Our antiques expert Allan Blackburn takes a look at the world of art and some of its once-hidden treasures...
This autumn an ignored painting that had hung unnoticed in a French woman’s kitchen was revealed to be a 13th century masterpiece by Cimabue, worth £6m. Who hasn’t dreamt of that?
However, even that’s small change: two years ago this week, the most expensive piece of artwork ever sold. ‘Salvator Mundi’, a long-lost Leonardo da Vinci, fetched $450.3m at Christie’s in New York.
The more affordable paintings in the centre are the most common thing that visitors bring to the desk saying: “I wasn’t even thinking about one of these, but there’s something about this one.”
I love this charming stable scene; like many, it is only signed by initials. This can give hours of enjoyable detective work tracing the artist and learning about changing painting styles. All the while hoping it might still turn out to be a ‘master’!
Rich and versatile, oil paintings range from domestic still lives and intimate portraits to landscapes and mythical scenes.
When starting a collection, or looking for a painting that might accrue value, (aside from the famous names most of us can only dream about), the worth of oil paintings is generally established by provenance and maturity.
Tests include inspecting the cracks on the paint, pigmentation, varnishes, and tinge of the colours. Others involve in-depth chemical analysis.
Building a ‘local’ collection can be very rewarding. We have the advantage of centuries of artists committing our stunning landscapes to canvas. We can dream of Turners or Lowrys, but works by fantastic local artists, including Philip Gilchrist, Thomas Moran and Sheila Fell, can still be found starting at a few hundred pounds.
A tip is don’t overlook ‘cartoons’ (preliminary sketches), or etchings done by the artist to plan out the final oil painting. It’s a great way to get a relatively inexpensive piece by an established artist. Having the sketch alongside a finished work makes a very interesting coupling. As a pair, both pieces also rise in value and desirability.
Even an ‘unknown’ oil painting can give pleasure for many years, which is surely the point. Remember to always ensure your treasures, in case they are worth a lot of money.