Art Collecting 101: What You Need To Know
In the antique and auction world, one of the broadest categories if not the most is fine art. Fine Art is not just limited to paintings. Engravings, etchings, lithographs, sculpture, furniture, and architecture can all fall under the umbrella. Realistically what it comes down to is anything created or taken by an artist is then deemed fine art as long as the artist states it so. For example, modernist Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) had created Readymades, an artistic creation which utilized normal, all ready manufactured objects, a Found Object, which was repositioned and signed, becoming art. One of his most famous works Fountain, utilized a porcelain urinal turned upside down and signed with a pseudonym “R. Mutt” and dated “1917”. The point is that prior to 1870, visual arts had been limited with a set structure.
The “Hierarchy of Genres” was established gradually throughout the fifteenth century as art institutions were established in continental Europe. History painting was of the upmost prominence followed by portraiture, genre (scenes of every day life) painting, landscape, and lastly still life. It was in the second half of the seventeenth century when the hierarchy became a foundational formality. In 1667, Andre Felibien (1619-1695), the chronicler of the arts and court historian of France under Louis XIV, (1643-1715) formalized the hierarchy instituting a ranking system that affected exhibitions and academies for the next two hundred years in France. After centuries of artistic restriction, artists began to rebel against the formal institutions bringing us back to 1870 with the creation of Impressionism, the spark to Modernism. 1870 was the tipping point that sent the art world on a radical growth spurt with so many unique styles and artists coming to fruition. It is impossible to cram one hundred and forty-seven years of modern art history in a column, let alone the over five hundred years of history since the inception of the “Hierarchy of Genres”. What this entire synopsis boils down to is that just how the artist themselves rebelled, so is the art collector today.
In today’s auction world, we are finding it harder and harder as time goes on to sell the works of traditional academic taste. It Is not that they are worthless, just paintings that were once $5,000 can now be worth $1,000, and that is because of simple supply and demand. As time goes on more works become available as the people who collected over the past fifty years sell their collection, with a smaller crowd waiting to buy versus when they collected. Most collectors today no longer relate to that form of art, and I couldn’t have a more perfect example for you. In our most recent auction over Thanksgiving weekend we had two phenomenal landscape paintings. One by Massachusetts artist George Frank Higgins (1850-1891), the other by English modernist William Gear (1915-1997). The Higgins, an exemplary American landscape sold for $1,875, which twenty years ago would have easily brought $7,000 or more. The Gear on the other hand sold for $11,875 with four phone bidders and interest from New York to England and France. To some reading this article you might stare at the Gear cross-eyed, others observed it this weekend as one of the most beautiful works they’ve seen in person. With art the beauty, and more importantly the value is in the eye of the beholder. If there is no one there to collect, there is no value, no matter who the artist is.