Show time for city’s collectors

2013-03-14 00:00

WHEN antique and art experts Strauss and Co. came to Pietermaritzburg yesterday to evaluate items ranging from china tea sets to paintings, their services were in great demand.

Tatham Gallery deputy curator Briony Clarke said donations from the event would go to the art gallery acquisition fund.

Some clients lugged in heavy paintings covered in dust covers; others unpacked delicate vases from grubby cooler boxes.

The art experts are based in Johannesburg, but they travel to smaller centres to offer their services and to see what valuable items might be discovered.

Renowned expert Stephen Welz said he enjoyed chatting to people, but sadly found that when people did possess an object of great value they often knew it. “It is not very often that we actually discover an item of enormous value and the person is completely oblivious; they bring it to us because they have an inkling of its value.”

The most valuable items brought in yesterday were four seventeenth-century silver candle sticks, worth over R40 000 each. The owner of the valuable candlesticks opted to keep them and remain anonymous.

A few people came bursting with excitement only to be deflated when their rare paintings were found to be “quite common”.

Welz manages to combine his expert advice with consoling words and twinkly blue eyes. His big hands run over the edges of picture frames, feeling for the telltale signs of a fake. He said he and his two colleagues, Susie Goodman and Ruarc Peffer, are used to fakes crossing their paths.

Goodman said: “Sadly we have seen people pay a fortune for a painting that looks a great deal like an original, but we know the telltale signs and it is devastating to tell them they have wasted their money.”

She has worked at Sothebys in London and said one could never tell when one would make a great find or when one would sell something.

Peffer remembers when they found a Tretchikoff and managed to sell it for over R1 million a few years ago. The painting was stuck away in the attic of a client who wanted to get rid of the “ugly thing”.

Recently they found a painting in a dustbin which was worth R55 000.

Sadly for David Moyo, his “Tretchikoff” painting was a fake too. Moyo had paid R600 for the painting and he was a bit crushed. He has begun collecting antiques in the hope that he would one day hit the jackpot.

He said: “I read magazines on what to look for and I visit the SPCA shops and charity shops looking. One day I may get lucky.”

Dawn Holgate brought some lovely old prints. One was of some maidens with their perky breasts exposed. Welz commented that the pictures were “early 20th century porn and the more breasts showing, the more money they were worth”.

Antique guns and swords are a bit hard to move on the auction floor because of crime levels and the difficulty of getting gun permits. Strauss and Co. have the reputation of successfully moving 87% of all the goods they auction for the price they estimate and higher.

Welz said that spotting successful contemporary artists to collect was like buying a racehorse at a yearling sale.

“The odds are very similar. Only 17% of those horses will get to be trained as racehorses and of those only three percent will be good racehorses and only one percent will actually become winners.”

Welz said William Kentridge was the most valuable South African artist, but there were others whose work was definitely collectable but not necessarily valuable.


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