Collecting American Art - Art of the American Spirit: A Practical Introduction to American and California Painting Chatelaine's Antiques Collectibles Appraisals


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Chatelaine's Antiques & Appraisals Magazine > Fine Art > Expert Tip: COLLECTING AMERICAN ART
Art of the American Spirit: A Practical Introduction to American and California Painting


How to Spot Real American Folk Art Paintings

European Roots

An American Style

Glossary of American Art

Things to Look For

Collecting American Art

California & Regional Paintings

About the Expert

Native American Blankets

Native American Jewelry

A Practical Introduction to American and California Painting

Art of the American Spirit: A Practical Introduction to American and California Painting

So, where to begin? There are so many different kinds of American painting, how do you find out what is right for you? Well, I often tell my clients that American art is easier to approach than European art because­­ relatively speaking­­ there is less of it. But with limited numbers of American works available, and a ready pool of eager buyers, prices can be quite steep. Recently, a painting by the California artist Guy Rose that sold in 1977 for $5,000 was re-sold privately for more than $1 million. That is quite a mark-up over a relatively short period of time. But if you chose your area carefully, and do some homework, there are still plenty of investment-quality American paintings available at prices that won't necessarily break the bank.

My first piece of advice is to go slow. While some buyers want to start bidding on the first painting they see, researching the market is a much better strategy. Stop in at galleries, look at auctions, peruse art books and catalogues­­- and take your time. The more you look, the more you will be able to compare different paintings and discern true quality. You will also begin to discover which paintings speak to you.

It is important to keep asking questions. If you're serious about collecting American art, auction houses and gallery dealers are eager to help and can provide more free information than you would learn in four years of graduate school.

Prices for works by top-shelf American artists may be beyond the reach of most collectors, but many less-well-known-but no less collectible -- artists are still priced reasonably. In my view, you should always buy the best possible example of a painter's work you can afford. It is far better to buy a great painting by a little-known artist than a terrible painting by a famous one.

Drawings, small pastels, and gouache works are usually a good place to start. If you are interested in a particular region, look for the second tier of artists known to have worked there - by looking around the edges of popular or "hot" collecting areas, you can often get a jump on other buyers.

Here's an example. One recent client was impressed by the work of Granville Redmond, the California Impressionist known for his paintings of poppy fields. But these paintings are now extremely expensive, with prices ranging up to half a million dollars. So I guided him to the work of Angel Espoy, another California painter who did many similar scenes. Espoy is a wonderful artist, but not nearly as well known as Redmond, so his paintings can be had for only about $6,000. And I am confident that as Redmond's work grows more famous, collectors will begin to take a fresh look at Espoy as well. That's how you go about finding a good investment.

Any collector, and particularly a novice, should beware of fakes, which can often trick the untrained eye. One way to make sure you are buying a genuine article is to do business with established and reputable dealers and auction houses who will stand behind the sale. Going hunting for an undiscovered masterpiece at a fly-by-night country auction might be a lot of fun, but it's not a recommended way of purchasing valuable art. I always tell people that if a painting is priced at $50, that is probably exactly how much it is really worth.

Next: California & Regional Paintings

Scot Levitt, Director of American and California Paintings, Butterfields


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