It seems to be a general acceptance that the internet has made it easy for auction houses and estate buyers to know the value of the paintings, sculptures and print artworks that most often are part of estates that are consigned by the auctioneers and antique dealers.
It is fairly simple for most people to do a search on the internet in an effort to identify an artist or a painting by a certain artist. Of course, it is also quite easy for the searcher to get mis-information regarding an artist or signature. In some cases, the employee or owner has too many items in an estate purchase to spend more than a few minutes researching the paintings that may be included in the estate. I have attended several auctions where an artwork was mis-identified as completed by a known artist and on close inspection, I have ascertained that the the style, media, time period for completion or the signature are not the same as recognized, catalogued works by the named artist.
For example, there are no less than one hundred listed artists with the surname of “Delacroix”. It could take a while to make sure just which Delacroix is the artist who created a work acquired by an auction house or dealer. It is also a little time-consuming and artful to decide if the artwork is an original or a type of printed multiple by the artist. Woodblocks, etchings, engravings and lithographs have different looks to them and it takes a person with a little knowledge regarding printing to know the differences.
I will save the more detailed information about identification for another column and write this column about the fun part of trying to out-fox the auctioneer or other bidders at an auction.
IF POSSIBLE, ATTEND THE PREVIEW:
I recently went to an estate auction with a friend who wanted to purchase a nice painting for her home. We went to the preview, which is usually allowed early on the day of the auction. At a preview, you can walk around and look at each item. You can ask one of the employees to hand an item to you so that you can look closely at that item. You should bring a magnifying glass and a note pad and pen. If you see an item that interests you, make notes, look for a signature, date, foundry mark, manufacturer’s logo, etc. on the item. Do your own search on your phone or tablet or an old-fashioned reference book.
As we walked past all of the furniture and paintings offered at the auction, I noticed a small print framed in a simple, sort of cheap frame. It wasn’t a beautiful artwork, a black and white print of a man with a large snake wrapped around his arms. Not something you would hang above your sofa unless you collected artworks by the famous Surrealist painter, Salvador Dali (born 1904 - died 1989) Spain. The great master’s signature was written on the lower edge of the print, but Dali’s signatures vary greatly and many of the signatures are scribbly and difficult to decipher.
TRY NOT TO LOOK TOO INTERESTED IF YOU DO FIND SOMETHING YOU REALLY WANT.
Try not to outwardly show your excitement when you find something that interests you. Other auction attendees may be watching you and feel that they should also investigate the item that has caught your interest. One auction house that I visit has its auction items available at preview early on the same day that the auction is held. Two gentlemen art buyers who also attend this auction venue usually try to track me as I walk past the artworks that are featured at the day’s sale. Almost always, the two men bid on whatever I bid on at the auctions. I have learned to sit at the back of the room when I bid on an item. If you are able to do this, other bidders can’t see who you are or know if you are the “other” eager bidder on a certain item.
Back to the print: I know this image by Dali. The print is a woodblock engraving created after the original watercolor painting by Salvador Dali. The print was created as a woodblock engraving and it is a print that is one from Dali's "Divine Comedy Suite" (1963). Dalí’s series regarding Dante's Divine Comedy was originally published in six volumes – two each for Hell, Purgatory and Paradise or Heaven – with a total of 100 (or 101) of Dalí's wood engravings. The original artworks, created by Dali in watercolors, were then reproduced as woodblock plates by the designers Raymond Jacquet and Jean Taricco. Dali's images were to correspond with the 100 cantos in the "Inferno" which was a poem written by Dante Alighieri (1265-1321). This particular woodblock print is titled “The Thieves” or “The Punishment of Vanna Fucci” and is Canto #24 from the Hell section of the suite. The first publications were produced in German, Italian and French editions and there are quite a number of the sets, perhaps around 9,000 of the original editions. The print that is offered at auction has a current retail market value of approximately $500.00 and an auction value that ranges between $200.00 to $300.00. Dali’s signature on the woodblock is written in red and enclosed in a red square at the bottom center of the print. This signature is a part of the print and not a hand-written signature of the artist. I have a few prints from Dali’s Inferno suite and I decide to bid on the print. I find a seat in the back of the room and hope the two gentlemen do not notice me or the print being offered for bids. Lucky for me, the auction house employee who catalogued the works did not do much with the print. It was offered as a pencil drawing and the auctioneer did not mention the artist’s name or signature. Two bidders beside myself got the print to a high bid of $80.00. The two bidders drop out at $80.00 and I get the print for $80.00 plus a 10 percent premium.
I will remove the Dali print from the mat and frame that it is presently in and place it in an archival-grade mat and add it to my print collection.
So keep going to the flea markets, auctions and antique shops, you may be surprised at what you may find there.