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The Art of Money

You might be forgiven for thinking that the title of this post relates to the $646m sales achieved so far in the auction of the Peggy and David Rockefeller collection but it does not. It relates to a fascinating programme on the art world presented on radio 4 by the excellent John Wilson, son of the famous Arsenal goalkeeper Bob Wilson. Here is link to it – THE ART OF MONEY

The programme covers in some depth matters raised in this column, broadly the chicanery of the art world

There are interviews with criminal enforcement agencies chronicling how money is laundered, often through secret trusts, to purchase art; some of this never sees the light of a museum for the public but is housed in huge freeport warehouses, the one in Geneva contains over a million art works.

The dealer who made his fame and fortune in freeports  sold a Russian businessman highly prized art works for well over the odds, making huge profits.

He was able to source, for example, a Modigliani for $90m and flip (art slang for this) it on for $120m.

His defence was that he acted as dealer, not agent, but the transaction only serves to expose the lack of any regulation and professional accountability. Greed and morality.

See here for a link to a piece by David Connett on the case that appeared in March 2016 upon the website of – THE INDEPENDENT

There is also the dubious – but not illegal – practice of guarantee at auction. If a picture failed to achieve its sale price it’s ‘dead’ and it can be a few years before you can put it in auction again.

So auction houses ask wealthy dealers to guarantee it to a certain price. If it achieves more, they take a third of the surplus.

Thus the Salvador Mundi of Leonardo da Vinci went for $400m, the surplus over guarantee being $300m, that meant a share of net $90m for the 3 guarantors.

Nice work if you can get it. The purchaser is thought to be the new museum at Qatar, a country that is using its enormous wealth to put itself on the map with a World Cup and museum collection.

Aspiring collectors often ask me the safe and prudent way to acquire art. The answer is there is not one. Best to acquire knowledge in a certain area.

However I knew of one collector, now passed on, who was an expert in British modern art and admirer of Carel Weight, whom he knew personally. The paintings are probably no more than 50% of what he paid for them over 30 years ago.

My best advice is acquire something you like and, if it might yield a profit, count yourself lucky.

You are unlikely to make the $115 m achieved in the Rockefeller sale for  Picasso’s pink period Filllette a la Courbie Fleurie – the flower girl who sold roses and her body outside Le Moulin Rouge and who has now passed onto posterity for a record-breaking sale of that body.

About Alice Mansfield

A graduate of the Slade, Alice has painted and written about art all her life. With her children now having now grown up and departed the nest, she recently took up sculpture. More Posts