Hemswell Antique Centres

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Collecting antique art – a beginner’s guide


If you are considering starting an art collection, ask yourself ‘why?’ Is it because you love works of art and want to be surrounded by beautiful pieces, or is it because you want to be the person who finds a forgotten master at a car boot sale and goes on to make a fortune at auction? Or do you view the collection of antique art as a possible investment? Whatever your reasons, most experts agree that you should start with pieces you love, that are within your budget. As a beginner collector, any potential return should be a secondary consideration as turning a profit can take time; if you have a piece in your collection for a while that you don’t adore, it will become a thorn in your side.

Decide what type of art you want to collect and from what period. If you’re not sure whether to refine your choices to a particular period of time (Early Victorian, Edwardian, Art Nouveau), a particular subject matter (landscape, floral, portrait), a particular genre (religious iconography), or a certain medium (oil, watercolour), visit galleries and museums. In this time of restricted social movement, such research can be carried out online, with many institutions offering virtual tours.

Having narrowed your search criteria down, consider budget. A collection will be amassed over time and part of the delight in creating a collection is in the sourcing of individual pieces from a variety of places. So, set a budget per piece that you feel comfortable with and if, for example, an original painting is out of your price range, consider antique prints.

Once you know what you want and you have a budget, where do you go to purchase your antique art? And what should you look out for?

Auctions – viewing days for auctions can add to the excitement of a purchase, as you browse all the lots, and antique art can sometimes be cheaper in the absence of dealers. You are also less likely to be tricked by a forgery when buying at auction. However, do take auction fees and VAT into account and check what the prevalent fees are with each auction house.

Online – buying from online sales sights will not offer any buyer protection and the principle of caveat emptor (‘let the buyer beware’) where the onus is on the buyer to find out everything he needs to know, often prevails.

Antique dealers – buying from a dealer in an antique shop or centre gives you the best opportunity to examine the antique art closely and to ask lots of questions. As a buyer, you will also have a degree of protection if the dealer belongs to a trade association such as LAPADA (London and Provincial Antique Dealers’ Association) or BADA (British Antique Dealers’ Association).

When inspecting antique art look at the colour – paintings on canvas will darken over time and unless recently restored or cleaned, will be darker in colour. If the canvas is white or light beige on the reverse, it can be a sign that it is not as old as you thought. If a piece is framed, the frame can tell you a lot about age, particularly the back of the frame. A wooden frame that has developed a deep patina and which is secured by old nails is likely to be old. However, do not overlook an old piece that may have been restored into a newer surround.

The novice collector should approach buying antique art as an investment with extreme caution. The odds of finding a picture for pocket change at a flea market that goes on to yield £1000s at auction, are about the same as winning the lottery, and antique art will not supply income or earnings. Art is very subjective and as return is based solely on supply and demand, the market can be fickle. The best advice will always be to make a purchase from the heart, not because you want to get rich, and to be happy to keep it for your own pleasure. 

Our own website brings you a wide choice of antique art for sale, from oil paintings to prints, and items are added almost daily. In these times where we are sadly unable to welcome you to our centres, we are happy to take a short video of a piece that you may wish to view more closely, which we can email to you or send via Whatsapp. 

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