previews, sometimes bidding, and usually making a day of it. When there's nothing else to do, find an auction!

Auction houses abound and we tend toward the more affordable options, but visiting Sotheby's and Christie's is fun too! The more you go, the more you learn about prices for the objects that you like. So when you decide it's time to bid on something, you will feel more confident that it's the right number. In our experience it's always cheaper to buy at auction than retail.

We live in New York, and the excitement of the new season has begun. Every weekend there will be numerous auction previews to choose from, and the quality of the offerings will build around the Winter Antiques Fair at the Park Avenue Armory.

Just a word on strategy. We sometimes (rarely) go to the auctions themselves. We can't stand the anxiety of live bidding and losing. We always do absentee bidding, and in this way can set our top limit and never pay more than we think it's worth to us. Most auction houses we've been to will take the highest bid and add yours to it in whatever the auction increments for bidding are for that item. Thus if we bid $450 for something but it goes for $325, then that's the amount we get it for (plus the buyer's premium). You can also bid by phone (which I've done once and won!), and by internet (which I haven't tried yet).

My plan is to share auction sites, ideas for decorating with auction finds and generally how to have fun with the hunt. There will be more on strategy too. I’d like to hear from you as well!

Here are some auction house links to get started. There is a lot on them on how to bid as well. 

Doyle's in NY: 
We go here all the time. It's generally affordable and easy to place a bid. 

New Orleans Auction:
We bought an antique desk from here remotely. I got a condition report, and placed a bid on the phone. 

Lots Road Auctions in London: 
We used to live in London and went here all the time. Great pub for lunch across the street too! They are very affordable, but you would need to figure in shipping costs. They have shipper referrals right there. 

Stair Galleries in Hudson, NY:
Great prices, and a fun day out from New York via Amtrak. The main street in Hudson, Warren Street is full of antique and decorative arts shops, and galleries.

We went to Bonhams regularly when in London. They also have an auction house in New York as well. We've bought both 'high' and 'low' antiques here, and enjoy them all! 


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