only that which you like. Buy the piece you can live with forever,
without thought of its investment value. If you like it, if it
"speaks" to you, you will never regret the purchase
regardless of its future value.
For centuries, collecting fine art was the
exclusive province of the wealthy. Patrons such as royalty, the
Catholic Church, and successful merchants enabled artists like
da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Rubens to survive and even prosper.
Even into the 19th and 20th centuries, Sargent and Whistler depended
upon the income from their society portraits to make other, perhaps
more experimental, works possible.
Of course, there were and still are many reasons
to purchase artwork. One wants tangible evidence of one's travels,
or a portrait to leave to one's heirs, or a place to spend one's
wealth for the envy of one's peers. Or perhaps a monument must
be erected to commemorate a life, a victory, or a god. Some art
was educational, some whimsical. There was a direct bond between
artist and patron in which the needs of each was met by the other.
In the 20th century, collectable art became
increasingly available to a wider market. Works by popular artists
were reproduced as prints, posters made an artist's style familiar
to the general population, and the availability of works on paper
such as etchings, engravings and watercolors by famous artists
enabled the middle-class collector to own works of art for his
Today's collector increasingly turns to collecting
fine art as an investment. Even so, the wise collector follows
the same primary guideline as has every notable collector before
him: Buy only that which you like. Buy the piece you can live
with forever, without thought of its investment value. If you
like it, if it "speaks" to you, you will never regret
the purchase regardless of its future value. Most of the well-publicized
high prices realized in today's auction market are for works
which may have been in a collection for over fifty years, so
the seller "lived" with that item a very long time!
Collecting affordable art, especially for the
novice collector, often begins with works on paper such as engravings,
etchings, posters, watercolors, or lithographs. My own collection
of works on paper reflects several of my passions: France (especially
Paris), my own watercolor and drawing hobbies, my Edwardian/Arts
& Crafts decor, and my inherent Scottish thriftiness. Often
these works are small in scale, and are within my budget as well.
Every collection begins when you first see
a painting or drawing that grabs you emotionally. You discover
the artist's name, and you seek out other works by that artist.
Now is when your homework begins. Start by going online or to
your local library to research the artist. Learn the "school"
of art or the time period within which the artist worked. If
you understand the influences in the artist's life, you will
have a better grasp of the meaning of the work you are about
Visit as many art galleries which specialize
in that artist's work as you can. If that's not physically possible,
most museums around the world have wonderful websites. Subscribe
to any of several magazines and newsletters as possible such
as Art and Antiques Weekly, both in print and online.
Learn as much about technique as possible,
whether it's lithography or etching, to be able to recognize
good quality and identify damage or even fraud. Keep a log or
spreadsheet noting the names of the pieces you acquire, the date,
seller and price paid, and any repairs or re-mounting/framing
you did. Keep receipts and any provenance information with your
other important papers. Many antiques publications advertise
excellent software for collectors which help you keep accurate
records in an easy-to-maintain format. And, no less important,
if your collection begins to represent serious financial value,
adjust your homeowner's insurance with a rider which insures
your collection at full value in case of loss.
It's possible to begin your collection on a
shoestring, whether with contemporary art or with the drawings
or etchings of old masters. Once you begin it's very likely you'll
become addicted - be careful, do your homework, but remember
that the most important value of an artwork is in the heart of
There are excellent Web resources available
to the beginning collector. For starters, take advice from these
guidelines by the experts:
Fine Art and Fine Art's Buyer's Guide
ArtPrice.Com to search auction prices.
The Better Business Bureau has advice on
If you'd like to begin
your research at some of the better websites that specialize
in works on paper, I've found the following which deal primarily
in 19th and 20th century American and European artists:
Greggie Fine Art
Painting "Larkspur and Lilies"
by Laura Coombs Hills 1859-1952
The author, Barbara Nicholson
Bell, has been using the Web for research for some time, and
has found some wonderful resources. It is her primary area of
expertise and she enjoys being a contributor. She has a bachelor's
degree in English, having studied with George Michael (prominent
antiques expert and author of several books), and has years of
self-study in antiques, art history, architecture, history, and
collecting. She has been an antiques dealer for 5 years in the
New England and Upstate New York area, and a collector for many
years before that. Her areas of expertise include ceramics, art
pottery, Chinese Export and European porcelain. Other pursuits
include painting watercolors, gardening, photography, cooking,
and golf. She loves to travel, and is nuts about France. She
recently remarried and has moved to Alaska from upstate New York.
Her husband and she look forward to the next chapter of their
lives! You can read more of her work at Suite101