London: +44 (0)207 038 3548 | New York: +1 212 332 8158
London: +44 (0)207 038 3548
New York: +1 212 332 8158

Whether you want to acquire art or dispose of it, as art advisors we can help every step of the way, helping clients to either source or sell alternative assets

Value is a moving target. It’s our job as art advisors to hit the bull’s eye for our clients, not sometimes but every time. Securing the greatest possible return on a work of art is what we do. This imperative underwrites all transactions that we undertake. The emphasis is on finding the right object and buying it at the right price, transforming that object into an investment.

These are the basic rules that apply when buying or selling:

  1. Identify the object to be sold/bought

  2. Is it authentic?

  3. What is it worth?

  4. How best to buy or sell it?

In our latest Corfield Morris Guide, we will illustrate a series of case studies to show you how best to maximise value and minimise risk in the world of art, starting with step 1) and 2).

Sold to a major Chinese university institution

1) Identify the object to be sold/bought

First we have to determine what an item actually is. For instance, this picture shows a collection of 25,000 books of English fiction dating from 1600-1900. It may look impressive, but its owner was having real trouble selling it as the library had no valuable tomes of note among its shelves. However, our team realised that this was also the biggest collection of early English fiction ever assembled – and that it should be sold as such, as a single item rather than a room full of books. It still took three years to sell, but we were successful in the end.

2) Check its authenticity and assess provenance

Provenance is important. At Corfield Morris we are experts in our fields, meaning we can soon spot suspect objects with our keen knowledge of the materials, tools and techniques from the time a piece was supposedly created.

The importance of provenance

Provenance is the known history of a piece – the more complete, the better, as in many cases buyers are often willing to pay bigger sums if they know more about the story behind it. It is sometimes possible to trace a piece’s history back through the family to previous owners. Labels on the reverse can guide you to old exhibitions or auction sales, and you can usually discover the names of buyer and seller.

Restoration: What is allowed?

In all markets the ideal is to find something totally original or in “barn find” condition (i.e. that hasn’t been restored at all). That said, most antiques, old pictures and even classic cars will require some restoration. When buying an object you should expect to see a dossier detailing any work done, but broadly speaking, you don’t want a new top on a table, a new engine in a car or extensive over-painting on a picture.

That said, old (‘bad’) restoration can often be removed and more sympathetic works carried out with modern technologies, including ultraviolet light, X-rays and electron microscopes. Paint analysis can also be significant – and not just on pictures. We recently bought a pair of tables for a client in Germany, which had been catalogued as 19th century in the 18th century style. Because of our expertise (better than that of the auctioneer) we felt they were almost certainly right and persuaded the client to back our judgement. We bought them for £50,000. Once we had them we were able to strip back the layers of gilt and paint and have each layer dated. The earliest was from the 1740’s thus proving that the tables were indeed made in the 18th century, and therefore worth at least £250,000. Having done this work we then had them dry stripped to their original decorative scheme.

These kinds of processes can dramatically enhance the value of an object and if you are thinking of selling should be done before it is offered for sale.

Buying art and antiques is an act of faith; the buyer has to believe the object is wonderful.

In our next installment, we will reveal more behind rules 3) and 4) in maximising value and minimising risk.