Portraits, mythological scenes and landscapes are a pleasure to own, says Clementine Sinclair, Old Masters specialist at Christie’s
WHEN buying fine art with a view to passing it down, the most important starting point is to buy something you like and want to spend time with. ‘If you enjoy living with a work of art, this will enhance its personal significance to you, which may well resonate with your relatives as well,’ believes my colleague at Christie’s, Modern British specialist Angus Granlund.
There are a few key factors to think about when looking. In the case of Old Masters, you need to focus on the artists, the provenance, condition and rarity. And don’t forget to keep records of the paintings, as well as how and why you acquired them, so that this can be passed down with the picture.
With Old Masters, it’s worth considering a good piece by a relatively minor artist rather than a mediocre example—something in a bad state, for example—by a more established name. Condition is particularly important when buying something to be enjoyed by future generations. Watch out for works that have been subjected to numerous restoration campaigns and don’t dismiss something that looks in bad state at first sight—it may be that the original surface is being obscured by superficial varnish and dirt that can be treated relatively easily.
You should also think about whether the painting is from a good or particularly pivotal moment in the artist’s career or artistic development, whether the attribution is given in full and whether it has been included in any recent seminal exhibitions on the artist.
If the option of finding something very personal to the family, such as a portrait of an ancestor or painting of a family house is unlikely, my advice is to think about buying portraits of royal sitters or important historical figures. Equally, topographical views of European cities, university towns or the local landscape may resonate with future generations.
£5,000 to £10,000 at auction
At this price level, you can find decorative works catalogued as ‘Studio of’ or ‘Circle of’ established artists, as well as fully attributed paintings by lesserknown masters. If you’re interested in portraiture, there are 16th-century and early-17th-century Elizabethan and Jacobean portraits that can appeal to a modern aesthetic, the style being relatively flat and geometric, with pure blocks of colour. Twenty to 30 years ago, Italian 18th-century mythological scenes were in high demand, which drove up prices. However, these works are more accessible today: fine examples of idealised landscapes by artists such as Locatelli and L’orizzonte come on the market relatively frequently.
Wonderful Dutch and Flemish still-lifes can be purchased at all levels: although some can command very high prices, you can find really interesting fine 17th-century paintings by second- and third-tier Dutch and Flemish masters for less than £20,000, including intricate flower pieces and sumptuous table displays adorned with silver salt cellars and lobsters.
You can also acquire less ambitious works by more established artists for about £15,000 to £20,000, including portraits by Thomas Gainsborough and Sir Joshua Reynolds. Prices can vary depending on the identity of the sitter, which is not always known.
£20,000 to £50,000
Portraits of royal sitters and topographical views of European cities, notably Venice and London, which have been in constant demand throughout the centuries due to the enduring appeal of these two cities, can be acquired in this range.
Among the recent sale of portraits of royal sitters, an English School, mid-16th-century Portrait of King Henry VIII, sold for £36,000. A painting by Apollonio Domenichini of The Grand Canal sold for £19,700 and A View of the Thames with Saint Paul’s Cathedral from Blackfriars by Henry Pether realised £27,500.
£50,000 and above
The advantage of buying in Old Masters is that good examples of portraits, topographical views,
£10,000 to £20,000
still-lifes and other genres can be found at varying price levels. At £50,000 and above, it’s possible to acquire higher-quality works by more established names.
You’re also more likely to be able to buy a work that is rare and in an exceptional state— when these two factors come together, works can achieve remarkable prices and offer a unique opportunity to buy a work of significance and beauty that can be enjoyed for generations to follow.
For example, when a rare and exquisitely rendered portrait of a lady by the Court painter William Larkin came up for sale at Christie’s in July last year, it made £266,500 against an estimate of £40,000 to £60,000 and when a luminous and beautifully preserved view on the Côte d’opale, Picardy, by Bonington, executed shortly before his premature death in 1828, was offered last summer, it realised £1,370,500 against an estimate of £400,000 to £600,000.
This elegant and rare William Larkin portrait of a lady sold at Christie’s in 2016 for £266,500
Jan Frans van Bloemen, known as l’orizzonte, painted this charming Italianate landscape, depicting the tomb of Cecilia Metella