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
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.
& Regional Paintings
Scot Levitt, Director of American and California