3 Simple Steps to Buying Timeless Art If You’re Not a Billionaire

By Tomas H. Lucero

There are two types of art buyers: short and long-term collectors. This article is for the latter kind. Short-term collectors look to flip art for profit. Long-term collectors look for pieces with intrinsic value. With headlines about pieces selling for millions of dollars, many would-be collectors come to believe that all art worthy of collecting is prohibitively expensive. The truth is that by practicing value investing, long-term art collectors may get more bang for their buck.

Quoted in Bloomsberg, where this article is sourced, director of the Princeton University Art Museum James Steward said, “We need people to recognize that it’s still possible to collect without having vast resources. I try to steer people to the fact that if they buy counter to fashion, or something that hasn’t been discovered, there can be real opportunity.”

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Collecting beautiful art that is not hyperinflated by speculation or hype depends on looking for unfashionable or neglected samples. Following are three sign posts for how to buy outside the madness.

Buy Out of StyleKarl Steel

The art market is as shifty as some artists’ temperaments. What is considered “in” one day can be thrown out the next. Quoted in Bloomsberg, director of the Center for the History of Collecting at the Frick Art Reference Library in New York Inge Reist said, “The art market is cyclical. Some artists go in and out of favor. If they’re talented enough and were popular enough, there’s a good chance they’ll come back.”

One artist that was talented and popular enough was Adolphe Monticello, a major 19th century painter. His artistic merit made him very popular during his time until impressionism captured the world’s imagination. For 90 years, Monticello’s work was overlooked. Today it’s making a comeback.  

Buy Obscure but Important

We all know the benefits of being “in the loop.” You’re privy to valuable, actionable, exclusive information. In the art world there are “collecting categories” that are surprisingly affordable because few people know they exist. Find these.

Quoted in Bloomberg, senior consultant for pre-Columbian art at Sotheby’s, Stacy Goodman, said, “I think a lot of people are surprised that there is authentic, ancient material with good provenance that is, relatively speaking, affordable. You can certainly buy a super-high-quality piece for under $10,000.”

An example of this is pre-Columbian art—the sculptures, vases, artifacts and jewelry made in South and Central America from 13,000 B.C. to 1500 A.D. They are selling at between $5000 and $10,000 instead of $500,000 and $1 million because few people know they exist.

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Buy Outside the Narrative

Art is valued for its perceived art-historical significance. In the case of John Constable, his plein aire paintings sell for dozens of millions because “there was a sense that he was a modernist, after the fact,” said Princeton’s Steward, quoted in Bloomberg.

Constables that don’t fit comfortably into this narrative but have great intrinsic value nevertheless are comparative bargains. A drawing of Salisbury Cathedral sold for just under $25,000 at Bonhams in 2013.

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Photo credit: Adolphe-Joseph Monticello (Marseille 1824-86). Supper or At the Inn of Good Wine by Karl Steel



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