Tuesday 12 December 2017

Seven secrets to finding a masterpiece

Ian Whyte is managing director of art and collectibles at Whyte's auctioneers in Dublin
Ian Whyte is managing director of art and collectibles at Whyte's auctioneers in Dublin

Ian Whyte

The art and antiques market has always followed the economy and, in particular, the property market.

Just like property, Irish art prices crashed in 2008 and are now recovering, albeit slowly. Just like property, there now seems to be good value to be had for the canny art investor and the informed collector.

However, there is a shortage of supply at the top end of the Irish art and collectibles market - in particular major works by Jack Yeats, John Lavery, William Orpen, and Walter Osborne. This is due to the high rate of Capital Gains Tax, the low interest rates and the uncertain stock markets, as owners have no alternative safe place for the proceeds of a sale. So if you have €100,000 or more to spend on a good piece of art, your choice is limited. If you have €1,000 to €50,000 to spend, you have a great range to choose from.

I have worked in the collectibles business for nearly 50 years. In that time I have experienced slumps in demand in the early 1970s, 1980s and 1990s that were followed by periods of good business. This led to us in the trade to believe in a five-year cycle of good demand followed by five years of tougher trading. However, the Celtic Tiger era ran that cycle into the ditch with a growth period of 12 years followed by a recession of seven years.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder according to a Greek saying of 300BC and that is so true of art. We are constantly told to buy art that appeals to us and that is reasonable advice if you don't care about ever selling it in the future. If your taste is universal, you will probably make more than a few euro when you sell. However, if you and the artist you purchase from are in a minority of two in the world, you could be lucky to sell your art work for a tenth of its original cost.

Here are seven tips to help you save money - and spot a true gem before you invest in art.

One: Be informed about the art you like before you buy and check the track record of the artist.

Two: Always buy the best you can afford. It is better to have one painting for the same price as 10 prints, but it is also better to have one print than none.

Three: Don't buy inferior or early works, even by famous artists, unless they fit into a specialised academic collection you are forming just for the love of it.

Four: When buying older works, check the condition. You wouldn't buy a house without a survey -the same applies to art and antiques.

Five: When buying at auction, read the terms and conditions carefully. In particular, check what the buyer's commission and Vat charges are - it can vary from 20pc to 25pc on top of the hammer price. The larger British auction houses charge 25pc plus Vat, and in some cases another 5pc import tax and 4pc artist's levy. So a painting sold for €20,000 in the UK could cost you another €8,000 in fees and taxes.

Six: Collecting art or antiques is a long-term love affair - and a long-term investment. Don't expect a return on your investment for at least five years or more, and the longer you keep your treasures the greater the exponential growth in value.

Seven: Enjoy collecting - you can have great fun.

Ian Whyte is managing director of art and collectibles at Whyte's auctioneers in Dublin

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