Auction houses are my secret passion. The pull of finding and rescuing a painting in distress lures me. Cleaning decades of grime; removing yellowed varnish; or repairing the puncture wounds of the careless matter to me.
I recently rescued a Belgium bronze of the Greek Goddess Ariadne. Like all Goddesses, all she needed was two hours of special care and a good massage with restorative oil and she was her old self again.
When I began visiting auction houses years ago it was to see paintings from private collections that would be viewable perhaps only once in my lifetime. They can be a private museum for those who refuse to be intimidated.
Auction rooms attract the same mix of people you find buying cars. There are those that just want the flash, others where money is no object. There are also the “must have good bones and I can fix the rest” people; the resale value bidders; and those that just want something because someone else does. There are also buyers who have more money than sense, and those that have done their research. The more you attend auctions, the more familiar you become with the regulars and their motivations.
One of the auction houses I frequent has a regular bidder that does not seem to fit into any of those categories. He seems to enjoy passive aggressive bidding and does not care what he bids on. Many times this person has driven the price up on an item I was bidding on. As I am a regular customer and I’ve come to know the staff, I once asked if he worked for them to drive the prices up. It turned out they did not like him anymore than I did, and no one could work out his story.
It’s important to do your due diligence on any type of purchase. I rely on years of continued study (formal and private) of art history, and my skill set as a restorer. I also draw on my purchasing skills as Head of the Interior Architecture division of a multi-national construction firm in my 20’s, before becoming an artist. (My husband humorously calls these collective skills my “J” chromosome, referring to my mixed Jewish legacy). I never purchase anything that I wouldn’t keep for myself after it is restored.
I bid on Ariadne and so did Passive Aggressive Man. I bid, he bid. I bid, he bid. I bid (my limit) and the bid went to him. He lifts her up and announces to the room he intends to melt her down for scrap value. The look of shock and disgust on my face that someone would do this to a century old bronze must have been obvious. The auctioneer looked at me and whispered, “Don’t get mad, get even!” BAM! I had bought myself a bronze. A gift really. Her marks, from a famous foundry in Brussels, buried under decades of dirt, revealed that I had purchased a treasure.
Art is the soul of a place and we are all guardians of our own culture. Like Ariadne, the Goddess of Labyrinths, we must all find our own way to save what is sacred to us.
Artwork: Ariadne, Artist Unknown, Compagnie des Bronzes de Bruxelles, late 1800’s.