BACK in 1973, Mr and Mrs Kelly spent £62 on a painting for the family hotel on Rosslare Strand. That painting, Envelope by Charles Brady, is now worth an estimated €3,700. In 1976, they spent £100 on a painting by Patrick Collins, now valued at €1,600. Sadly, Mr Kelly died in 1977, but Mrs Kelly kept the collection going.
She spent £500 on Menu by Pauline Bewick in 1983 (it's now worth €5,000). Sandpools by Nora McGuinness, currently valued at €18,000, cost £267 in 1979 and Abandoned Sheds by Gale Martin, which cost £600 in 1985, is now valued at €10,500.
Figures like these are enough to send you running out to the nearest art dealer, credit card in hand. But, as any serious collector will tell you, that's missing the point. Mr and Mrs Kelly bought art because they loved it, and their purchases were based on knowledge and experience. They probably made a lot of mistakes too, but it didn't really matter. As hotel owners, they weren't short on hanging space and the paintings at Kelly's Hotel (www.kellys.ie) became part of its charm. The appreciation of the monetary value of the collection was a side-benefit.
Their son, Bill Kelly, who joined the family business in 1986, inherited his parents' interest in art. "Not a day goes by without people asking about the collection," he says. "It's not always positive. We've got an abstract painting by Callum Innes, a big orange square, and people look at it and say that they could have done it themselves. I don't think that they could have, so it provokes a conversation."
He's also kept on the family tradition of buying work by emerging and mid-career artists, which often appreciates quite rapidly in value as the artist's career progresses. But investment, he insists, should never be the reason for buying. "Our first priority is that we like the piece and it's never been any other. But if you buy something that you like, by a serious artist that has a future, then it can be an investment and you have the pleasure of having it in the intervening years."
If you're not sure what you like, Kelly suggests that you spend time in galleries, exhibitions and auction rooms to get a feel for what is out there. "It's like wine," he says. "It's down to individual taste, but initially, it's worth inspiring yourself."
There's no such thing as a sure thing, but a reputable gallery owner can help you locate promising young artists whose work has not yet become too expensive. Peter Brennan of the Jonathan Swift Gallery (www.jonathanswiftgallery.com) represents a number of emerging and mid-career artists with work in the region of €2,000 f0r a largish canvas or €500 for a print.
"You have to believe in the work to sell it," he says, "it's not like selling a product."
Most art collectors, in his experience, buy for non-monetary reasons. They respond to a painting on an emotional or intellectual level and they simply don't want to be without it. They like the idea that it may increase in value, but it's rarely the driving force. "When collectors are inexperienced, they can mistake fame for talent," he says. "In those cases a little bit of guidance might not go astray."
For all the publicity about "art-as-asset" and "passion investment", there's a very large element of hit and miss. In 2013, a group from Stanford Graduate School of Business published a report that subjected paintings to the same set of checks and balances with which they would assess more traditional investments.
"When we compared the investment returns and risk of all the styles of art to a portfolio of pure stocks," they wrote, "we found that art investments would not substantially improve the risk/return profile of a portfolio diversified among traditional asset classes, such as stocks and bonds."
The group concluded that paintings are better aesthetic investments than financial ones.
Art often looks like a better investment than it actually is. The art market is strongly informed by auction turnover. Paintings that sell at auction tend to be those that are in high demand and, if an artist is "doing well at auction", people are more likely to sell it.
It's like waiting for property prices to rise before you sell your house. This means that art-market statistics are largely based on success stories.
Screen prints and celebrity values led the way at Whyte's online auction on March 11, with an unassuming printed sketch by Andy Warhol (1928-1987) reaching the top price of €3,800.
The print, a portrait of Aretha Franklin and Keith Richards, was created as a single record cover for Arista Records' 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' (1986), but was never used. It is one of the last works by Warhol who died in early 1987.
The second-highest price realised was also a screen print, Human Image III (2005) by Louis le Brocquy (1916-2012), which sold for €3,200, exceeding the upper estimate of €1,800. This shows a bit of a revival in prices. The print had been up for auction at Whyte's in September 2014 but had not sold. In the same year, le Brocquy prints Human Image IX, X, and XI, all from 2005, sold for €1,900 each.
The prolific Markey Robinson (1918-1999) also showed good form, with Bathers reaching €1,150 and Village by Moonlight selling for €950. The Poet (Pip) (2004), an oil on canvas portrait by Kenny McKendry (b. 1964), had the distinction of more than doubling its upper estimate of €500 and selling for €1,150.
The notion that art can be three dimensional has, in the past, been a bit much for the conservative Irish market. There are signs that this is changing. The forthcoming sale of Important Irish Art at Adam's, which takes place on April 1, includes more than the usual scattering of bronzes, a pair of engaging hens by Krystyna Pomeroy among them (estimated between €1,500 and €2,000 each).
There are also a couple of sculptures in carved wood, including The Paralyzed Man let down through the Roof (1978) by Imogen Stuart (b.1927), estimated to sell between €2,000 and €4,000, and a simple but sincere Madonna in carved pine by Oisin Kelly (1915-1981) (€1,000 to €1,500).
That said, much of the excitement of the sale will be focused on painting. Hearing the Nightingale (1936), an oil on canvas by Jack B Yeats (1871-1957), is estimated to fetch between €25,000 and €35,000 and there are two watercolours by Louis le Brocquy, Image of Samuel Beckett and Image of James Joyce, each estimated to make between €15,000 and €20,000.
An auction of Antiquities, due to take place on April 16 in Bonham's of London, will include an exceptionally beautiful Irish Bronze Age sword, dating from between 1,000 and 800 BC. It is estimated to fetch between €8,300 and €11,000.