Art as an investment.
I had a phone call yesterday from a woman who said she lived in Yorkshire. She asked about the artist Colin Ruffell. I told her that was me.
She said that her reason for calling was;
“…to let me know that they had an old painting of mine, about 30 years old. She had deciphered my signature, and done some sleuthing on the internet, and discovered that I was a pretty famous artist…
…Her husband bought the 30” x 30” painting for £90 in Leeds in the 70’s, and they really like it …. but … they had downsized and the painting did not fit in their present home, it was stored in a cupboard … they really liked it … maybe they would like to sell it … and what was its value for insurance purposes?”
This is not such an uncommon question. As I get older they come in more frequently. I get about one a month, usually by email. Sometimes the paintings in question are inherited, sometimes rescued from a car boot sale, or as in this case bought long ago from a shop that has since closed down. Very often I am told that the painting has hung in some-ones home for many years and made the owner very happy.
I feel very pleased that my paintings have lasted for several decades. It is really good to hear that some of the oldies are still loved, even if their original homes have gone.
So, I usually tell the eager and hopeful questioner that my present price structure is based on gallery sales of new work.
As a rule of thumb my paintings currently fetch about £5 per square inch. So a very small 3”x4” original is £60, and a 30”x40” original is £6000.
A 30“x30”, would cost £4500 in a gallery today. Therefore, in this case, they should insure the painting for that much so that they could replace it in case of fire or theft.
Not bad, £4500 for a £90 painting. Or is it?
The bad news is that it is doubtful that they would get £4500 if they tried to sell it themselves. They would have to be rather lucky to find an auction with two wealthy Ruffell fans wanting that particular painting. The art trade in good times would only buy-in at a fraction of the £4500.
The even worse news is that I do not want to buy it myself for £4500 either, because I have already spent the £90, and don’t have the necessary millions to buy back all of my paintings.
And the even more terrible news is that I am pretty fit and healthy, still producing happily, making the rarity value of my work a little less day by day.
So my advice was to hang on to the painting, bequeath it to grandchildren, or maybe move to a bigger house and re-hang it, and relish the fact that the £90 was well spent. My caller was pleased that I am well, and we enjoyed some pleasant time on the phone. She was glad that I could confirm that the painting was mine. But I guess that she was a little disappointed at the bad news as well.
So, are paintings an investment or not?
Well, alas, the answer is that in most cases they are probably not. You should buy a work of art because you like it. Artists and dealers should not price their paintings pretending that art is a sure fire investment. If, and it is a big if, an artwork ups in value many years after the artist’s death then that is a free bonus.
This message is designed to dissuade Ruffell collectors from gathering around my deathbed like vultures whenever I sneeze.
P.S. I re-write this in 2016. Since 2010 my gallery prices have gone up. Currently the rule of thumb seems to be more like £11.50 a square inch. Over twice as much. Remember that is the retail gallery price where the bricks and mortar art gallery suffers spiralling overheads, taxes, and years of client collector nurture to pay for.
So if you have got one of my older paintings that you bought for a song, well done. But you will need to insure the picture at this current value so that you could replace it in case of loss. I still reckon that you cannot really expect to sell for the retail gallery amount. And I am still pretty fit and healthy. Sorry.